In March, I became a doctor. No, not a medical doctor—but that doesn’t mean I’m less of a doctor. I spent nearly six tortured years in the Ivory Tower, thank you very much.
Becoming a doctor did not immediately feel very different other than when people called me “Doctor” as if a slip of the tongue. When my adviser congratulated me after my defense, he called me “Dr. Williams.”
That’s it? I’m just a doctor now?
Of course, I spent years slaving on a project, but to stand in front of a committee for two hours and now I can suddenly checkmark “Dr.” when I’m handed any sort of registration form? No, not Mister, it’s Doctor.
I asked my adviser, “I’m a doctor just like that? I don’t have to even officially graduate?”
Apparently, in the lens of academia, that’s it. I just am. A doctor, that is.
In undergrad, a professor insisted we call her “Dr.” Other than this demand, she was the nicest, kindest teacher I ever had. But she contended that no matter what we called her, we had to include her formal title: “Dr. Ludwig,” “Dr. L,” “Dr. Patrice,” “Dr. P,” “Doctor,” etc. She named all the possible options.
“I did not spend six years getting that degree to have it ignored,” she explained to the class. Nicely.
I remembered her sentiment when I entered my doctoral program. Many friends asked if I’d insist on the “Dr.” when I graduated. I said I wouldn’t be that way. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that demand, but I did not seek a PhD for a title. (Though I’m also not saying pursuit of knowledge was the cause either.)
In grad school, I actively avoided any boasting that I was getting a PhD. I even called it “grad school” to sidestep saying I was in a doctoral program (which many arrogant academics would never conceive not mentioning their program’s true nature). Then people would ask how long I’d been in school before remarking, “Wow, that’s a long master’s program.” I would vacillate between correcting them or letting them assume I am just an idiot taking five years to get a master’s.
I had similar qualms when people asked what I studied. I’m a biostatistician, which no one seems to know what that is or they want to tell me they took that class in nursing school and hated it ha ha. (My go-to joke is, “Statistically, statistics is the most failed class. Ha ha.”)
“You must be really smart,” people add.
I’m not saying I’m not smart (in fact I’m definitely not saying that), but my degree and my topic of study is not what makes me smart (hopefully). Maybe that’s why I don’t want to name drop my title. I’d rather be found intelligent on merit and wit rather than over half a decade avoiding “The Real World,” as 9-to-5ers call it.
Since becoming a doctor (“but not a doctor doctor,” some people like to remind me), I actually forget more often that I am a doctor. This is probably because I am not reminded everyday by showing up to my adviser’s office or getting university emails that tuition is due.
A colleague recently emailed asking if I had submitted a form that I actually sent her two weeks before. Instead of replying, “Did you try searching your inbox before sending that email?,” I replied with the form attached again and made sure my email signature included “Cazey Williams, PhD.” In general, I only include that PhD in my signature if it’s our first communication or you’ve pissed me off.
That’s how a client from work discovered I was a doctor. He was cc’d on another email with someone, and at our next meeting, he brought it up. He now refers to me as “Dr. Cazey” in every communication. I can’t say I hate it.
Maybe Dr. L was right: I should insist people call me doctor.
Until this past week when, at a bar, a man had a heart attack. Someone shouted, “Is there a doctor around?” For the first time in my life, the joke applied. I did not identify myself.
But on Monday, I emailed my client and signed off, “Doc.”