Doctor! Doctor! I Feel Like A Pair Of Curtains… Living With A PhD In A Non-PhD Friendly World

I just came across this post I wrote some time ago and it seems worthy of re-publishing today. It’s a topic that’s well and truly on my mind again this week as I’ve been applying for a few new contracts and talking to some new clients for my copywriting business. If your career is a little flexible, changeable or ill-defined – does it impact how do you define yourself? David Tennant doctor tshirt image


Doctor, doctor, I feel like a pair of curtains.
For goodness sake, pull yourself together.

Doctor, doctor, doctor…the word’s been on my mind this week.  I’m having a bit of an identity crisis and I’d love your opinion!

So, I’m a doctor, in case you hadn’t heard. At least, I used to be.

Not the medical kind – the other kind. A ‘doctor’ is someone who’s been to university for a stupidly long time. You can be a doctor of science, or education, or philosophy, or medicine. It is only a social accident that causes us to associate the term most strongly with the medical profession – because most people are more likely to have regular contact with a GP than their local philosophy researcher.

Back in the days when I worked as an academic in universities and museums, calling myself Dr was entirely legitimate. Many of my colleagues were doctors in their chosen fields. Nowadays, I’m on a different professional journey as a freelance writer/editor (and Mum). I no longer have the comfort zone of an institution to hang out in. This leaves my status as a Doctor hanging in limbo.  Is it still OK for me to tick ‘Dr’ rather than ‘Mrs’ on forms? It’s legally ok – but is it socially ok?

A wise colleague once told me the title Dr should always be used when booking airfares (upgrades!) but never when booking a plumber (due to the misguided perception that one earns proper money).  Adding ‘PhD’ to my business card might be informative, even impressive, to some, but simply pretentious to others. It’s on the About Me page for this blog, but I’m not sure it adds anything.  Introducing myself as Dr attracts snorts of derision when people discover that I’m not a ‘real’ doctor.  Some people think my largely literary PhD research topic was fascinating – others think it was a heinous waste of taxpayers’ money.

In the end, rather than being proud of my achievements, I tend to be rather cagey and self deprecating about it all for fear of ruffling feathers.  If and when I do bring it up, I blurt it out defensively at inappropriate moments.

I got a mailing list email today from a yoga instructor who signs off with BSc Hons. So, she has a Science degree, but does it impact on her ability to teach yoga? Is it important enough to warrant a mention in the context of an email signature? If it’s a health science degree, then maybe it is, but that information wasn’t available. My PhD gave me many of the skills I now use as a writer, even if only indirectly – and yet I rarely talk about it to people I know well, let alone stick it in my email signature!

If I had been a GP and I was taking a career break/career change for the sake of family friendliness, I’m pretty sure I’d still refer to myself as Doctor.

So, tell me…

Should I be loud and proud about my degrees, or do I have about as much right to call myself Doctor as Karl Kennedy?

If you’ve had a career change or career break after parenthood, how do you reconcile your old life with your new one? 

NOW hit me with your best Doctor, Doctor joke!

Doctor, Doctor, I keep thinking I’m a vampire.
Necks, please!

Doctor, Doctor, I’ve got wind! Can you give me something?
Yes, here’s a kite.

24 comments for “Doctor! Doctor! I Feel Like A Pair Of Curtains… Living With A PhD In A Non-PhD Friendly World

  1. March 17, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    I have been trying to talk one of my clients into calling herself doctor. She is a nutritionist with a PhD in an unrelated field. I tell her she’s done the hard yards, of course she can call herself Doctor on her website, business cards etc. As long as she makes it clear in her quals that it’s not a doctor of medicine I don’t see a problem with it.

      March 19, 2017 at 11:44 am

      Sounds like she’s in a very similar boat! Some people do it unapologetically – and you often see politicians with PhDs in economics etc doing it. I’ve just had some negative – or simply weird – responses to it in the past, but I’m trying to push through. At least I can use it here on the blog – my blog, my rules, lol. 🙂

  2. May 22, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Anything you’ve earned, (and not a boorish braggart about, not that I’m saying you would be AT ALL) is legitimate! Why are people so embarrassed about their achievements. However if you ARE a doctor of philosophy, probably best not to put your hand up in public if someone yells: IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?!

    Go you, by the way #teamIBOT

  3. Nami
    May 22, 2014 at 4:24 am

    During the imaginary friend phase, my son invented Doctor Ripperts. Not Dr. Ripperts – Doctor was his first name.

  4. Rita Azar
    May 21, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Completing a doctorate is a great accomplishment Lara and you should be very proud. I would certainly call myself Doctor and say it out and loud.

  5. May 21, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    I don’t know any doctor doctor jokes but now I’m singing ‘Doctor, doctor, give me the news I’ve got a bad case of lovvvvvvinnnnnng youuuu!’ (I know, I’m crazy:) ) Look, if it was me,I would be flaunting that Dr title. You worked hard for it. Use it 🙂

  6. Francesca Suters (@FWritesHere)
    May 21, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Do it, Doc! You earned it.

    I do understand how you might want to choose your situation. Maybe the school carpark isn’t one of them. I think, though, given your book reviewing and blogging is a stream of literary work, it wouldn’t be a leap to call yourself Dr. Ooh, Dr Charming!

    When I was studying, I would be very shy and self-deprecating about what I was studying. People would ask me and I’d mumble Arts/Law, which ended up sounding more like “a slaw”. Even now when people ask me, I end up giving a convoluted answer that “I’m a qualified lawyer but don’t actually work as one in private practice so, no, I can’t do your conveyance or write your will for you”.

