ABD Status = Liability

Academic News & Updates

I speak with ABD students every day, 5 days a week, for the past 22 years.  ABD is the acronym for All But Dissertation. What I’ve learned is that an ABD status is a liability. It’s a liability to you ever completing your degree. There are three big reasons for this: life happens, committees change, and literature reviews get outdated.

Life happens to us all, but when you’re trying to complete your degree, the dissertation can go to the back burner and jeopardize you ever completing it.  I have heard about parents’ death, illnesses, job loss, and relocating. While all very important, the dissertation takes longer than it should, extensions get filed, and well, 45% of graduate students remain ABD with lots of credits and debt.

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While life is happening to you, it’s happening to your committee too. What happens is that your committee can and do leave, and you wind up starting back with another chairperson who has their own style and idiosyncrasies.  I have never in all my years observed students getting through more quickly by having a new chair or committee member—never.

And while life happens and chairs change, your literature review gets out of date. I can understand needing peer-reviewed articles. I can understand wanting a portion of the literature current. But I can’t understand why schools don’t grandfather your articles in when the literature review gets signed off for the first time. It’s double work, an extra quarter, and another $4,000. I might be missing something, but this just seems unreasonable to me.

At the end of the day, the take home message is get out as soon as you can. No one paper has changed the world. The dissertation is an exercise—sometimes anxiety arousing, time-consuming, and expensive exercise—but an exercise in conducting an entire research project, and learning along the way. While my dissertation was part of a solid research program at Miami University in Ohio and I’ve been out of school for 15 years, I haven’t the nerve to see how many times it’s been read by others.

To your graduation,



James Lani, PhD