I am writing a final year project report and I would like to acknowledge a friend who is a doctoral student.

Is it appropriate to write

Special recognition is due to Dr. Jane Doe for her support..."

I don't know whether she will present her dissertation before I submit my report but given the current state it is unlikely.

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    When I was a doctoral student, one of my friends called me proto-doctor.
    – eipi10
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 3:42
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    @eipi10: better than "larval doctor" or "doctor-larva", no? Commented May 13, 2023 at 8:48
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    A reasonable number of PhD students do not complete their PhDs, so not appropriate.
    – Tom
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 9:12
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    Doctoral candidate perhaps.
    – Olumide
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 19:57
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    @Olumide That is a specific status that varies by department. Unless you know she is a "candidate," it would not necessarily be correct to refer to her that way. Commented May 14, 2023 at 20:51

10 Answers 10


Who knows what the future will bring? Maybe something bad happens and she will never get her PhD or maybe she will also become a professor and should be addressed as prof. Dr., or ... So the safest thing to do is take the state of the world at the moment of writing rather than try to predict what the world will look like when a reader reads it. The current state of the world is that she is not a doctor, so no Dr.

  • 22
    Would you say "Happy Birthday" to someone a few days before their actual birthday, in order to be the first to congratulate them? Commented May 12, 2023 at 19:06
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    @DavidLoeffler yes, do people not do that? Commented May 12, 2023 at 20:52
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    In Britain, it would be seen as rather strange to congratulate someone early on their birthday, and would almost certainly lead to them suspecting that you had forgotten exactly what day their birthday was. But it was a bad comparison anyway, because a birthday is deterministic, while passing a PhD defence definitely is not. Commented May 13, 2023 at 15:14
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    In my department in the UK, there is a nice little ritual that whenever a student passes the oral examination at the end of their PhD, everyone in their research group gathers round and greets them with their newly-minted title, "Congratulations Dr XXX". Technically this is not quite true, since the actual process of granting the doctorate takes a little while longer; but from that point on it is merely a formality, while the oral examination is a genuine hurdle which candidates have to prepare hard for, and some students do fail (very rarely, but sometimes). Commented May 13, 2023 at 15:19
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    @DavidLoeffler I'm British and I would absolutely say 'oh, Happy Birthday for next Tuesday!'. But I agree; I would not say 'congratulations on passing your viva next Tuesday'.
    – Jojo
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 13:01

This is just my opinion, but if you're friends, like "first name basis" friends, why not just use their name? My friend got his degree in econ from Columbia. Smartest man I've ever met. But while we're coworkers, we're also friends.

So, when I thank him in my Dissertation, I'll thank "Mani" not "Dr. Bayani" because I don't know, it just sounds weird, to me anyways. Another thing is that if you're a 4th/5th year student, your advisors at this point are really more like senior colleagues than outright superiors.

I call my mentors Dr. Sevigny and Dr. Coupet instead of Eric and Jason, but that's because... I don't know, Sevigny is much older (in his 50s) and I took Coupet's course so I guess I'm more used to hearing people call (when addressing him) him Dr. Coupet. I don't know, academia is kinda weird in this regard. But my point is, if you both are friends, proper friends, then just call them by their name.


I agree with the other answers that you should not address people by titles that they have not yet achieved, so it would be inappropriate to call a doctoral student Dr. That said, since this is in a relatively informal acknowledgement section, you could still pay heed to her studies and refer to her as "soon-to-be Dr. Jane Doe". This strikes me as a more reasonable statement about expectations for the future, rather than a statement that's misleadingly untrue.

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    "soon-to-be-Dr Jane Doe" makes sense. "soon-to-be Dr Jane Doe" looks like she isn't born yet.
    – Stef
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 14:28
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    Alternatively, you could just say "doctoral student Jane Doe."
    – trlkly
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 20:59

Would you refer to academy award nominee Ian McKellen as academy award winner Ian McKellen?

Of course not. So stop giving other people pre-emptive titles they haven't yet earned.


As someone who just recently finished his PhD, it feels a little bit weird and unnecessary to use the Dr or even PhD titles unless it's for something formal or in engagements directly related to the field. And it wouldn't have even cross my mind to use it before completing my public defense plus getting all the needed approvals from library, department, college and registrar's. So, it's a long road even at the end! Before that, I was simply a PhD Candidate, which ain't bad. Probably that's your friend's title at the moment and (assuming it is) could be used, if need be, as a reference.

As a side note, I call everyone I work directly with in academia by their first name regardless if they are students, fully tenured professors or what have you. And I've never been corrected by anyone on this, even when their title has been fancier than professor.

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    "it feels a little bit weird and unnecessary to use the Dr or even PhD titles unless it's for something formal" Acknowledgements are one of those formal places though Commented May 13, 2023 at 15:02

To add to Maarten Buis' answer: The custom in Germany is (was? in 1980 in Mathematics) to never use titles (in articles or books) for living persons. Once you're dead, your academic career is over and you no longer can acquire new ones. Of course, a professor is a Herr or Frau Professor, and if you have two Ph.D.s you are a Doctor Doctor.

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    I don't know if this answer is meant to be ironic, but if not, I would strongly object to this observation. This might be a custom in some fields that I'm not aware of, but it certainly is not generally applicable (at least in Germany).
    – kroneml
    Commented May 12, 2023 at 17:59

No, it is definitely not appropriate. Your school would even have a rule as to whether or not you could refer to her as a doctoral candidate at this stage. If she is a candidate, then this would be fine. Otherwise, you should simply say her name without any titles because she doesn't have any.


In Dutch-speaking countries, we use the title doctorandus (abbreviated drs. instead of dr.) for PhD students. It is a Latin periphrastic passive participle that literally translates to "he who must be awarded a doctorate", from the verb doctorare. I was surprised to find out that this is not a standard adopted anywhere else.


Absolutely not. There is a HUGE difference between being a doctoral student and a doctor. There is no comparison. You should never refer to any person who has not COMPLETED a PhD as doctor. Just no comparison. Try that around doctors and see what happens.


While this repeats some other answers arguing for not using a title, I want to offer an additional argument.

Keep to what is factually true at the time of writing.

So, I would phrase it as follows:

Special recognition is due to my fellow doctoral student (and friend) Jane Doe for her support..."

Anyone reading this, can surmise, that by the time they read your acknowledgements, Jane Doe might also have finished her PhD, or not ... at the time of writing (you writing the acknowledgement), nobody could have known.

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