All but dissertation - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

ABDs, All But Dissertation, Ph.D

This is an acronym for "All But Dissertation." These will be the initials behind your name if you've completed all your Ph.D. coursework in graduate school, but not your thesis.
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ABD means ALL BUT DISSERTATION (just as ABT means ALL BUT THESIS) and it is one of the saddest terms in the academic lexicon. It means that a student has completed everything except the final requirement for a doctorate, for example. All the courses were completed and so were the Comprehensives (which made the student a candidate), ALL EXCEPT FOR FINISHING THE PROPOSAL AND THE DISSERTATION. The reasons can be many: perhaps the supervisor died or moved away; it may be that the candidate ran out of money; sometimes health problems or family difficulties intervened, or the candidate was obliged to move; perhaps the University standards changed. Whatever the reason, becoming ABD (or ABT in the case of a Master's student) is a sad disruption in academic life, and often a permanent disadvantage. Frequently, the person so affected can no longer be in residence full-time on campus. I thought I knew what the definition of ABD was. It was exactly the same as defined here in Carnegie Mellon's :
After the completion of all formal degree requirements other than the completion of and approval of the doctoral dissertation and the public final examination, doctoral candidates shall be regarded as All But Dissertation(ABD).
I have, though, occasionally run into the term ABD being used as a somewhat disparaging designation for one who fulfills the formal degree requirements of the Ph.D. but never finishes the dissertation, and then quits the program. Most recently, I saw it in by Paul Gray and David E. Drew.

Number 9 of their helpful hints is one that I strongly agree with: "Remember that a Ph.D. is primarily an indication of survivorship." They go on to say, "You stuck with it until it was done, unlike the ABDs (All But Dissertation), people who complete all the other requirements but bail out before they finish their dissertations."

In hint number 12, in which they remind the reader that "You must have the Ph.D. in hand before you can move up the academic ladder," they say "ABD's may be much abler and more brilliant than you but they didn't possess the stamina (or the circumstances) to finish the degree. In our judgment, being an ABD is the end of the academic line."

My guess is that the authors, as professors, have had to give such stern advice to their own students who were wavering about finishing the dissertation.

My only quibble is with their terminology. What do you think is the correct use of the term "ABD?" Should it refer only to people who have "bailed" on the degree? Or does it refer to those who are in the process of writing the dissertation, having fulfilled all other requirements? Once doctoral students have completed all requirements except their dissertation, they MUST declare themselves "All But Dissertation." To do that, the student and department MUST complete an form and declare their intent to complete their dissertation either In Residence (on campus) or In Absentia (off campus). The student makes their choice and then signs and dates the form.A PhD that's All But Dissertation is like an espresso that is All But Coffee. It's hot water with a bit of sugar, thus defeating the entire purpose of the exercise.