What’s up Doc?

This short post is by Dr Danya Hodgetts, sport manager, lecturer and researcher and reflects on an issue which eventually will afflict us all…

name-tagWe’ve all been there.

Go on, admit it.

You’re working away solidly on your PhD and then starting to daydream… about being a doctor.

About how life-changing those two little letters preceding your name will be. About how cool it will be to add that prefix to credit cards, business card, airline bookings, email signatures…

And then you get there (yes you can, keep up the good work!). Then what do you actually do? Integrating that title into your life might not be as easy as you think. I realise this post is as weighty an issue as has ever been discussed on Thesis Whisperer (right up there with how put together the sexy librarian number), so I’ve given it a bit of thought.

I figure you can play it three ways:

The whole hog

Change everything. Then spend an inordinate amount of time explaining to all and sundry that you’re not that kind of doctor. Even then your parents and grandparents won’t understand, and they’ll be unwittingly deprived of immeasurable bragging rights.

The strictly business

Sit on the fence and just use it to stick on essential professional materials (and school reunion RSVPs)

The ‘playing it cool’

Get hit with the stark reality that things aren’t really all that different, and that the only people who understand what kind of a doctor you are happen to be doctors themselves.

What did you (or do you intend to) change when you finished your PhD? Did this change over time? If you have graduated, what did you actually do?

Dr (ahem) Danya Hodgetts graduated with her PhD in September 2011. At present she has assumed the much loftier title of Mum.

Related posts

What not to wear: the academic edition

What not to wear the academic edition, part two

51 thoughts on “What’s up Doc?

  1. AlasdairGF says:

    Silly, isn’t it – yet I’ve spent more time than I should pondering this issue. One thing, though – I’ll complain as “Dr” and def put it on the forms for applying for a school for my son…! It has its uses. Am considering putting on bank card, just so that if I end up using the title as a blunt weapon, say to get a refund, then hand over a card that has a mere “Mr” on it, I’ll end up looking like the fraud I already feel!

    (Oddly – have submitted my corrections, but not walked the stage yet – the uni I qualified at are happy to call me Dr already, but the one I work at won’t countenance it until I’ve been knocked on the head by the VC or whoever. Annoying – am still the only non-“Dr” on my office door!)

  2. kamensaddgene says:

    I use the Dr. but only when asked in a dropdown menu…instead I proudly put the suffix PhD wherever I can. In some circles the PhD carries the weight it should, no explaining necessary!

    • Dirk Porsche says:

      I guess that’s the way I would do it. But it’s still a long way for me, starting my master thesis soon, and I’m asking myself, if I should do something more fun instead.

  3. susiejacka says:

    Ah, yes this little daydream offered much sustenance when I was a student. It has been 10 years now since I received my degree- ten years later and I still have not fully recovered from the doctoral student experience, hence I love reading this blog. I use the last two strategies for practical reasons, when I feel the need to impress people who are susceptible to titles. Apart from that, post-thesis life shows me that I made myself miserable and placed a lot of false hope in believing that I would be a different person as a Dr. I am different, but that was going to happen anyway. Life did not get any easier internally, although the huge sense of personal accomplishment is undeniable and I savour that daily. My topic was on a social issue that I had suffered from myself- this meant I wrote it to process my own thoughts, as much as I wrote to contribute to the literature. I am currently embarrassed that HR has placed my title next to my name on the office door plaque (I have worked here for a while without the title on the door, but have recently shifted locations). I am the only person in my shared office with this qualification, but they are extremely experienced professionals with a combined work history in my field that well eclipses mine in practical time in ‘front of the class’ terms. (I lecture at a polytechnic). So, go figure, all that slog and illusions of grandeur… in the end, it has absolutely paid off but I guess its the old adage of ‘the more you know the more you have to learn’. My current work environment gives me opportunities to practice humility everyday.

  4. Dave says:

    When I started working I intentionally refrained from using Dr or from putting PhD after my name in my email signature. However, I found that other staff members were not taking my advice. So after working there three months I reluctantly did. Now, sadly, people will listen to me.

  5. M-H says:

    I’m afraid I did something naughty last week. A young medical Dr was patronising me, telling me not to look things up on the internet or I “would would get scared”. I drew myself up to my full 160cm and said scathingly “That’s not likely. I have a PhD, and I know how to assess evidence.” Thing is, I don’t (yet) – I’m waiting on examiners’ reports. But it made me feel a hell of a lot better about the interaction.

