So I started thinking about titles yesterday after seeing on twitter that @snarkyphd was asked for proof at the bank to change her title. It made me think about my own switch to ‘Dr’ at the bank and it also reminded me of Pat Thomson’s blog piece on titles – if you haven’t read it check it out here http://patthomson.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/travel-diary-titles-do-they-matter/
Before I finished my PhD I couldn’t wait to be called Dr – I thought it was going to be great and pictured myself using it everywhere, all the time. I had visions of it on my credit card and using it to test drive cars I couldn’t afford (huh? did someone else take over my brain briefly – when would I ever really aspire to this as a life goal? this is just further proof that doing a PhD can sometimes result in manifestations of odd behaviour).
As soon as I graduated though and was officially part of the Dr club – it didn’t seem like such a big deal. I ventured off to the bank though and said I wanted to change my title (that car thing must have still been lurking in the deep recesses of my brain) and they replied ‘Yep, what would you like to change it to?’ I told them, they tapped a few keys, made the change and off I went. I couldn’t quite believe that it was that easy – surely after all that work to get a PhD people should actually want some form of documentary evidence that I am in fact a Dr, rather than me just bowling in off the street and telling them. If it’s this easy – why don’t people do this all the time I wondered? (And for a crazy, fleeting moment I thought ‘You mean I could have had Dr on my credit card all this time without even doing a PhD? see point above – even more proof about the irrationality of the PhD brain at work).
Once I officially became Dr I didn’t want to use it in conversation- it was like it had lost the glittery glow it had when I was only aspiring to get there. Or maybe it was due to the fact that once I got the title, I got a full-time job at uni as well and was surrounded in a corridor by other people with it and so it didn’t seem special, it just seemed normal. Meanwhile my family went crazy with it, every letter was addressed to Dr. Sharon and there was pride bursting out of my folks’ pores.
This year I returned to school to teach part-time and a number of people asked me if I was going to get the students to call me Dr. The answer has always been a resounding no – in the school environment I can’t think of anything worse than being called Dr- I would just feel like such a, well, wanker, really asking a bunch of year 7s to call me Dr. They don’t know what it means or why I would be called that (I picture questions like ‘Miss, I feel sick’- sorry kid I can’t help you) and I also don’t want my school teacher colleagues to think that I’m prancing back in as the university ‘Dr’. Students will often call all teachers ‘Miss’ as a form of address and so I figured I could live with that – and in French class the students can call me ‘Madame’ so it’s no big deal there. I was embarrassed at the opening assembly when the principal introduced returning staff and when reading the list where I was listed as Ms, changed it midway to Dr. When other teachers call me Dr in the yard, I get embarrassed as well and say there’s no need for that title in this place. But why? There’s probably some interesting unpacking to be done here about cultures of derision and why it might be that I’m happy to be called Dr in the corridors of the uni but not in the corridors of the school.
On all official paperwork I am Dr though, so my students will get reports from me listed as Dr – maybe this will be odd to them and to their parents, but when it comes to written titles I have a whole different perspective (and yes I realise the absurdity of this). I loathe the titles Ms, Miss and Mrs- I hate the way our marital status can be gleaned from our title and so when it comes to written things I always use Dr. It’s my title, I earned it and it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not I’m married, single, in a relationship with my tv and a box of chocolate, or whatever. Flight and accommodation bookings, all these types of things are done as Dr, and I often get irate when I’ve only used my initial, turn up somewhere with my husband and he is referred to as Dr – is it 1950 still?
So the use of titles is an interesting issue I think – when, where, how and why we use the title we’ve worked hard to get. As I write this piece, I’m more interested in when I don’t use it and what that says about me and my view of the world …