Friday, January 22, 2016

The Title Doctor

I have written before on two separate themes and now have the opportunity to unite the two:
  • PhD Pride sought to highlight the positive of a PhD rather than dwelling on the negatives of life post-Phd. This was regardless of whether you continued in academia or left.
  • Impostor Syndrome was about how the doctorate helped me to be more confident in my skills as I segue into an alternative-academia career.
How to unite the two?

Well, it comes down to the question of when I use the title ‘Dr’ or not. In social media (especially Twitter) I confidently use that title because it highlights to followers an essential part of who I am and what I tweet/blog about. Obviously in teaching and academic work, using the title is a no-brainer.
However, I must admit that I am less consistent in my use of my title in non-academic roles. In my last placement in my current alt-ac job, I did sign off my emails as Dr Fiona Whelan, mostly because I wasn’t the only person in the department with a doctorate (there was about 5 of us out of 14!) so it felt natural to embrace mine. However, now that I am starting my secondment in a new place and a new role, I have shied away from the title ‘Dr’ in my sign-off.
There are probably a number of underlying, but ultimately mistaken, reasons for feeling this way (fair warning, this will give you a reasonable insight into my varied neuroses!).
  • I don’t want to consistently answer the questions about why I don’t have an academic job, or why I have chosen to work in alt-ac.
  • I may feel that people would judge me as an academic failure although I know this is not true.
  • I don’t want people to think I am rubbing their noses in it.
That last point is actually quite serious. The PhD will likely be the toughest thing I will do in my life, intellectually at least. It took 4 long years with bumps and upsets along the way. But I earned it.
I recall when I started at the University of Oxford that I would meet people when I went home or elsewhere and they would as what I am doing. I would reply that I am studying for my doctorate in history in the UK. And they would push and say ‘where?’ I replied ‘Oxford’ and sometimes the response back was ‘ooooh, don’t you think you’re great?!’
Well, you asked!
And no, I don’t. Oxford was a pragmatic choice based on resources, support, community, and yes, a little bit of the prestige. And no, I didn’t think I had a shot in hell to get in!
Those responses are invariably in the tiny minority.
It’s the same with the PhD. I shouldn’t feel embarrassed to say that I have a doctorate from a great university. It doesn’t mean that I think myself superior or better than anyone else. Merely, it was my choice, my interests, and ultimately my achievement for which the reward is the title ‘Dr’.
Simple as.
Now, I know that in my heart but tell my head that! I have to keep trying to get out of my head and realise that using the title ‘Dr’ is not a sign of pretension, but a simple fact of truth.  
I would love to hear if anyone else varies when and how they deploy ‘Dr’ and whether you experience complex emotions/neuroses around it.
Please tell me it’s not just me!


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  2. I have had the same response ('oh aren't you fancy') when I've told people I have a PhD in direct response to a question. I will never understand this, it's as though they have immediately forgotten they asked!

    I tend to use Dr most of the time when I actually use a title. I tend not to, if possible, because I have always had a big problem with the more usual titles and the way they are gendered.


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