  6. Katherine Firth says:

    I like Dr because it’s a title that isn’t all about whether or not I had a permanent man in my life. Dr is a title I earned with my own effort, and I like that. I had read Margaret Drabble’s The Millstone, which ends with a reflection on the value of Dr as a genderless title for women that reflects their abilities not their marital status, and it struck a chord.

    • Kelly Dombroski says:

      Cool, great point! ALthough I think ‘Ms’ is meant to do that as a replacement for MIss and Mrs.

      I was laughing that the university I graduated from still writes to me as Mrs Dombroski. They clearly have some bookkeeping problems there.

      • Katherine Firth says:

        I used to be called Ms. between my marriage (I kept my maiden name) and graduation, but I got a lot of push back about it–that or people assumed I was divorced. I hope that things have moved in in the last 10 years, but in the early 2000s it still hadn’t become normal.

    • Anonymous says:

      That’s exactly the way I feel – if I use Dr when I finally complete it will be a representation of all the hard work I put into actually earning the title. While Ms (as Kelly pointed out) is seen as a stand in for Mrs or Miss, I like the thought of Dr better purely for this reason. As someone whose thesis is based on the analysis of gender constructions, this has resonance with my work as well. Although I joke with my friends and family that I’ll demand they call me Dr at every opportunity once I earn it, I’m not sure yet what I’ll do. My supervisors did say, however, that it tends to make a difference in airports, so perhaps a change to my passport is necessary when the time comes!

    • Ros says:

      Agreed. On a very practical note, I’d be much happier about having my name in the phone book as ‘Dr’ than I am as ‘Miss’.

  7. eleanor says:

    I’m quite torn on this issue. I’m quite flighty and immature and look young for my age so I took on my husband’s name and became a Mrs so that people with think I’m a grown up 🙂 I have spent the last 5 years taking great delight in making sure that my university addresses me in all formal correspondence as Mrs rather than the Ms that they try to insist on using. When I’m a doctor my marital status and thus my perceived badge of grownupness will be hidden. On the other hand I’ll be a doctor. What to do?? 🙂

    • Thesis Whisperer says:

      I had a similar dilemma, but now I see it as an opportunity to embrace yet another identity. I treat the titles a bit like clothes. I am Dr Mewburn in many, but not all situations. I am still Mrs at my son’s school for instance

  8. Kelly Dombroski says:

    I had an argument with a medical doctor about whether I should wean my two year old while I needed to take antibiotics. I just argued reasonably with him about the facts, and that weaning was taking place slowly, and the types of antibiotics I needed were safe. When I went out to get a urine sample and came back in he said ‘are you some kind of midwife or something?’. I said no, but I did do research on breastfeeding. ‘In a lab?’ he all-but-sneered. ‘No, let’s call it more like community education’. ‘Hmmph.’ he says. ‘Do you have a PhD?’ “yes I do”. “Oh, alright then”.
    I was like what!? What happens to all the breastfeeding mums out there that DON”T have PhDs that actually DO know more about breastfeeding than he does and are able to assess evidence and make their own decisions? I felt so annoyed that he wouldn’t accept my opinion until I revealed I had a PhD. Anyway, next time I go, I’ll print him out a few articles to help him get up to date. But I have noticed that since then I do use Dr ALOT more. And I do it to my students a bit too, because I realised that some of them thought I was another student or a tutor on the online forum for our unit. I even caught one of them writing about ‘that woman dombroski seems to write alot’ ..yeah no kidding, I am actually your unit convenor!

    • Rose says:

      Mums without PhDs develop a steely glare and face the Bachelor of Medicine down. Or just ignore them. That’s what I do anyhow. My friend who is “some kind of midwife” seems to get more trouble from the BMeds… and she has a Masters. We are troublesome women I fear. My concern about using Dr is that people may decide I should be interested in their miscellaneous rashes… but also that having just paid an awful amount of money to a dermatologist perhaps I should have been more interested in rashes after all…

  9. LJ says:

    LOL, Oh yes, I dream of the day in just two short years that I will be Dr. I am changing everything, I even told my husband that he has to call me Dr. for at least 6 months, and If i die before him I instructed him to bury me in my academic regalia LOL. Our checks and our bills will be Dr. and Mr. It may sound so egotistical but I am working to dam hard to just remain LJ LOLOL I am going to enjoy it for as long as I can in every way I can.

