I recently read an article in the New York Times about a woman who was trolled on Twitter for making reference to her PhD. (“Women, Own Your Dr. Titles” by Julia Baird.) The comments were so hostile she decided to add “Dr.” to her handle. Just to rub it in. The abuse intensified. Her advice, finally, was if you’ve got it, use it. In this case, use your “Dr.” academic credential letters.
That got me thinking. I’ve had my PhD in English literature for years. But once I stopped teaching, I pretty much stopped using it and the Dr. title outside the classroom.
Why? It took me awhile to sort through the reasons.
- My academic career—and title—have nothing to do with my writing.
- Using titles is not only irrelevant, it’s vain.
- Using a title is off-putting to potential readers.
- It’s a needless distraction.
That about sums it up.
But the more I looked at my list, the more perplexed I became. Had I not worked years to add those three letters to my name? What about all those classes, the exams, the dissertation? How could I so easily dismiss them as “irrelevant,” “vain,” “off-putting,” a “distraction”?
I had to wonder if the woman who wrote the New York Times article was right. There is gender bias at work here. Women are not rewarded for using their titles whereas men generally are.
Did I stop using my title for that reason?
I do remember an incident that occurred shortly after I began working at a major telecommunications company. My PhD was certainly an advantage when I was hired in the education and training department, but a respected and well-established vice president soon made it clear that my PhD wouldn’t help my advancement. “Don’t think that’s going to impress anyone,” he said. “It just makes people think you don’t have real world experience.” I used to get that a lot in those days, a kind of education backlash. I managed to “advance” in spite of my education, but I did downplay the PhD, never used Dr., and in time my advanced degree became three letters tucked away in my personnel file.
Maybe I took that lesson with me when I began writing, publishing, and speaking. Maybe I should take those three letters out of retirement.
Before taking action, I decided to ask sister SWP author (and PhD), Laurie Buchanan about her experiences with her title. She began by telling me that she has never been trolled, if you discount those men who post pictures of themselves looking very reputable who may then begin asking for personal information. “I block this type of activity,” Laurie says.
I then asked if she had ever experienced “doctorate shaming” which apparently is “a thing,” directed more at women than at men, according to the New York Times. Here Laurie provided some illuminating information: “I have never been disparaged or belittled for using my degree. I have observed that people (both male and female) who use ‘Dr.’ at the beginning of their name, as opposed to ‘PhD’ at the end of their name, are less well received, both online and in person.”
Hmm. I found that to be an interesting observation. According to the article, “Women regularly report being called professor, and even reverend, less than male counterparts, and research has shown that female physicians are called doctor less often than men are. A 2017 analysis of introductions of speakers at medical gatherings found that about half of the time a man introduced a woman to the group, he did not use her title, but used it for men more than 70 percent of the time.”
These are pretty significant statistics, so I put the question to Laurie, who noted that while she has had no such personal experience, she has witnessed it.
When I told Laurie the author’s conclusion is for women to use their hard-won titles, saying, “Sometimes authority should be worn lightly. But sometimes it should be brandished like a torch,” she had this response: “…while I don’t brandish my degree like a sword, I definitely use it. It’s on the cover of my books and it’s in my byline for the periodicals I write for. In my experience, credentials (for both men and women) lend credibility.
She concluded with this pearl: “Aside from gender, academics, race, economics, politics—anything—the bottom line is respect for other human beings.”
I would expect no less from Laurie Buchanan, PhD, who is a teacher and student of purposeful living and who writes about “offloading emotional baggage.” It’s pretty clear then that she has strategies for reclaiming your life—and your title.
To learn more, visit her at “Tuesdays with Laurie” where you’ll learn, “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
So my conclusion? If I’m carrying around baggage from a job I held years ago, it’s time to unload. But do I need to “brandish my degree like a sword?” Maybe not, but I can certainly use it with pride whenever the choice presents itself.
Thank you, Laurie Buchanan, PhD.
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This guest post was authored by Jean P. Moore.
Jean P. Moore grew up in Miami, Florida. She began her professional career as a high school English teacher and worked for a number of years as executive director of workforce development. Jean has since returned to her first loves: the study of literature and writing. Her novel Water on the Moon was published in June 2014 and is the winner of the 2015 Independent Publisher Book Award for contemporary fiction. Her poetry chapbook, Time’s Tyranny, was published in the fall of 2017 by Finishing Line Press, and her latest novel, Tilda’s Promise, publishes on Sept 25, 2018 by She Writes Press.