If you've been researching college and graduate school options, you've likely encountered many confusing abbreviations. M.A., M.Sc. and Ph.D. are familiar abbreviations for academic degrees. But what is an ABD degree or Ph.D. ABD? And what does it mean to have achieved a Ph.D. ABD status?
Ph.D. ABD Is Not a Degree
Although occasionally you may encounter the phrase "ABD degree," it's important to understand that ABD is not actually a degree. It stands for “all but dissertation” and applies to those graduate students that have completed all the requirements toward achieving their Ph.D. but have not yet written their dissertation.
Completion of a Ph.D. program is typically contingent on many requirements. In most universities, Ph.D. students are required to complete a certain amount of coursework. Depending on the program, other requirements may include writing one or two qualifying papers, undergoing a candidacy or comprehensive exam and presenting a research proposal.
Once you have done these things and all that is left is to write your doctoral dissertation, you have achieved an ABD status.
Opportunities for ABDs
Once you achieve your Ph.D. ABD status, many universities allow you to choose to complete the rest of your degree requirements either on campus (also called "in residence") or off campus ("in absentia").
In any case, there are many reasons not to stop at your ABD but to put in the effort and achieve your Ph.D.
Students achieving the ABD status don't have the same opportunities as those who achieve their Ph.D. For example, in order to apply for an academic position, you need to have a Ph.D., not an ABD. In some exceptional cases you may be eligible to apply if you can show that you’re very close to attaining your Ph.D. degree. However, with the academic job market more competitive than ever, those situations are rare.
Achieving an ABD status, however, might make you eligible for certain competitive grants that students at the beginning of their Ph.D. programs might not be eligible for.
Life After ABD
While ABD brings you closer to the completion of your graduate studies, achieving an ABD status doesn't mean you can relax now. You might think that now that your coursework and other requirements are behind you, you’re just one step from achieving your Ph.D. degree. But in reality that one step is a huge step. For many students the actual work only starts after achieving the ABD status. Before that, your coursework might have held you accountable and clearly defined the boundaries and the requirements of your work, but when you're an ABD, and are one on one with your research, and the only framework might be occasional meetings with your supervisor, it's much harder to be accountable.
However, the difficult work is well worth the effort. While some people put Ph.D. (ABD) on their LinkedIn profile, there is no such thing as an ABD degree, and really those three letters mean that you've almost done it but not quite.
Tanya Mozias Slavin is a former academic and language teacher. She writes about education and linguistic technology, and has published articles in the Washington Post, Fast Company, CBC and other places. Find her at www.tanyamoziasslavin.com