“To Dr, or not to Dr”
That really has been the question for me throughout 2019 and since passing my PhD viva.
Ever since I walked out of that room on 18th December 2018 knowing that I had passed, the first question that popped into my head was ‘when can I start using the Dr title? I had passed my viva, but there were a few minor corrections I had to do before resubmitting my thesis. And then I had to wait for paperwork so it could all be awarded, and then there was graduation. But at what point in that 7 month period could I start using Dr Soph. So, I took to Twitter and this is what I found out….
Once you pass you viva, there isn’t really anything that is going to prevent you from being awarded your PhD. There are many things that could slow that award giving down as I found out. But all in all you have passed your PhD. But I still didn’t feel comfortable changing my title. I mean I didn’t have the paperwork that confirmed it so if anyone asked me for any kind of proof, I basically didn’t have any! So I asked the Twittersphere when I could start using it. What they told me was that you can’t be changing anything official until after you’ve graduated, or at least got the letter saying that you will be awarded the degree. But for more informal things like your social media, you can probably update after the viva – which I did soon after.
This might seem like a straight-forward answer now looking back, but those 7 months felt like a lifetime and I wanted to have something that felt that passing that viva had been achieved and it had all been worth it.
But then there is also the small matter of whether to use the title at all? Especially if you’re no longer in academia. What is the right thing or normal thing to do?
Not to Dr
You might be thinking I am doing this the wrong way around – but bear with me!
I have heard of many instances where using your Dr title comes across as really obnoxious. After all, if someone was having a heart attack in the room, I would not be the Dr you would want to see there. So, if you’re not a medic is using the title just a point of confusion, and what could come across as me prompting someone to ask me about it?
Even when doing my science communication and outreach things it could make me sound like I have a superiority complex and I may inadvertently ‘alienate’ my audience and make them feel that they wouldn’t be able to relate to me. I don’t want to make anyone feel insecure about their knowledge and dislike me before they even speak to me because of a few letters.
When it comes to my job, is added that Dr title onto my email signature just making me look desperate to fit in as I’m not in the lab anymore? Admittedly, I was very self-conscious about adding it that first time. These are all thoughts that went racing through my head once I have graduated.
On the flip side, I endured years of hard work in the lab, all of those failed experiments, all those evenings and weekends lost to cell culture, the PhD guilt, the over-bearing supervisors, lab politics, thesis writing and the viva experience, so I deserve to use that title right? I earned it!
When it comes to my scicomm and blogging, rather than ‘alienating’ my audience, it actually could help because the title might make people see that I have studied this topic for a long time, I am an expert in it and what I say is to be trusted.
I’ve also had the chance to do a mini-experiment at work – yes! although I am not in the lab anymore there are still experiments to carry out! I have been in this role for 7 months now where a primary job is to share the research my colleagues publish in accessible ways with the world. But to do that effectively, I need to be able to understand the research. But also during that time I have gone from just Soph – the newbie in town, to Soph – the published scientist, to Dr Soph – full on PhD awardee! Now it may be partly because I am not the new kid on the block anymore, but I have seen stark differences in the way that the other researchers talk to me and interact with me since they learned that I had my name on a paper, to learning that is was first author, to now when I can officially put Dr in email signature. Especially given that I have left the lab for the ‘stereotypically lesser’ role in communications – but don’t get me started on that right now!
So, what have these discussions and experiences all taught me? Well, I don’t know about you but I am going to Dr! Well not all the time, but it is clearly giving me the respect I deserve for all those hard years of work in terms of my career and is going to open more doors for me. As for the scicomm and blogging, the jury is still out on that one, but I am not going to be introducing myself as Dr Soph to everyone down the pub. When it comes to using your Dr title, I say do it! You earned it and you shouldn’t feel ashamed to use it! But there is a time and a place for using it to your advantage, but also for the recognition you deserve.
Did you use your Dr title once you graduated from your PhD? Were there certain conditions or situations where you did or didn’t use it? What were your reasons? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences below – whether you have a PhD or not, join the discussion!
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