I think the compliments I’m getting are undermining my reputation

A reader writes:

I keep getting well-intentioned compliments on my work that I think are negatively impacting my career path.

I was recently handed a project that I’m working on with a medical doctor. I have a PhD in a social science field, but my role in this project is largely administrative. I don’t like the project and I’m definitely not the best person to do it, but I’m happily doing it, as I have been asked to do so by my organization’s senior leadership.

The doctor I’m working with keeps complimenting me publicly to people I haven’t worked with before, particularly on my skills in Microsoft Word and other admin-types of tasks. It takes the form of excessive thanks for certain things, like my ability to format documents: “I have to acknowledge all of Lucinda’s hard work on this document — she has brilliantly come up with a way to link to just the place you need! We should all thank her for her dedication…” Seriously excessive, but well-meaning.

I’m not knocking admin work — a good admin is worth his weight in gold! — but it’s not the kind of work I want to be known for and not the direction I want my career to go. And I’m not in an admin role now. These compliments are in front of people very senior to me, who don’t know me or my work at all. I would like to work for a promotion to a different part of my organization in the next year, so I am excited about the potential for increased visibility, but I don’t want to get a reputation for being really good at something that I have zero interest in. Then again, I try to do my best at every project to make it successful, and sometimes that means making sure that documents are well-formatted and easy to use.

Is there a way to bring this up that isn’t going to sound entitled or disrespectful? We don’t know each other well, and this is the first project we’ve worked on together. She’s pretty senior to me, and can also be inadvertently condescending. For example, she’ll quiz me on something vaguely medical in front of other medical doctors to prove a point: “See! Lucinda can understand this and she’s not even a DOCTOR!” (Never mind that, technically, I am a doctor…just not a medical one).

I don’t know how to reset our relationship so that I’m seen in a more professional capacity, or that I’m capable of work other than this admin work I’m currently doing on this project. I’ve tried talking in an offhand way about the other types of work I do for our organization, the programs I manage, etc.

Normally I’m a big fan of just being direct: “Dr. Frankenstein, I’m sure you don’t realize it, but I think that the compliments you’re giving me in front of the other doctors make it seem like my role is as an admin, but my job is actually X.” But this seems like I feel like I’m being asked to do work that’s beneath me in some way — which is not at all how I feel! I’m happy to do the work and do it well. I just … don’t want that type of work to become my new role, especially as I’m looking to move up in the next year or so. I’d be grateful for any advice for how to address this. Or maybe I just need to be told I’m being too sensitive?

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked, “You mentioned that your role on this project is mainly administrative. Does that mean that there isn’t much for her to publicly praise you on that wouldn’t sound admin-ish in nature? Or are there other things that she could be talking up?” The response:

It’s a little of both. I think the other things I’m good at on the project are similar to her skill set, and so they meld into the background. She could talk up these things, and she does compliment me on them in private, but since we’re working together on that part, it might sound like she’s praising herself if she does this publicly? That’s how I’m explaining it to myself. But I think that some of the administrative/technology stuff has her a bit baffled, so she’s easily impressed with my passable administrative capabilities, and it’s an easy thing for her to praise to the other doctors we work with. Again, I’m grateful for the kudos, but now I’m actively having to fight off being called “the master of Word” by other colleagues with a nonchalant, “not really, I just googled it!”

Say something to her!

It’s not that admin work doesn’t matter, but in your context, it’s not the thing you want to be known for. It’s like if your boss were just talking up your skills at organizing staff birthday parties and ignoring the three major accounts you landed this quarter.

Your colleague praising you because she probably assumes that you’ll appreciate it, and she hasn’t thought through the ramifications of how she’s doing it. If you know her to be a basically reasonable person, it should be okay to speak up and explain this.

You could say it this way: “I’m really glad that you appreciate the work that I put into making documents well-formatted and easy to use — but in the interests of transparency, it’s probably not great for my career for that to be the main praise that people are hearing about me! I would so much rather than they hear about X or Y rather than my capability at admin work.” You could even add, “especially because women are more likely to get pigeonholed with admin work.”

You could follow that up with, “It feels weird to ask not to be praised for something, but in this case I really want to be careful that we’re not building up a reputation for me based on clerical work.”

If she responds by telling you that you shouldn’t undervalue the importance of admin work, etc. etc., you can say this: “Yes, I think it’s really important too! But when someone in our field is hearing about me, it will help me a lot more if it’s about the core work I do.”

Another phrase to have hanging around in case you get the sense that she’s bristling a little (which she shouldn’t): “I don’t mean to be overly directive here. You should of course say what feels true to you. But I wanted to share my perspective with you.”

{ 254 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. orchidsandtea

    Yeah, Doc, you’re not in the wrong here and you’re not belittling admins by objecting to this. It would be a bit as if she were praising you for doing IT work, which is valuable and requires skill and effort, but you actually were working towards being seen as a serious force in the Sales dept. All else aside, it’s just not helpful for your goals. (…Plus the whole gendered thing of pigeonholing women into admin work. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a boss walk past four idle men to ask two busy women to make copies for him.)

    You’re fine. If she has a freakout, that’s on her, but I think you can cushion the impact using Alison’s scripts. And best of luck in your actual career!

    Sincerely,
    your friendly neighborhood admin

    Reply
    1. SL #2

      I will never forget the time I was asked by a visitor in the waiting area, on my way to a meeting (very visibly so! I was walking fast and had a notebook and pen with me), if I could get him a Diet Coke. I told him that I’m not the receptionist and would not be able to help him. Didn’t even get an apology.

      (If he were a guest of our department, I would help him, being her EA and all. But this was just a stranger sitting in the lobby, for all I knew.)

      Also, we don’t have Diet Cokes in the fridge, wtf.

      Reply
      1. Allison

        Oh wow. Wow. That’s . . . awful. Who does this? Who visits offices and just asks random women for refreshments?

        Reply
        1. Former Retail Manager

          Men in the South, typically of an older generation, who are out of touch. I routinely visit CPA firms in the course of my duties and I am in my mid-thirties which has led to various gentlemen assuming I’m an admin of some sort and asking me to get them things, to which my response is always “I’m sorry, I don’t work here, but the coffee, restroom, etc. is that way.” The look on their faces is usually quite entertaining.

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          1. LJL

            Not in the South, but I’ve gotten that too from some men of that generation. In that case, I often try to get them to the person who can help while making it clear that I can’t help. :-)

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        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I am sorry to report that I get this all the time, including in “liberal” places like the Bay Area, D.C., and NYC. I also get asked, often, if the director of [program] is in/available, thinking I’m the EA.

          Please note that I sit in an office with clear signage that indicates that it’s the director’s office, is nowhere near the entry/reception, and is pretty obviously not used for any function other than being my office. I’ve also had someone huffily tell me I needed to get out my office because how dare I use the director’s office without her permission and have some respect.

          I like to think people are horrified when they make mistakes like this, but at least half the time, the person who does it is in no way apologetic.

          Reply
          1. Misc

            how dare I use the director’s office without her permission

            I certainly hope you gave yourself a sharp talking to once you realised what you did.

            Reply
      2. Merida May

        I’ve had someone on our campus stop me while I was walking past and talking on a cell phone to ask for directions and I thought that was super rude, but this takes the cake!

        Reply
        1. Tableau Wizard

          I actually don’t think it’s super rude to interrupt someone to ask for directions, but it definitely depends on the delivery. Am I alone here?

          Reply
          1. lcsa99

            I find it rude, but I am in a big city so there are always other people around that they can ask. Just be selective in who you pick. Choose the person walking by themselves, not the couple that are chatting (or arguing) or the person talking away on a phone. If I was the only one around that would be another story.

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          2. Lily in NYC

            I think it’s rude to interrupt someone on the phone for directions unless you are desperate and no one else is around.

            Reply
            1. Turtle Candle

              Yeah, I don’t think it’s rude to ask for directions generally, but ideally not someone on the phone. (Unless as you say it’s a situation of desperation, but even there I’d begin with an apology and an explanation, like “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but this is my first time on the campus and I have an appointment at the Snoggleworth Building in ten minutes and I can’t find it. Can you point me to the nearest map?” Something that acknowledges that you’re interruping them in the middle of something.)

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            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Agreed—I don’t think it’s rude unless the person is clearly on the phone or in an all-engrossing conversation with someone else. I’ve been interrupted before when I was on my hands-free, but once the person realized I was on the phone they were very apologetic for interrupting me.

              But as a general rule, I think it’s otherwise ok to ask people for directions.

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            3. Elsajeni

              I’ve just realized how strange it is that I’d find it more acceptable to interrupt a face-to-face conversation than to interrupt someone on the phone. I guess because, in the face-to-face conversation, both parties are able to see and hear the interrupter? You can sort of get “permission” from both of them, rather than just interrupting one person, who then has to explain to the person they’re talking to that they’ve been interrupted?

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          3. Merida May

            Definitely depends on delivery! In my case, the question was shouted at me from a fairly close distance with the person clearly seeing I was talking on the phone. They subsequently rolled their eyes and stomped off when I told them their destination was on the other side of campus. To me, that felt rude.

            Reply
              1. Charlotte Collins

                I was once on my way to my car to leave for work (pretty clearly so – dressed up, wearing badge, carrying travel mug, work bag, walking really fast) and running late. Somebody drove up the side street and shouted at me to ask where the hospital was. (No indication that this was an emergency – in which case I would have been more helpful. Also no “excuse me” or “do you have time?” when this was right when people would be leaving for work.) I said, “I don’t know,” and tried to keep walking. And was rejoined with, “What do you mean, you don’t know?!” So, I pointed in the direction that they probably wanted.

