Eating lunch with the kids at P.F. Chang's the other day, I was reminded of the time I saw a grad student (ABD) there from my previous institution/dept. She was working there. As a waitress.
Is this a tragedy? An ABD working as a waitress?
Many faculty that I have known would think so. I think not.
For I, too, was an ABD waitress.
I made more money per year as a waitress than I did my first year as an asst. professor. And I only had to work 25 hrs/wk as a waitress! Doesn't that put things in an interesting light? And yes, that was a tenure-track professor job.
I learned a lot working as a waitress. I like to think it made me more worldly and even more mature. Several professor colleagues of mine would have been better off spending a few years in the "real world." Pure academia provides such a narrow set of experiences, really. One of my colleagues did a lot of different odd jobs before going to grad school, and he's a more interesting, multifaceted person for it, me thinks. I mean, he can fix his own porch and fund-raise for the orchestra!
I write best if it isn't my full-time job. Who can write a dissertation 8-hours a day? Very few of us. What were my other ABD friends doing when they were done writing for the day? I'm not sure. Good question, now that I think about it. But I was working. And otherwise having a good time. My dissertation took a couple years longer than my adviser thought it would. But it won a national dissertation award and was a book a few years later. I really, really believe that it was a much better dissertation because I worked and lived and had a few mini-adventures while writing it.
Being an ABD waitress wasn't bad, but I was scared sh*tless of being a Ph.D. waitress. It is important to say that. I felt that my status as grad student provided some legitimacy to my waitressing, made it OK if someone I knew from high school, say, saw me waiting tables. "Grad student" was a status title that counter-acted the lower status of "waitress." But interestingly, "Ph.D." would do the opposite--make working as a waitress seem evidence of failure.
Around this time, I went to a comedy show. It was a one-woman show, and for reasons I can't recall, she had us all write on an index card (anonymously, but blue for men and pink for women) our biggest fear. I wrote "failure." Going through the cards, she told the crowd that this was the first time EVER that she had a woman write "failure." Men wrote "failure," not women. Perhaps that was the downside of being an ABD waitress: "ABD" would only protect me for just so long. "Ph.D. waitress" is really just "waitress."
And I could have been a waitress with just a bachelor's degree ;)