Doctor? No.

October 16th, 2013

bracher_office_doorI generally like to be respectful of people. Toward this end, I try my best to address people properly. You’ll find that I’m pretty liberal in using “Dr.” when addressing letters and e-mails, because you never know when someone is going to get upset at being called “Mister”. In contrast, few people seem to get upset at being called a doctor when they are not. When I was applying for faculty positions last year, I am certain I conferred Ph.D. degrees on a multitude of unsuspecting departmental staffers whose job it was to assemble the applicants’ files.

On the flip side, I have a personal aversion to signing anything as “Dr.” I always check “Mr.” when filling out forms, and I cannot bear to end an e-mail with “Dr. Bracher.” As I am now a teacher, this has established a weird dynamic where students address their e-mails to “Dr. Bracher” and I return them by signing “Paul.” I know this has got to weird the students out because I remember fretting over how to address professors when I was in college. Do you call them “Professor”, “Doctor”, or by their first name? I am pretty sure I always opted for “Professor.”

In my undergrad research lab, it was always a big deal for students when the boss started signing his e-mails to you by his first name. It was an unmistakable signal that you had made it and was regarded as a rite of passage in the lab. In contrast, my graduate and postdoc advisors were pretty much known exclusively in the lab by their first names. Of course, the undergrad-professor dynamic is much different from the dynamic with grad students and postdocs, but it’s always interesting to see how these differences manifest themselves.

Some students attempt to solve the e-mail problem by using the non-direct “Hi,” “Hey,” or “Hello there” salutation. Of course, in trying to avoid any awkwardness, this device mostly just draws attention to it. Would you walk up to a professor and address her as “Hey”? Some of my colleagues sign their e-mails to students as “Dr. D” (or similar), which is an interesting compromise between formal and informal. At the same time, it makes me question what I should address these professors when we are in front of students. Can I say “John” (as I normally would), or should I say “Dr. Doe”?

While I don’t especially care what people call me and would never be offended by any of the standard choices, I prefer “Paul”. But after two months in St. Louis, it seems as if I’m going to be “Dr. Bracher” to the vast majority of students. To friends, colleagues, and those online, I will still be “Paul”, while to family at home, I have always been “P.J.” All are fine with me.

Yesterday, I found myself reconsidering whether to sign my e-mails to students as “Dr. Bracher” to make them feel more comfortable. My conclusion was not to change—signing “Dr. Bracher” would probably make me feel just as weird as if they were to address their e-mails to “Paul”. Anyway, the decision of what to call myself has got to be one of the few privileges to which I am entitled in this new job.

–Paul


54 Responses to “Doctor? No.”

  1. KNP Says:

    Hah. I have had the same inner dialogue. I settled on just initials (KNP) for all undergraduate email correspondence (unless they are in my lab). It’s interesting to see the varied greetings that students come up with for their emails. I wonder how the trend in formality has changed over the past 10-30 years…

    I hate telling people they have to call me Dr. or Prof. etc., but I had too many students yelling out my first name in class over the past couple of years. So, last semester in the first day of class I put up my education background with Ph.D. postdoc, etc. and said “you can call me Dr. or Prof.” I think it helped a bit…

  2. prunesmith Says:

    I’ll just cover all the bases and keep calling you Dr. Mr. Paul Julius Bracher.

    -Lots of love from Not-A-Doctor Darnton

  3. Simon Higgins Says:

    The forms of greeting that I least like are ‘Hey’ and ‘Yo’, both of which I have recently had in e-mails from undergrads. An interesting one, perhaps where the student cannot decide between the formality of ‘Dear Prof. Higgins’ and the informality of ‘Dear Simon’, is ‘Dear Simon Higgins’. I had a PhD student who could not be persuaded that ‘Dear Simon’ was fine with me. The nearest he would manage was ‘Dear Dr. Simon’!

