ABD All But Dissertation: What Keeps You Stuck There?

ABD all but dissertation status is what I consider the No-Person’s land of graduate school. In this phase, you are almost ready to finish- except, of course, your dissertation is not yet complete.

There are many reasons why someone might get stuck in ABD all but dissertation land; but the most common ones are these, in my multiple years of experience helping graduate students give up their ABD status.

Typically, people remain ABD for one of three reasons:

1) They don’t know how to finish- this means they don’t know what they should do, exactly, to get the dissertation done. This tends to be both a process and a content problem. They may not understand exactly the steps they need to take to finish, or they may not be able to overcome some negative feedback and turn in the next draft. If this is why you’re ABD all but dissertation, you need to seek out a reputable source for dissertation assistance, and do it quickly. This is the least difficult of the three reasons to actually fix and solve- so you can finish the dissertation once and for all. Consider one of my dissertation coaching groups.

2) They don’t have the discipline to work steadily- this means they know what to do, but don’t (for whatever reason) apply themselves consistently. This is a problem because the only way to finish the dissertation is to work on it regularly and consistently. My most successful clients find a way to work on the dissertation at least a few hours per week (maybe around 5-7 hours, on average) and this helps them move the project forward, piece by piece. While nobody can give you discipline, it is a skill that you can practice and get better with- if you want to.

3) They have not made the dissertation one of the top priorities in their lives, so it always ends up at the bottom of the list (on the days where it even makes the list at all.) This lack of prioritization can happen for many reasons, but the fact remains that if you want to complete your degree and leave ABD all but dissertation land, you have to make the dissertation a priority.

The reality is that the dissertation is just like any other goal. You have to have a plan, you have to work that plan, and you have to make reaching this goal a top priority. The longer you remain ABD, the longer the list of reasons (and excuses) for the ABD condition.

Life happens, I get that- but if stressors are going to happen anyway (and they probably are) wouldn’t it be better to face them as a PhD than an ABD? I think so.

If you find yourself feeling uncertain about what to do, without the discipline to do it, or finding the dissertation is not as high on the priority list as it should be- you need to make some changes. You will never finish the dissertation unless these three elements are aligned and working together.