                There are three hospitals in my city. I sometimes wonder if they found the one they wanted. (My street is a very small side street that leads to a dead end. Nobody would drive up it looking for a hospital. Strangely, people drive up it looking for all kinds of large buildings – because they don’t pay attention to the directions they’re given and turn about a mile before they should. And, yes, the street is marked “No Outlet.”)

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          4. Zombii

            You’re right that the delivery is very relevant, as is a basic ability to read people and situations (I know: not everyone has this, but it’s a skill worth developing if it’s within one’s ability to do so). It’s typically considered rude to interrupt someone else’s conversation by introducing another topic, so a general awareness of that is appreciated.

            Reply
      3. Kelly L.

        I just saw Hidden Figures and I’m thinking of the scene where Katherine first walks into the…space situation room?…and a guy walks up with his trash can and plunks it on top of her folders of work and says “This wasn’t emptied last night.”

        Reply
        1. sstabeler

          to be fair on that one, I’m 99% sure it wasn’t because she was a woman, but because she was black. (while that’s no more acceptable today, at the time when it was set- the 1960s- it wouldn’t have been an unreasonable assumption that it was Kathrine’s job and by the end of the movie, she was legitimately given the credit she deserved.)

          Reply
      4. Dankar

        Had a similar situation. Students would refer to my coworker (Immigration Specialist) and myself (Assessment Supervisor) as “the secretaries” because we sometimes worked the front desk for an hour or so if our department needed coverage. Very frustrating.

        Reply
      5. Lord of the Ringbinders

        I work in a mostly open plan office (which I like, but let’s not go off topic). A colleague and I both do the same job – we are researchers/subject matter experts and we advise colleagues on information and messaging (eg briefing them on the latest research into causes of teapot explosions for a campaign about preventing teapot explosions or a meeting with the teapot minister). We also advise other organisations who want to make teapots and members of the public who use teapots. We sit near the corner office of the most senior people in the whole place (who is very nice and often offers to make us tea).

        One day someone walked out of their office, handed my colleague some money and asked her to please go buy him a sandwich. She actually went, I think because she was completely thrown and didn’t regain the power of speech in time.

        Reply
    2. Bonky

      A couple of months back I somehow got copied into an email chain with a woman from the government in my country, who was talking to a male colleague at the same level as me – whom I happen to be married to, but that’s by the bye – about his involvement in an outreach program.

      She started sending all the email meant for him to me. Because she thought I was his assistant. And not, you know, the founder of the company and one of the directors.

      He was rather wonderful and sent a slightly snitty email saying “I’m not sure if you realised, but you’ve been sending emails meant for me to Bonky, who is our Director of Blah. We are also married, so I am getting to find out that you’ve sent them when she passes them to me after I’ve put the kids to bed, but she’s a very busy woman and you’ll probably find me more responsive if you email me directly.”

      She got the message, and sent an appalled and embarrassed email to me the next morning.

      I am also reminded of the time I attended a meeting with our original board (all stuffy old white men; it’s much more diverse now), and there was nobody there to minute it. So they asked me to. No discussion, no suggestions that any of my male colleagues take up the pen: just defaulted directly to asking the only woman at the table. I smiled nicely and suggested that perhaps one of them should do it. He did. Badly.

      Reply
      1. Zombii

        I hate when professional dudes do things badly, either because they never learned how (because they’re dudes, and who would ever expect a dude to do admin tasks amirite?) or else it’s that trick my little brother used to pull whenever he was asked to do chores he hated—the dishes were “done” and put away in the cupboard coated in dried-on crud; after this happened two or three times and my mother rewashed everything in frustration, I was put in charge of dishes. Still mad at him about that and I’m 33.

        Reply
        1. Relic

          Have to admit I pulled this when my father wanted me to mow the lawn. He’s such a perfectionist about it, so I purposefully did it wrong. He didn’t ask me to ever do it again.

          That didn’t work for other chores, but for some reason, he couldn’t bear to have his 3.5-acre lawn mowed incorrectly.

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          1. Elizabeth West

            I wasn’t allowed to mow the lawn. Not because I was a girl but because my parents apparently thought I was too stupid and would get hurt.

            Then when I started to mow my own, I was like, “Why did I want to do this again?” :P

            Reply
            1. Al Lo

              We had a riding mower (living in the country), so getting to mow the lawn was a pretty big deal, since it involved driving. Unlike a lot of farm kids, I wasn’t driving tractors at 8 or whatever, but I did first drive on the garden tractor at about 12.

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            2. Emi.

              I was once shanghaied into helping some people move things around the storage area so they could bring in the new safe. The little old ladies were totally blown away that I was so strong, I could lift a plastic bin of fake flowers above my head! The men who were bringing in the safe wouldn’t let me (the family expert on ratchets and tie-downs) help adjust the straps to lift the safe, because I might pinch my fingers.

              Reply
          2. BF50

            We call this “faked incompetence” in my house.

            My husband “doesn’t know” how to use the washing machine so being the mature adult I am, I “don’t know” how to empty the trash.

            Fortunately he does know how to do every other chore. It’s really just the laundry and he’s a good sport when I call him out on it.

            Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I have several male colleagues who like to try to get out of note-taking by talking about how good my notes are, the fact that I’ll take notes anyway, or that they’re not good at notes. None of those reasons is in any way a justification for foisting secretarial/clerical work on the only woman in the room.

          My approach is to smile sweetly and say something along the lines of, “oh, this will be fantastic practice for you!”

          Reply
          1. Misquoted

            I dealt with that early in my career as a tech writer, when I was often the only woman in meetings full of engineers, coders, and marketing managers. I’m a woman and I’m a writer so of course I should take notes. I was awful at it, because, though I’m a fast typist, I knew very little about the products at that time, so I just captured EVERYTHING. Ugh.

            Later in my career, when I moved to other product teams in the same company, I voluntarily took notes because I was excellent at it and I believe in working to your strengths. Some of the project managers tried to take notes and run the meetings at the same time which took forever because they had to stop discussion while they captured what was said. One day I just said I’d do it because I was better at it. :) Our weekly meetings were cut in half.

            At that point in my career, I had nothing to prove because I’d already proven it.

            Reply
          2. BF50

            a male colleague did that with a powerpoint for a group presentation recently, so I offered to set up a training and teach him how to create a powerpoint so he could make one for the presentation. He declined. He’d also done close to nothing on the project to that point. His powerpoint was late and crappy, but I was not helping him with it.

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        3. Anita Brayke

          My husband’s grandma had the dishes problem with her son. She stood over him and supervised as he did the dishes every night for a month, “so that he knew how to do it properly.” :)

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        4. Michelle

          I hate this. When my mom was little, their whole family would go to her grandmother’s house every week to clean for her. Her brothers would intentionally do a poor job of cleaning the bathroom, so every week my mom ended up having to do it. Honestly, I have a hard time blaming a couple of little boys (my mom was the oldest) for trying to get out of doing chores. It should have been their mother’s job to not let them get away with it. Fortunately, my mother never let us get away with it, and I never let my kids do it either. I’m actually far more willing to accommodate someone who admits they have a special dislike for a particular job, than someone who tries to pull bullshit to get out of it.

          Reply
      2. Chinook

        I sent a scathing email to our travel agency (which I used for the first time) for making my husband the lead person for our trip despite only being in contact with me, only having my email address and only having my name on the credit card. She literally never even spoke to my husband but all our documentation was in his name. As I told her supervisor, not only will I never use them again, but I will ensure that everyone knows that her agency has such sexist practices.

        Supervisor’s response – their accounting person probably entered it that way (as if this made it any better).

        Reply
        1. Zahra

          The only reason that it might be okay is if it was “alphabetical order”. Any other reason has a disproportionate effect on women and is thus sexist (yes, even age, as men are usually the older person in a couple in my experience).

          Reply
        2. Michelle

          That is just bizarre! I can’t imagine why anyone would think to do that (and I kind of disagree that alphabetization is a reasonable explanation). What utter nonsense.

          I had a similar experience this past weekend when I decided to get a tattoo. It wasn’t my first tattoo, and I am certainly not wholly unfamiliar with tattoo shops and culture, since my husband worked as a tattoo artist and piercer early in our relationship. For this one, we decided to see about some of the shops near our home, rather than go across the city to where we know people. We went into the first shop and explained what I wanted. Despite being told several times that *I* wanted a tattoo, and despite several attempts for me to break into the conversation, and attempts on my husband’s part to defer to me, the owner spoke exclusively to my husband, looking at him the whole time. Like he didn’t even realize I was there. Even when talking about the placement, he pointed to my husband’s wrist, while I held my wrist out and was ignored. He literally only looked at me ONCE, just before we left, to ask if having a tattoo on my wrist would impact my job. (Well, thank goodness he thought of me at least once.) Needless to say, we went somewhere else.

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    3. Alexandra

      I’ll never forget the time our office had to do some re-shuffling and I ended up having to share an office with a male peer whom I actually had seniority over, and a different male coworker stopped by our new office, poked his head in, and said to my male peer, “I guess you got yourself a secretary.”

      Reply
  2. MissMaple

    Oof, thanks for the suggestions on this. In my 360 review this year, I got a compliment praising my great note taking ability. I’m a senior project engineer and the only woman on the team.

    Reply
    1. Turtle Candle

      Ooooof, yeah. This bit me in the butt a few years back; I had been getting a lot of praise for doing the lower-level that our department does, and one of my coworkers parlayed that into why he should do the high profile big project despite having less experience. “Turtle is just so good at the grunt work! We should totally keep her on that since she’s so talented at it and coincidentally that means that I should get the big exciting project,” basically. (I mean, said nicer, but that was the upshot.) I definitely learned a lesson there.

      Reply
      1. babblemouth

        Ouch. That has happened to me too. Lesson learned, and I have been careful, but I simply HATE that this still happens so often, and that managers don’t seem to notice the blatant injustice of it.

