Perhaps you've heard other PhD students talk about “advancing to candidacy” or attaining “ABD status,” and wondered what these terms mean. While the precise terminology among schools and departments, these terms are generally used to describe graduate students who have completed all of their exams and coursework, and only have their dissertation left to complete before graduating.

ABD = All But Dissertation

“ABD” stands for “All but dissertation.” A graduate student who is ABD has completed any program requirements like examinations, proposal defenses, and coursework. As a graduate student, I always thought this term was somewhat ironic: the phrase “all but dissertation” makes a dissertation sound like it's a trifling undertaking, not an enormous project!

Advancing to Candidacy

A graduate student who has “advanced to candidacy” is also someone who has completed all formal requirements of t heir program apart from the dissertation. At this stage they're entitled to call themselves a “PhD Candidate” or “Doctoral Candidate.” This is a distinct status that is different from simply being a graduate student – it indicates that you've already passed most of the requirements of your program. Even though you may have a dissertation ahead of you, it's still something to take pride in!

Applying for Academic Jobs While ABD

You'll sometimes see academic job postings that indicate that they will consider applicants who are ABD. This means that you can apply for the job if you haven't completed your degree, but you do need to be at the dissertation stage. If you are hired, you will likely be expected to complete and defend your dissertation before you assume the position or very shortly thereafter. In some cases, applying for jobs while ABD can place you at a disadvantage, as some universities prefer to hire candidates who have completed their degrees. But in other cases, if you're an outstanding candidate, it may not make a difference. It tends to depend on the situation at particular universities. If you're confident that you'll be able to finish your dissertation before the job's start date, and you feel ready to apply for academic jobs, you can apply to positions that will consider ABD applicants.

Endless ABD Status?

Sometimes graduate students will spend a seemingly interminable time in ABD status. When you're going through coursework and exams, you often have a very clear timeline and set deadlines. When you're ABD, though, you're doing your own research and working independently. If you don't have the kind of dissertation advisor who pushes you along, it can be easy for your dissertation research and dissertation writing to drag on for a very long time. That's why you'll often encounter graduate students who have been ABD for several years. As Slate’s Rebecca Schuman writes, it's also common for people to drop out of graduate school during the ABD phase, because of the challenge of independent dissertation work.

It doesn't have to be that way, though! A dissertation coach or dissertation consultant can help you get from ABD to PhD. We can work with you to develop efficient and effective research strategies and writing plans so that you can move from advancing to candidacy to graduating as quickly as possible. A Thesis Editor can help you perfect your dissertation so that you committee quickly gives it their stamp of approval, and a formatting expert can help you make sure it meets you institution's dissertation formatting requirements. We're here to help you get through all of the stages of grad school.
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