PhD ABD (All But Dissertation) [the scary reality]

All but dissertation is the equivalent of academic limbo. The scary reality is that there is a huge portion of students who make it to the dissertation stage but simply do not write up their thesis in order to finish their degree.

ABD stands for all but dissertation and refers to a PhD student who has completed all of the prerequisites (such as coursework, and research) but has not yet written up their dissertation.

There are a variety of reasons why people find themselves as an ABD student in this article will go through all of the important aspects of why people do not qualify despite having done most of the work of their doctoral degree.

What does ABD Mean?

ABD stands for “all but dissertation” and refers to someone who has successfully completed all the coursework and exam requirements for a doctoral program, but has yet to complete their final dissertation.

This means that they have often completed:

  • Coursework
  • literature review
  • significant amount of research

but have still yet to write up their thesis.

ABD status is important because it signifies that someone has made significant progress towards earning their PhD, but it is not the same as having completed the degree program.

It is important to note that even though someone may be ABD, they are not yet a doctoral graduate until they have successfully written and defended their dissertation.

All But Dissertation: Why Do So Many PhD Candidates Quit?

It’s a surprising fact that many phd candidates quit at the ABD stage, for reasons that vary from personal to systemic.

There are many reasons why someone may not finish their degree and I have seen multiple students become stuck at the dissertation stage because:

  • the supervisor does not help them with revisions
  • they have left to get a job and say that they will “write up alongside a full-time job” – often this never ends up happening
  • they don’t actually need a PhD for their current career directions so focus on growing and networking in their current role
  • being overwhelmed by thought of writing such a large document

One major factor is the pressure and stress that the dissertation process entails.

Writing a dissertation takes a significant amount of time, research, and effort, and requires a student to write diligently every day for multiple weeks to complete.

There are loads of reasons why a PhD is hard to write – check on my YouTube video about the unglamorous truth about writing any graduate thesis.

Additionally, a lack of support from faculty members, financial struggles, and competing priorities, such as work or family, can also contribute to candidates dropping out of their PhD program.

Who is considered an ABD? Dissertation status?

If you are a PhD candidate and have completed all your coursework, passed comprehensive exams, and are now in the process of researching and writing your dissertation, you can consider yourself ABD (All but dissertation).

ABD means that you have finished all the requirements for the PhD except the dissertation. You are then considered a doctoral candidate, and not yet a doctor, until you have defended your dissertation.

ABD is a term used to describe the status of a graduate student who has completed everything for their PhD except the dissertation.

If you have submitted your dissertation proposal, conducted extensive research, and prepared your work for publication, but have yet to defend your dissertation, then you are considered ABD.

Once you have defended and successfully completed your dissertation, you will be awarded your PhD.

How Long Does the All But Dissertation Phase Last on the Doctoral Journey?

The length of the dissertation phase may vary significantly, depending on the program and the individual student’s progress.

Some doctoral programs require their students to complete the dissertation within a certain time frame, while others may not enforce strict deadlines.

I was able to write up my PhD thesis within three months. I had a very tight deadline and I spent eight hours a day in the library working in two sprints until my thesis have been written.

The ABD phase can last for a few months to several years, depending on the research work required, the amount of time the student can dedicate to the project, and the feedback provided by advisors.

I know of one person who took over 10 years to complete their PhD – much of it in the “all but dissertation” stage.

Here is my video on how to write up quickly if you just want to get over the all but dissertation hurdle:

Can You Get a “PhD ABD Degree”?

A PhD ABD degree refers to a student who has completed all the requirements of a PhD program, except for the dissertation.

It is not officially recognized or awarded as a degree but colloquially it is what many people refer to ADB students as.

While it is possible to have a successful career without completing a doctoral program, having an ABD status may limit some potential job opportunities.

Quite often it is recommended that you do not put your ABD degree on your CV if it has been many years of writing.

Should you list PhD ABD on your resume? Academic jobs could be harmed.

Listing PhD ABD (All But Dissertation) on your resume is a personal choice.

It is important to consider what message you want to convey to potential employers and if they see your lack of submission as a negative.

For example, I was able to apply for a job with an ADB because my thesis had been submitted but not yet reviewed.

Andy Stapleton

If your thesis is about to be submitted, reviewed, it’s probably okay to put on your resume. However, it is been many years since you had last contact with your PhD program is probably best to leave it off.

Potential employers may view this as incomplete education or lacking the necessary qualifications.

It is your decision whether or not to list PhD ABD on your resume, but it is important to consider the potential impact it may have on your job search.

Endless ABD Status?

Being in an Endless ABD Status can be frustrating for graduate students who have completed their coursework, but have not successfully defended their dissertation.

This can be a difficult phase for students as they are often dealing with limited funding, competing demands on their time, and the pressure of completing their dissertation within a reasonable timeframe.

I know of people who spend up to 6 months waiting for their thesis to be examined which severely limited their career momentum and this is very frustrating.

Graduate school is an already challenging experience, and the ABD phase can make things even more daunting.

Challenges of Being All But Dissertation

Being All But Dissertation (ABD) presents a unique set of challenges for graduate students in a doctoral program.

The pressure to complete the dissertation can be daunting and overwhelming. So much so, that many people do not finish.

The research, writing, and revision required to complete a doctoral dissertation can be time-consuming and mentally exhausting.

ABD status can become a barrier to professional opportunities both inside and outside of academia.

It is difficult to secure academic positions without a completed dissertation, and non-academic employers may not fully recognize the value of an ABD status.

This creates a challenging environment for those trying to navigate this stage of their doctoral program.

My recommendation is that if you are an all but dissertation, you should focus 100% of your efforts on your goal of completion if your circumstances allow.

Many people say that they will return to their thesis after a little break – many people I know and are leaving their thesis for ever after the get a job and move away from academia.

If your current career projection doesn’t require a PhD and you are happy with our PhD there is also no pressure for you to actually finish your dissertation.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.