        Reply
    2. Tomato Frog

      I learned in middle school to double down on taking messy, incomprehensible-to-anyone-but-me notes. Bad handwriting and weird personal shorthand have saved me extra work more often than they’ve caused me extra work (though admittedly they have occasionally done that as well).

      Reply
      1. Mina

        That’s a good tactic that often works! Although, I was once relegated to note taker (I wasn’t an admin) on all client calls my colleague, boss and I had together. So, I tried taking less than stellar notes to discourage it. Instead of taking their own notes or having someone else do it, my colleague and boss called me out on it!

        Reply
        1. zora

          Yeah, my good friend once told me “don’t be good at things you don’t want to do.” Her story was when she was a Program Manager at a nonprofit, and after she took the job, they decided to make her do all of her own bookkeeping (but not the other Program Manager who was a guy), and she hates it, so she just didn’t try very hard and ended up making kind of a mess one month. They changed their minds again, and gave the duties back to the full-time bookkeeper, so that my friend was back to only managing her program budget. I still think that’s great advice.

          Reply
    3. Lily in NYC

      After I busted my butt on a huge project at my very first “real” job, I was invited to go to the upper level briefing with a bunch of external bigwigs and was so excited that I might get recognition for my hard work. My CEO introduced me like this: “This is Lily. Her claim to fame is that she’s dating XX (son of very famous person)”. I was so caught off guard that my face crumpled and I replied without thinking: “Well, I’d rather my claim to fame be XXX (something related to the project)”. I got in SO MUCH TROUBLE. Shut door meeting, “you embarrassed me”, etc, etc. I was so mortified.

      Reply
      1. orchidsandtea

        Wait…why did you get in trouble for that? That was a great response, and appropriate (with the right delivery).

        I’m giving that CEO the stink eye.

        Reply
        1. Lily in NYC

          I really shouldn’t have retorted the comment he made in front of the other big cheese. He was wrong for what he said but I did understand that I embarrassed him. He was truly not a bad dude but he seemed oddly impressed by my boyfriend simply because he had a famous dad.

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          1. Zahra

            He shouldn’t have put your personal life above your professional accomplishments in a business meeting with *external* bigwigs. You don’t get many chances to talk to said bigwigs and you don’t want their impression of you to be “So-and-So’s girlfriend”.

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      2. Zahra

        Embarassed her? What the heck for? Didn’t she embarass you by putting your private life in the forefront at a business meeting with external bigwigs?

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      3. EmmaT

        A big, shut the door meeting on how YOU embarrassed the CEO? What the heck?! The CEO embarrassed you! (That’s a lot of punctuation marks, but wow, I am so mad on your behalf.)

        Blaming somebody else for your embarrassment when the cause of that embarrassment was… your own behaviour, is seriously not ok. Ugh.

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      4. Elizabeth H.

        Lily, you have the greatest comments. I would happily read a book about your life! It sounds like the perfect response even if you got in trouble for it. (And of course, now intrigued over who XX might be ;)

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        1. Lily in NYC

          Thank you! All of the entertaining stuff happened so long ago. My current life would be a very, very boring read.

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      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Lily, your CEO sounds like an absolute a-hole (I’m sorry to be crass—this really made me see red). You owed him/her absolutely no apology. What they said was out of line, and you very politely reframed it. If their first reaction was to yell at you, then they’re the problem, not you.

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        1. Lily in NYC

          It was really out of character for him! I didn’t hold it against him and if I felt the need to say something to him I should have said it in private. He is actually a very decent human being – he could be making millions of dollar a year but he has chosen to remain at this non-profit making what most CEOs would consider poverty rates because he cares so much about the mission. He’s just a bit out of touch and awkward. Funny aside: Winona Ryder (this was the 90s at the height of her fame) wanted to volunteer with us and somehow got his home number and used to call him all pilled out in the middle of the night and he had no idea who she was. He came in one morning like: Why is Wynnona Judd calling me in the middle of the night?

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          1. Laura

            Lily, was there any flirtation with him involved? Asking because I too know of Winona Ryder calling a guy in the middle of the night repeatedly.

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    4. Aardvark

      I feel your pain.
      A guy on an adjacent team told someone in his department that I was in charge of all the project documentation for my team, who sent me a very nice email asking where to find information on the XYZ process. I am the only woman on the team, in a skilled technical role, and have never held an admin position at this organization, nor been more than tangentially involved in XYZ.
      …In retrospect, I was probably a _bit_ harsh in my response to the messenger…

      Reply
    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      My favorite story about this is a friend’s story. She’s a really smart, incredibly hard-working woman of color in BigLaw. She was put on a project in which she drafted all the deposition questions, went through the record, etc. Her white, straight, cis-male colleague contributed nothing to the project and tried (unsuccessfully) to pass off her work as his own. The actual deposition was going to be in NYC, which is near where her parents live. The company was going to bring along at least one junior associate, and it was either him or her.

      So who do they bring? If you guessed the guy, you would be right. And the explanation for why? “Oh, well he just hasn’t really built up the experience that you have, and his work product isn’t really strong enough, so we want him to attend so he can grow/learn.”

      Reply
  3. HelloWorld

    I agree with this, but I’d take out the “woman” comment. I’m not sure how it’s relevant if sex wasn’t even brought up by the OP.

    Reply
      1. Emi.

        And it provides a reason why OP would object to being publicly praised for admin work that’s not “I think admin work is beneath me,” so it’ll get more traction.

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        1. designbot

          And also offers a way for the other doctor to relate (if I’ve interpreted correctly and they’re both women) instead of just feeling like she was wrong.

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    1. N.J.

      Well both the OP and the medical doctor are women, so I think Alison was speaking to the solidarity angle, as in, as a woman in science (medicine) this coworker would most likely be well aware of the challenges of being a woman in a field that might not have the greatest history of equality and the extra pressure inherent in guarding and promoting your reputation, including not being overly praised for or associated work that isn’t assigned as much value as other tasks. With admin work, it is assigned a low strategic value and has also even a task take on largely by women in the past and stigmatized because women were looked down on.

      Reply
      1. Cambridge Comma

        I think it might also be that even if the woman colleague is not intentionally pigeonholing her, and even if her actions are not prompted by gender, women in the workplace can’t afford to get stuck with this association. It’s not about the intention, but about the effect.

        Reply
        1. Allison

          Right. If someone else pigeonholes you by accident, everyone else will start to see you as someone who works in an administrative capacity, and the longer it goes on the harder it is to climb out of that hole and move in the direction you actually want to move in.

          Reply
          1. Sabine

            I’ve actually said, “I would love to help but unfortunately, due to my gender, I can’t risk being seen cleaning up after my colleagues or setting up for the meeting you are hosting.” I had a great role model who showed me I could be professional with boundaries.

            Reply
            1. Renee

              I handle all of the administrative tasks for my small tech manufacturing company. I’m not supposed to be cleaning up after people, but sometimes that happens, for example, we’re expecting a guest and someone has left a mess behind. We’re nearly even on men and women working here now, and the women very frequently will try to help if they notice me cleaning. I will not allow them to as they are in unambiguously technical roles and I don’t want women in those roles to be seen as responsible for cleaning, and I tell them that. I will handle the person that puts me in the position of cleaning up after them and make them pay, but I want to reinforce the perception that it is my job to manage messes because I’m the administrative manager, not the CAD designer’s because she is a woman.

              Reply
    2. Artemesia

      This is what makes this hit home when she brings it up. Even a somewhat clueless female exec will ‘get it’ when you bring it up and it is something men need to hear. It is the core of the message. Although she has two issues here — by stressing she is not a ‘doctor’ they imply she doesn’t have a doctorate as well as not having an MD. Coupled with the praise for scut work, it cements her image as an admin. If I heard that, I would assume she was admin staff.

      I think before this important conversation the OP needs to think about where she wants her career to go, so she can talk about how she sees future research roles, project leadership etc related to her own expertise. Thus she can say ‘I am happy to being do this now on this project, but my long term goals are to (get my own grant, do the research on X, run projects that combine sociology and medicine, whatever) and being identified as an admin may be a problem in moving in these directions.’ I don’t know how you bring up the PhD but if you can find a moment to joke about it so people are aware — ‘when the FA shouts they need a doctor, I am chagrined to learn that they aren’t really looking for someone with a doctorate in sociology.’ something to make it clear you are a professional.

      Reply
  4. Zahra

    If your office is the kind that would laugh at this (albeit a bit ruefully for some of them), you can always send them to xkcd’s tech cheat sheet. (Link in next post, because, moderation on links.)

    Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        Literally, this is my day sometimes. Including getting my computer 100% back up and running after we had to strip and re-install it a few weeks back. The current IT guys REALLY like me right now because not only did I jump in and troubleshoot and figure stuff out so that their end was less “run the basics” and more “take a deeper look because the basics didn’t work”, but when some stuff was missing, I hit the web, collected it myself, and put the missing stuff in a shared spot that they could grab it from to update it for their dept’s use.

        My boss is quite fierce about me not being looked at for IT help outside of my dept and protecting the understanding of my role here as a designer, while appreciating the occasional benefits of my IT bent for use within our dept.

        Reply
        1. Zahra

          Ha! When I got a new computer I insisted that only the bare minimum be installed on it. I had already saved the installers for everything I needed and got a Ninite file for the standards. Seriously, Ninite’s website is wonderful when reinstalling from scratch.

          Reply
  5. Dealtwiththis

    Is it possible that she knows that these administrative tasks are outside the normal scope of your work and is therefore feeling a little guilty about asking you to do them and is overcompensating by praising you for them to show you that she greatly appreciates your efforts? I could see myself doing something like that to someone without realizing how it’s coming across to them.