  4. Joaquin Barroso Says:

    I think we’ve all been there at some point! Here in Mexico its a bit easier since we don’t have this ‘Professor’ status for tenured people; so we are all pretty much doctors except when teaching where we become ‘professors’ as in ‘teachers’. I think you anglophones have it a bit easier (first of all you don’t decline by gender: doctor, doctora) if you just use the somewhat outdated form ‘Sir’; that way students don’t have to worry about coming off too informal (Hey there!) nor do they have to worry about imposing a wrong degree, not to mention that its too respectful an address form!
    About how to sign, I try to do it on a case by case basis since I barely have any students. There are a couple of kids who even use the even more informal form “tú” instead of the formal “usted”, as if we were buddies. It doesn’t upset me, I grew up calling all my teachers “tú” and by their first names until I got to college, but in some cases it feels as if kids are trying to push the boundary of their relationship with you and thus pushing the boundaries of their own statuses. What do you think?

    So, dear Sir, I wish you the best

  5. Bob Sacamano Says:

    At the same time, it makes me question what I should address these professors when we are in front of students. Can I say “John” (as I normally would), or should I say “Dr. Doe”?

    Take a deep breath, my friend–99.9% of undergraduates are fine with professors and staff addressing each other by their first name.

    You may find yourself referring to an absent colleague in front of students. In these cases I provide the title for them, e.g., ‘you should speak with Professor Van Nostrand about that missed dermatology exam.’

  6. chm Says:

    Students and e-mails are a never ending source of astonishment to me. I have seen all sorts of addressing. What I find most annoying is: Good morning, or good day. Am I supposed to read those mails only in the morning?
    I sign all my mails to undergrads with the full name. Once they have finished the compulsory courses with me I switch to the less formal first name.

  7. OMFG Dihydrogen Oxide!! Says:

    For me, I like keeping the Dr. title in writing only. As for person-to-person interactions, I rarely introduce myself as “Dr. XXXX”. I will only do so if I am speaking to someone who comes off as smug or pretentious, or if I’m being vetted for something (job, home loan, etc.). Otherwise, it sounds pompous.

    I do like it when students refer to me as Dr. XXXX. But I get really upset by being called doctor by people who knew me all my life. I would give them a pass during the weeks after earning my Ph.D….after that I tell them to call me by my first name…like they always did -_- .

    However, I think it’s important to appreciate the title. Five years of blood, sweat and tears. All those distillations, all those columns, all those NMRs which show your compound with a slight bit of impurity so you have to chromatograph it again, all those undergrads during lab and office hours, all those exams to grade…..

    Doctor Bracher….you earned it.

  8. paolo d. Says:

    Here in Italy the situation is more or less like Joaquin Barroso depicted for Mexico. But in industrial jobplaces is common to be referred as “Doctor”, though, when introducing oneself, only the surname is used, with no title at all.
    Funnily enough, I find that signing my e-mails to public offices as “doctor” always leads to more prompt, polite and respectful responses than simply using “mister”….

  9. Nightshift Says:

    “Sir” or “Ma’am” is what use. That is how we call superiors (work supervisors, teachers, professors) from where I came from. And so I use the same here (that includes email correspondence) in a place where it seems I am the only one who does (in our group circle, that is). My superior got used to it by now, I suppose.

  10. Jess Says:

    Dear Prof Dr Mr Paul Bracher espquire,

    Further to this discussion, I always struggle with the Jess Vs Jessica dilemma in a professional setting. I have been told that Jess sounds too informal, but does it? My postdoc PI now introduces me as Jess and collaborators address me in person and in email as Jess. With people I don’t know, though, I tend to sign an email with Jessica until I feel comfortable enough to use Jess.

    Is name shortening professional, or not? Most people know me as Jess, so why do I even bother with Jessica?

  11. OMFG Dihydrogen Oxide!! Says:

    @Jess It’s funny that you mentioned that.

