Sunday, January 24, 2016

To Dr or not to Dr

To Dr or not to Dr that is the question. Well it's this week's question.

Just over a week ago I had an article published on a magazine site. The editorial team chose to credit me as 'Dr Emily Garside'. It wasn't a request from me, but entirely a decision from their end. I noticed, reasoned they had in their wisdom decided it was appropriate to use my name and title and thought nothing of it. Then I got a disgruntled message on twitter.

Now a disgruntled message on twitter isn't unusual, in response to an article or even simply an opinion expressed, twitter is a medium that lends itself to complaining. Now let me be clear that this individual was not a troll, was not at any moment impolite and even was discreet enough to keep the entire conversation to direct message. But what they raised I couldn't entirely agree with, and has given me food for thought.

They disagreed with the use of 'Dr' in the credit. Note again, this wasn't my call. But I was called pretentious for including it there and in my twitter handle.

So am I pretentious for using my title? or should I insist upon it given how hard I worked for it?

I admit to sometimes feeling a little embarrassed about it. When giving some post show talks at a theatre this summer, my embarrassment became (and still is) a bit of a joke between myself and the director I worked with. It's not I don't think I deserve to be referred to as Dr G, I just think sometimes it sounds a bit odd. Sometimes it even feels like people are mocking me when they use it. Or worse they mock me when I do.

What are the times when I insist upon it then? well few actually. I tick the box on forms, because well, it's my title and it also avoids the minefield of Mrs, Miss or Ms.

I use it in work too-in email signatures mainly. I work in an alt-ac position (that's a position within academia/universities that isn't academic in nature) and firstly, it's the norm in my institution to use a title in email signatures. Secondly lets' just say occasionally academics need reminding that their 'support staff' are on an equal footing in terms of professional qualifications.

Likewise in seeking employment, I use my title. Why? well in that instance I'm trying to impress people. And without putting that title in there's a big old employment gap where my PhD is. So I show it off. Which occasionally also bites me in the arse when people see it as a marker of snobbery or over-qualified status.

So the conclusion we come to here is yes I do use my title in a professional context. Why? because it's a professional qualification. It's not like I go around asking my friends to address me as Doctor G. Although some do, mainly to take the piss when I'm being stupid.

I use it on twitter for professional reasons-I want people googling me to know I'm the same person as my linkedIn or Academia.Edu page. There's also a thriving academic community on twitter I'm part of, so again it seems the norm.

But why then do I sometimes feel embarrassed? why do I feel that people think exactly like the person who challenged me and think I'm being a pretentious wanker by using my hard-earned title Dr?

A friend raised a valid point that nobody would ever accuse a married woman of 'showing off' by using Mrs. Why then should I be embarrassed or worse made to feel embarrassed by the use of Dr?

I conclude this in the same way that I did with my twitter adversary above. I ask, would a man be a) embarrassed in the same way and b) would a man even be challenged in the same way?

Probably not is my conclusion.

I'm not going to go around demanding to be addressed by my proper title. Rarely would I correct anyone who called me 'Ms or Miss'. In many circumstances no it isn't relevant and will never come up. But I'm also not going to hide it either. I'm going to tick the box on the form, if asked I'll say Dr, and I'm damn well not taking it off my twitter handle either.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Overqualified and Qualified for nothing- curse of the PhD?

One of the phrases that makes my blood boil is 'overqualified'. Surely there should be no such thing? because all skills are transferable, and in a culture where often we're expected to both have 10 years experience for 5 years experience salary and/or expected to have experience in order to get experience, this all seems a futile distinction.
Recently at an event with Research Development staff, several confirmed what many of us PhD's have lost suspected: they won't employ PhDs in non-academic roles. And yet they get many applications. dismissing PhDs as 'not interested really, just wanting to keep a foot in the door' may well be true for some, but many PhDs do seek what we'd call 'alt-ac' careers (alternative academic careers-still within the sector but not in traditional academic roles) Many for practical reasons-a lack of academic jobs-others because they want to. Some are lucky enough to get more senior roles straight away where the PhD level skill is appreciated, but what of the others, or those with no previous employment experience (having gone straight through education to the PhD) they are perfect for the lower grade jobs, gaining the day to day skills they missed on the way to the PhD but still making use of the specialist skills from the PhD.
The same should apply outside academia. Just because I have a high-level degree doesn't make me over-qualified for the job.
BUT on the flip side spending 4 years doing a PhD doesn't mean 4 years where I wasn't gaining employment skills.
To me these are the two key elements for PhDs looking elsewhere for work. Firstly we're great at being 'bottom of the pile' and 'learning our trade' if we're applying for a job in  a new sector we will learn from the bottom up, and we may even do it a bit faster, with a bit more creative flair from our higher degree.
But at the same time, don't ignore the transferable skills we have from the PhD. Those 4 years aren't 'time out' they're time gathering a new set of skills and developing existing ones. They're time working independently and part of a team (don't tell me that isn't on your recruitment specifications) it's time doing highly focused, highly detailed work. It's time networking until it kills us, it's time spent balancing the most high-strung of personalities (frankly if we can wrangle students and professors equally well, we can do anything a company throws at us). It's time writing, developing, adapting, re-drafting and honing writing skills for many audiences at once. These just off the top of my head are things I've read countless times on application forms. So why then just because this skill comes from a PhD would you discount this?
And that goes for us as applicants too. The PhD is not an employment gap, it's a career development. And we all need to shift our perceptions on that front.
Our PhDs teach us to look at things in a new way. How about we all start looking at employment outside a PhD differently?
And employers? If we've left academia, and we get a job we like, we're loyal fiercely so, and grateful for the opportunity.