    Reply
    1. femmebot

      To present a contrary option, I have learned that when I’m getting excessive compliments it’s often because that person is trying to manipulate me into doing more of that kind of work so that they don’t have to. It’s one of the ways “leadership skills” becomes a dark art.

      Reply
      1. Mockingjay

        Exactly, femmebot!

        My supervisor dumped a rush document on me yesterday solely because I possess adequate Word skills. He – leader of the document team – can’t even set a standard 1″ margin. He still does documents in ’97 Word.doc format and uses paragraph returns to adjust spacing. We run Office 2013. (Style Codes, dude.)

        Never mind that I am running the requirements team and planning the test design for next year.

        Reply
        1. Zombii

          Paragraph returns. To adjust spacing. And he’s the … leader … of the document team.

          Ow ow ow ow muh brains. :(

          Reply
            1. Siberian

              As a 50-year-old who long, long ago learned to not use hard returns for anything but the end of a paragraph, I was quite surprised when my 20-year-old intern used hard returns in an Indesign document just last week. I really thought that was something only “olds” like myself who began their careers using a typewriter would do. I was very surprised a design student would do it! You just never know.

              Reply
      2. Esperanza

        YES. This happens to me all the time. I have come to dread over-the-top praise for being “a computer genius” because it just leads to more work that I’m not even supposed to be doing. I have definitely felt like it was an intentional effort to get me to do more of this sort of work.

        Reply
        1. Rachael

          That’s similar to me. I’m a Project Manager and I’ve had to shoot down people in my team who try and make me into an admin “because I’m so organized”. I’ve had to be really firm that, no, I’m not putting your meetings into the group calendar -or- no, I’m not going to check everyone’s availability to set up your conference calls.

          Reply
      3. MWKate

        Yes. My boss refers to me as the department ‘wordsmith’. Which basically means I’m brought in on everything that needs to be written or scripted (think newsletters, scripts for product demos, etc). While in theory I wouldn’t mind this, it of course is in addition to my regular responsibilities. I work in bank operations, and a lot of the people here are very technical and task oriented – which is great. Time would be better spent bringing up writing skills for everyone, rather than simply punting it to me.

        Additionally, I’m truly not more than a competent writer in my experience. The ‘additional duties as assigned’ thing gets REALLY overused at my company.

        Reply
          1. MWKate

            I would definitely rather write and edit than do some of my other duties, but unfortunately these assignments often come without much directions, on topics I am not familiar with (without many resources to bring me up to speed), and with no one to collaborate with – so my end product is often never edited, which is a terrible idea because after I’ve looked at something 1,000x I can’t always see errors.

            Reply
        1. Charlotte Collins

          But hiring a real writer or editor costs money! And nobody really notices the difference.

          Except all those of us who do….

          Reply
      4. Elizabeth West

        YES.
        I had a coworker who did this instead of just asking me to do something, which was allowed. But he would also try to flatter me into doing him a “favor,” which usually ended up being something he should have been doing and didn’t want to. I caught on quick and learned to deflect him to my manager–“I’m pretty swamped; you should check with Reginald, since he might have other stuff he wants me to do instead.” I could tell if it was legit if he went back to his desk and not to Reginald, haha.

        Reply
      5. Artemesia

        And it also sounds incredibly patronizing to praise a PhD for her formatting skills. For a crackerjack admin, being known as the person who can save us when we screw up the formatting is real praise. For a PhD it is patronizing and demeaning.

        Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Well, only if the PhD is not employed as an admin (the case, here). If a PhD were an admin of this specific type, and if she was then praised for formatting skills, it wouldn’t be inherently demeaning.

          Reply
      6. One of the Sarahs

        Heh, I spotted this approach once, when an external partner said to me “Oh Sarah, I really appreciate how you always call me back as soon as you can”. Damn that dark art, because she was pretty subtle about it, and it took me a while before I twigged, and asked myself why I prioritised her calls.

        (I then used it when I was managing my own staff, and used judiciously, it really does work. But less stuff I don’t want to do, more getting someone to be the team member they needed to be)

        Reply
  6. Jessesgirl72

    I understand where the OP is coming from, but my FIL was the IT support for a teaching hospital until he retired last year.

    Doctors, especially older doctors, can be really, really, REALLY bad with tech. My own MIL (an MD) can use some pretty cutting edge medical equipment in surgery, but wouldn’t even be able to make the simplest word doc. So although the OP thinks the admin tasks are largely a waste of her PHD, to the MD, that you know how to do that stuff is pretty amazing, and she thinks that her colleagues would believe so too.

    So by all means, explain things to her,but keep in mind that she may be legitimately praising things that, to her, are clever and wonderful, and she isn’t intending to be condescending, or devaluing you.

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      I don’t think that OP is questioning the Doctor’s intentions at all. But the result is what bothers her (rightly so) and saying something is the right way to handle this regardless of intention.

      Reply
      1. Jessesgirl72

        I get that, but I think it still might help the OP if she thinks of it in terms of the stuff they both share in (the meat) the MD doesn’t really think of as special, since she can do it too, but the silly Word stuff, to her really *IS* magic. Things you can’t do yourself is always more impressive!

        It doesn’t change the actions, but it might make the OP less annoyed at the need for the actions.

        Reply
        1. MWKate

          I think the OP is cognizant of the fact the MD is not good with tech, and is truly impressed with her skills. Unfortunately, the result is still that she is getting recognition for tasks that are really outside of her professional goals.

          Reply
    2. Kelly L.

      Yeah, I think that’s the likeliest scenario–I’ve met people with many, many degrees who think anything on the computer is sorcery.

      Reply
      1. Old Grumpy Guy

        +1 to this

        I would add that because this doctor may think the administrative tasks are sorcery or difficult, I really like Allison’s scripts. The key is making it clear that this is the wrong attention or focus for OP’s career. If it comes off as sounding that these administrative tasks are easy or grunt work, it can actually make the doctor feel stupid or self-conscious because to her it IS magic.

        Reply
        1. M_Lynn

          I agree that the medical doctor may think that basic admin tasks are sorcery, but I don’t think that excuses it. In fact, it may be even worse. The praise may be said in a somewhat self-deprecating way, because putting links into a document is really easy and it sounds like the medical doctor may recognize her shortcomings with it. Because even then, the OP is being praised for something eye-roll-deservingly basic, which compounds how demeaning it is. It comes off as “wow, let’s all applaud this younger woman for accomplishing the most basic of tasks! Yay!” because then it sounds like a surprise that the OP meets the minimum level of competency. I mean, I also was able to tie my shoes all by myself today!

          And to be fair-I wouldn’t say this comment if it seemed like the OP was using legit admin skills that were being praised. Internal documents links are just very simple.

          I’m also a younger woman also fighting against the admin trap in my career, and I’ve worked for a LOT of senior level, well-educated people who are hopeless with technology. I understand generational differences as it relates to technological adaptation, but it is still frustrating to see such inequality in what is considered a basic skill.

          Reply
          1. AnotherAlison

            Thank you. I agree with this, but I felt like I was in the minority here.

            The thing is, the OP is highly skilled in her area AND still manage to understand how to operate Word. Most people can learn to operate Word, but it’s probably not cost effective for the MD to invest a lot of time doing so. That’s fine. Similarly, I wouldn’t expect my executive project sponsor to get into the nitty gritty of Word, but I do because I have to write and edit project documents, even though as a PM, Word is not my primary skill contribution. I would be pissed if my sponsor only considered me some sort of Word jockey, disregarded the technical content I wrote, and praised me for figuring out how to add a TOC.

            Reply
          2. One of the Sarahs

            The other thing is, the stuff she’s being praised for are REALLY google-able, so if MD wanted to do it, it would take a minute, max, to look up and do internal links, maybe 2 for formatting.

            Reply
      1. Elizabeth H.

        Same, I think the OP made sure to stress that she doesn’t feel this way. I didn’t get any sense that she is frustrated about the scope of her job in general or the actual tasks she is doing, just concerned about this extremely specific issue about how they are being presented to others.

        Reply
    3. Solidus Pilcrow

      I was thinking along those lines as well. While Word is common, knowing how to really use it isn’t.

      I’ve mostly been in tech an manufacturing industries and I’ve gotten *ridiculous* amounts of praise (epic, over-the-top embarrassing levels) for fixing a header/footer/sectioning problem in Word or doing a VLOOKUP formula in Excel. Not so big a deal to me, but to those who have struggled half the morning trying to figure out why the pages aren’t numbering correctly, I was their very own miracle worker.

      Reply
  7. SJ

    I feel this so hard. In my last job, one of the (many many many) things I did was manage social media for my boss. I did a lot of higher-level work too, but he always focused on the social media thing, and that’s how I was introduced and known to people: “This is SJ. She does my Twitter!” Well… yeah, but how about that huge application I managed and finished that was dropped on my desk and a “this is due in a week”? How about that big speech I just wrote for you? Social media is obviously very important, but I actually don’t like doing it that much for work, and that’s not how I wanted to be pigeonholed. But that’s exactly what happened, at least in my boss’s view.

    Reply
  8. Squeeble

    I’m an admin, and I completely empathize with this, having gotten similar compliments in the past! It’s one thing to be praised for being organized and conscientious; quite another to be told you’re great at formatting a document.

    Reply
    1. I'm Not Phyllis

      Agreed. I’m an EA and it gets under my skin so much when I spend months coordinating a big project which happens to include a celebratory meeting at the end, but what I get praised for is ordering food for the meeting. Really?

      Reply
  9. Cambridge Comma

    I wonder if the stuff OP can do in Word is so far above the capabilties of her collaborator that it genuinely seems like witchcraft and worthy of praise? I’ve got much stronger IT skills that the rest of my office and people are always amazed by what to other groups would seem trivial, for example, adding your own keyboard shortcuts. I don’t know if there’s a way round it. I’ve started slightly concealing that I don’t do certain things by hand to avoid the focus on it, although I’ll gladly help colleagues who are interested in learning and for whom a link to a relevant how to guide is enough.

