Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion article regarding incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and her use the pre-nominal “Dr.” when she has a doctorate in education, Ed.D, versus a medical doctorate, Ph.D. The article shared the belief that medical doctors are the real doctors, and broad use of the title "Dr." if you're not looking at my broken toe or an ear problem is inappropriate.
But the reaction was swift! Warriors were mobilized! Part of the world lost their mind that someone would challenge Jill Biden's desire to be addressed as "Dr. Biden".
I'm here to tell you that regardless of that article's tone and spin in the WSJ, you can think someone with a PhD who wants to be called "Dr." is absurd. It doesn't make you a misogynist, as long as you're consistent across gender and Jill Biden isn't the first time you've laughed at the use of the title, "Dr."
I think most PhDs (and Ed.Ds) who want to be called "Dr." outside of the academic world are being short-sighted as best, and narcissistic at worst.
Let's dig in:
1--If you have a PhD and you're in the academic world and the norm in that world is for people to call you doctor, go to town. I'm not in that world and don't understand it. My son is a research assistant for some PhD candidates this year and he thinks they deserve to call themselves "Dr." in academia if they achieve the PhD. Cool.
2--Once you leave academia, my opinion is that you should demand to be called "Dr." in corporate America at your own peril and it's only occasionally situationally appropriate. PhD in cellular biology and you work at Pfizer? Dr. sounds right. PhD in Labor Relations and you're an HR pro supporting Sales and Marketing and you want to be called Dr.? Cue the snickering. PhD in English and you're in a corporate comms job? Less snickering than the HR person, but snickering around you nonetheless.
3--If you know someone from the questionable category that wants to be called Doctor, you know the level of narcissism by whether the following things happen:
--They share a bio that includes "Dr. <insert name> in 48 font letters at the top of the page and continues to refer to them as "Dr. Dunn" throughout the rest of the bio. LinkedIn as well for this measurement.
--They have an email signature that shows their name as "Dr. Kris Dunn" at the top of said signature. Woof. That's a lot.
--When you're in a meeting with them, the need for them to be called Doctor has been mobilized in your company to the point where people below them in the org structure called them, "Dr. Dunn" out of respect and in an effort not to make some imaginary shit list.
4--This really comes down to formality vs approachability in corporate America. If you're set on being called doctor and send a bunch of smoke signals out related to what you expect inside a company, you just need to know that you're missing how normal people think. Will 10% of the high rules people love the fact that you're all schooled up? Yes. Will another 10% openly mock you behind your back? Yes. The 80% in the middle probably view you as less than approachable until they have a reason to believe otherwise. Is that the type of culture you're tying to build? That's the real issue.
The power move here is obvious. Make sure that people know how credentialed you are and the fact that you could go by "Dr.", but don't.
Jill Biden can request to be called "Dr." and it's fine. But like the male HR person sending an email signature with Dr. before his name, she'll be judged on whether it feels absurd or not based on the circumstances, which is a personal decision by the receiver of that communication/request that cancel culture can't touch.
By the way, lawyers don't call themselves "Dr." (juris doctor, yo) but should stop with the "Esquire" shenanigans in email signatures.
And yes, get off my lawn. KD out.