Upgrading Academic Title – From PhD Student to PhD Candidate

Its official, PhD Candidate is my new academic title! I officially passed my comprehensive exams. I remember when I was a kid, at the age of 8, I was compiling and computing hockey statistics and getting to University seemed far away from me. I finally reached that level like a “grinder” in hockey, with hard-nosed efforts and a “no pain, no gain” mentality. Even for my first semester at University, I continued like a grinder, but maybe for the first time, my talent was recognized mostly like a “sniper”. Anyway, this post should be about PhD candidacy which is only the second step in my 7-step process related to PhD studies. I don’t know why but that 7-step process reminds me the geeky college-type of the “not-at-all famous” punk-rock song by Nerf Herder entitled “Welcome to my World”. So welcome to my world in 7 steps!

I Simply Hope that my World is Not Like Dudley's World in the Royal Tenenbaums
I Simply Hope that my World is Not Like Dudley's World in the Royal Tenenbaums

Step 1 – Starting the PhD

I personally think that a strong tendency especially in PhD in management/business administration, is that many students starts a PhD degree without really knowing that a PhD is not a practical post-MBA, it’s all about research, RESEARCH, or if you prefer, theoretical research, if it’s too applied it’s not research, and what practitioners called “research” is not research for academics. What companies called “white papers”, that’s not research for academics. For that point, I was already well-trained at the undergraduate level when Professors keep telling us that in economics you need a Master degree or a PhD to be considered as an expert, and that applications come from strong theories. However, what I did not expect is that if you start a PhD in business, another tendency that is growing in importance is the need to have a strong knowledge in your minor area of concentration. In my case it is Statistics/Mathematics, and I must say that even though I had a strong knowledge of applied statistics before entering the program, I lacked some advanced fundamental knowledge which I now master to an appreciable level after hours of readings and computing with my favorite software (thanks to R and the beloved community).

One of the Famous PHD Comics Graph - It Was On The Front Door of My Past PhD Office
One of the Famous PhD Comics Graph - It Was On The Front Door of My Past PhD Office

Step 2 – Advancing to PhD Candidacy

That’s now where I am, realizing that most people don’t know what a PhD candidate is, and that was obviously my case before getting into that universe anyway. In fact, a PhD candidate is simply a PhD student that has satisfied the requirements both in terms of coursework completion and in terms of comprehensive examinations, which means that all is left is dissertation. Does that mean that you don’t attend courses anymore? Not necessarily if you’re like me.

Step 3 – Getting the Informal ABD Title

My next step is to get my ABD informal academic title (All But Dissertation), and in terms of McGill University requirements, I need to write a theory paper, which is broadly a theoretical paper where you describe and define in a genuine fashion an important emerging (or not-at-all-emerging) series of untested relationships. This is mainly the theoretical basis for my dissertation which will include three essays.

Step 4 – The Dissertation proposal

The dissertation proposal is the step where you present/propose the developments of your dissertation, sometimes it’s before collecting data, in other cases it’s after collecting data. However, I have been told, that if you’re well-advised on a week-by-week schedule, this step should not kill you.

Step 5 – The Academic Job market

The academic job market is ultra-organized and has even generated academic papers. For marketing students looking for jobs in the Occidental system (North America and some universities in Europe and Asia that follows the North American model) there is a classic procedure to follow. Thus, every year, from April to beginning of August, PhD candidate send on average 80 job applications to universities were they want to be potentially hired. Thereafter, around mid-August, for three to four days, academic institutions meet up second-round candidates at the AMA (American Marketing Association) Summer Conference to interview them. The third-round candidates then received a campus visit invitation where they have to present one of their advanced papers labelled as the “job market paper”. Thereafter, those who best fit the hiring university requirements are hired.

Step 6 – Being Hired as an Assistant Professor

That’s mainly the outcome of Step 5, but that’s an extremely stressful moment, anyway! Once hired, you start as an Assistant Professor, but here is a complete list of most titles in academic.

Step 7 – Defending the dissertation

That’s the moment I am waiting for, submitting the final dissertation followed by a 40-minute oral defense.


Briefly, I’m not over yet! Thinking about starting a PhD, come and see me, I’ll give you pros and cons and tell you if that type of life is made for you! Any comments?

Keep on Keeping On! (like my advisor would say)


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10 thoughts on “Upgrading Academic Title – From PhD Student to PhD Candidate”

  1. @Stephane Thanks, courage comes from different types of responsabilities I guess, lucky I am on that point. Waiting to see you at next Web Analytics meeting.

    @Simon: Yea after the, I am not at Step 7 like you. By the way, we can now officially call you Professor.

  2. Congratulations Jean-François!

    Inspiring article (and slightly discouraging), but great reading for those who think of starting this process

  3. JF, wait for the moment when you erase everything that follows “Ph.D.” in your title (not Ph.D. student nor Ph.D. Candidate) but just JF Belisle, Ph.D….. I’m telling you, this is quite something.

    However, my philosophy is (1) to celebrate every significant step in the Ph.D. process and (2) to find as many significant steps as possible… so JF, congrats…and I hope you celebrated that accomplishment accordingly.

  4. Thanks Manon for the comments, that’s always appreciated. I agree that getting these three letters after your name should be quite a feeling. Like you said, I’m trying to celebrate every significant step as they come, I’m pushing forward for the next, I’m burning of enthusiasm to get it done in 2011.

  5. Wow Congrats! I really admire your determination.
    To answer your question : PhD is not for me. That’s why I flew to Paris! To avoid the real life and avoid grad studies. I’ll see in two years if I’m still interested to do the DESS in Communication-Marketing at HEC Montréal. But after reading you article, it confirms to me that PhD is not for me!
    But keep going you are close to the end.

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