    Reply
    1. Chickaletta

      I was once praised (by a group of IT programmers nonetheless), for knowing how to use the formatting paintbrush tool in Word. Apparently it’s not something everyone knows about.

      Reply
      1. Triangle Pose

        I don’t know what the formatting paintbrush tool in Word is…is it different than copying formatting using Ctrl+Shift+c? Funny because an IT person at my company praised me for knowing how to use the snipping tool, apparently a lot of people don’t know how to use that one there.

        Reply
        1. Zahra

          It’s to copy the formatting of a specific word/line unto another word/line.

          Double-click the formatting paintbrush and you can copy the formatting ad infinitum until you press escape or click again on the button.

          It works in Excel too and most probably in PowerPoint (but I rarely use PowerPoint, so I couldn’t say for sure).

          Reply
          1. Elizabeth H.

            I feel like the hugest idiot because I never knew you could double click to keep the formatting longer. And I’m even the “google name of program plus what you are trying to do” kind of person to the nth degree like you posted the xkcd link for – up to and including registry edits when I don’t actually know anything about IT, etc. so I am chagrined. Thank you!!! I use the formatting paintbrush MANY times a day and this will make a big difference.

            Reply
      2. Trillian

        I wish NOBODY knew about it! Then no more writing leads would get a piece of report at the last minute, drop it into the master document, and before their horrified aching eyes have it turn into a hideous mishmash of HEADINGS and fonts and random spacing, because every paragraph of that nicely formatted document has a different underlying style. And don’t talk to me about tables and section numbering — if you’re unlucky, the section numbering will break and need entirely redone. It can take hours to fix, particularly if it’s full of nonstandard symbols.

        If you’re slotting into anyone else’s workflow, don’t touch that &$@! brush!

        Reply
  10. Chickaletta

    This is the double-edged sword of being computer literate. People find out you know how to use Word or Excel, clear a jam in the copier, or post to Twitter, that’s what you become known for no matter what your job title.

    Doctors and medical folk are their own weird breed. I used to admin for a group of PA’s, and I was amazed that a group of people with higher degrees who made life and death decisions based on a set of complicated medical knowledge had no idea how to run a meeting, take minutes (um, you took notes in school, right?), or read a simple balance sheet. Maybe all that focus on medical training created tunnel vision where basic administrative skills were pushed out of their line of sight.

    Reply
    1. Any Moose

      Not just docs and medical folks. . . Grown-assed adults act like they never saw a number or did math before. SMH

      Reply
    2. Allison

      Yes, that’s exactly what happened. Not everyone has basic administration skills because not everyone needed to develop them, so I would never fault someone for not knowing how to do something. I would, however, fault someone for refusing to learn those skills if their job required it, and instead relied on people who weren’t admins to handle those administrative tasks for them, because those not-admins were younger, less experienced, or (I hate to go there, but . . . ) female. If you don’t have an admin, you need to pick up your own administrative work, hire an admin, or if you’re a manager, delegate it someone and be prepared to explain why they’re picking up the admin tasks.

      Reply
    3. FN2187

      Yep, this. I am an admin, and I because I can operate a computer, people have started going to me for tech support. Today, while picking up mail, I had to show someone how to attach a document. This person regularly uses email.

      We have a dedicated IT department with a help desk. They do not need to come to me. And yet, they will not stop.

      Reply
      1. Zombii

        Have you suggested they try Google (do they know how to do a competent search)? I finally, finally managed to teach my mom how to google formatting questions instead of texting me—I know that’s not the same thing, but it took years, and I’m proud of her for learning a new skill.

        Reply
      2. SusanIvanova

        We had an IT department that might have known the answers to how to attach documents, but not for any of the questions the developers had. (It is possible to write server software without knowing how to configure servers.) For that we went to the Wonder Admin, who either knew the answer or knew how to get past basic IT to the ones who knew the complicated stuff.

        Reply
    4. Sparrow

      Side note, but it’s definitely possible they have no experience with taking useful notes. When I started TAing classes as a grad student, I was SHOCKED at how few students took notes, and even fewer did it well. I can’t even tell you how many times a student complained about being tested on X thing that was never covered in class when X thing was indeed covered – they just didn’t write it down.

      Reply
      1. Charlotte Collins

        I have to admit that having a mother who was trained as a secretary back in the old days (when you learned shorthand and transcription) really made a difference for my schoolwork. I always saw her taking notes. And she always had pen and paper handy. She later became an editor. (My dad was a printer and artist, so he also had both handy.) But I agree that note taking is a skill that not everyone has.

        It also helped that my Chemistry teacher in high school taught us proper note taking for scientific purposes. And she graded our notebooks.

        Reply
      2. Simonthegreywarden

        As a professional tutor, I have learned that if someone is having problems with a class, there’s always a kaleidoscope of other issues and one is ALWAYS that they have no note taking strategies; they either highlight everything in the book/powerpoint, or nothing.

        Reply
        1. Artemesia

          I once had a very dim grad student and in an attempt to help him analyze research articles sat down and told him to take the 3 articles for tomorrow and highlight the one sentence that was the main point of the article. He arrived the next day with every sentence highlighted — a block of pink text, EVERYTHING. This is an operational definition of not having the analytic capacity to do graduate work. (his admission I found out had been political)

          Reply
    5. PK

      That’s actually how I fell into IT in the first place. Showed enough folks that I was computer literate enough to be considered when an IT position became available. 10 years and counting now.

      Reply
    6. Formica Dinette

      I agree that MDs and other high-level medical practitioners are their own breed. In my experience, many of the ones who haven’t learned any administrative skills haven’t done so because they feel it’s beneath them. However, that seems to be changing as part of the general shift away from treating doctors like gods.

      Reply
  11. Allison

    Oh man, something similar happened to me in my last job and it’s one of the reasons I was happy to leave. One of my coworkers started to see me as her “helper,” because I was so good at “helping” her and she was always so grateful for all my “help.” So whenever she was swamped and needed this or that little admin task taken care of, or she didn’t have time to look for something, she’d ask me to do it.

    I mean, yes, we partnered on projects and the specific work I did (mainly research based) did support her work, but I wasn’t an admin; her referring to me as a “helper” seemed really off, and it resulted in her never really being clear on what was and was not appropriate to ask of me. My boss tried to remind her I wasn’t her admin, I often told her “I’ll do it this time, but [boss] really wants you guys to do this yourselves” or “going forward, feel free to take care of that yourself.”

    I really hope that doesn’t happen in this new job. If I even catch a whiff of someone treating me like a “helper,” I’ll need to be much more proactive in shutting it down.

    Reply
  12. Roz

    I have a feeling this isn’t a normal coworker situation. Can I hazard a guess that the MD’s you’re working with are part of a board, council or are medical advisors and you are a staff member? If that’s the case, I think you should leave it be. I work in a situation where the MDs lead our organization and are not staff members. The staff members support their decision-making abilities by doing research and providing policy advice. It would not be uncommon for the MDs we work with to be wowed by our powerpoint skills or WebX abilities, but it is not appropriate to push back for fear it would hurt our reputation as policy staff.

    If they are not the ones making hiring/firing/promotions decisions, I would let it go. The others that are hearing this praise are likely not assuming this is the only thing you do. Instead, focus on getting your face seen by them in other capacities to fill out the picture you fear they are creating of you in their head. Volunteer to make presentations on your work at committee meetings or other appropriate venues when opportunities arise. But leave this be. I doubt it’s as big a deal as it feels at that moment.

    Reply
  13. Aunt Margie at Work

    I’d like to address, the “She’s not a doctor” crack. Because it’s a crack.
    Crack: An inconsiderate remark that isn’t intended to insult, really, but hey, it’s true, what I’m saying about you, so I can say it in a blunt but clever way.
    No, you can’t. Shut that down.
    I like the work I do in my job. It’s not what I studied in undergrad or Master’s degree. In fact, most of the people in my group didn’t go to college. But I’ve managed to finesse, “I felt that way in grad school, too” into a conversation when being told how my hands on training is just as valuable as academic study.
    So when she announces to people who don’t know you that you are not a doctor, you can point out that you did/did not study that while working on your PhD. Or you had a similar discussion with a colleague while working on your PhD.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m interested in hearing what PhDs have to say about this (fposte?) but to me that sounds overly defensive. I think it’s clear that the colleague means “she’s not a medical doctor.”

      Reply
      1. INFJ

        I don’t think it’s overly defensive. She may have meant “medical doctor”, but what she said was “doctor.” And OP is a doctor. Also, the whole way that exchange went down, with the quizzing and making a big deal about how OP knew something she wasn’t expected to know just came off wrong.

        Add to that the fact that social sciences can be looked down upon by medical sciences as “not as scientific” adds another layer to this.

        Reply
        1. TL -

          I work in a place full of MDs, PhDs, and MD/PhDs – and we say not a doctor all the time to indicate that the person is not a practicing medical doctor. It probably wasn’t a crack. (Though we generally don’t get wowed that our PhDs can follow ours MDs; oftentimes they’re working on similar problems.)

          Reply
          1. Artemesia

            It would be no problem at all with a group of researchers who know each other’s background. IN this case I got the impression that the medical doctors were not fully aware the the OP has a PhD.

            Reply
      2. JJtheDoc

        I agree that in this instance, it appears that the colleague is identifying the OP as not a medical doctor, as opposed to denying the OP’s academic/professional achievements.

        That said, there are folks who think/feel/believe that only medical doctors (which normally includes dentists and veterinarians, sometime chiropractors as well) and/or professors/academics deserve to be called Doctor. Many of those of us in other fields, with hard-earned and much appreciated Ph.D.’s tend to feel otherwise! My degree and professional certifications are on my business card because they are appropriate to my work; I don’t expect everyone to call me “Dr. J”.