    Once, I was talking to my postdoc PI about RB Woodward. He postdoc’d for him in 1965 before coming back to France. The subject of accents came up and I said “You know, Bob Woodward had a really thick Boston accent.”

    He looked at me, kind of excited, and asked “Wait…you knew Woodward?!”

    “Uh…No?…he died before I was born…”

    “Oh…because well…you called him Bob so I figured…”

    lmao….

  12. kcat.km Says:

    I teach/research at a PUI and never introduce myself as Dr., however the students have become trained by the culture within our department to call every faculty member as “Dr.” or “Professor”. Over the summer I insisted my research students call me by my first name and they said it was “too weird”. The students even refer to my wife, who has a Ph.D. but is not faculty, as Dr. when they were over for the end of research session dinner this summer. I think spme of my colleagues in the department from general chemistry on through graduation ingrain in their mind that having a Ph.D. means you call them by a formal title under all circumstances. I go with the Dr. title since the students seem resistant to change.

    Now if only I could get my students to use formal names for chemicals and lab equipment rather than saying “I put the plastic thing-y with the blue smelly stuff in the thing that spins stuff fast…”

  13. B Says:

    “because you never know when someone is going to get upset at being called “Mister””

    Like when that someone is female? It’s not fun to have others assume you are male based on your position or professional title. As has already been mentioned, at least in English ‘Dr.’ is gender-neutral! Another reason it’s a safer bet.

  14. Hey you! Says:

    I struggled with this as well when I first started teaching at a small liberal arts college. I called all my professors “Dr.” in college and grad school. Eventually I started calling my PhD advisor by his first name (a similar rite of passage as the one you described in your undergraduate research lab). Once I got to my postdoc out west, things seemed much more relaxed (maybe it was just Oregon) and everyone was on a first-name basis. My professor gig is at a college where there’s a tradition that everyone is on a first name basis, so I was able to avoid the whole “Dr.” thing. Some students think it’s weird, especially those from traditional southern families that “sir” and “ma’am” everyone, and they can have a tough time with it, so if they want to use “Dr.” or “Professor” that’s fine. I did notice one thing; sometimes those students would call a male professor “Dr.” but then use the title “Ms” or “Mrs” with me (While we were in the same room! And with a male professor who was my age!). At that point I had to explain that they had two options: my first name or “Dr.” I preferred the first, but if they needed to use a title, it was the latter.

    I’m proud of my accomplishment, but I’ve never wanted to sign anything as “Dr.” either. For one thing, I imagine myself on the airplane when someone gets sick and they ask me to help: “No, I can’t help w/ the heart attack, but I can draw a synthesis of aspirin, will that help?”.

  15. Dr. Mel Says:

    In my area we had a well known German colleague that had two doctorates and he insisted … insisted on being referred to as “Professor Dr. Dr. H.”. I had to introduce him once at a departmental seminar and again at a conference and the title made me stumble to the giggles and delight of the mono-doctorated present. I think he may have even slid his full title into a few of his publications. I do remember talking to a very senior member of the German inorganic community who was known to be humourless and yet a sly smile flickered across his lips when he referred to this colleague as “our dear Dr. Dr.”

  16. German Dr Says:

    The same situation here! Maybe a little bit more complicated – I am teaching at a German university and don’t really know, if I should address my students with “du” or “Sie”. I “du” the graduates and postdocs, but what about undergraduates? In German, the “Sie” form is still used a lot, personally, I don’t like it.

  17. Dr. K Says:

    I had the same inner dialogue, and never used Dr. except in specific cases when I was trying to get some company rep to pay attention to me or something… until I started teaching at a PUI. Our chair said we needed to go by Dr. to keep a sense of authority (I have definitely seen professors loose authority with their classes and it does not go well for the professor or department as a whole, especially when the professor looks or acts young). We have a lot of young professors and students of all ages (the school is in a huge city and often gets students later in their lives) and young professors get mistaken for students if they aren’t dressed up. This is why I also dress up a bit to go to work (I NEVER wore things like button-down shirts and slacks in grad school or my postdoc). That includes our research students because we may have them in classes at a later point, so we stick with the “Dr.” think.. I am adverse the it, but have to use it. It does help when you have students in your classes with the same first name as you.

