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I hold a Dr. rer. nat. title from the computer science institute at a German university. I am now writing a job application that I will send to a German organization, but since it has many international employees and the advertisement itself was in English, I decided to write the application in English (assuming that some of the decision makers may not speak German well).

My biggest problem in the translation is my title. In the German original, I use Dr. rumtscho in the CV header and a couple of other places. However, all translated versions I considered have drawbacks:

  • keep it as Dr. rumtscho. This is idiomatic in German, but I think it's totally strange in English and may make people think that I forgot to pay attention to the header when translating.
  • Style myself as rumstcho, PhD. While I refer to my title as "PhD" in informal conversation in English, I believe it is officially not permissible to "translate" the title.
  • Style myself as rumtscho, Dr. rer. nat. This looks weird both in English and in German, and for people unfamiliar with the "there is no traditional doctor title for computer scientists, so we just reuse one" attitude of German universities, they may think I come from a biology or chemistry background.

Which option is likely to be best received? Is the answer different when preparing English-language official documents to be read by Germans and by native English speakers?

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    It's weird to have any title in your header in the US. – Azor Ahai -him- Nov 6 '20 at 17:02
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    I suppose you are applying to jobs where a doctoral degree is required or at least it’s very uncommon not to have one. In this case, I feel that using the title is at best pointless and at worst comes of as arrogant. In my applications (in Germany), I never used my doctoral title next to my name anywhere. – Wrzlprmft Nov 6 '20 at 17:21
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    @Wrzlprmft Is it not common to use full titles (with several designations if applicable) in formal contexts in German academia? That is the impression I got from most of the web pages of professors that I have seen. – GoodDeeds Nov 6 '20 at 23:42
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    @AzorAhai--hehim If you have a doctoral degree in Germany it's very common to be addressed as "Dr. John Doe" in public life (e.g. mail) – user134593 Nov 7 '20 at 10:30
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    I would expect English speakers who are on the selection committee for a position at a German institution to be at least somewhat familiar (and probably very familiar) with German practice in this area, even if their German is otherwise lacking. So I'd tend to use the German conventions if the English ones can't be made to fit, even if the document is otherwise in English. – The Photon Nov 8 '20 at 16:18
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Don't overthink it. Both "Dr." and "Dr.rer.nat." would be OK, "PhD" would be inaccurate. The key information is the line in your CV where you point out that you have completed your doctoral degree.

(As relevant context: I am a native German speaker and have experiences in Germany both as a selection committee member and as a successful applicant.)

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    This. Also my English-language CV which I've also used for applications in Germany (and which contains grades from Germany) has the title/name line cbeleites (with full first name, though) and the doctoral degree in the educaton section. My doctoral degree stays Dr. rer. nat. wherever I go (looking into my CV I actually did not specify that, I give the thesis title, university and mark - but of course the certificates say so) and my Diplom stays Diplom as well. The postdoc jobs I've encountered in Germany actually did not formally require a doctorate - equivalent research experience was OK – cbeleites unhappy with SX Nov 7 '20 at 15:23
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    ... was OK as well (I've actually been at such positions for several years without being PhD/Dr. rer. nat.). (The hard/formal requirements I've met have been the other way round: doctorate not older than x.) – cbeleites unhappy with SX Nov 7 '20 at 15:25
  • Exactly. Holding a Dr. doesn't imply holding a PhD. Holding a PhD, you might be allowed to call yourself a Dr. in Germany depending mostly on where you graduated. – henning Nov 7 '20 at 19:09
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    Dr. rer. nat. applied to computer science is no weirder than PhD applied to engineering. – Mark Morgan Lloyd Nov 7 '20 at 22:37
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In English, "Dr." means you completed your PhD.

In English, anyone who has completed a PhD is entitled to be called "Doctor", regardless of the subject that they'd completed their degree in. Whether that degree is in IT, Physics, English Literature, or Underwater Basket Weaving, if you've completed a PhD, you're entitled to be called "Doctor". Then, when you list your degree on your resume or CV, you specify what your PhD was in.

Judging by the Wikipedia page about the Dr.rer.nat degree, it's basically equivalent to a PhD in science, so the same rule would apply.

In spoken language, you'd often be referred to as "Doctor [Surname]" as a formal title, unless you've got a higher-ranking title to be referred to as instead (e.g. "Professor [Surname]", or a title of nobility like "Sir [Given Name]" or "Lord [Surname], Baron of [Place]").

You can also be entitled to be referred to as "Doctor [Surname]" if you've completed a medical degree and become a licensed medical doctor, even though their degrees are "only" equivalent to a Master's Degree, but that wouldn't apply in your case. If there's any confusion whether someone's a medical doctor or a PhD graduate, you can just ask them.