        Reply
        1. NonProfit Nancy

          Well, and OP says these are medical questions, and that the woman is bringing them up to make the case for what people who are not (medical) doctors know. I doubt it’s a deliberate crack but OP can certainly say, “to be fair, I am actually a doctor – of sociology!” and smile, to see if that gets any results. It would be churlish for someone to deliberately continue the joke after that.

          Reply
      3. Esperanza

        I wouldn’t be offended exactly, but in this case I would pipe up with “Well I AM a doctor” (smiling) and if people look confused “I’m a doctor of [social science].” The key is keeping the tone friendly and light, almost like you’re making a joke.

        My direct report also has a Ph.D. in social science (like me), and I make an effort to point out her Ph.D. frequently. It’s easier to do this for her than for myself, which is why I think in an ideal world supervisors would talk up your credentials (or at least not make it sound like you don’t have them!).

        Reply
        1. Zombii

          See, I’m put off by any statement that’s intended to provoke a question. Saying “I am a doctor” and waiting for people to be confused seems more drawn out than necessary when you could just say “Actually, my doctorate is in X.”—but I have all kinds of social insecurities and prefer my professional interactions to be brief. LW should do whatever works to shut down that “not even a doctor” nonsense as quickly and politely as possible.

          Good on you for pointing out your report’s Ph.D. I’m sure she appreciates the support. :)

          Reply
        2. TL -

          I would find that odd, in a formal professional setting like a meeting. It’s not ignoring her PhD to refer to medical doctors as doctors and not include her in them; it’s shorthand for MD here. If there were vets or dentists in room, they would probably use the same phrasing.
          She can add her PhD to her email signature if she’d like recognition.

          Reply
          1. Turtle Candle

            Yes, I think that part of what is confusing the issue is that there’s a technical definition of “doctor” and a colloquial one. My best friend has a doctorate in medieval studies and goes by Dr. Whatever professionally, but of course if she was on an airplane where there was a medical emergency and they asked for any doctors to ring the call button, she would know perfectly well from context that while she is legitimately a “doctor,” they are not looking for a twelfth-century manuscript expert.

            Reply
      4. Dr. KMnO4

        It may be a tad overly defensive, but the MD was already being condescending to the PhD with her little quiz and comment. That context is important. If the OP’s experience is anything like mine she has encountered comments about not being a “real” doctor before as well, which is irritating and insulting. So I would say that despite the intentions of the MD, it’s easy to see why someone would get defensive about a comment like “she’s not a doctor”.

        Reply
        1. Zahra

          Worst thing is, I personnaly consider MDs to be not a “real” doctorate degree. Not to the same level as a Ph.D. in any case. But that’s a debate for another day (maybe for an open thread someday).

          Reply
          1. Triangle Pose

            Wait, I don’t understand how MD could be concieved as a lesser doctorate degree or not a real doctorate. Can you explain?

            Reply
            1. Zahra

              Because it’s a “professional” degree, not an academic degree. Just like I’d never put an MBA at the same level as an M.Sc.

              Yes, MDs spend a lot of time learning their craft, but it looks more like an apprentice to master trajectory than a student to post-graduate trajectory.

              Reply
                1. Zombii

                  “Dissect” as in it just got me thinking about apprenticeships and technical schools and why those paths are given less respect than medicine, and also how every other doctorate is also given less respect than medicine, to the point that anyone who isn’t a medical doctor gets a side-eye for calling themselves “doctor” outside of professional circles—not “dissect” as in I think you’re wrong. I realized how that sounded after posting. Sorry.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                It’s different with medicine, though, because you’re expected to produce independent research as a core element of your training, and later, as a key feature in your advancement. And in addition to that, you have rigorous coursework and a mandatory “training” period (interning/residency). It’s an applied degree, for sure, but it’s no less “doctoral” than a doctorate in engineering.

                Reply
                1. The Strand

                  …Except that the internship and residency training happens *after* you’ve received your MD, in order for you to practice. And while you’re expected to learn about research, what is required to get through your residency – as far as research – is far less structured and involved than many MSc and PhD programs – and of course also dependent on the match and what residency you get.

                  For instance, compare the research requirements at Johns Hopkins’ standard internal medicine residency, which has a month-long section on evidence-based practice (like many other clinical programs in health education), to what’s required for a mechanical engineering PhD at Johns Hopkins: that PhD student must pass a department exam, an oral exam, write a doctoral dissertation, and undergo a final thesis defense. Now, a really motivated medical resident can even take the internal medicine residency as a half time”short track” and combine it with a masters or PhD in a research field, making it a six year residency, but most clinicians don’t, and frankly, most don’t graduate with an equivalent level of research experience to those with PhDs.

            2. Jennifer Needs a Thneed

              I’m not Zahra, but I might be able to help. (Anyone who knows more than I do, please speak up. I’m going from the memory of a couple of relatives doing medical school and neither one was recent.)

              In the US, a PhD degree involves doing original research and writing it up. That’s the “thesis” that doctoral candidates write, and that a lot of them get stuck on. While they’re doing that, they often teach undergraduate classes. For the most part, they don’t get any training in how to teach, they just learn by doing (or fail to learn, which is hard for their students).

              Medical school is different. It does not involve doing original research. It involves learning *a lot* of existing information and then doing hands-on work with that knowledge. First you work as an intern and rotate thru different kinds of medicine for a few weeks in each field. (I think that’s the final year of medical school? Or maybe year 3 of 4.) Then, for many medical specialities, you work as a resident and focus on just one type of medine. For a year maybe? I think this is true for GP’s these days too.

              (This last – interning and being a resident) is at least part of why I’ve seen medical school referred to as a trade school — you’re learning a trade, work you do with your hands, and you’re doing it essentially by the apprentice system.)

              So getting a PhD and an MD could take the same amount of time (so many years…) but they involve different levels of academic effort. Does that help?

              Reply
              1. Jennifer Needs a Thneed

                (Oh, now I see that Zahra replied while I was replying. Happily, we agreed, even if at very different levels of loquacity.)

                Reply
              2. Med Student

                I find the viewing it as a trade thing interesting, because these days many med students also need to have research and publications to be considered for good residency programs. So I think medicine is actually pretty academic, but I guess that depends on the person–you can become a medical doctor without doing research but you obviously can’t be a phd and hate research.

                To clarify a couple things (since you asked!) in the 3rd year of med school is typically when students spend 4-6 weeks rotating in different fields, but they’re still considered students. In the 4th year is when you can do electives in the field you want to go into. You apply for a residency in a specific field (say, ob-gyn), and residencies are typically at least 3 years (I’m not sure how long a primary care residency is, but internal medicine is 3, ob-gyn is 3-4, surgery 6-7). In the first year of your residency is when you’re considered an intern (but you are a medical doctor and can prescribe things and treat patients).

                Reply
                1. Mela

                  But you’re comparing the best MDs with the basic requirements for any PhD candidate. Sure, if you want to be a fancy, amazing, prestigious doctor, you do research. But there are thousands of MDs every year who don’t do research. They just want to practice medicine and leave it at that. On the other hand, the PhD’s can’t get any academic job afterwards without a lot of research on their CV.

                2. Med Student

                  @ Mela That’s not really accurate though–even middle of the road med students these days need some sort of research project (or public health/international health/something beyond just school). It’s definitely not just the best and brightest. There are fields you just can’t get into unless you did research.

                  Also, to move on from just the undergrad medical education, a lot of residencies require their residents to have a project before they graduate. I know at my school (state school, not ivy league or anything) the residents in at least a couple different departments all have their own projects because it’s part of the residency training.

                3. Mela

                  Okay…but you just said “middle of the road,” which means the lower tier MD students do *not* necessarily need research. Sure, some fields require more, but that means other fields do *not require* research.

                  Not to mention, I seriously doubt that a med school research project is as in-depth or as rigorous as completing a PhD.

                  As I said above, it’s not that MDs don’t do research, it’s that it’s not needed to get a job as a doctor. You can’t get a job as an academic without significant research, and even then, it’s up in the air.

                4. Med Student

                  I don’t disagree that a med student/resident research project is going to be less in depth than a PhD’s thesis–that’s obviously true. That’s not to say, though, that the academics involved in becoming a (medical) doctor are less rigorous than those involved in becoming a phd.

                  At this point it seems we just disagree on what is considered academic study.

              3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                That’s not quite accurate, anymore. Most rigorous medical programs require the production of original research to graduate. That’s true of other “professional degrees” as well. It’s not a “trade” program, it’s an applied program in the same way that there’s applied research in the sciences and in engineering.

                Also, very few residencies are only one year, but the length of residency relates to your specialization/field.

                Reply
                1. Zahra

                  Well, yeah, you need to produce something at the end of an MBA. It’s usually more like a project report than an original research paper, both in word count and in the time spent on the subject. It’s a far cry from the work you have to put in for an M.Sc. in Business Administration.

                  I’d be highly surprised if we were talking about the same level of independent work and research between a Ph.D. and an M.D. (although I’m willing to be surprised).

            3. Artemesia

              When graduation occurs at prestigious universities, the PhDs are hooded last or acknowledge last in the ceremonies (if the hooding and awarding of professional degrees is done separately after the ceremony that includes everyone). The PhD is considered the pinnacle degree of the University. Professional degrees like business, medicine and law are ‘lesser’ degrees in this context. Theoretically PhDs contribute to knowledge; professional degree takers are trained in skills.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                It’s true that PhD’s are hooded last. And it’s true that in SOME departments, a PhD is considered the most senior degree. But it’s not true that professional degrees lack rigor, are non-academic, fail to contribute to knowledge production, or are limited to skills training.