    Also, I did work my butt off to get a PhD and get the current job I have, and that “Dr.” does remind me of that.

  18. Phillip Says:

    Does the US system of everyone being a ‘professor’ of some kind in a teaching setting help this or hinder it? I admit to being slightly surprised at your door label having Dr Bracher on it – I thought everyone in an academic position over there was an asst. Prof/Assoc. Prof/Prof. and would be referred to as ‘professor’

    In the UK, there are many fewer ‘professors’ – professorial chairs are endowed at institutions, usually only one or two in each section of a department (organic/inorganic/physical/theoretical etc). These persist, so when the holder retires, a new one is elected to that chair/title. There are then personal chairs awarded to extra individuals that expire when they retire.

    Everyone else is either a lecturer, senior lecturer or reader, and would have the title Dr. In reality, many would use their first or full names to sign off emails. How students would address them and refer to them will differ with the student’s familiarity to the staff member in question, and their personal confidence.

    I teach tutorials for undergrads and use my first name. The students usually follow suit, but then I am not a lecturer, nor even a full-time member of the university. I have very few problems with authority – my feeling is that students are there to learn about how to behave in society as much as to learn chemistry. They will do this by making mistakes and learning from peple’s reactions to them – I suggest being a lot more laid back about how students refer to you – if they want to call you Dr, Prof, or Paul, don’t sweat it – but sign your mails the way you would ideally like them to address you. some of them will take the hint and some will insist on formality – that’s just their way and worrying about it will waste your time when you could be thinking about chemistry problems/teaching improvements/your family/something else more important.

  19. amos Says:

    Dear Bracher

  20. Chemjobber Says:

    amos: lol

  21. Troggy Says:

    I think the etiquette associated with this is something that has been lost to some extent. This can result in confusion and awkwardness. Generally, it’s a problem of mixed messages by people that get formality and respect confused.

    It’s not entirely appropriate to insist or expect, Dr.; Prof.; etc. then call the other party by their first name in turn. “Hi Jane, I’m Dr. Smith”, is not correct and breeds confusion. Use either: “Hi Jane, I’m John” or “Hi, Ms Brown, I’m Dr. Smith.” This makes the level of formality immediately clear. Signing Mr. when you are Dr. and expect to be called Dr. or John just ramps the confusion another level.

    Dr. Mr, Ms, Prof. etc. are formal titles, used in formal communication, in writing and in speech. First names are used if the party(s) desires a less formal dialog. In the case of an asymmetrical relationship, it generally becomes the “senior” party that typically gets to decide on the level of formality, but the confusion usually arises from mixing levels of formality. Most often because one party wants to feel good about being called “doctor” but finds Ms. or Mr. too much bother.

    It short, if you write:

    Ms Brown,
    Please come by my office, during office hours, to discuss your plan for the project.
    Prof. Smith (or Dr. Smith)

    You have immediately indicated what to call you. Likewise, if you introduce yourself as Dr. John Smith in the first class.

    If you write,

    Jane,
    Drop by my office during office hours to chat about your project,
    John

    And introduce yourself by saying “Hi I’m John, my full contact information is on the syllabus” then you give the opposite impression.


    Troggy

  22. Special Guest Lecturer Says:

    Use your Angewandte title: Prof. Dr. P. J. Bracher

  23. sal paradise Says:

    I had a professor with the surname Dray. It would have been a little less cool to call him Professor Dray.

