What do the terms “ABD” and “Doctoral Candidate” mean to you?

by | December 20, 2010

In April of 2010, the Chronicle Forums polled the academic community on the question, “What does ABD mean to you?” Of the 113 respondents, a healthy consensus (73.5%) indicated a position of “all but dissertation-have to collect all the data, write, and defend thesis.” But what do the terms ABD and Doctoral Candidate mean to you? A question often asked and in these increasingly difficult economic hard times, we are seeing more and more discussion and questions surrounding the use of these terms amongst learners, faculty, and staff. So how should you use such terms? Should you?

From an institutional perspective, it is important to note that Capella discourages the use of such terms and will not recognize or verify such statuses. One needs to be extremely cautious, as the misuse can be easy viewed as a misrepresentation of one’s academic record and further violation of the University’s Code of Conduct policy. (“Learners may not intentionally provide false information or forge, alter, or falsify university documents. Learners may not misrepresent their academic record or status (which includes referring to oneself publicly as a “doctor” prior to the conferral of an earned doctoral degree) Learners may not present the academic work of others as their own…”)

In some cases, you will find individuals schools, programs or specializations take greater care in communicating their expectations as seen by their specialized fields and/or as it relate to matters of etiquette. Given the University’s current position, our advice is to discontinue use of any of the following: Joe Cool, PhD ABD; Joe Cool, PhD(c); Joe Cool, PhD Candidate; Joe Cool, PhD (anticipated or projected conferral 20XX; etc.)

From an external, field position, we acknowledge that some communities, employers, and academic circles depart from the above position. In fact, at the time of this posting, simple Google searches or Monster.com searches demonstrate the frequency in locating position posts that expressly acknowledge “ABD” or “PhD Candidate” as a preferred requirement. We are aware that some learners benefit, professionally or financially, from achieving such a status. In such circumstances, we offer continued diligence and attentiveness as to how you make use of such designations (after all, they are not degrees earned). We recommend you work with your doctoral advisor or an appropriate University official to assist you in determining how to best represent the merit of the works completed, but acknowledge the benefits, rewards and accolades of which we hope and want for all our PhD graduates.

Finally, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the authentic accomplishments of the ABD or doctoral candidate learner. A sad truth, but not every doctoral learner will finish their dissertation and become a PhD. Yet an equally true fact is these individuals have invested a great deal in their own accomplishments and equally deserve our respect and recognition.

5 Responses to "What do the terms “ABD” and “Doctoral Candidate” mean to you?"

  1. Angelique Andrews, MA says:

    This post was very informative. I have often wondered why anyone would use ABD or PhD candidate if indeed they are still matriculating through the Doctoral program. This gives me more perspective and understanding on what Capella expects from the learners in their University in this regard. I think this post should be emailed to all Doctoral learners. Especially those who are getting close to taking comprehensive exams.

  2. Clara Perez says:

    This post is extremely essential, as the current use of “PhD candidate” title has been prevalent for the last decade; thus, unknowingly one assumes it is an accurate procedure of identification for particular purposes.

    Nevertheless, as stated, the conferral of the degree entails recognition of earned work. Therefore, it is more than just and fair that the PhD title be utilized only by the scholar that has gained it in completion of the whole “ten” yards.

    Thank you!
    Respectfully, Clara

  3. Sheila K. Middlebrook says:

    It was made clear by the facilitator of my Curriculum III (in October 2009) that such a designation is an earned entitlement by those who have walked the “coals” of doctoral preparation, testing, and successful dissertation that is indicated by the title “PhD” on the degree at the graduation ceremony. This means that the process alone would cast doubt on the use of ABD in whatever field one may attempt to obtain employment and/or build prestige, and would render the use vulnerable to exposure and expulsion from a desired field of endeavor.


    Sheila K. Middlebrook

  4. Lori Helbeck says:

    The reason for working towards my PhD was the fact that in order to become a full time professor, all of the schools I have been an adjunct in require it. PLUS, having a PHD may open many doors. I have been an adjunct for 10 years and have seen a few professors not finish their Phd and not be anything other than an adjunct. Being an adjunct professor is a fantastic teaching job….it propelled my into a phd program that worked for me having 3 children and a disease that is not easy. i have made it this far, no turning back and I can’t wait to see what I get from my study! Plus, I have a student loan that I have to pay back anyway.

    Good luck to all,

    Lori Helbeck

  5. Yvette Glenn says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. While at Colloquial #3, I was surprised to see a select few use the PhD as a part of their signature. I was confused about this and sought out additional information on the appropriateness and reasons behind its use. In addition, I wondered about the legality of use if one was in the midst of the program.
    Many myths about when to use existed on the web as I sought to learn more about appropriatness of use. Some indicated upon successful completion of the comprehensive examination that one could use.
    I would strongly recommend and support communication of this message through each course and with the Colloquial experiences. Students should know where Capella stands on the issue and how this aligns with the code of conduct.