Graduate Student Stories of Living with an Ab d all but Dissertation Status

This is my husband’s story. I finished my dissertation, so I am a Ph.D. My husband is A B.D. However, for all practical purposes, he might as well be an M.A. even though he completed all of his doctoral course work. All he ever needed to do was write his dissertation.

Was the problem that he couldn’t write? Absolutely not. In fact, he is actually a much better writer than I am. He can churn out pages of quite readable academic prose much faster than I can. He doesn’t even need to rewrite-as I do. I remember typing up term papers of his that he wrote out in longhand while watching television-no revisions necessary. It was infuriating. However, I have my Ph.D. and he is A.B.D.

Was there any pressing work requirement? Was he busy with a full-time job? No. My husband worked as a teaching assistant while doing his doctoral course work. His teaching load was only part-time when he finished his course work and started his dissertation. I was working full-time as I was finishing up my dissertation.

Did he have a health problem? No. He is definitely healthier than I am-both mentally and physically.

Was it lack of motivation? Nope. He is still extremely enthusiastic about his topic in educational leadership.

So, why didn’t he finish his dissertation? Why is he still A.B.D? His problem, I believe, is more common than is typically reported by other A.B.D. students. It’s politics. Yes, politics-academic politics.

My husband has very strong views about certain educational issues and he wished to examine these issues in his dissertation. Unfortunately, as he progressed through his doctoral program, he discovered, that his advisor (in fact every faculty member in his department) held far different views than he did and she made it clear that she would not allow him to investigate the issues he wished to examine. If he wanted to write a dissertation, he would have to write on a topic that coincided with her world view. He decided that he couldn’t in good conscience do that. So he quit.

I have always found the entire idea that academic politics could prevent students from pursuing and completing their graduate education a difficult one to swallow. However, my graduate degrees are in a field that has not historically been very political in nature. On the other hand, my husband’s discipline-Education-and some other disciplines such as English and Women’s Studies, for example, have been and are becoming more and more political in nature every year. Students who do not accept the political views of their professors will find it difficult if not impossible to make it through doctoral programs in these fields.

I tell you my husband’s story as a warning. Doctoral programs are not like undergraduate programs. You work very closely with your adviser for a long period of time. If your doctoral adviser doesn’t like you or your ideas-for whatever reason-you can forget getting that Ph.D. Oh, and don’t suggest transferring to another university. It is practically impossible to start at a new institution when you are A.B.D. You would need a glowing recommendation from your adviser, and no adviser is going to give you that if you cross them in such an egregious manner.