    Francesca, B Arts / LLB / Dip Leg Prac

    (okay, now I feel that may be a bit pretentious…)

  7. May 21, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    I think we struggle with anything that might make us look like we are trying to appear better than others. It’s like last week for IBOT, when I said I struggle with saying what I do, and so many said ‘say you’re an author.’ Technically it’s true, but it feels pretentious mentioning it at all and so I don’t. I can imagine that’s how you feel too. It’s true, but because it isn’t obvious in your every day work, it feels odd to mention it.
    So I guess, in my experience, I say use it if your comfortable. If you feel comfortable putting it on an email, then do it. And if you only want to mention it after half a bottle of wine, that’s your choice as well.
    And having said all that, I agree with everyone here as well. You have worked for it, you have earned it and it’s a pretty cool thing to have really. So there’s nothing wrong, or pretentious about acknowledging it. It’s part of who you are.

  8. May 20, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    It’s interesting, if I were writing about you and your academic achievements or they related to the subject I was writing about then yes I’d say you had a PhD in my article. I know how long it takes to get where you have, you deserve those letters! Not sure of any great doctor doctor jokes 🙁

    • This Charming Mum
      May 21, 2014 at 10:08 am

      I guess it’s always going to be a context thing. I think I just still struggle with my work/Mummy hats and fall into the trap of thinking my part time writing is not as much of a ‘real’ job as what I used to do. I’m glad I posted this though. I’m getting some clarity 🙂

  9. May 20, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Honestly, we see a lot of ‘real’ doctors, and knowing how long it takes to earn a PhD, not only are you absolutely qualified to use it, I’d say you’re probably a good deal more intelligent than many of your medical counterparts!
    A previous commenter touched on something I do struggle with tho – I never know what to call my daughter’s doctors. Generally I’d always go with Dr XYZ but some of seem to prefer to be called by their first names which I find a little awkward.

    • This Charming Mum
      May 21, 2014 at 10:12 am

      Yes I think it’s easy to get a bit jaded about any profession you have a lot of dealings with. I know I’ve felt that way about lawyers, accountants and real estate agents in the past! I always call medical doctors by their first names actually, unless they correct me (which is rare, I’m sure). I think as Kaz said below, society is a lot more relaxed in terms of one-on-one interaction these days. But I’d certainly still address them as Dr if I was writing to them, for example.

  10. Me
    May 20, 2014 at 11:34 am

    I definitely think you should be using it – you worked for it, you earned it, flaunt it !
    Have the best day !

    • This Charming Mum
      May 21, 2014 at 10:12 am

      Thanks. My day is improving having got this off my chest!

  11. May 20, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I think the only time using the “Dr” is a problem when you are working in health field but are a Dr of something else. People then make the erroneous assumption that you are a Dr of Medicine where it becomes almost false advertising. The rest of the time, I vote for Loud and Proud! 🙂

    • This Charming Mum
      May 21, 2014 at 10:14 am

      Thanks Kirsten. Yes, it does lead to confusion. I used to have Dr on my credit cards etc and came up against some agro when paying for medical appointments. But I’ve noticed most bank cards and things no longer include a title, which makes life easier.

  12. claireyhewitt01
    May 20, 2014 at 10:46 am

    great conversation topic this one. I find this area really interesting. By all means, use whatever title you want whenever you want, but my two cents worth is this… If you need to indicate a title is it best to use the one that reflects your education levels or your marriage status?

    I expect you worked bloody hard to get your education, and no matter what happens in life you will always have that knowledge, that piece of paper, that title.

    • This Charming Mum
      May 20, 2014 at 6:29 pm

      That’s an interesting perspective, thanks. I get a bit hung up on having to be EITHER Dr or Mrs (so to speak) – rather than floating between them depending on the situation.

  13. May 20, 2014 at 6:36 am

    I would so be ticking the Dr box on surveys and putting Phd after my name on business cards. Mumabulous B Ec Dip Applied Finance. 🙂

    • This Charming Mum
      May 20, 2014 at 7:40 am

      You’re letters are so impressive Brenda. If there’s one thing I’m NOT good at, it’s finance 🙂

  14. May 20, 2014 at 6:20 am

    Please, please, please – Sing it out loud …. At every opportunity call yourself Dr. You are entitled to it and just like those in the medical profession you would have worked just as hard if not harder for your Phd.

    • This Charming Mum
      May 20, 2014 at 7:39 am

      Thanks Mark. It’s a funny sort of qualification, but it did almost send me into therapy to get in completed!

  15. kasperjbeaumont
    May 20, 2014 at 5:52 am

    I think society is moving away from titles and last names. The docs I work with are happy to be called by their first names, although I continue to call the most senior ones Dr. When I started helping at school several years ago I was called ‘Mrs B’, but now it’s just Kaz. I’m also one of the few parents I know who insists my children use titles and surnames, most children are taught to only use first names these days. I would say, use it professionally by all means, you worked damn hard for those letters after your name. Just don’t use it on the airplane …heartattack anyone? LOL Well done on all your educational accomplishments, from Kasper BSc (Nursing) SM (Super Mum) AE (Author Extraordinaire) … sure, I may have made up a couple of those letters xx

    • This Charming Mum
      May 20, 2014 at 7:38 am

      Thanks Kaz. I’d never expect anyone to actually call me Doctor rather than my name of course! Although I’ve worked with a few people over the years who have insisted on that, especially when I worked in the UK. I guess I’m more thinking just whether it’s worth mentioning it at all these days, even professionally, when I don’t necessarily ‘use’ that qualification anymore. I’m definitely adding the SM after my name from now on! And you’re right about the plane!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *