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All But Dissertation Definition

Ph.D. Requirements

Advancement to Candidacy and All-But-Dissertation Status

For students entering Fall 2015 and later

Students’ status in the program will be reviewed each year (described under Annual Reviews, page 47). During the first two years in the program, a student is referred to as a “Ph.D. student.” Upon successful completion of the first two years of requirements through the research progress report and oral exam, listed below, a student advances to candidacy, which designates completing a major portion of the requirements for the Ph.D. listed below:

Completion of the Ph.D. candidacy requirements along with the research proposal will mark attainment of the status designated All But Dissertation (ABD) by Carnegie Mellon.

In accordance with university policy, ABD students must complete the Doctoral Candidate form to declare their intention to complete their dissertation in residence (on campus) or in absentia (off campus).

Students meeting the normally expected deadlines reach candidacy and ABD status by the sixth semester in residence.

Statute of limitations.

ABD students must complete their remaining degree requirement, namely produce and defend publicly an approved dissertation, within ten years of initial enrollment, per Carnegie Mellon University Policy on Doctoral Student Status. Extraordinary circumstances may necessitate the department to seek an extension of the candidacy status. An extension, however, requires approval by the Dean. Additional information about ABD policies, leaves of absence, and in absentia status is available in the Graduate Studies Office.

For students entering Fall 2014 and earlier

Students' status in the program will be reviewed each year (described below under Annual Reviews, page 25). During the first two years in the program, a student is referred to as a "Ph.D. student." Upon successful completion of the first two years of requirements through the research progress report and oral exam, listed below, a student advances to candidacy, which designates completing a major portion of the requirements for the Ph.D. listed below:

Completion of the Ph.D. candidacy requirements along with the original research proposal will mark attainment of the status designated All But Dissertation (ABD) by Carnegie Mellon.

In accordance with university policy, ABD students must complete the Doctoral Candidate form [.pdf] to declare their intention to complete their dissertation in residence (on campus) or in absentia (off campus).

Students meeting the normally expected deadlines reach candidacy by the end of the second year and ABD status by the end of the third year. ABD students must complete their remaining degree requirement, namely produce and defend publicly an approved dissertation, within seven years of achieving ABD status. Extraordinary circumstances may necessitate the department to seek an extension of the candidacy status. An extension, however, requires approval by the Dean. Additional information about ABD policies, leaves of absence, and in absentia status is available in the Graduate Studies Office.

RELATED POLICIES RELEVANT FOR ALL-BUT-DISSERTATION STUDENTS

Carnegie Mellon University Policy on Doctoral Student Status

This is a series of policies that set forth a definition of All But Dissertation (ABD), time limits on doctoral candidacy status, a definition of in residence and in absentia status for ABD candidates and the tuition charged for candidates in each status. Download the ABD status agreement form and ABD status change form.

Carnegie Mellon University Statute of Limitation for Ph.D. Degree

As outlined in the Doctoral Student Status Policy, students will complete all requirements for the Ph.D. degree within a maximum of ten years from original matriculation as a doctoral student, or less if required by a more restrictive department or college policy. Once this time-to-degree limit has lapsed, the person may resume work towards a doctoral degree only if newly admitted to a currently offered doctoral degree program under criteria determined by that program.

Under extraordinary circumstances, such as leave of absence, military or public service, family or parental leave, or temporary disability, a school or college may, upon the relevant department’s recommendation and with the written approval of the dean, defer the lapse of All-But-Dissertation status for a period commensurate with the duration of that interruption. Students, who are pursuing the Ph.D. degree as part-time students for all semesters of their program, as approved by their program, may also appeal to their program or department for extension of the time to degree limit.

At the opening of Passion, Sarah Ruhl's new, excellent play, I found myself seated next to a handsome, 30-something man and couldn't help asking him about his interest in the theater. To my delight, we shared a love of 17th century English drama. He was far advanced in his studies but had stopped after his doctoral graduate courses just before writing his dissertation. It had been five years since he had put it aside. So, in an aside of my own, I offered some free advice: Don't shelve it. Finish it. I assured him, that while he might resist, he'd be happier when it was done.

When I asked what he was doing in the meantime, he answered that he was conducting research on his own, studying and chatting in the library with others interested in such literature. Was it for credit? No. For publication? No. To further his dissertation? No. He just liked it, he said.

He's not alone. Maybe misery does love company, but not completing a PhD stings. Besides the intense feeling of shame, a lack of completion squanders the time, money, and hope already invested. Without finishing a dissertation you can't write PhD on your resume, and ABD (All But Dissertation) won't cut it. Flagging the fact that you haven't finished finishes you.

Why is it so critical to any student anyway? Higher Education, besides having so much value, requires original research only once, at the very end. If it were up to me, the system would require it much sooner. But up to this point, as it stands, students become skilled at fulfilling professors' requirements but don't have any guidance on how to really think on our own. Having to do that after nearly a decade of university courses requires a steep learning curve. When we do tackle it, choosing a topic (hopefully one that we are interested in using to launch our career), assembling a dedicated committee, then doing the research and defending our work, we demonstrate that we have achieved that which our professors have. Only then are we enough like them to be thought worthy of belonging. In a sense, standing up for ourselves is our academic rite of passage. Not doing so locks us out, not matter how smart and talented we are.

Here are some strategies, not only for my seatmate but for all of you who are struggling with starting -- or finishing -- the dissertation:

1. Set a time frame for completing it this year.
2. Find a buddy or support team and commit to a healthy number of hours per week. If you're stuck, pay a coach to guide you and hold you accountable.
3. Make a solid relationship with your committee chair and/or members, soliciting advice without complaining or showing that you feel regressed to adolescence.
4. Think about how it will feel to have a PhD behind your name. If you're afraid, review your past accomplishments as proof to yourself that you can do it.
5. If you don't make progress by this week or next, return to the top of this list.

Understand that often in our struggles, we must confront ourselves and thereby end up feeling unworthy, like imposters. But feelings are quite separate from reality. And the experience of doing the work anyway, even when we doubt we can, is a career competence in itself.

Make your luck happen.