"Doctor" - MDs vs PhDs

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous' started by Pavonis, May 8, 2013.

  1. Pavonis

    Pavonis Commodore Commodore

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    I've been pondering the social convention that when someone hears the title "Doctor", it is typically assumed that it means "physician". I have a PhD, and that does allow me to use the title "Doctor", or to tag "Ph.D." on the end of my name. Right after my defense, I was eager to use the title whenever possible. However, I stopped making a point of using it when I considered that if a medical emergency of some sort arose, I would be inappropriately asked to render aid. All I would be able to say is, "Sorry, I'm not a physician." So I've stopped using it, more or less.

    In professional settings, there's not much point in asking to be addressed as "Dr. P". My colleagues tend to have PhDs, too, so why would we address each other so formally? As in any other work place, we're all on a first-name basis. Outside of work, well, my friends and family naturally only refer to me by my first name, and everyone else who doesn't know me address me as "sir" (which is completely unobjectionable to me, but as an aside, my wife, and many other women, seem to object to being called "ma'am").

    My previous employers hired me because I had a doctorate. The executives wanted to advertise the number of experts they had available and thought it would help in landing commercial and government contracts. The goal was to advertise the doctorates for the prestige value of the degree - i.e., "Meet Dr. P., who's in charge of the lab, and here's Dr. Y., who will be working with blah blah...." Whether it helped land contracts, I can't say, but it didn't hurt at all. So the Ph.D. at least has some value for impressing people.

    The PhD does take a number of years to complete, and reflects an original contribution to knowledge, expertise in a particular field, and a general level of competence with respect to work. As such, one of the privileges of earning it is the right to the title "Doctor". However, if I have to clarify my degree, I typically hear "Oh, you're not a real doctor". Well, yes I am, but apparently it's socially inappropriate or even impossible to insist on it.

    Furthermore, soon I will be entering the classroom not as a student but as a professor. I'm conflicted on what I should have the students call me. Referring to me by my first name seems too informal - the students aren't my family, friends, or colleagues. I suppose I'll go by Doctor or Professor in the classroom, neither of which I'm used to hearing when being addressed.

    I know this board is eclectic, and that the appropriate use of titles varies widely in the world, so I doubt they can be any consensus on this matter. Yet hearing some opinions on the matter would be of interest.
     
  2. farmkid

    farmkid Commodore Commodore

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    After I finished graduate school, I joked about making my kids call me Dr. Dad. Needless to say, it didn't take, though it is still kind of a joke that reappears every now and then.

    In my case, I usually go by my first name, and almost never introduce myself or refer to myself as Dr. In my department and among my colleagues, that title is really only used in more formal settings or by students when referring to or addressing professors and sometimes postdocs.
     
  3. Tora Ziyal

    Tora Ziyal Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Doctor and Professor are both totally appropriate in academia. I agree that using your first name is too informal.
     
  4. Gaith

    Gaith Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I wonder how the good Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. would react to being told he wasn't a "real doctor"... :p
     
  5. Pavonis

    Pavonis Commodore Commodore

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    When meeting new people, I also just use my first and last names; I never use Dr. Firstname Lastname. At work, when introduced by someone else, I am usually introduced as Dr. Firstname Lastname, but that's to impress the prospective client, and it's being done by someone else.

    I didn't earn the PhD with the goal of taking the title of Doctor. I did it because I wanted the degree for myself. But the title is one of the perks of the degree.

    I've noticed that the level of formality is different between scientific fields. As an undergrad in physics, I was always addressing my professors as either Professor or Doctor. When I was in the geosciences, I found the interaction to be less formal, both because I was now a grad student (and so knew my professors better and interacted with them outside the classroom) and because the geological sciences tend to less formal anyway. When you're out camping in the field for several weeks with professors, drinking beers around a campfire, formality is eroded. I called most of my geoscience profs by their first name.

    Now, as I a professor myself, I'm inclined to be more formal, to project authority.
     
  6. StolenThunder

    StolenThunder Poster Premium Member

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    I've become oddly used to "Doctor" - I'm a medical doctor. I only use the title at work with select patients and on paperwork - but when I'm called "Mr X" in a hotel or a shop, it takes me a wee moment.

