Re: TITLES & independent Ph.D.'s

Michael Cahill (MCBlueline@AOL.COM)
Mon, 4 Mar 1996 01:50:48 -0500

In a message dated 96-03-03 17:31:17 EST, Daniel Ponech writes:

>Perhaps I've missed commentary on this, but I'm interested to know what
>take independent scholars have on this whole titles business. How does
>someone who has a doctorate but is not not affiliated with an institution
>expect to be addressed? Does it square with what institutionally alligned
>Ph.D.'s have been saying about themselves?

I pen these personal remarks as an anthropology PhD (sociocultural) working
as a social services professional in a large state agency. Strictly
speaking, I work "out of title," as do many anthropologists employed outside
academia. My degree affords me no special status *as a social services
professional.* Accordingly, the title "doctor" is somewhat irrelevant in
the workplace. I don't expect it from colleagues, and as a rule, they don't
address me that way. I should think it more appropriate when the
anthropolgist is working "in title" as an academic instructor or researcher
("professor") or as a professional anthropologist outside academia. A bit
formal maybe, but in my view there's enough downgrading of our degrees going
on already without us adding to it "in house." On a comparative note, my
sense is that many PhD psychologists and ED's introduce themselves as doctors
when acting in a professional capacity. We seem more reluctant to do so, But
I don't think we should be.

Within my office, I am addressed informally as "doc" in two kinds of
situations -- when a friend of mine (who knew me before I received my degree)
wants to bust my chops, and when coworkers want to compliment my work.
(What I'm called when my work doesn't fly is a more commonly heard and
applied epithet!)

Out in public and in most (but not all) social situations, I think the term
"doctor" should be reserved for medical doctors. This seems to be common
practice in the US these days.

Some other observations: I think you'll find that people with a respect for
learning, or maybe just for intestinal fortitude, will readily address a PhD
as "doctor" no matter what the social context. These days, however, such
folks are rarer and rarer. Arguably, America has seen a fall off in respect
for status distinctions generally, whether based on age or calling or
experience. Distinctions based on education are no different. I'd go
further and say that medical doctors rank right up there with lawyers when it
comes to nasty image problems. (The difficulties of both groups are
aggravated by their generally high incomes.) PhD's just get tagged as
"egg-heads" (I've been called that at work only half-humorously) or
"absent-minded professors." Impractical, irrelevant, and "academic" we may
be -- but at least we're not avaricious predators! The fact is, in dealing
with the public an honorific like "doctor" can be a positive liability. Ask
any physician.

Actually, I'm getting off the topic. In my view, the real issue for
anthropology PhD's working outside academia is not the title but the lack of
understanding of what anthropology is on the part of the general public,
certainly, but even on the part of other professionals. At work, when I say
I'm an anthropologist, I'm generally asked about digs. So then I say no, I'm
not an archaeologist, but a *sociocultural anthropologist.* And then I get
the blank stare. So I say, "You know, a 'Margaret Mead' type
anthropologist." Sometimes this helps, but mostly, especially these days, it
doesn't. As clear as I've been with people in the office about what
anthropology is, I still get called a sociologist. That's about as close as
many people can get.

The fact is, I'd trade a higher profile anthropology for a title like
"doctor" any day.

Mike Cahill, PhD