S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

Some big piece of writing that I did

In the US and Canada, in my experience, the big piece of writing done at the end of an M.A. degree is called a Master's thesis, and the big piece of writing done at the end of a PhD is called a dissertation. This is why the system informally has the acronym ABD - "All But Dissertation" - to denote people who have passed their required coursework and exams for their PhD.

Now, in the UK, there is no coursework for a PhD, nor are there exams usually. Many places prefer PhD candidates who have done an MA or MPhil in the relevant field (i.e. coursework) to one who hasn't, but it's not generally a hard-and-fast rule.

This evening, at a reception after a talk on mathematics in Late Antiquity, a woman corrected me when I started to talk about my PhD dissertation. "You mean thesis. A dissertation is what you'd write at the M.A. level."

Have I somehow done an MA in this country and interacted with UK academics for this long and missed this fundamental distinction? It's possible. Was she right? Am I going to be endlessly confused when the terms are entirely reversed from one side of the ocean to the other?
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