                Reply
                1. The Strand

                  Yes, I agree with you, there’s wonderful stuff that comes from professional degrees, and the rigor can be intense. I would never argue any of the things listed in your third sentence. I think those who do, may have been on the receiving end of some kind of similar criticism; the layperson for instance, who thinks a PhD called “Dr.” is trying to take something away from a medical clinician, despite years of experience and hard work.

                  Bottom line, whether a person is a clinician with an MD or someone with a research PhD, I have immense respect for the work they put in for their degree. I just assume that each will have different strengths and weaknesses (the comment upthread about PhDs who aren’t generally taught to teach students is a great point).

                  I think this would be great on the open thread when the day comes.

      5. Roza

        Also a social science PhD, and I get similar cracks all the time. Because I’m not a STEM grad, people are often astonished that I know math. It doesn’t help that their are wide differences between how the subject gets taught at the undergrad level (often discussions about current events or philosophy) and at the PhD level (statistics, research design, basic programming and data management…It’s super common to transition to data science if you leave academia). So…On the one hand, if people’s only interaction with my field was in undergrad, I get why they’re surprised, and that it’s on me to demonstrate my competence. On the other hand, especially once they’ve known me a while, getting inadvertently condescending praise for having basic technical skills gets old. As does feeling like the skills that I developed earning my PhD are unacknowledged and undervalued, even as I see myself using them daily to add value in my workplace (another fun condescending compliment is that I “learn so fast” because I can do so much after so little time on the job…The assumption is that I knew nothing of value coming in because I was straight out of grad school, when actually a lot of what I learned in grad school and conducting independent research for several years–which is part of earning a PhD–is directly relevant).

        All that to say, I think it’s common to get some level of inadvertent condescension when you’re a PhD in industry, and that it can be extra tough in social science because you’ll often have a technical skillset no one will see coming. Doesn’t make it easier, but you aren’t alone! In this case I’d push back a little, but wouldn’t make it a huge issue unless I felt like those assumptions were costing me the chance to take on more challenging work.

        Reply
        1. Roza

          Left out the most important part–its less about actually being called “Doctor” and more about making sure OP’s experience and skills are actually recognized. I also agree with the suggestions of “I AM a doctor” in a joking tone.

          Reply
        2. Formica Dinette

          I don’t have an advanced degree, but I have heard a lot about PhDs being looked down on by MDs, especially social science PhDs.

          Reply
          1. LilyPearl

            For me it’s always been the opposite. My grandma had a PhD, several of my friends do, and they’ve always made it clear that theirs are the genuine doctorates; I just have a courtesy title because I studied medicine. (Also I’m in the UK so it’s only a bachelor’s degree – MB ChB).

            Reply
        3. Anon Anon Anon

          I always try and keep in mind that everyone with a Ph.D., is a doctor, but not every physician is a doctor, as many countries don’t confer a doctorate to someone with a medical degree.

          Reply
        4. Charlotte Collins

          I always found it annoying when one of my Lit profs used to say that we were English majors because we couldn’t do the math. I was always very good at math. I just like words better than numbers.

          And I’m still quite proud of the A I got in the Symbolic Logic class that I once took to satisfy a math requirement. It was like math without numbers.

          Reply
      6. Ornitha Mimus

        I am a PhD working in the medical field and it is a fine line. If everyone else is being expressly refereed to as Dr So and So, I will make sure I am as well, but in this case I’d agree she is meaning medical doctor. In my group the terminology that tends to get used is “clinician”, which can sometimes still be plenty condescending but is at least not factually incorrect. So if it were one of my docs it would be “Ornitha gets it and she’s not even a CLINICIAN”.

        Reply
        1. Expat

          I’m wrapping up my thesis in medical biology, so I don’t have a PhD yet. (Soon!) I plan to request people address me as Dr. Expat only when they’re being obnoxious.

          “Well Ms. Expat, your research has no immediate clinical relevance—” “Excuse me, it’s DOCTOR Expat.”

          Man, I wish I could have said that to the last snotty clinician. That guy sat in on every session and loudly commented that basic research was a waste of time – while people were still presenting.

          Reply
          1. Artemesia

            LOL. There are two situations where I have used ‘Dr.’
            1. booking airline travel; once got the last standby seat (they handed the ticket to a distinguished looking grey haired man — I had to hook the ticket before someone changed their mind)
            2. when in the south men made disparaging remarks e.g. is that ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ when I used ‘Ms’ (hinting that this overeducated woman couldn’t possible have caught a man) then I would deadpan, ‘well actually you can call me ‘Dr. Artemesia”

            Reply
      7. fposte

        Dammit, Jim, I’m a bricklayer, not a doctor.

        No, wait, that’s not right. But I’m not a doctor. A PhD doesn’t make me a doctor any more than a JD makes a lawyer a doctor. That’s not devaluing my PhD, it’s understanding the difference between the formal degree term and the general use of a word. Getting a BA doesn’t make you a bachelor and getting an MS doesn’t make you a master, either.

        Reply
        1. Sympathy

          Thank you! I internally roll my eyes when PhDs except to be called “Dr” when they’re not medical doctors. I have academics in my family and I respect them, but at the end of the day, if I have a heart attack on a plane, I want a real doctor there, not a PhD.

          Reply
          1. TL -

            Yes! And if you’re in a clinical setting, it can really, really important that you keep the Drs and the PhDs easily separated. :)

            The inherent value of each is not important, but the practical value of each becomes really important if it’s a medical emergency.

            Reply
            1. HannahS

              Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard too, about working in a medical setting. I know of a chaplain that insisted on being called Dr. Whatever because he had a doctorate degree. It was viewed as out-of-touch. More than that, it was confusing! He would be working on all different wards (being a chaplain and all) and he’d walk into a room introducing himself as a doctor, and neither the nurses nor the patients (nor the medical doctors) knew who he was and why he was there. Much better to define your role in hospital by what you do. He should have been Pastor Whatever, or I’m-the-chaplain-Andrew.

              Reply
          2. Elizabeth H.

            What type of scenario are you talking about? Like when you have to select your title from a drop down menu? With the big exception of if you are actually at a medical facility or in another medical setting, I am hard pressed to think of a situation when you would use someone’s title where it would be appropriate to call an MD “Dr X” but simultaneously inappropriate to call a PhD “Dr Y.” I feel like a situation where you would call a PhD “Ms. Y” you’d also be calling the MD “Ms. X” in the same scenario. Like if the hostess is telling you your reservation is ready – “Dr X, your table is ready” sounds incredibly pretentious for an MD the same way for a PhD.

            Reply
            1. HannahS

              Well, I can’t think of a specific scenario outside of clinical settings, but I think it’s what I think fposte was getting at. In common usage, the noun “doctor” means “medical doctor.” If I said, “Jane is a doctor” or “Johnny wants to be a doctor” few people would genuinely not know that I mean a medical doctor only, even though medical doctors usually don’t have doctorate degrees. So, to use it as a title for someone with a doctorate degree is at odds with its use as a noun in common speech. I got used to calling PhDs “Dr. Whatever” during university, and I get that in academia having titular distinctions makes sense and shows respect. But it did feel really odd.

              Reply
            2. fposte

              I’m thinking specifically of the conversation the OP mentions. If you say “fposte isn’t even a doctor,” I’m going to heartily agree. It might be slightly more galling if you have a PhD in, say, public health, but I would think it would be even more important to differentiate then (as in the “clinician example”).

              More broadly, however, the old-school rule, especially at the Ivies and their prestigious ilk, was that it was not, in fact, appropriate to call a PhD “Dr. Soandso,” because that was vulgar and nouveau. It was just to be assumed everybody had doctorates just like people had salaries, and neither needed to be included in address. (IIRC, you were at UofC, which broadened the rule to include deans, provosts, etc.–the dean of humanities weren’t supposed to be addressed as Dean Green but Ms. Green.)

              I think that’s been undergoing a lot of change in the last decade or two, but I like that protocol and wish it good health. Any etiquette that says “It’s cooler not to flash everything you have” is a good one to me.

              Reply
              1. Elizabeth H.

                To a certain extent I agree (I completely agree that you’d never describe someone with a PhD but no MD as “a doctor”), but I guess I feel that in a lot of cases it makes people feel more comfortable to use titles. I’m thinking mostly of students and official correspondence perhaps. Anyone I am writing to who’s in my organization I address by their first name. But if I were for example writing to invite a dean or a faculty member from another university to an event we were having, or maybe even with something less official like following up on a letter of recommendation for a student, but where I had never communicated with the person, I’d probably address the email “Dear Dean Green” and “Dear Prof. Thomas” because it’s less familiar terms to someone I don’t know (but would revert to first names immediately after the 1st email). Fwiw to my sensibilities and based on the culture of my own university, writing “Dear Ms. Green” or “Dear Mr. Thomas” sounds bizarrely formal while the version with the titles sounds much more casual and direct (even if I leveled it up to “Professor Thomas” or “Dr. Thomas”). Basically I’d use the title if I didn’t feel comfortable jumping to 1st name. It seems more informal to me to use Prof. or Dr. than Ms. or Mr., which in turn seem stilted and weird. To me the choice is between first names and Dr./Prof./Dean and Ms./Mr. shouldn’t enter the mix.

                Reply
                1. Elizabeth H.

                  Sorry for the long comment, I inexplicably find this a very compelling subject to contemplate!

                2. fposte

                  I’m with you on it being fascinating. And these days when I’m writing to people I don’t know, I grudgingly do pretty much what you’re saying. However, for myself I stick very firmly to Ms.–that *is* my title.

          3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            Most PhDs I know don’t stand on being called “Dr.” and think it’s a tad stuffy, but they’re as entitled to the use of the formal address as any MD.

