I currently have a masters degree in an engineering field and I don't currently have any PhD degrees (I may study for a doctorate degree in future). It happens that when I go to conferences or scientific occasions, even in the emails I receive from people; they use a doctor prefix for my name; but I do not have a PhD degree.

What is a good etiquette to deal with such thing? Should I directly tell them that I do not have a doctorate degree? Or should I neglect such a mistake by them and don't do anything?

I think it is unethical not to correct such thing, because the person may still think that I have a PhD degree; and such wrong usage of title should be corrected some way. Once a person used doctor title for my name in an email and I just added a line in my reply to his email, stating that I have a masters degree.

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    In Italy any degree allows the use of the title doctor, even a Bachelor degree.
    – Bakuriu
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 9:34
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    I had a college instructor who would say "Mr., please - and barely that!" when we called him "Dr.," which I thought was funny, but might not be appropriate for professional settings.
    – thomij
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 20:55
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    Tell them to call you "Master" instead. :-P
    – user541686
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 7:41
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    Be weary of predatory publishers and other dubious paraacademic entities who bomb everyone with pompous titles hoping to attract attention with flattery.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 9:19
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    Addressing it with humor is nearly always appropriate and can defuse otherwise awkward situations. Whether you go self-deprecating ("Just call me 'Hank', I'm a spectator, not a wizard."), street-pride ("That's 'Mister Hank', please -- I still work for a living."), over-the-top ("'Your Grace' will suffice, I'm not a doctor.") or any other way with it is a contextual judgement. The most important thing to keep in mind is it is almost certainly not a big deal to anyone.
    – zxq9
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 12:58

9 Answers 9


I would say this depends on context. When contacting academics, it is common to assume they all have a doctorate. A mass email (or mail-merged etc.) is therefore likely to use Dr. even for a PhD student on the list, because checking would take much more work. Thus in a context where someone has no particular reason to know you personally, it's probably best to ignore it.

On the other hand, if it's coming from someone who who might reasonably be expected to remember specific information about you as a person, I would be inclined to point it out. Personally I put things like that as a PS to an email, or similar, to try not to make a big deal out of it.

Edit: Another thought on the ethics side. I would agree that you should not allow people to continue acting on the assumption you have a PhD when that is not true. However, in many cases where this arises, it is not that the person specifically believes you have a PhD, but that they are not really thinking about it, or doesn't really care.


In these cases I tend to sign my replies with an explicit title, such as e.g.

Best wishes,

Mr. Joe Smith

without any formal correction beyond this.

Particularly for a short email, it's sufficiently awkward to sign with an explicit title that it's there if they care at all about the correct title without unduly intruding into the conversation. If they don't care about it, then that's their problem, and you've discharged any moral duty you had to correct the error.

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    If this is done using a gmail there is a tendency for it to hide your signature line so do beware of that
    – Skyler
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 21:41

It's Mr. Evil, I I have not yet spent six years in Evil Medical School so you can just call me "mister,"

Optionally followed by :-P
You could also substitute Evil Graduate School for Evil Medical School.

Referencing (and reversing) Dr. Evil Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

  • I've got to say, this was a funny answer :)
    – user42055
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 14:51
  • Reminds me of Mister Evil Doctor Pork Chop youtu.be/bOZqIpbIuUg?t=185
    – Daniel
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 1:57
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    Would be totally lost on somebody who never watched Austin Powers (which, a quick head-count in the office here, would be four out of four). Humor can backfire if it references something you can not really take for granted.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 15:29
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    @DevSolar I hardly understood this answer and its humor...
    – enthu
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 18:28
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    @EnthusiasticStudent I've only seen it once, but if I recall, it's a television commercial. With this cartoon leprechaun, and all of these children are trying to chase him, "Hey, leprechaun, leprechaun man, we want to get your lucky charms." Oh! And there are these little tiny pieces of mashmallow just stuck right in the cereal. So when the kids eat them they think, "Oooh this is candy, I'm having fun!"
    – coburne
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 20:17

Perhaps it would be best to say something like "You may call me Mr. (or Ms.) Something, as I do not have a doctoral degree yet." Keep it very short.


I think it would be reasonable to politely correct someone who did this consistently. "I actually don't have a PhD"; something very short. If it's someone you're never going to see again I don't think it would be worth saying anything.

In my field (physics in North America) basically everyone goes by their first name so this never really comes up. The only people who go around calling people 'Dr' are nervous undergrads.


