Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Any Better Designations?

Wikipedia (in its infinite wisdom) tells us that
[t]he term all but dissertation (ABD) is an unofficial term identifying a stage in the process of obtaining a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree or equivalent research doctorate (Ed.D., EngD, D.Sc., etc) in the United States and in Canada. At this stage the student has not earned the Ph.D., but has completed the preparatory coursework, qualifying examinations, comprehensive examinations, and defended his or her dissertation proposal.  
 Roy Jacobs says that
[t]his little phase ... will cause countless moments of anxiety and is the academic equivalent to purgatory. ...You are that close to a significant milestone in your life, and also almost as far. ... [Y]our life must seem like it is on hold.
The internet is teeming with solutions to the dilemma of existing in this state.  Forums, consultants, blogs, checklists and therapies abound, all aimed at completion of the dissertation, and ultimately earning a Ph.D.  My fairly extensive search has not turned up any strategies for living with the ABD as a terminal condition. 

I have been A.B.D. since 1986. Yike! I just did the numbers, and confronted the fact that 1986 was 24 years ago! Almost a quarter of a century! Of course, the nail in the coffin of my academic dreams was hammered in a mere decade ago, so my life has not been “on hold” for all that time. I have accepted that this is one ship that has definitely left the harbor, and one that I don’t plan on ever swimming after. But what I haven’t completely dealt with is the taint of failure that trails those three little letters. It's a bit too much like having an official "incomplete" on the transcript of your life.

For a while now, when some social or professional occasion requires revelation of this “status,” I have jokingly explained to the uninitiated that ABD stands for “all but dead.” However, I have come to believe that the words we use contribute to shaping our reality. Since I don’t want to think of myself as “all but dead,” I have been trying to recast the meaning of this label.

Here is my brainstormed list of possible recodes for this dreaded acronym. If this were a Rorschach test, my analyst would note the predominance of negative words and combinations.

  1. Arguably Badly Defeated
  2. Anything Beats Depression
  3. Acceptably Busy and Determined
  4. Antidote Backordered & Delayed
  5. Archaic Beast Discarded
  6. Already Beyond Dissertation
  7. Awfully Bogus Disaster
  8. Ain’t Buyin’ Defeat
  9. Artistic, Beautiful & Desirable (currently my husband's favorite on the list, but he's prejudiced)
  10. Anything But Derailed
  11. Agitated, Blue & Defenseless
  12. Actively Barmy Ditz
  13. Antiquated Barrels of Detritus
  14. Association of Backward Dissidents

Clearly, we don't yet have a winner here.  I welcome suggestions.  In the meantime, I’ll try to avoid the subject.

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