That’s Dr ___ to you, Mr ___

It’s been a while since I’ve had a rant here, and usually they’re about personal experiences as a woman in STEM, or the insanity of HR. This one was triggered by the sad and pathetic attack on Dr Jill Biden’s (PhD) use of the title Dr, by Mr Joseph Epstein (BA).
I have a PhD. And I earned it – I did original research, I published it and it was peer reviewed, I wrote a thesis that was examined by experts and I was awarded the title Dr. Just like Dr Jill Biden, albeit in different fields.
A PhD requires original research, a new contribution to knowledge – not just learning what other people found out and regurgitating it on exams. Like what Mr Epstein did to get his BA.
They are qualitatively different things. To get a BA (or BSc – I have one of them too, in physics), you need to work hard. Having some facility with words and/or mathematics helps, but fundamentally it comes down to studying and being good at exams. Which is not the same as being creative, having good critical thinking skills, and being able to carry out an independent research project.
I repeat – a BA and a PhD are qualitatively different. One is an end-user of knowledge (hopefully), the other is the creator of knowledge. So no amount of bachelor’s degrees is equal to a PhD.
For a few years I worked at Sydney Uni, just down the corridor from Dr Karl – a medical doctor who does a lot of popular science stuff on TV, writes books, etc. Other Aussies will know the name. He pointed out, on several occasions, that he wasn’t really a doctor. He has two bachelor’s degrees – medicine and surgery, as medical doctors generally do. But he does not have a doctorate.
So, who should be allowed to call themselves Dr? Someone with a doctorate, or someone with two bachelor’s degrees? I think it’s pretty obvious from the names of the degrees, even if you don’t know what the difference between them is…
Or, if delivering a baby is your criteria (seriously? is Epstein harking back to Heinlein’s definition of being  man here? Can he con a ship?), then that excludes a lot of medical doctors anyway. But it does give midwives the right to tack on a Dr. (The midwives who delivered mine were great.)
In spite of the rant above, I am not precious about my PhD. My blog isn’t called anotherDrkatewilson (although I know two other Kate Wilsons with PhDs). I rarely use my title at work – at universities, almost everyone has (at least) Dr in front of their name. It’s not special, it’s just the minimum required. Hmmm…. how long did Epstein teach at Northwestern?
Outside of work I never introduce myself as Dr Kate, just as Kate. I put Dr on forms if it’s there, otherwise Ms – because my marital status is none of your business. And isn’t that really what this is all about – putting a woman in her place? Telling her that she is subordinate to her husband, and merely an extension of him? That her status is a function of having a husband or not, and who that husband is? Perhaps she should drop her own name as well, and just use “Mrs Joe Biden”.
Or is that too simple an explanation?
Maybe this is (also) the insecurity of a man who worked, in his words, for 30 years at a university without a doctorate or higher degree. That must have been tough – being constantly surrounded for 30 years by people who had demonstrated their creativity and critical thinking while all he had done was pass some exams. Having Mr on his door, when all around were Drs…  That must result in a serious inferiority complex and a lot of resentment.
I guess his article at least demonstrates a minimal level of creativity, but more critical thinking should have been applied. It’ll need a lot of work and some actual research to turn it into a PhD, before Mr Epstein earns the right to judge what the title Dr actually means.


Filed under rants

5 responses to “That’s Dr ___ to you, Mr ___

  1. Interesting Kate….I know someone who puts Dr (has PhD) in front of everything regardless..I think come on?….

    • hmmm… a bit insecure maybe? The ones that make me roll my eyes are the people who put Dr X (PhD) – like they have to tell you twice.

      • Insecure yes…..I could put Mr D (PLIT) M…… Don’t know what PLIT is Kate? …. Poet Laureate in Training….is there a PL in Nonsense Kate?….am I doing all this for nothing?

        • So I wondered who our poet laureate was on reading your comment – and turns out we don’t have one! What a disgrace! Perhaps you could be the first.
          I love a good acronym. When I was at ANU and a new set of Secondary courses was being designed I put ANUS#### on the paperwork as the new course code. Sadly someone in admin spotted it before it made the handbook.

        • Maybe ANUSHIT would have made the handbook…I mean this Secondary course is labelled a HIT.. What else did you think I meant?

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