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As a general rule, I'm a laid back person and don't take life too seriously. So while I have a PhD, let's say, I don't wave around. (So much so that my PhD scroll hasn't been framed yet).

I work outside academia and for my job, I write governmental papers and submit to various committees. Yet despite members knowing I have a PhD, I always get referred to as "Mr" in conversations and minutes/agendas. Initially this didn't worry me but I see other staff who are PhDs as well do getting their titles acknowledged and titles seem to have 'sway', let's say.

Am I being petty to ask that official meetings/documents refer to my correct title? And what is the best way to raise this?

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    Let it go. I find using Dr in an academic teaching setting puts up a barrier between me and the students.
    – Peter K.
    Jun 7 at 21:13
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    @user151413 - really, a PhD has nothing to do with academia?
    – Mari153
    Jun 8 at 0:16
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    @Mari153 Of course obtaining a PhD requires you to interact with academia... But whether or not you frame 'your scroll' or use your title in a non academic setting has nothing to do with academia! Jun 8 at 16:34
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    @Mari153: It's not that a PhD never has anything to do with academia, it's the "I work outside academia and for my job..." (direct quote from your question) that has nothing to do with academia.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jun 8 at 20:11

5 Answers 5

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There are three basic modes of referring to people:

Formal: Mr. X, Dr. Y, Reverend Z, etc.

Full name: Andrew X, Bridget Emily Y, Cindy Z, etc.

Informal: Andy, Bridget, Cindy, etc.

It's petty to care about people using your title if people are not using title otherwise by using full names or using informal address. If everyone is calling each other "Tom" and "Suze" then demanding that they address you as "Dr. 153" is out of kilter but if people are referring to you in a formal fashion then it is entirely reasonable to expect people to use the correct form of address. The only reason for formality is politeness and correctness, and using the wrong title is impolite and incorrect. Doubly so if they're bothering for other people and not you.

Even so, making a big deal about it is probably not worth it. Ensure that your signature, email name, etc. use your formal name, and that when you're introduced that colleagues correctly identify you, perhaps gently correct from time to time. But starting a massive fight is unlikely to pay dividends.

You mention not being given your correct title in minutes, that's a good place to start. Contact the person writing up the minutes to discretely note the error, e.g. "I notice you're including people's titles in the minutes, just to make you aware: I also have a PhD."

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Outside of a university or a research institution, the only people routinely called doctor are medical doctors. And their doctorates are MDs and DOs, professional degrees considered lower than a PhD earned through research.

If being called doctor is really important, you need a new job in academia or research where that will happen. If you like the job you have, you will have to accept that it comes with being called Mr. No one is disrespecting you. They're simply behaving according to custom.

You could make a fuss and insist that people call you doctor and maybe they will. But the most likely outcome is that they will think you're a petty and self-important asshat. I think you should find a new job or let it go.

Added: I wrote all of that before OP clarified that other people with PhDs were getting addressed as Dr but OP was not. It wasn't about people with very different titles like Senator or General getting addressed by their titles.

It's caused me to reflect on the many times over the last 50 years in industry and academia that I've worked on teams with some mix of PhDs and folks (like me) without. I can only recall two places, IBM in the 70s and (now-defunct) Prime Computer in the early 80s, where people with PhDs were commonly referred to as Dr.

I think it mostly died out after that. By the early 2000s at Microsoft, where they had lots of PhDs and lots without, I can't remember anyone being called Dr. Even at Michigan, where they had lots of PhDs and lots fewer people like me without, if someone got called Dr, it was on some kind of department press release.

Naturally, I can see why OP would feel disrespected. But it's possible there are other reasons people do this that have nothing to do with OP. For example, is it possible people are simply sucking up to people higher up the food chain? Is it possible some simply aren't aware that OP also has a PhD?

Whatever the behind-the-scenes reasons this is happening, I'm going to stick to my advice, that OP could try to fix this case-by-case, perhaps by approaching people privately in their own offices (their territory) to request equal Dr treatment, starting with the worst offenders. After one or two such requests, OP will quickly know whether this will work without creating hard feelings. If it can't be fixed, OP will need to find someplace else where they feel better respected, or get over it.