  24. kdog Says:

    I use my initials to sign emails to my students, but I have other colleagues who sign “Dr. ____.” Most students address me as “Dr.” without being asked, but then again I’m in the South. It took me a couple years to get comfortable with this, but now I prefer it because it helps maintain a respectful, professional relationship between me and my students, including my research students. I’ve had a couple students who I also know outside of the university and have asked them to start calling me by my first name again once they’ve completed my course.

  25. kdog Says:

    Re: informality of student emails. Even here in the polite South I’ve had a lot of students just open emails with “Hey” or something similar. So now I put a statement on email etiquette into my syllabi, advising them to “always treat email to their professors like the professional correspondence that it is.” It seems to help, and as a bonus their questions are usually clearer because they make more of an effort to write in complete sentences.

  26. Steve Chamberland Says:

    In my first ever organic chemistry lecture as a professor, I introduced myself by name, talked about my background briefly, and then went on with the syllabus and the first lecture. After class, a student came up to me with a question, and stammered . . . “Uh, Steve?” Yes, boundaries are important, particularly with undergraduates. There’s a great Ph.D. Comics cartoon about this (http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1153) that addresses this very topic. I now still introduce myself by my first name (to avoid pretentiousness), but note that they can address me using “Professor” or “Doctor.” Some students call me “Mister”, and I don’t correct them, but I do speak up with they address me using ONLY my last name. I won’t split hairs on lectures, senior lecturers, tenure-track versus tenured professors, etc. Extreme etiquette would probably mandate we address our students by Mr., Miss, or Mrs.; however, students look at you really strange when you do this. I’ll sometimes use that for emphasis when a student arrives to class obscenely late, as in “Well, Mr. Adams, thank you for taking the time to join us,” or “Don’t worry Mr. Zuckerburg, brighter men than you have tried and failed at this class.” I almost always sign my e-mails with my initials. When I started mentoring undergrad researchers, I asked them to address me by name; however, that became awkward because our interactions often felt too “friendly.” I didn’t want them to view me as a peer with whom they could share their innermost thoughts.

    Either title is fine with me, but I’ve heard that the title of “Professor” is more prestigious than “Doctor.” Only a select few hundred thousand of us earn membership in the academy, amid millions of folks out there who’ve written a dissertation. Interestingly, I’ve heard the University of Virginia’s culture eschews titles because Thomas Jefferson, it’s founder, favored complete equality. Perhaps England’s king, lords, and nobles, with their titles, aires, and extreme wealth, irked Jefferson immensely.

    I never called my undergrad research advisor or any faculty (grad students are exempt) by their first name. My Ph.D. advisor insisted on being called “Keith”, but it took me two years to feel comfortable doing so. I always addressed my postdoc advisor as “Professor”, and he never corrected me, but now that we’re peers, I do use his first name. I advise my research students to always address faculty using their proper title, even if the faculty member says otherwise. It’s just proper. In this respect, maybe I’m just a dinosaur. I’m still about the only faculty member in the sciences who wears a tie every day while teaching.

    But I’ll agree with others, Dr. Bracher, that you’ve earned your title. Every (science) Ph.D. has.

  27. Dr. W Says:

    As a SLU alum (we’ve emailed previously Paul) I can share my experience that most of the faculty at that institution are referred to as doctor. It was the same at the accompanying high school, St. Louis University High School, which I also attended. I am not sure if this is an institutional quirk of SLU (and SLUH) but at MIT and UIUC I never heard the Dr. title used.

  28. eugene Says:

    I think I upset my boss after my defense was done when asked me if I now feel like I accomplished something great now that I was a ‘doctor’. I told him that the title is completely useless as plenty of people have a PhD these days. He then said a little ticked off, “well, what were you working for in the lab for the last five years!?” I answered that there was degree inflation these days and the PhD was not guaranteed to get you a good job, but I did say that I hoped my Jackases and Andjewandtes and Chemical Misscommunications spoke for themselves and that they helped me get my dream first-choice postdoc, not the PhD degree.

