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The ABD Badge of Honor

Courtesy of IncrediBill, who wanted me to marvel at how some underemployed graduate school drop out had admired Bill’s work on bot-blocking, I found this quote about people who completed all of the requirements of the Ph.D. (including passing the qualifiers and completing all coursework) but did not complete a dissertation / pass a dissertation defense. A venture capital guy was commenting on how much he likes “ABD people (all-but-dissertation)”:

“They clearly have intellectual curiosity, technical competency, and an ability to focus, which makes them useful in startups. But they also have enough economic sense to ignore sunk costs and exit something before its net present value goes negative. They’re entrepreneurs!”

Well said! That bit about the sunk cost effect syndrome is ne’er recognized and extremely relevant. I believe it is lacking in the business world, but then given the way we as a society seem to reward political maneuvers and ignore factual reality whenever it is “sub optimal” for our own egos, I am not surprised.

While someone in the comments of that post suggested that merely being in grad school and dropping out defined “ABD – all but degree” that is not the case at all. There is a big difference between completing your quals and course requirements and dropping out as ABD vs. simply having matriculated and dropped out. Let’s not get greedy, ok?

I would add a few additional character traits to the ABD as entrepreneur. Of course I refer to those who went all the way and for what had to have been a very good reason, quit the challenge before completing the dissertation defense:

  • The ABD may know when he’s being taken for a ride, and have the independent skills to not only recognize that but do something about it…against all odds.
  • The ABD may not have infinite tolerance for a legendary respect-driven hierarchy that matters little in a rapidly-advancing technological world. Interpret that to mean the ABD may not have the political skills needed to successfully navigate the opposite of a meritocracy.
  • The ABD won’t do “whatever it takes” to get what he wants. Even at the very end, with 110% invested, if the price is too high, the ABD would rather walk than go against his ideals. The Mafia doesn’t like ABD’s much because, well, when it comes time to “shut up and do the job” they might not go along.

Given all the malarchy I heard from profs and administrators back then about how one had to “stick it out” and “pay the price” etc., it’s nice to see some real-world rational thought. Good products sell themselves and don’t need all that rationalization to justify their costs.

If you have a Ph.D. congratulations but beyond that, I’m performance driven thank-you-very-much.

One Comment

  1. IncrediBILL wrote:

    I’m thinking you were a reporter in a previous career with the spin you put on what I said as I didn’t ask you to marvel at anything. I said to you specifically “I didn’t expect to be held up as an example of the guy trying to stop Web 3.0”.

    Yup, a lot to marvel in that statement ;)

    Editor’s Note: Thanks for the on-topic comments, Bill. I know, it’s tough to be you.

    Monday, November 13, 2006 at 1:31 pm | Permalink