I am a researcher without a PhD. Because most people in my field do have PhDs, I sometimes get emails addressed to "Dr. [MyName]."

How should I address this, if at all? I don't want to complain because they are being polite, but also I don't want to lie by omission about my credentials.

  • 1
    In the beginning I used to explicitly say I am not a PhD, but after a while I realized it was just the standard and I stopped worrying about it. And of course once you get your PhD you don't have to worry about it anymore. ;)
    – Bitwise
    Sep 21, 2016 at 18:54
  • 6
    One of my professors - sorry, "lecturers" - in college used to say "Don't call me 'Professor', I can't make a radio out of coconuts" Sep 21, 2016 at 22:05
  • 1
    "OH, no I'm not a doctor. I don't even play one on TV."
    – mkingsbu
    Sep 21, 2016 at 22:11
  • 4
    I have the opposite problem. I am a "Dr" as in, physician, but still doing my PhD. It confuses the hell out of people when they see my signature. :D Sep 22, 2016 at 7:36

5 Answers 5


This is a very common experience, and mostly I think that you should ignore it. From my experience, the primary reasons that you will get addressed as Dr. (or Prof.) are:

  1. The sender doesn't know who you are and doesn't really care ("Honorable Dr. please send your excellent paper to our predatory journal sir!")
  2. They are using a form or other automated system that is automatically inserting the title.
  3. Somebody who does care but isn't sure of your status "rounds you up," figuring they are less likely to offend by too much honor than by too little.

If the person is somebody you actually want to have a relationship with or are concerned about misleading, then you can correct them, but for the most part just don't worry about it.

  • 12
    Wrong. Predatory journals refer to you as "Distinguished Prof", not as "Honorable Dr"!
    – Gimelist
    Sep 21, 2016 at 20:27
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    4. Dear PhD student, I wanted to ask your professor a question, but I don't dare waste his/her precious time, so now I waste your time with a question you most likely cannot or are not legally permitted to answer. I am therefor upgrading your status to flatter you into taking it up with them for me.
    – skymningen
    Sep 22, 2016 at 8:15

I find that the cleanest way to defuse this, without (a) raising a fuss, or (b) lying by omission, is simply to sign my reply as e.g.

Yours sincerely,

Mr. John Smith

It is short and unobtrusive, it's there if they want to look for it, and the fact that you're signing with your title is odd enough that it's a bit of a rap on the knuckles if the email is personal and your correspondent is at least a bit perceptive.


I don't think it's necessary to respond directly to being addressed as "Dr." via email. If it makes you feel better, you may put whatever credentials you do have in your email signature:

[body of email]

Slow_Writing, M.S., M.P.H., B.A.
Research Associate
Department of Writing Slowly
University Technical College

If they care, they'll read your signature and fix it. If not, enjoy the free title.

  • 3
    enjoy the free title, it's worth what you paid for it
    – Michael
    Sep 21, 2016 at 22:20
  • 2
    @Michael Annoyingly, the free title is worth about as much as my actual title :)
    – Calchas
    Sep 22, 2016 at 11:55

I have the same problem. I teach at a state university and I'm occasionally addressed as "Dr." even though only have an MS, unlike everyone else in the department. Similarly, I'm occasionally addressed as "Professor", even though I'm only a lecturer. I'm a stickler about not inflating my resume or my credentials, so this makes me uncomfortable, just as it does you.

Usually I'll offer a correction but sometimes not. With my students, I specifically tell them at the beginning of every quarter that I do not have a PhD and am not a professor, explaining that other people have earned those titles, I have not. I'm a lecturer and they should call me Nicole. Most do that, though some will still call me "Professor", usually, I suspect, because they've forgotten my name or because they follow the casual convention among students of calling all their instructors "Professor". I'll generally let that slide though if they do it in a one-on-one conversation, I may gently remind them, "You know I'm not really a professor, right?"

With others, whether I offer a correction depends on context. If it happens in conversation, I always offer a correction. If it's on a notice or a poster or something else that might be seen by others, I always ask for a correction (which doesn't always happen, to my discomfort). If it happens in a forum of some kind where a speaker has referred to me as "Dr." in front of a lot of people, I'm always uncomfortable but always let it slide at the time, rather than correct the speaker in front of others, possibly making them uncomfortable as well. But I may look for a later opportunity to offer the correction privately.

With emails, if it's simply an automated email (even sometimes from my own department), that's easy: I ignore it. With other emails, it depends on whether I have to reply or if I expect to have more contact with the individual. If yes to either, I always offer a correction and, as with my students, ask them to call me Nicole.

Anyway, that's what I do. YMMV.

  • 4
    It is also a cultural thing, in some cultures any teacher is a professor no matter what.
    – joojaa
    Sep 22, 2016 at 4:48
  • 2
    I correct it once and then let it slide rather than having it become a distraction of repeted correction.
    – JDługosz
    Sep 22, 2016 at 6:53
  • @JDługosz Yes, I agree with that. Sep 22, 2016 at 7:25
  • This is useful information, tried and tested. However, the question specifically spoke of emails. So I suggest you ask a new question to fit your answer, and then provide your own answer. Sep 22, 2016 at 20:14
  • @aparente001 And I suggest you re-read my answer as the I did specifically address the question of emails. I merely put it in context. Sep 22, 2016 at 20:50

If the email is from somebody who you'll need to communicate with in the future, you can let them know that you don't have a PhD. It doesn't matter how you do that: just be polite. Most of these emails, though, are from people you will never speak to again. There's no need to waste your energy correcting those people; just ignore it and/or take it as a small compliment.

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