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EU Ph.D. in Germany: Calling yourself “Dr.” or “Ph.D.”

I'm asking this question in relation to my doctoral studies in Germany. However, my question may be relevant to regulations in other European countries.

At the university where I pursue my doctorate, I have the choice between two titles. Upon successfully completion of my dissertation and all related examinations I can decide which title I want to hold: "Dr. rer. nat." or "Ph.D.".

In Germany, the traditional title is "Dr.". From what I understand the title "Ph.D." is being introduced at many universities for reasons of comparability with degrees from other countries (especially with the US and the UK). I'm guessing, the reasoning is that holding a "Ph.D." will improve your chances when applying for (academic) openings internationally. However, I have also been told that the German "Dr." has an excellent international reputation and may give you an edge over "Ph.D.".

EDIT: A couple of years ago, legal steps were taken so that a "Ph.D." issued by other European countries is automatically recognized in Germany (as long as the issuing institutions are eligible) and may be "translated" to "Dr." in Germany. There is also a question related to this here. However, a "Ph.D." issued in Germany may not be "translated" to "Dr."! Therefore, I have to decide for either one and cannot use both.

Hence, my question is: What are the advantages and disadvantages of either title with respect to academic careers in Germany and internationally? Is a "Ph.D." seen as less distinguished by German academics? How is the German "Dr." perceived by academics in other countries as compared with a "Ph.D."?

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    From my reading the question you mention asks whether "Ph.D." titles obtained outside of Germany may be "translated" to "Dr." in Germany. The question is therefore related but refers to a different matter. – crsh Oct 1 '12 at 11:44
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    My title (after finishing my doctorate in Germany) is Dr.rer.nat. I use, especially internationally, Ph.D. consistently. I have yet to notice any problems from this. – Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson Oct 1 '12 at 11:52
  • That's an interesting approach and would lead me to think I should go with the traditional "Dr." so I could use it in Germany and "Ph.D." internationally. I am still wondering, however, whether that is appropriate, since I keep reading it is not. I know for a fact, that in Germany it is illegal to use the title "Ph.D." if you received a "Dr." from your university. – crsh Oct 1 '12 at 13:47
  • I have edited my question to clarify the difference to the prior asked question. I would appreciate a review of this decision. – crsh Oct 4 '12 at 9:27
  • @energynumbers as pointed out in my previous comment, I believe I have updated the question to highlight the differences to the alleged duplicate. I would appreciate a review of the decision. For what it's worth, I this question has received several up-votes since it was closed, which I believe indicates that others are interested in further answers. – crsh Mar 26 '15 at 12:29

I'll add a bit of a legal perspective into the game. Disclaimer: I hold a Dr. rer. nat. from Germany, though lived and worked in several other countries in the EU.

Firstly, personally I think, that "choosing a title" and seeing it as an important issue, is largely a German/Austrian/(Central European?) specialty. After all, why should your title matter outside academia, where the difference is anyway largely understood around the world?

Secondly, even when you hold some title from country X, you are not automatically eligible to use it across the border, even given there exists an equivalent one in the other country. Rather, there are legal procedures which lead to a formal recognition and proper translation of your title. So for me, being a "Dr." with a title from Germany, to be able to use either "Dr.", or "PhD" in other EU countries, especially those east of Germany, I would have to either undergo a formal procedure called nostrification, or, in selected cases, if the university is granting an equivalent degree in my specialization, they could forgo the nostrification hassle and they could recognize it right away (rather and exception to the rule). Either way, you need to obtain a formal certificate from the state, or at least the university, stating exactly how your title translates to an equivalent title in the other country. Only then you can use the title freely. To top it up, the whole matter is regulated by bi-lateral international treaties between countries exactly stating which title holders are eligible to use which titles in the other country and how. See for example the treaty on grades recognition between Czech Republic and Germany. There even is a full website in Germany on all this (mostly for foreign title holders wanting to use them in Germany).

To sum it up, there is a whole lot to simply using an academic title in a country different from the one you obtained it in. This can be straightforward in countries where the culture doesn't care too much (in my experience e.g., Netherlands), but in countries where the title can be legally a part of your name (not sure whether it still is the case), such as almost whole Austrian-Hungarian empire heritage countries, this can be a big deal.

My point is the following: It's probably irrelevant which title you choose. If you want to be precise, legally speaking, somebody probably already translated your title to another one (which you can't choose) which you should adopt in other countries.

Apart from all that above, I regularly see people approaching me in e-mails, or letters by both "Dr. XYZ", as well, as "XYZ, PhD" - not speaking of those not checking the background and virtually promoting me to levels I do not belong to (yet). Again, the precise title doesn't matter that much after all.

Later edit, on a more anecdotal note:

the precise title doesn't matter that much after all

Well, except when you want to use the title for things like skipping a queue when visiting a doctor and being treated very respectfully by all the nurses (Germany), or when encountering police, getting away with only with a warning and avoiding a fine for speeding, or other minor trespassing (countries eastwards of Germany). I have first-hand knowledge of such incidents, so my advice here would be to 1) go for the fanciest possible title, yet it should be widely recognized by general public, and 2) if your country of residence allows it, include the title on your ID card, passport, social security ID, whatever else, so that you can wave it when necessary :-D.

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    +1, this answer is very enlightening. The final paragraph is particularly surprising, I never expected this to actually happen. – Marc Claesen Aug 9 '14 at 15:24

As someone living in Germany right now, I can attest that there really is very little difference between PhD's from countries like the US, the UK, France, and Australia, and doctoral degrees from inside Germany. In many cases, German universities are looking for people with international experience when hiring, and thus the external experience with having a degree that isn't a "Dr.rer.nat." or a "Dr.-Ing." can be helpful.

However, as mentioned in the above link, it now is acceptable for people with PhD's to call themselves "Dr." inside of Germany. It may not be allowed for someone with a PhD degree from inside Germany to call themselves "Dr."; however, the inherent advantage is relatively small, I believe.

Moreover, if you are outside of Germany, the possession of a doctoral degree is probably more important than the actual title of the degree: in the US, I don't think you will be treated differently holding a "Dr.rer.nat." than the PhD.

  • Thanks a lot. Your answer was very helpful. And to add to it: I'm know for a fact, that a Ph.D. from inside Germany may not be "translated" into a "Dr." in Germany. This is precisely why I'm trying to decide which title to choose. – crsh Oct 4 '12 at 9:12
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    If you're planning on staying in Germany, then go with the more recognized title within Germany. If you're planning on spending most of your career outside, go with what's recognized more easily in the rest of the world. – aeismail Oct 5 '12 at 4:32

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