Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Yes, there is a problem with the pictures on this blog

I need to move them to a different host site. Hopefully I shall have time to do this in the next few days.

Monday, March 06, 2006

I didn’t go to evil medical school for seven years to be called Mr Evil!

My countryman Patrick Porter over at Oxblog takes slight issue with co-blogger David Adesnik referring to him as "Dr", because although he has done everything he has to do to get his Ph.D. (or actually as this is the other place, I suppose it would be a D.Phil), because he has been informed by his university that he cannot use the title "Dr" until he has been granted "permission to supplicate". I have not heard that phrase before, because although Oxford and Cambridge are very similar instituions, one way in which they are distinguished is by having different weird archaic language for weird, archaic customs that are in fact exactly the same. (I was once told that I could not use the title myself until "I had had the degree conferred upon me by a congregation of the Regent House").

However, it is a truth universally acknowledged by doctoral students (and doctoral graduates) everywhere that one may use the title the moment one has been informed that one has passed, whether or not this information is conveyed officially or unofficially. Another equally well understood convention is that if one has passed, examiners will inform you of this immediately upon completion of the oral exam, whether or not they are supposed to or indeed allowed to. (This leads to a certain amount of euphemism. My oral exam concluded with one of my examiners raising his eybrows at the other, the other examiner nodding, and then the first examiner informing me that "The Board of Graduate Studies forbids me from telling you the result of this examination now. However, you have nothing to worry about". In truth, although I had been nervous at the start of the examination, I wasn't terribly worried by this point, as I was aware that I was handling the questions I was being asked petfectly fine).

So typically, therefore, people start using the "Dr" title, when they have been informed that they may not use the title, and indeed when they have been informed that they may not be informed whether they will be allowed to use the title in future. But they do anyway.

In my case, although I could have had the degree conferred in absentia, I put off having it conferred for a further three years, as it took this long for me to arrange a time when both I and my family could come to England again to attend a graduation ceremony. (Sorry, I mean a Congregation of the Regent House). Although I was technically not supposed to use the title "Dr" for those three years, I did. And nobody cared. I had gone through what Patrick described as the King Hell Road Trip that is a Ph.D. and I had earned it, damn it. (However, the bureaucratic exercise to get from this point to the degree can still take a while, and people know this and therefore ignore it. Don't get me started on how the Board of Graduate studies lost my dissertation). A few months after my exam I received a letter from the university informing me that the degree had been approved (and reiterating that I was still not supposed to call myself Dr), and if anyone (an employer or a professional registration board, generally) wanted proof that I had the degree, this letter was perfectly adequate for them.

So congratulations Dr Porter. Enjoy the blogging.

Of course, it is also generally considered okay to be pompous about the "Dr" for six months or so after starting to use it. After that, we generally only use it professionally, when writing particularly rude letters to organisations that have given us particularly bad customer service, when filling out credit card applications, or when talking to Germans. (And then there is the question of whether one should put "Dr" before one's name or "Ph.D." after when using it professionally). Any use of it in excess of this is considered a bit of a wank. As indeed may be this post.

Update: Actually, thinking about it some more, there is one time when "Dr." is frequently used, and that is when greeting a colleague who you know from your Ph.D. program, particularly when you haven't seen them for a while. ("Dr Jones. Good to see you.". "Dr Jennings. How are you? I am absolutely splendid."). I suspect military types who went through boot camp together have similar rituals.

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