    Of course we didn’t talk in those exact words, but close enough as far as I remember. He went back to his office to do stuff looking a little ticked off and since I was the first person in the group to get a degree and no one knew what to do, they all went back to doing reactions or taking NMRs. I looked at my hood for a few minutes, then went home. It was an interesting experience to write the thesis because I set goals for myself on when to finish each chapter and was surprised that I managed to make them all on time, but it was pretty derivative and there was a lot of copy/pasting from previous files. So, not only do I think the PhD title is dumb, I don’t have any special celebratory associations with it either. It’s a piece of paper. I’d rather not be called doctor by anyone, but in some official correspondence you can’t avoid it.

    Of course I’m not a prof, but when I think about it, probably Mr. is best since students don’t feel comfortable with too much familiarity. My high school math teacher who taught us Differential Equations and Group Theory in those extra morning classes had a PhD. But we all called him Mister ‘Something’.

  29. bad wolf Says:

    Sorry Jewgene, but i’ve heard that no one really cares about papers anymore.

  30. stewie griffin Says:

    Dr. W, do we know each other? I am also an alumnus of SLUH and SLU, have a PhD in chemistry and have conversed with Prof. Dr. Mr. Sir Paul J. Bracher.
    My experience at SLU was if I worked for you (research or TA) then I was on a first name basis, otherwise it was “Dr XYZ”. It was a little weird at first, but then again I was told by my bosses to use their first name. Oddly enough, even though I was close with Dr. D and still keep in touch, I still call them Dr. D.

  31. eugene Says:

    “Sorry Jewgene, but i’ve heard that no one really cares about papers anymore.”

    I think you probably heard wrong. There has been a big pushback against pedigree getting you the job, apparently. Still, I don’t have a job yet and I definitely don’t have the right pedigree. But I think you have a personal crusade against that Rozin person. She could do great work in the next five years and everyone will forget about it. Paul ran into similar problems when questioning how Doyle got the job (but she had one first author at the time, I think a Jackass).

  32. Paul Bracher Says:

    Allow me to jump in to state that the post regarding Princeton and Doyle’s hire was not at all personal. If a top- or second-tier school is going to hire a graduate student (without plans for a postdoc) for a faculty position, you better believe it is of interest to our community and that I’m going to talk about it. This sort of hire happens very seldom nowadays (David Liu comes to mind, circa 1999 or so), but was not terribly uncommon back in the day (Whitesides comes to mind, circa 1964). There were some other considerations—Eugene mentions one—that were relevant to the analysis of the hire that I shan’t rehash here because it set off a how-dare-you-talk-publicly-about-academic-hires firestorm and a few professors, including two at Harvard, jumped down my throat in a bully-the-grad-student campaign that was semi-successful.

    While the hire itself was interesting, the treatment of this blog was—in my mind—a classic example of how those in power at the elite institutions that define our field cannot stand having a light shined on how academic chemistry “really” operates. You can’t even talk about what goes on!

  33. bad wolf Says:

    Doyle was a much better counterexample than some others i’ve heard lately. Truly her success would not have been predicted by me, but i have heard that the student body quality is an even better predictor of success than prior work. (Doyle does appear to have 3 x 1st author pubs to her credit although the last 2 may have coincided with transitioning.)

    So yes, anything’s possible.

  34. bad wolf Says:

    And since Paul (Dr Paul?) got in his comment before i saw it, i think such questions are valid, and in my case not “personal”. Since i don’t have my own blog to comment, asking questions can make me seem more interested than i am.

    As for the original subject, being a Dr Who fan i found it strange that i completely distanced myself from being called “Dr” once i attained it.

  35. eugene Says:

    Well, I had Kyle Finchsigmate and In The Pipeline to tide me over while you were in temporary retirement. Better not do anything risky. I only read so many chemistry blogs.

    By the way Klajn was also hired straight from a PhD from Northwestern a few years ago, but he had a ton of papers, one of them in Nature I believe (yeah, I’m too lazy to check). And apparently a great proposal.

