Graduate school is often one of the hardest yet most rewarding phases of an individual’s life. Normally the hardest part of most graduate programs is the Dissertation or Thesis. Having done a couple thesis in my life I can say they are a harrowing adventure. For those who don’t know it ABD means All But Dissertation and ABT means All But Thesis. Generally, ABD and ABT are not officially recognized levels of accomplishment in graduate studies but to a graduate student these terms are some of the saddest terms in the academic lexicon.
ABD or ABT means that a student has completed everything except the final requirement for a doctorate or masters degree. For example, all the course work has been completed and were needed so have the Comprehensives (which made the student a candidate). However, the student has generally not finished the proposal for their work or if they have they are floundering in the gathering of data and resources for their work often looking for that ‘perfect’ study, research or quote that will be the silver bullet for their work.
Additional reasons for ABD or ABT are many: perhaps the supervisor died or moved away; a life event such as a marriage or birth occurred, perhaps the candidate ran out of money; sometimes health problems or family difficulties can cause issues, or the candidate was obliged to move; the student may have had to dedicate more time to work or the student may have been offered a great job that does not require an advanced degree. Often the student consciously or subconsciously doesn’t want to finish college. Whatever the reason, becoming ABD or ADT is a sad disruption in an individual’s personal, professional and academic life, and can be a permanent disadvantage for the individual.
While being ABD or ABT for the first year following the completion of course work is normal in most graduate programs it is when a student goes beyond this time when harmful feelings and states such as anxiety, stress and hopelessness begin to occur. Students who allow more than 3-4 years to pass following their last course work risk the possibility that the university will begin to require them to re-do courses.
So what can be done by the student to help themselves?
Find the right advisor for your personality and style. Additionally make sure you can understand what they say to you
Listen well to your advisor and try to find a topic that they are deeply interested in. Doing this helps keep your advisor engaged and interested in your work
Understand that while the Dissertation or Thesis must be original work chances are it will not change the world. You might also want to understand that most universities claim ownership of any new intellectual property, patents, trade secrets, etc. that are put forth in a thesis or dissertation.
Know that your work will not be perfect and that less than a dozen individuals will ever read it.
Set a schedule for when you are going to work on the studies. Map out time for written work, reading and research. Set parameters on the maximum numbers of books, studies and journal articles you will collect and use in your work.
Use the guidelines for the dissertation and chapters that is accepted in your university. There is no need to try to change them since you will run into a brick wall if you try.
Create a timeline for your dissertation and have individuals around you help you stick to it.
Know when to stop agonizing for the next great thought. Work with your advisor and others to help develop your thoughts and make unique connections when you are stalled.
Keep pen and paper at hand at all time so that if you have an idea for your dissertation you can capture it
Keep your bibliography/reference section up to date as you write. One of the biggest wastes of time is having a great reference or quote in your dissertation only to find out it is not in your reference and then you have to find the source.
These were some of the key learning I have had in the 4 years I was ABT on my first thesis. The feeling of completion and seeing your work bound in the black hardcover is awesome. I still found after the first one that there were days where I was ready to start working on my thesis only to realize that it was done! Using these rules the second one was done in six months!!!
(Note: for another perspective on how to get past ABD or ABT you might enjoy reading ABD? What Next?)