Sign your reply email "Enthusiastic Student, M.Sc.", and write the same on your conference name badge.

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    I'm not sure I agree with the "conference badge" part. At the conferences I attend, badges just have the person's name and affiliation - titles such as "Dr.", "Prof.", "PhD", etc, are not included. At such a conference, if you write "M.Sc." on your badge, you might look pompous. Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 15:20
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    Many conferences include Prof. or Dr. (more than not in my area) on their badges, so you just cross the Dr. Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 16:15
  • @NateEldredge agreed. Maybe there should be an "N.Ph.D." acronym for "Not a Ph.D." that people in the OP's situation could use when appropriate. :-)
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 19:39
  • @DanRomik if I saw N.PhD I'd think it something like "Naturalis Philosophiae Doctor"
    – Davidmh
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 8:26
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    then perhaps ¬PhD? Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 14:40

I would just point it out in the next email - there is absolutely no harm in doing so. As one person once put it - apparently it is better to assume people hold a doctorate and to address people with "Dr." rather than to not acknowledge it when they do hold one.

Any decent person/organisation should and will treat you the same irrespectively of whether you hold a doctorate or not. I.e. a technical query from a PhD Student it equally valid as a technical query from a PostDoc.

A PS: During my PhD at least two support places gave me a title I didn't have and I mentioned it in the next email - no harm done. Having said that, I have finished my PhD since but still prefer not to use a title when say filling in a form - unless there is a good reason that it is needed. - I.e. if you apply for a PostDoc, filling in "Dr." as the way to address you makes sense, but filling in "Dr." on say Amazon or another shopping invoice - what for?

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    Related and important, please don't use Dr for PhDs context. On a plane, you may get asked if you are medical doctor when there's a situation in need of attention. Saves a lot of trouble for philosophy PhDs like me to not go by Dr on my information for flying.
    – virmaior
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 14:06
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    One of my former colleagues would say: "The only time I call myself Doctor Friedman is when I make a reservation at a restsurant."
    – GEdgar
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 14:06
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    I quite often use Dr for flying.(If they don't offer Ms, I choose Dr, and yes that still happens.) Never once have I been approached during a medical situation - and I've heard the "if there is a medical doctor on board please identify yourself to an attendant" page more times than I can count. Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 14:56
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    @virmaior: I'm hoping Aviation.SE can clear this up. Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 17:15
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    @JessicaB In Germany you can have a doctorate in the ID card/Passport. (No idea if I will add it or not - I'll have to decide when I renew my passport - and I do not know how an English PhD would be represented in a German passport...)
    – DetlevCM
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 21:16

You can't always win. While I was studying for my PhD I submitted my MSc thesis as a research paper (really, I wrote a research paper and submitted it to gain my MSc, then polished it and sent it to the journal).

The referee's remarks came back in an envelope addressed to "Dr.". Since I had to send a revised version back, I wrote something like "Since I am currently studying for my PhD, I'm not yet 'Dr'." It wasn't a big deal to me, but I didn't want the departmental secretaries thinking I was misadvertising myself. This all seemed to go OK -- it passed without comment, my revisions were accepted and my paper went to print. Then the printers sent my preprints addressed to "Professor".

It occurred to me recently that they may have taken my letter into account, since in the U.S. "Professor" is the lower title (as far as I know, it applies to anyone who teaches), but at the time I read this as an upgrade -- in the UK "Professor" implies tenure!

So yes. I don't think you need to worry about including a short sentence like "By the way, I don't currently hold a PhD so for the moment I'm just 'Mr G. Mann'". I'd advise against the out-and-out joke response ("That's MR Evil..." etc) but it's fair to assume your interlocutor is at least good-humoured.

If conference badges seem to always include "Dr", perhaps ask if it's possible to omit the title, as if it's a technical question?

(On the related question of whether to include "Dr" in various contexts, I use it when a title is required, since it is my title -- and it appears that way on my billing information for example. This may mean people misidentify me as a medical doctor, but I've never had that problem. However, I don't use it most of the time. My e-mail sig is just 'John Aldis', for example. Outside the "match the billing information" examples I use my title only when doing things directly relevant to my degree. If I was applying for a post-doc, or writing a letter to a newspaper in a professional context, I might do it. Otherwise, I wouldn't.)


You could say that you can't wait to actually bear that title and are working very hard to get it.

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