Academic honorifics outside of the Ivory Tower

April 15, 2011

A comment over at FSP’s post on honorifics used for male and female acadmics triggers a thought. What is the proper address/honorific at, say, your kid’s school classroom?

FSP had said in the original post that she prefers “Professor” to “Doctor” in the academic milieu.

I think I would prefer “Doctor” to “Professor” in the non-academic setting, myself. It is funny isn’t it? “Professor” just seems like an honorific tied to the coincidence of my current job title whereas for some weird reason, “Doctor” seems to me like a more permanent and lasting attainment. Which, of course, it IS since in our current schemas it is highly unusual for anyone to stop being a “Doctor” through revocation of the degree. Otherwise, it is yours for life, once those five people let you back in the room and say “Congratulations Dr…”.

But why should Dr. seem so much more a permanent part of me that dictates what honorific people should use in normal daily life, in comparison with “Professor”? They are both just academic nonsense so why does it matter which one?

No Responses Yet to “Academic honorifics outside of the Ivory Tower”

  1. Pure Klass Says:

    I’m not a doctor, but I work primarily with MDs and PhDs – so I suggest this as an outsider.
    Perhaps Dr. seems like a permanent part of you because you can be Dr. without being Professor, but it is rare to be Professor without being Dr.
    Otherwise, you probably hit it on the head with the fact that it IS the lasting achievement. Professorships and placements can come and go, but you will be a doctor throughout.


  2. Principle Investigator Says:

    I think it makes sense though! There isn’t really any reason for folks outside of the university to acknowledge my position, but my title – that is, “Dr.” – is far preferable to a gender-specific honorific. I always choose “Dr.” if I have the option rather than being forced to pick from “Mr.” “Mrs.” “Ms.” or “Miss.” I expect my undergrads to call me “Prof. LastName” in a professional setting (or “Dr. LastName” is also fine), unless they are working with me in the lab, in which case I ask them to call me “FirstName” (although they never do).


  3. Harry Vermin, Chief Lab Rat Says:

    Sometimes I wish I had stopped my schooling after reaching the M.S. level ….. I would LOVE to be addressed as “Master”.


  4. anon Says:

    My impression is that the general public (well outside the “ivory tower”) does not understand that a person with a Ph.D. can/should be addressed as “doctor”. The thinking is that this title is reserved for MD’s, who are addressed as “doctor” without hesitation.


  5. Anon2 Says:

    Then we get beyond the realm of MD/PhD and it gets even more hazy. My mom likes to insist that my sister should be called Dr. because she is a PharmD and my dad should be called Dr because he is a JD. I prefer professor for myself because in my mind it’s a bit “higher” of a ranking – I will be a Dr no matter what (thanks to those 5 people!) but the professor is what I have to keep working for now. Plus, my husband is a physician, and I prefer to let him listen to people sharing TMI about their bowel movements, etc. at dinner parties. Call myself Dr too much and people might get the wrong idea…


  6. Namnezia Says:

    I personally prefer “Herr Doctor Professor”.


  7. Namnezia Says:

    …or maybe “Rear Admiral”.


  8. Just don’t call me late for dinner!


  9. lylebot Says:

    I feel liked I earned the “Dr” but I’m still just playing at being a “Professor”.


  10. Science Professor Says:

    I did sort of say that I preferred Professor, but it was in the context of saying that I preferred to be called Professor if the male professors in the same professional setting (e.g., at a conference session) are being called Professor. If the men are called Professor and I am called Dr. (or, as I described in the original post, Mrs), even though I am a professor too, in some contexts that is less respectful. Otherwise, I don’t actually care if I am called Professor or Dr or Firstname Only or Firstname-Lastname in a professional setting.

    In my daughter’s school, I don’t use my title(s). My daughter’s teachers call me by my first name, as do most of my daughter’s friends, and that is fine with me.


  11. Nicole Says:

    I don’t particularly care.

    At my kid’s school the teachers call me Firstname when out of earshot of kids and Miss Firstname or DC’s mom when in earshot. (In this part of the country, kids use Miss Firstname and Mr. Firstname for respect instead of Ms./Mr. Lastname like they did where I grew up. I always feel a bit like a character in Gone with the wind.)

    With adults who don’t know me I get everything… Mrs./Ms/Dr. Lastname, Mrs./Ms Husband’s lastname, Firstname, etc. I don’t often get Prof Lastname outside of school unless it’s like a reporter or something.


  12. Jim Thomerson Says:

    I prefer Professor over Doctor, so I am not thought to be an MD. Among friends, I’m generally called by first name. One model airplane friend calls me Professor, which is fine with me. Students who work with me have generally called me “Doc”, which is what I did under similar circumstance.


  13. Don’t call me Shirley!


  14. Any of you guys call me Francis, and I’ll kill you!

    Lighten up, Francis.


  15. antipodean Says:

    Master is a common title if you are a boy, unfortunately. You become a Mister after being a Master.


  16. Odyssey Says:

    This practice can lead to a traumatic childhood if your last name happens to be Bates…


  17. since I”m not yet a PhD, If I am to be referred to with a title, I prefer Ms. call me mrs and I’ll bite your head off. If I get the lucky “congratulations”, formal address will be Dr. since I earned it.


  18. […] Academic honorifics outside of the Ivory Tower […]


  19. Grumble Says:

    I, too, prefer “Herr Professor Doktor”, but I can’t even get my family to call me that. Although if I had an MD as well as a PhD, I’d probably insist on “Herr Professor Doktor Doktor” (see for one example).


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