  10. Lozzz123 says:

    I actually had a surprising experience the other week when I went to the dentist. It turns out I have to get my wisdom teeth out, but when the dentist found out I recently submitted my PhD he gave me a pretty good discount on the price “because we’re colleagues”. I was not expecting that at all, but it’s a pretty good perk. I doubt I’ll go around telling people I have a PhD for discounts though… or will I? 😛

    • Anonymous says:

      Given the amount of money I paid to have my wisdom teeth out three years ago, I’m suddenly regretting not putting up with the pain and waiting until I submit! What a lovely gesture by your dentist 🙂

  11. Professor Charles Oppenheim says:

    Proved useful to me once shortly after I got my PhD. A dodgy neighbour created a used car sales area in our cul de sac, and every weekend dozens of old cars were there, and loads of dubious characters were wandering around inspecting them. I wrote to the local council saying I was unable to get my car out on the road because of the congestion, signing it “Dr Charles Oppenheim”. The local council responded instantly, imposing some banning order and the problem vanished. After all, they couldn’t have a doctor unable to get to see his patients could they? But I wasn’t a medical doctor, and indeed told an untruth because at that time I didn’t own a car.

  12. Dr. Starr Hoffman says:

    I earned my PhD just this past fall, and have been regularly updating social media accounts, paperwork, etc. to reflect the “Dr” title. My reason is twofold–like several others have said, I worked hard for that title and I want to use it!

    But more important is the fact that I’m an academic librarian. Academic librarians are required to have master’s; some are also required/encouraged to have a second master’s or a doctorate. We occupy an interesting spot on campuses–some librarians are full faculty with “professor” titles, teaching requirements, and tenure. Some, like myself, are “faculty-status,” which typically means a tenure-like review (but with lower expectations, since you typically have an 8-5 schedule of non-scholarly work) and fewer or no teaching requirements. Some are classified as staff and given no time or encouragement for professional development.

    Sometimes academic librarians find it hard to justify our status as academics to administrators or other faculty members. It’s just that much harder when you don’t have a doctorate. Thus, I think it’s important to include my title to make people think twice, to realize that librarians can be PhDs/EdDs, that many of us are doing serious research.

  13. Cath says:

    To complicate things even further, I live in Italy but am doing my PhD in the UK. In Italy I am already a doctor (“dottoressa”) – it is the title given to everyone who has a degree. In the UK, I am currently using the title Ms as I didn’t change my surname on getting married (you can’t in Italy) and I didn’t want to use Mrs with my maiden name as it is my mum’s name. In fact, one of my reasons for wanting to use the “dr” title as soon as possible is that I don’t want to be a Ms!

  14. Klara says:

    I haven’t used my title yet for anything, I graduated last December. Somehow it feels like I’m bragging when I do so, as if I try to be “more” than my friends who all did not pursue a PhD. Whereas I don’t feel any different from the M.Sc. me.

    Guess I will want to change that attitude if using the title is going to help people take me more seriously though…

  15. debwain says:

    I have actually been pretty shy about my further studies–very few people even knew I was doing an honours year, let alone honours as a view to be admitted to PhD candidature. I have since ‘sucked it up’ and I have told some people what I’m up to but given my reluctance, I can’t imagine revelling in the title of ‘Dr’ when (if?) I get there. I’ll admit that privately my partner has called me ‘The Right Honourable Deb’ since I finished my honours 😉 and he says he’s going to introduce me as ‘Dr Deb’ when the time comes.
    I may throttle him if he does.

  16. Jessica Sage says:

    I am planning on usign ‘Dr’ fairly widely because I don’t like the fact that a woman’s prefix is an announcement of her marriage status. That said, there aren’t many occasions when I’m referred to face-to-face in this way so I suspect I’ll still be ‘Jess’ most of the time.

  17. Dr Zuleyka Zevallos says:

    I use my title of Dr everywhere. I do this because the first year after I left academia, I was working in a research group in social policy that had an unusually good balance of women, including amongst our managers. The rest of the organisation was predominantly male. Two of my women managers told me early on that they use their title Dr both at work and in everyday life because women are only ever referred to by their marital status (Mrs or Miss) whereas men are never defined by this – they get to be Mister whether they are old or young, married or not, competent or otherwise. Women are under-valued at work and even still they are otherwise defined by their relationship to men. If you’re not a Mrs you’re thought to be single and sexually available; if you’re a Mrs you’re someone else’s property. While our title does not protect from sexual harassment, it is a reminder to colleagues that we are on equal footing. (And that’s not to say that without a title you deserve any less respect; but in a research setting, titles matter). After this conversation, I slowly changed my title wherever the choice of Dr was offered. I’ve actually been admonished for this by a fellow applied sociologist who does not have a PhD as this is a sore point for researchers working beyond academia. I don’t apologise for my use of Dr though – I face a lot of difficulties as a (relatively) younger woman of colour when dealing with clients in different contexts. My title has offered me some protection when others (predominantly men) want to argue with my expertise when they have none in my area.

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