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    I have a PhD in physics and I worked in the industry, first in research and then in a commercial role. In the research part it was understood you had a PhD so using your title was frowned upon. In my commercial role, I found that for some reason, it was better not to use it, including on business cards, as it seemed to create some kind of barrier. In fact, the only place I used the title Dr. was on booking planes. It was nice to be greeted by doctor, but I thankfully there never was a medical emergency on the plane. (this is continental Europe and UK fyi). Jun 7 at 12:16
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    I would add to this answer, calling people with Doctor title is a little culture focus too. In some rare countries, people with PhD level are called Doctors and this is very important for them; and this is socially accepted and “Doctor Family Name” is a sign of etiquette. In some others, people with bachelors degrees are even called doctors.
    – enthu
    Jun 7 at 14:51
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    I would agree with this answer if OP's employer didn't use doctoral titles at all (as is frequently the case). But my read of the question is that this employer does use "Dr." when referring to other PhD holders, but inexplicably does not do so for OP.
    – cag51
    Jun 7 at 15:56
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    @NicoleHamilton: How are you reading "Initially this didn't worry me but I see other staff do getting their titles acknowledged and titles seem to have 'sway', let's say." if not that other staff are getting their titles and others aren't. Jun 7 at 21:36
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    @NicoleHamilton It doesn't make any difference what the titles are. Either you acknowledge titles or you don't. Jun 7 at 22:01
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It is not petty, but it may set you apart if it is not common in your company.

And what is the best way to raise this?

The first step is to change your email signature and your name in the IT system (chat, email...) so that it includes "Dr.". Depending on how your company is organized, it may be possible to ask HR to address you as Dr. in their communication with you (payslips and the like).

People will then gradually get used to the title "Dr." next to your name. For meeting minutes or other documents in which your name appears without Dr. and others' names appear with Dr., you can just ask the person who wrote the document:

  • Hey, can you add my title "Dr." to my name, to be consistent with other people's names in the document?

In conversation, it is trickier. Having your colleagues always address you as "Dr. Lastname" will create distance and may make spontaneous collaboration harder or more awkward. For example, I am in Germany (a country well known for "Dr." being an important thing and people being happy to be called that) and in my company many people are called Dr. in writing but no one wants it in speaking. It is probably a good idea to follow company culture in this case.

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  • Check with a mature and trustworthy staff member to see if it's known amongst staff in general that you are a doctorate holder. That might be the cause of it. Maybe someone tried to use your informality against you by putting the idea in to junior staff heads that you were less qualified. If you are listed as Mr, you're called Mr; as Dr, they'll call you Dr. I am not sure if it's a status thing or a pay differential thing - but I'm sure you do. If it's just your ears telling you that people intone Dr X with more respect than Mr Y then maybe you need to take wimi's advice: change your title.
    – Trunk
    Jun 7 at 23:49
  • I think the difference is more between formal and informal. Written communication is just formal a lot more often than oral communication. If you go to say a new customer, presenting yourself as Mr Smith and Dr Miller can be totally appropriate. If Mr Smith sends an email to Dr Miller afterwards he will probably start it with 'Hey Bob' and not with 'Dear Dr Miller'.
    – quarague
    Jun 8 at 9:14
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I feel it is important to point out that the context here is neither academia, nor business, but government, and the creation of government reports that may shape policy.

The creation of policy is a political struggle, and political struggles can be sneaky and childish. Folks will sometimes seek political advantage by referring to the experts that back their point of view as "Doctor", and those that oppose their point of view as "Ms." or "Mr.", undercutting their nominal expertise and standing to speak. It's a stupid trick of rhetoric, but that's the world you live in when you are politics adjacent. I believe this trick cropped up a number of times in hearings and reports on COVID policy over the last two years.

If you are giving formal testimony or preparing formal reports I think you absolutely want to get your qualification on the record. You also may need to stick to it when engaged with actual politicians on the job. Around the office with your co-workers, forget about it.

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When I worked in industry, colleagues with PhDs had "Dr" on their business cards an in email signatures. They were occasionally addressed as such by external contacts (even I was by mistake) and in paper mail auto-generated by internal systems such as payroll.

Apart from that, it was almost always first names, except where surnames were needed to disambiguate. We normally reached that point pretty quickly when dealing with customers and suppliers as well.

Now I've got my own PhD and am in academia, titles of any kind are rarely used, except when formally introducing a speaker - even then, name and role ("Alice Jones, professor of Semiconductor Physics at...") would be a common alternative. Outside academia I prefer not to be known as "Dr", when titles are used. I'd rather not be confused with a medic, and it feels unnecessarily ceremonious.

This is in the UK; my understanding from the people I've met is that NZ should be pretty similar

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