  36. The Aqueous Layer Says:

    You could have gone into industry and not had to worry about it. The most that you’ll see in Pharma is someone putting PhD after their name in a EMAIL sig. Even putting PhD on a slide deck isn’t normally done, at least in my shop…

    What drives me a bit crazy are folks who use either Dr or PhD on social media. Stop trying to impress people, let your posts do that….maybe it’s just me.

  37. Ian Says:

    RE: hiring straight from grad school, I can think of a reasonable number of recent examples: Jonas Peters, Theo Agapie, Alex Miller and Jillian Dempsey all come to mind in the Inorganic/Organometallic realm. Interestingly, all four of them were hired straight from grad school but did a short postdoc prior to starting their independent careers.

  38. Paul Bracher Says:

    I think we can all agree that getting hired while still in grad school is a rarity (relative to the number of positions out there). And an assistant professor not doing a postdoc is even rarer.

  39. Special Guest Lecturer Says:

    I only vaguely remember the Doyle post at this point, but I recall cringing at it or the ensuing discussion. The topic is certainly not off limits, but I recall the tone being dismissive of Doyle being qualified. As it turns out, it was a brilliant move by Princeton, given that she has been quite successful and probably would have gone somewhere better after a successful postdoc.

    Despite Eugene’s continued focus on publication record, it isn’t the dominant factor in hiring. Recommendations, proposals, and (yes) pedigree are far more important in my experience.

  40. Paul Bracher Says:

    I would prefer not to get dragged through the mud here, so allow me to state that I believe SGL is thinking of ideas voiced in the comments/discussion of that thread and not what I wrote. The major beef with me was raising the issue of that interesting hire and allowing discussion to take place. My focus was not on Doyle so much as the necessity/value of a postdoc.

  41. eugene Says:

    “Recommendations, proposals, and (yes) pedigree are far more important in my experience.”

    Well, in some places (cough, cough some place in Canada), the proposal part is probably more like “Is it safe enough to get funding and will the person keep working on stuff that they know so that they won’t get lost?” Then you’re in trouble if it’s too innovative. In Germany when you start a Habilitation at some places, they want you to write a research proposal that is based on your post-doc work. Not exactly expanding the frontiers of science, but if it gets ERC funding… Safe play for funding trumps everything in a proposal at some places.

    So yeah, proposal is important, but sometimes it’s too depressing to know the way in which it is important. If I had known who they hired at that place in Canada and what their research program was going to be, I wouldn’t have bothered applying. So, if I’m going to be working on boring stuff that I did before and was originally someone else’s ideas, maybe industry is the right place to be. I’m applying to a big company right now actually. Hopefully they give me a very large salary.

  42. bad wolf Says:

    I’m beginning to wonder if schools even need the PhD to hire. I mean, it’s just the approval of a committee, when you only need one really special person’s letter of recommendation; and why work on a thesis, that no one’s going to read. So all you get is the “Dr” title, when “Prof” is sufficient. Your school too could make a “brilliant move”, not one of those boring old hires that no one cares about.

  43. chemprof Says:

    An interesting topic and more so because I am used to an environment where titles are not used to set boundaries or similar. Here all students (undergrads included) call faculty by their first name and I haven’t seen any issues from it. It has been a change in the last 10 years or so as previously first name terms were restricted to grad students, but a nice change. From my own perspective it took away the awkwardness that I also felt in being addressed with a formal title (yes, I sign all emails with my first name only). I do accept that this is a cultural thing though. I have still never called my postdoc advisor (US-based) anything other that ‘Prof XX’, or in conversation with others ‘the boss’.
    Whilst I like first names, I’m also not keen on ‘Hey’ or ‘Hi’, but it’s still better than ‘Dear Sir’ (I am female)

  44. Anon Says:

    Dr. PB(J)

  45. Graet Chem Says:

    So glad I work in industry and don’t have to deal with worrying about this crap.

