I'm using a PhD student as a reference for an application, and I wonder what title I should use for her. She hasn't yet got her PhD title but is still writing her thesis. Is there a name for that position?

  • 7
    Uhm, "PhD student"? Mar 25, 2017 at 20:40
  • 3
    PhD Candidate? PhD Researcher?
    – TEK
    Mar 25, 2017 at 20:54
  • 5
    PhD student till they pass their comprehensive exam then, Phd candidate (this is what's often followed in STEM and US)
    – The Guy
    Mar 25, 2017 at 20:56
  • 3
    If you are applying for a PhD, it is a very bad idea to list a PhD student as a reference.
    – sean
    Mar 25, 2017 at 22:54
  • 2
    Just use their name.
    – JeffE
    Mar 26, 2017 at 3:45

4 Answers 4


The title would likely be "Mr." / "Mrs." / "Ms.". There is no prepended academic title that means "will likely have a doctorate at some point".

In other news, a PhD student is probably not a good reference in the first place. You should look for somebody who has been in the game a bit longer and provide a reference that more plausibly compares you against a wider range of previous students.


I would use Mary Smith, Ph.D. Candidate

In my social sciences field (in the USA), Ph.D. Candidate is the accepted title once you defend your dissertation prospectus. Since the process is formal and sometimes arduous, we are very careful not to refer to a Ph.D. Candidate as a Ph.D. Student. Everyone distinguished between these two ranks in their email signatures and websites.

Also, the OP doesn't note the type of position that this person is being used as a reference for. IF it is an academic application, I would recommend a more senior reference. If you need a character or skills reference for some sort of non-academic position (where references are only checked as a formality by the HR department), this is less of a problem.

  • 2
    Are you certain this is something that is common to your field and not just your field AND country? Mar 26, 2017 at 15:39
  • 1
    Could be. Will edit to reflect.
    – Dawn
    Mar 26, 2017 at 16:08
  • 1
    @PeteL.Clark - In my applied math department, one had to present and defend the thesis proposal. Typically this was done when one was approximately halfway through the project, and the advisor was confident the topic was workable. (I don't remember exactly what this exam was called.) Mar 26, 2017 at 17:56
  • 1
    I took an extremely cursory look for math (plain old) and saw that such an exam sometimes results in Admission to Candidacy, involving oral questions on the proposed area of research. Mar 26, 2017 at 20:46

Another alternative that sounds slightly more formal and hasn't been mentioned yet is doctoral student.


You can put "ABD" after her name. From Wikipedia:

"All but dissertation" (ABD) is a mostly unofficial term identifying a stage in the process of obtaining a research doctorate in the United States and Canada.

You could also say

Marie Smith, PhD candidate.

  • 11
    You can do that, but don't.
    – JeffE
    Mar 26, 2017 at 3:45
  • 1
    @JeffE - Your comment would be infinitely more useful with some reasoning added. Mar 26, 2017 at 3:52
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    @aparente: See academia.stackexchange.com/questions/28717/… for some opinions about "ABD." In my experience this is a kind of pseudo-title. For one thing, it is often used for people who used to be in a PhD program but dropped out, and there is something off-puttingly coy about this to many people.... Mar 26, 2017 at 7:18
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    ...It is also used in different ways in different academic fields. In parts of humanities and the social sciences, one can spend multiple years just writing the thesis, often in a remote location and without taking further coursework. In that case ABD really describes a different career stage. In my PhD program I (and most other students) passed all my exams in my first year, so I was "ABD" for 9 out of the 10 semesters and was resident and registered for courses the whole time. So using this title would sound pretentious and silly. Mar 26, 2017 at 7:22
  • 5
    Note that, outside the USA, the phrase "ABD" is meaningless. And, frankly, it sounds ridiculous. Oh, this person has done "all but" the single largest thing that needs to be done. Is that sarcastic? Mar 26, 2017 at 10:24

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