Sunday, May 22, 2011

Do you use the title?

I don't use my title of "Doctor" often, especially not outside an academic atmosphere.  My email signature says "Kristin B. ____, Ph.D." but more often than not, I erase it before I send an email because it's to people with whom I am familiar.  This title is also on my CV.  Nowhere in print (I believe) does anything say "Dr. Kristin ______" or, even (I feel) worse and incredibly redundant, "Dr. Kristin _____, Ph.D."  I have a great aversion to that last one.

Many people, when I express this aversion, give me the line of, "Why not use it?  You worked hard for it."  Sure, I worked hard for it, but I see no need to bring it to people's attention, especially if what I am doing (e.g. grocery shopping, volunteering, etc.) has nothing to do with my degree.  To use it outside of a professional setting comes with overtones of pretension that I would rather not display.  That's why I made the conscious decision not to have my Canadian checks and address labels say "Dr."  I think a lot of this is based on my mother's treatment of the subject; people call her by her first name, and I have never heard anyone address her as Dr. unless it was the University of Michigan asking for donations.

If people ask me what I'm doing here in Canada, I don't hide it.  Usually I just say I "finished my degree in Pennsylvania" and am working at the university, and then if they press further, I'll tell them it was a doctorate.  This leads to a funny side-note: my youthfulness apparently knows no bounds, because most people don't think I look old enough to hold a doctorate.  They typically guess my age as 24-25 and have gone as low as "under 20" and as high as 27; at the time, 27 was correct.

The grad student in me wants to get 1) perks, and 2) something, anything, for free.  In many cases, I feel like revealing my doctoral status would give me some clout, but there is never a good way to bring it up without sounding like I think I'm better than everyone else.  Once again, if people ask, I'll tell them (this is how I got approved for a Canadian credit card immediately despite having zero Canadian credit), but it seldom comes up, and if it comes up, people expect someone with the title of "Doctor" to be an M.D..... and I am certainly not that.  I can only imagine how it would go on a plane:

"Doctor?  Yeah, I'm a doctor.  That'll bump me up to first-class, right?  Oh and by the way, if someone has a heart attack, I can't help, except to say they should've taken their 80 mg baby aspirin.  kthx."

Calling all Ph.D.s!  How do you introduce yourselves?  Do you use the title in speaking or writing or anywhere but your CV?  Did you use it and then find the effect wore off?  I'd like to hear your opinions.


  1. Outside of university, almost never.

    Within the university, quite a lot. I would prefer to use it less, but students here have this major block about using names. I despise being called "Sir" in a class, so I tell people to split the difference: use the title with my first name. (Doctor Zen sound much cooler than Doctor Faulkes, anyway.)

  2. nah, it seems like the places where it's relevant are the same as where they assume you have one.

  3. Only when it's really relevant. I use Dr. for my CV, when I apply for something limited to graduate degree holders, registering at conferences and such. My work email signature has it. No other email does.

    In most academic contexts I don't use it. The degree is inferred anyway; when you work as a post-doc people rightly assume you have the "doc" to be a "post" of. Writing it out feels pretentious.

    And I never, ever use it in any non-work contexts, just like I never mention my 3-grade swimming proficiency badge, my driving license or my visa status. Outside very specific situations it's just not relevant.

  4. I used to use the title when teaching, but gave it up last year. Apparently Im scary enough to the students that I don't need to use it. In some conversations with my female counterparts, including those much more senior than me, they use the title for teaching, because there is a sub-set of male students who clearly need to have the title rammed down their throats to generate a modicum of respect.

  5. @Zen: Students do have a major block about names... even graduate students with their own adviser! I love "Dr. Zen"-- it sounds like it should be in some kind of anime.

    @Janne: Good point about the conferences, where they often offer another range of confusing choices for title, like Dr., Prof., and xyz, Ph.D.....

    @Lorax: I often wonder if this would be a problem for me as a young-looking, female, potentially-science-prof. You would hope that by college-age, they'd learn that teachers should be respected.

  6. Wow - great article. I feel like you just picked these thoughts out of my own brain. Saying you have a PhD, especially when you look kind of young, almost always puts people on the defensive in my experience. In a non-professional setting the drawbacks seem ever-present and the perks seem very few. Only in situations like you've talked about - banks, trying to get a loan, etc.