    I've got no problem with people who hold a PhD or DPhil using 'Doctor'. If I go on to do an MD or PhD I don't think I'll insist on 'Doctor Doctor' mind. ;)
     
  7. sidious618

    sidious618 Admiral Admiral

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    When I was in college we referred to most of our professors by their first name.
     
  8. iguana_tonante

    iguana_tonante Admiral Admiral

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    Well, I suppose this place is good as any other to brag, so I'll passingly mention my PhD, too. ;)

    Kidding aside, the issue of academic titles is complicated in Italy, since by tradition here all university graduates are referred as "doctors". (This is due to Italian university working differently from the English-speaking world: instead of bachelor/master/doctor, until a few years ago we just had one level --usually referred as doctor-- which took from 5 to 7 years to complete, sometimes more. Now we have aligned with the rest of the world, but the tradition still stands.)

    So the title "doctor" doesn't have the same ring here, and in fact most people won't necessarily make the association "doctor"="physician" (but some will, so there is no hard and fast rule for that).

    That said, people who introduce themselves as "doctor" in conversation should be tarred and feathered for public mocking.
     
  9. Pavonis

    Pavonis Commodore Commodore

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    Interesting. Would that be just for doctors, or for anyone introducing themselves with a title? Is it pretentious to introduce oneself as Dr. Firstname McLastname specifically, or for anyone with any title to use it so obviously in an introduction (e.g., "I'm Lord Darth Vader" or "I'm Governor Bob Smartypants"?)
     
  10. iguana_tonante

    iguana_tonante Admiral Admiral

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    Generally speaking, I'd say it works for anyone who introduce themselves with a title (without a specific need for it, like police officers on duty, etc).

    I'll make an exception for supervillians, too. And now that I think of it, Doctor Iguana doesn't sound half bad... :D
     
  11. RoJoHen

    RoJoHen Awesome Premium Member

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    Same here, and they all held PhDs.
     
  12. JoeZhang

    JoeZhang Vice Admiral Admiral

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    This varies a lot from country to country, I know within North America there is a big thing for academics to be called by their title because of issues over gender but here in the UK, I never worked in an academic department where the students call me Dr.
     
  13. iguana_tonante

    iguana_tonante Admiral Admiral

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    We always addressed our professors as "Professor" (and we were in turn addressed as "Mr/Ms"), but I switched to a first name basis after I graduated and started working with them.
     
  14. JoeZhang

    JoeZhang Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The interesting gender thing about using Dr. rather than Mr or Mrs. is that whenever people phone my house, they often presume that I must be my wife (who also has a PhD and kept her own name) because I am male.
     
  15. FPAlpha

    FPAlpha Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Sounds good.. you'll be in a position where you ultimately will decide over future careers and lives by failing or passing students (granted.. most of it is due to the student's own effort if they pass or not but still) so a kind of professional distance is required.

    As to the social usage of Doctor.. well, it is the common misconception that Doctor means physician as that's the title most people use when they mean physician. If someone says "You're not a real doctor!" :rolleyes: you just learned something important about that person and move on ;)
     
  16. Pavonis

    Pavonis Commodore Commodore

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    Did calling your professors by their first name make you more comfortable in the course? Were you more at ease asking questions and attending office hours? Did the profs insist on being informal, or did it develop naturally, i.e., they didn't insist on a title, so you defaulted to a first name basis?
     
  17. RoJoHen

    RoJoHen Awesome Premium Member

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    I just don't think they liked being addressed by title. I know I wouldn't.
     
  18. JoeZhang

    JoeZhang Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I prefer to project authority by being organised, crystal clear with the students what I want and expect and by the quality of my lectures and seminars - I'm not sure how "Call me Dr. X" is suppose to do that?

    I've known a lot of profs. who couldn't teach a dog how to lick shit so I try to avoid that.
     
  19. RoJoHen

    RoJoHen Awesome Premium Member

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    Yeah, I don't really think students give a shit what they're supposed to call you as long as you're a good teacher. It really boils down to how you want to be addressed.
     
  20. Pavonis

    Pavonis Commodore Commodore

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    Well, I figure "Call me Dr. X" or Professor X is better than being on a first name basis with the students because we're not friends, so we shouldn't be so familiar, and the students are not my colleagues. Of course, I wouldn't substitute a title for organization and clarity of content in the course, but we'll see whether I can "teach a dog to lick shit" or not. I'll let you know.