In a recent article I wrote with some colleagues on engaging Aboriginal fathers, two of us (Chris and me) were called Dr and our colleague (Craig) wasn’t. What message does this give?
I suspect the differentiation gives the two of us with PhDs more status: it elevates us to the status of an expert. But Craig, who doesn’t have a PhD, has much more experience engaging Aboriginal fathers than the two of us. There is no doubt, that he is much more successful engaging Aboriginal fathers.
Who should be seen as the expert?
Yes, Chris and I put in a great deal of effort into completing a PhD, and it certainly required academic rigour, but does it really justify a special title? Many other people work very hard and have specialist knowledge but never receive special recognition. What makes a PhD so special?
Having a PhD doesn’t mean that I have wisdom or even common sense. It means that I had the opportunity to devote myself to an intense study of a particular topic; that I had the dedication, perseverance and support required to complete the research and thesis, and that I have some academic skills. It doesn’t make me special.
The new organisational chart for the Family Action Centre (where I work) also lists staff with a PhD as Dr (or A/Prof, or Prof) while those without a PhD just have their name without any title. Again, what message does this give?
We are a centre that, rightly, prides ourselves on our combination of teaching, research and programs. Our program staff are a vital part of our work and so I wonder about making the distinction.
Of course, we are part of a university and, as it is the convention in this setting to use the title Dr, I can understand why we have done it. It can be hard to challenge such conventions.
Recently I was at a Faculty Uni research day where we were all given name badges. Again people with a PhD were called Dr (or Prof) and other people were called Mr, Ms etc. My name was Mr Graeme Stuart, which indicated that I didn’t have a PhD. I had to fight the urge to tell people that the name badge was a mistake and that I was really Dr Graeme Stuart.
Why did it matter? Did it make anything I said more, or less, relevant or worthwhile?
It is as if the title Dr provides membership to an exclusive club, which is often vigorously protected by its members. There is no doubt that, at least is some circles, having a PhD provides status and credibility.
I generally avoid using the title Dr because I think it runs that risk of creating hierarchical relationships and goes against my commitment to equality and inclusiveness. I know it doesn’t make much difference but I will continue to avoid the title and ask why we need to recognise (elevate?) people with PhDs in this way.
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