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I have published several papers and have done a number of peer-reviews (on request by the journals) as well. In the communication with these journals, I frequently get addressed as "Dr. Lastname", although I have not finished my PhD yet.

I don't mind when this happens in predatory requests from shady journals and conferences (science spam), because I don't expect them to do their due diligence in finding out correct personal info on all the people they send these requests to.

But coming from more serious sources it feels weird.

In the beginning, I made the effort to correct them, but as it started to happen more and more, I stopped, but always wonder if this is not misrepresenting myself. Maybe the requests for e.g. peer-review would not have been sent to me if they knew that I didn't have my doctorate yet, as several journals I know only invite PhD-holders to review.

So should I always clarify my status, or is this a pretty common thing happening to many researchers, and no one really cares?

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    This also happens to me a lot. I am also very confused about it but , until now, I did not make the effort to correct them, as I feared I bothering the persons I communicated with. I am intrigued what others have to say on this topic! – pbaer May 6 at 7:15
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    Some academics do not have a photo of them on their websites, and you can spend many minutes trying to see if there is yet another website with a photo (departmental websites, Linkedin, ...). So sometimes it can be tricky to find out whether to address somebody as "Mr" or "Ms", not even mentioning that the impression of gender that the photo gives may be incorrect. So just defaulting to "Dr." regardless of whether the recipient actually has a PhD saves the editor a lot of time and a lot of worries. – DCTLib May 6 at 7:23
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    @DCTLib, I have never thought about this gender aspect, but it is very true. – Sursula May 6 at 7:28
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    The letter sent to reviewers is probably a form letter. "Dear Dr ______ ..." and the computer automatically inserts your name. – GEdgar May 6 at 10:41
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    I don't think you mean "falsely," rather "incorrectly." – A rural reader May 6 at 19:54
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Include your proper title and position in your email signature.

I'd say not to explicitly correct them in the email, but to include a signature to the email that says something like "Mr/Ms Sursula, PhD Candidate at Faculty of ABC, XYZ University". Ideally you'd want to use your university's official email footer format to do so.

That way, you can inform them of how you're properly meant to be addressed, without openly chastising them for getting it wrong.

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    Universities have official email footers? – Azor Ahai -him- May 6 at 18:53
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    Many organizations (education, government, corporate, non-profit) have standardized email footer formats. Many do not. The equivalent (and doesn't cost them anything) of organizations that used to (some still do) provide business cards in a standard format for each new employee. – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact May 6 at 19:04
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    Even if there is no official footer from the university or institution, there is always the possiblity to make your own custom footer saying what @nick012000 proposed. – Sursula May 7 at 7:14
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    Your university's marketing department (the business function of marketing, not the academic department of marketing) may have some footer guidelines also. – indigochild May 8 at 14:04
  • Note that some e-mail systems (major example: Gmail) hide the signature and anything after it by default, so it’s possible that this footer won’t be seen. This still seems like the best answer, though. – KRyan May 8 at 16:16
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The journals are not contacting you because of your title, but because you have published research that they think makes you a good candidate to review the given paper.

There is no need to correct them, the quality of your review does not depend on your title.

24

This typically happens because for editors who do not know you personally, keeping track of whether you have graduated yet takes more time than just finding your name from one of your publications. It is better to err on the side of overstating your title than understating it: if they refer to a PhD-holder as "Ms." or "Mr.", the PhD-holder might be offended, but if they refer to a graduate student as "Dr.", the grad student is less likely to be offended. Combined with the fact that most reviewers have a PhD, it's easier for editors to default to the "Dr." title when inviting new reviewers.

There's no obligation for you to correct them in the submission website. As a reviewer, correction is unlikely to be an issue as reviewers' names and titles should not appear in the publication. As an author, you may want to correct your title and affiliation on your publications.

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    …and, as @DCTLib remarks in the comments, it's gender-neutral. The PhD-holder might be even more offended if addressed as "Mr." where "Mrs." would have been correct. – Bergi May 6 at 15:49
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    @Bergi, or "Ms." :) – paul garrett May 6 at 19:01
  • @Bergi Or "Miss." I called all my female undergraduate students "Miss Lastname." Not one complaint in over 20 years of teaching. – Bob Brown May 6 at 23:48
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    @BobBrown: we need to be cognizant that people over whom we have power are unlikely to complain to us even if our practices can be improved. – Greg Martin May 7 at 0:11
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    @GregMartin : we need to be cognizant that many samples each year multiplied by 20 years of individual unlikely events lead to an event of "it happened at least once" with a much higher probability than the individual event. – Anonymous Coward May 7 at 6:17
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It may be worth mentioning, that at least in Germany you are indeed (theoretically) legally obligated to correct them. Not doing so has been ruled unauthorized use of an academic title in the past, which is illegal according to §132a StGB (translation here) and carries a penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or a fine.

In practice nobody will care about your private emails.

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    I'm not a lawyer, but I'm quite sure that just because a journal has a standard template where they refer to everyone as "Dr./Prof.", it does not obligate the recipient to correct it. It's just commonsense. However, if the recipient replies back with "Dr.PersonsName" in their email signature or deliberately writes anything pretending that they have an academic title that they don't, in that case it could be a legal offence. – Nav May 7 at 15:58
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    There have definitely been convictions for not stopping others from referring to someone using a title that person did not earn. Since Germany is a civil law system that doesn't set any precedent, but still. Your best protection is not that it's definitely not illegal, but that a) nobody will ever know and b) it's just not worth the effort prosecuting someone for it in this case. – Maeher May 7 at 17:05
  • The text of the law doesn't suggest to me that there's a duty in private emails to correct other people. If your university or a paper you coauthored errorously lists you with a title that you don't have, then you likely do have an obligation to correct that given that third parties would get a wrong impression of what title you have. In 1-on-1 emails I don't see how such a case could be made. – Christian May 9 at 11:30
  • The law does not define "use" or more precisely it doesn't define what "einen Titel führen" means. But knowingly accepting that other people consistently use it to address you can be included. Usually this is only prosecuted if it is connected to some other crime, like fraud or unfair businesse practices. – Maeher May 9 at 11:50
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They should really know better than to presume as much. So, do correct them - but of course, don't make a big deal out of it, so just as a PS when you reply. If people repeatedly correct these editors, they'll hopefully learn.

I should mention this has almost never happened to me. In fact, most journals I was in touch with typically just don't mention the title at all.

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