  46. The Iron Chemist Says:

    Doyle is certainly an excellent fit for that department, but I’d add that being given the opportunity to employ a dozen high-end postdocs and graduate students and to use the other fine resources at Princeton’s disposal would have made a number of alternative hiring decisions look wise in retrospect. Doyle was and is undeniably qualified for her position and has thus far made the most of her opportunity. It is frustrating, however, that there are similarly deserving candidates who may well have succeeded under the same circumstances but never received such an opportunity.

  47. anon Says:

    I think Prof. Doyle’s done OK. I don’t know if she’s done really great, but not bad either. [How does her career at this point compare to, for example, Koslowski's at UPenn? (she had a postdoc but is at an institution with at least comparable resources)]

    Prof. Doyle has probably had advantages compared to being at random school, but I don’t know how decisive they are. It might be useful to look at the overall success rate of people without postdocs – perhaps there are few people in that position because you have to be really good and have a powerful advisor to even think about being a prof without a postdoc, but even with those advantages I know of at least one prof who did not do well under circumstances that should have been OK (high-powered school, relatively non-toxic faculty environment). Having a faculty group that plays well together and is accepting of the circumstances of her hiring probably helped too, but would have helped lots of others. (Paul got zorched by faculty at a school who have been notoriously unable to play well with one another and whose machinations are accordingly very secretive – Prof. Doyle or anyone else in her situation going there would have been a very bad idea).

  48. Umbisam Says:

    I think for the students it’s more interesting if they get to say Prof. or Dr. It just makes the whole environment cooler. Taking out the title is like going to a halloween party without a costume. It looks like you’re trying too hard to be cool.

  49. DrFreddy Says:

    Language never ceases to amaze. I could write a book on the problems around the doctor and other titles. Says someone who uses Dr in his internet nickname…

    Moreover, I find it most interesting that many of you native English speaker/writers spell it “advisor” here and elsewhere, even though the correct form is “adviser”, both in British and American English. “Advisor” dominates on Google, while “adviser” is up to 20 times more common than “advisor” in formal texts. The correct form looks bastard! Further reading here.

  50. Paul Bracher Says:

    @DrFreddy: I get an annoying reminder of this whenever I write “advisor” in my browser and up pops a squiggly red underline. I agree that “advisor” just looks better, so I’m sticking with it.

  51. NC Says:

    When working in a certain science position, I had numerous people (nearly always if not always from the Middle East, whatever that signifies) contact me with the initial line “Dear Respected Sir”. Thanks to those individuals for the respect they showed, but I’m so terribly sorry I couldn’t have been born into the right gender for them…

    If you’re wondering what to do, make sure you DON’T do that.

  52. Graet Chem Says:

    @DrFreddy – that seems a bit arbitrary to decide that one spelling is the ‘correct’ one. The Oxford English Dictionary (about as close as English will ever get to an ‘Academy Francaise’) seems to accept both spellings, noting that ‘advisor’ originated in the US to refer to the job title of someone who gives advice.

  53. horde Says:

    @drfreddy: you said: “the correct form is “adviser” in British … English”. Wrong, I’m afraid. The correct form is “supervisor” (sic). Hope this helps.

  54. ChemistInJapan Says:

    I thought about this recently when a friend of mine got her PhD and her boss suddenly switched her signature from Dr. G—– to simply her first name. My boss, on the other hand, always signed his e-mails with his first name, but then I later learned that this was a standard signature that he had setup in his e-mail program.

    In Japan, however, we always call everyone by their family name and then add a suffix to establish rankings. Faculty are called by their last name + sensei. That’s what we call them, though. When they refer to themselves either in conversation or e-mail, it’s just their last name. I like this a lot, but in Japan, I have taken a Japanese name to help make life easier.

    I had decided that if I was working in the US, I would sign e-mails with my last name, no Dr.


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