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  • Hi, I'm not sure how this answers my situation, it seems that you are just describing the common spoken-language usage in English-speaking countries, which I already know. The problems here: 1) I didn't complete a PhD, I completed a Dr.rer.nat, and 2) this is an official written document, and I have not seen people use the "Dr. rumtscho" style in one of those. I wanted to know how a native German reader will react to that style, as opposed to their reaction to one of the other styles. – rumtscho Nov 7 '20 at 8:37
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    PhD and Dr.rer.nat are the same thing in English, judging by the wikipedia page on the latter. Like I said, it doesn't matter whether you complete a PhD in English Literature or Theoretical Physics, either way you're still just referred to as "Doctor". – nick012000 Nov 7 '20 at 9:26
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    I would say that English speakers (at least American English) take "Dr." to mean that you've completed either a PhD at a US university or some other non-professional degree with roughly equivalent requirements, i.e. 5+ years of graduate study including a dissertation. (Or that you're a medical doctor.) Of course the US perspective might not apply in Germany; I couldn't say. – David Z Nov 8 '20 at 7:50
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It is typical to refer to people having some kind of doctorate as "Dr FirstName LastName" in British academia. Note that there is no dot after the "Dr", American usage may wary. For example, look at the staff list of my department here:

https://www.swansea.ac.uk/staff/science/compsci/

A Dr rer nat is a perfectly fine doctorate, and in fact, the kind of doctorate several people in the list above have.

Writing FirstName LastName, PhD is what one would do to clarify that the doctorate is in fact a PhD; or just if it is a PhD and more convenient to have it after the name (maybe the person is also a Sir and one wants to express both, etc).

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    "Writing FirstName LastName, PhD is what you would do to clarify that the doctorate is in fact a PhD" but the doctorate is not a PhD. The doctorate is a Dr. rer. nat.. Calling yourself a PhD in Germany when you are a Dr. rer. nat. might get you a fine (see second paragraph of section "Ph.D. in Deutschland" here and the referenced source). – wimi Nov 7 '20 at 11:37
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    @wimi Well, if one doesnt have a PhD one should not clarify that one has one, right? I'll replace the "you" with "one" to make clear that this does not refer to the OP, but to a generic person. – Arno Nov 7 '20 at 11:49
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rumtscho, Dr. rer. nat. (CS)

Does that work for you? If you were to move to the US, or some other English speaking countries, Dr. rumtscho would probably be enough. But if you remain in Germany/Austria... then it might be best to keep it formal and as awarded. Especially so if you are writing to a German organization. The English speakers will just have to deal with it.

Hmm. Maybe rumtscho, Dr. rer. nat. (Computerwissenschaften)

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    More likely (Informatik) – JeffE Nov 6 '20 at 18:10
  • @JeffE, maybe. Not knowing the popular usage, I just used the literal translation (via google translate). But something like that, as appropriate. – Buffy Nov 6 '20 at 18:36
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    This looks wrong to me, I’ve never seen Dr. or Dr. rer. nat. after the name. – Pieter Naaijkens Nov 6 '20 at 20:29
  • @PieterNaaijkens I have also never seen these after the name, but the only style that is commonly seen in English (rumtscho, PhD) is illegal, so I will have to use something uncommon/wrong looking. – rumtscho Nov 7 '20 at 8:39
  • No. Dr. always precedes the last name in German writing (vorangestellter Titel), unlike e.g. a Diplom or Magister (if you're in Austria, even those may go first). – henning Nov 7 '20 at 19:08
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Just to add to Arno's reply:

Academic titles are not controlled by law in the UK. It is generally considered that those holding a substantive doctoral degree are entitled to be called Dr, and that non-surgical medical practitioners are called Dr by courtesy, but this is custom, not law. The National Health Service, for example, refuses to accord genuine doctors their title :) Thus, as Arno says, "Dr rumtscho" is perfectly idiomatic and normal. HOWEVER, it is also, in British academia, customary not to use titles in CV headers - the headline of a CV should just be your name. At some point in your CV, you list your qualifications, and that's where you say "Dr. rer. nat." So you have to decide whether you're doing a British-style application, or a German-style application translated into English:)

Having said that, there's a member of staff in my (British) university who insists their students write to them as "Dr. Dr. blah". As you can imagine, this flags them as insecure and pretentious.

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  • My brother (who has a doctorate in medicine, with postnominal letters DM) is listed as "Dr" on his NHS hospital website, along with many other doctors. Not sure whether he is one of the "genuine doctors" you mention. – Andrew Leach Nov 8 '20 at 9:33
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    In clinical settings in the U.K. allowing people who aren’t registered medical practitioners to use the title Dr risks misleading patients and others into thinking that person is medically qualified. This has patient safety and legal risks - eg potentially falling foul of The Medical Act 1983 (gmc-uk.org/registration-and-licensing/the-medical-register/…). – rhialto Nov 8 '20 at 15:57

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