            Reply
            1. The Strand

              Agreed. They are not medical doctors, but they do have doctorates. If you are going to use other honorifics in a given social situation, and you’re not in a clinical care setting, then you should use it for a PhD. (Otherwise, in the US, “Ralph”, “Jane,” “Mr” and “Ms” are pretty much fine for everyone, clinicians or not. )

              Reply
          1. anon attorney

            I have a PhD and I now work in a totally unrelated field, so I don’t refer to it that much, but the one time I find it really useful is when some unwary bureaucrat asks the dreaded question – “Is it Miss or Mrs?” Then, it’s Dr Attorney to you!!

            Reply
          2. Roza

            I think there are two separate conversations here. One is about whether PhDs should always be referred to as “Doctor”, which I agree is very silly. People who insist on that are pretentious.

            I think the more important issue is whether the joke was indicative of a larger issue of OP’s knowledge and skills (which are different than those of an MD, but no less value. I want an MD administering treatment in an emergency for sure, but I want a PhD evaluating the quality of medical research on the efficacy of different treatments!) are valued.

            Reply
        2. Jaguar

          Isn’t it just an equivocation on two definitions of the term? It seems like you have to go out of your way to misunderstand what’s being said with “not a doctor.”

          “I thought you were eating chili?”
          “I am. I’m positively freezing!”

          Reply
        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          1000% agreed, fposte. My grandfather has a PhD and was a prof, and he insists on being called “Dr.” I find it ridiculous.

          But what’s even more ridiculous is if I went around saying I was a doctor because I received my “Juris Doctorate” (it’s technically correct, but also a ridiculous ego-trip of a statement).

          Reply
      8. Artemesia

        It is very tricky. It is pretentious for a PhD to use ‘doctor.’ It is almost a sort of snobbery that people in strong institutions never use ‘Dr.’ to refer to a PhD, only those in weak institutions do (and southern ones). Not always of course, but a pattern. Saying defensively that you are a ‘Dr. too’ would come across as twit like and defensive. But not saying something may leave others thinking you are not professionally trained. Thus a joke is called for, as in ‘yeah if someone needs a tourniquet, they probably aren’t going to call in the sociologist.’ I think it needs dealing with but not directly.

        Reply
        1. Emi.

          I don’t think this is true. There are certainly good (as opposed to merely snobby) universities where it’s correct to address PhDs as “Dr. Green.” At my school we addressed professors as “Professor Green” and “Dr.” was for postdocs, but at my sister’s school you only addressed people as “Professor” if they were from the ancient cohort who’d become profs with only a master’s.

          Reply
      9. Pommette

        I work with all kinds of doctors: physicians, people with PhDs, people with MDs and PhDs, and people with other kinds of medical degrees. It’s a good team, and everyone seems to understand and respect their colleagues’ skills and experience.

        I would not be surprised to hear a colleague describe a person with a PhD but no MD as “not a doctor”. I think that everyone would take it in the spirit in which it was intended: a way to convey the fact that the person is not a physician (or more broadly, that the person isn’t a healthcare specialist).

        Reply
        1. Pommette

          To add to that: if you wanted to emphasize someone’s PhD, it would be more typical to say that so-and-so finished/obtained/has/is a PhD or a doctorate than to say that so-and-so is a doctor.

          People worry more about proper title usage when writing (bios, authorship attributions, etc.) than when speaking.

          Reply
        2. Artemesia

          But if the boss is praising her word formatting, they are likely appreciating her as an admin not as a PhD trained researcher.

          Reply
          1. Pommette

            I agree that the situation the OP describes (being praised for work that isn’t related to her professional skills and ambitions) is legitimately a problematic one! My response was about the narrower question of what, and how much, could be read in the colleague’s use of the word doctor.

            Reply
      10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I think in this specific instance, this approach is overly defensive. (I also generally think we should assume good intent, particularly since OP seems to assume that this is thoughtless, not underhanded)

        But I will be really honest with you—in the medical context, where “Dr.” is almost certainly referring to medical doctors, I think it would be strange to insist on being called “Dr.” also for a doctorate in anything other than public health or medicine.

        Reply
        1. The Strand

          In clinical research and clinical education settings, instructors and principal investigators with biomedical, chemistry, allied health and psychology doctorates…just to name a few… are indeed called “Dr. Sausage”, “Dr. Gravy”, etc., by their MD colleagues. So are nurses and other leaders who have a doctorate in nursing education or health care management, etc.

          This is just something I see daily. My colleagues either refer to each other by their first names or as “Dr. Muffin”, “Dr. Bacobits”, etc.

          (I’m a little hungry at this hour.)

          Reply
      11. Matt

        The doctor thing reminds me a lot of TBBT: “Dr. Cooper, Dr. Hofstadter, Dr. Koothrappali … Mr. Wolowitz …” ;)

        Reply
      12. Dave

        I wouldn’t have gotten hung up on saying doctor vs. medical doctor. It’s all pretty context dependent, and it sounds extraneous to always add on “medical.” If someone was clearly having a medical problem or emergency, I don’t think it’s confusing or rude to just say “You should go see your doctor.” It clearly means you should go see your medical professional.

        And this is just personal experience, but even among people with PhDs, I think it’s weird to refer to someone as doctor who isn’t a primary investigator, or professor, or similar, so, in the hierarchy of a research group, I wouldn’t call the postdoc, who has their PhD, “Dr. So-and-so.”

        However, specifically the LW, I think the colleague is inadvertently implying that anything other than a medical doctor couldn’t understand her point. So it’s not whether she acknowledges a PhD. is a doctor, but whether that it’s on equal standing with a medical docotor

        Reply
    2. INFJ

      Yeah, that comment kind of tipped my perception of this situation. OP’s in a tough position because she has a legitimate concern about how this doctor is representing her contributions and skills, but the effectiveness of any conversation she tries to have about it is completely dependent upon how reasonable this doctor is, and that condescending remark makes me think she won’t be receptive to anything OP has to say.

      It’s tough: I know that if I thought I was giving generous and valid praise to a coworker, and then the coworker told me (even if very politely) that they didn’t want that praise, I would be a bit miffed. But I’m also on the sensitive side (see Meyers-Briggs type).

      OP, is there any way you can make yourself more visible to the higher ups for the parts of your job that you’re actually proud of and want to do more of?

      Reply
  14. phedre

    Oh man this drove me crazy at my old job. My immediate boss knew what I did and constantly talked me up and gave credit, but the ED could not get out of his head that I was an admin. The only thing he really remembers about me is that I’m pretty good at using Google to find stuff out, which isn’t even hard! You just need to set your search parameters properly.

    Even today, if I run into him there is a 99% chance he’ll introduce me to people by saying, “This is Phedre. She can find anyone!” Which is nice, but I also am a great grant writer, fundraiser, and event planner. I don’t want to denigrate admin work because it’s important, but that’s not what I did! It just felt like a way to minimize the work I did, and it explained why I could never ever get a raise there.

    Reply
  15. LKW

    A friend of mine was having difficulty getting a new job. Turns out our crazy ex-boss had been praising her to the ends of the earth but outlining her administrative abilities and not her managerial skills. The ex-boss was down playing my friend’s contributions and making it seem like she was an assistant and not a manager. It was par for the course with this ex-boss who had grudges and was fine using everyone else to advance her career but could never bring herself to give anyone a boost or would downright sabotage other’s attempts at moving up.

    Talk to your boss.

    Reply
    1. Zombeyonce

      This is a great point if OP ever wants to use the doctor as a reference. OP probably doesn’t want a potential new job to know she’s “amazing at formatting Word documents” above all else.

      Reply
  16. Katie-Pie

    This is so relevant and timely. My job is accounting/finance, directly under the Director of Finance. We had a round of layoffs last year, including the Office Manager. All the administrative/facilities stuff fell in our laps. My boss and the COO have been great about trying to share the load with me, but the fact is I’ve got a lot of tribal knowledge about this place, plus I did years of admin work before I graduated and moved on in my career, so it all comes naturally. I’m stuck in this hard place between I’m-good-at-it-and-can-get-it-done-faster-than-anyone-else and I-don’t-want-this-pigeonholing-me. I’ve had some talks with my boss about it, and he hears me. But we’re not in a place to hire someone, so we have yet to land on a solution.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Have you asked him what his plan is for bringing someone on? This sounds totally unsustainable in the long-term, and I worry that without a deadline/plan, you’ll be stuck.

      Reply
      1. Katie-Pie

        Yeah, in discussing “solutions” I said ultimately it needed to be its own position, which is hard since it’s a position they eliminated in the layoffs. So we have to come up with a way make it a position, but cheaper to get management to bite. It really needs someone here full time to handle things that pop up, but cumulatively doesn’t have enough work to warrant that. So we’re trying to figure out if there’s another part-time-ish job we could combine the administrative duties with to have a fulltime person on staff to handle it.

        Reply
  17. Bad Candidate

    I kind of feel this way when someone endorses me on LinkedIn for something like Customer Service or Data Entry.

    Reply
    1. animaniactoo

      I hate that linkedin won’t allow me to delete categories. Yes, I do those things – under very structured circumstances and solely within that. If I had to do it from scratch *I could not do that* and I don’t want to be ranked as knowing how to because I think the ranking more implies an “inside-and-out” knowledge than “can follow directions to do it within limited need”.

      Reply
      1. Kelly L.

        I had to because my mom was endorsing me for stuff I can’t do at all. My mom would endorse me for Neurosurgery, Astrophysics, and every subject at Hogwarts if I let her.

        Reply
        1. Mini Snowder

          Hah! My dad endorsed me for Adobe Creative Suite. Granted, I do these things, but he doesn’t know what those words mean.

          Reply
        2. Zombii

          *adds every subject at Hogwarts to LinkedIn profile*

          What? I am a professional adult human, adulting professionally as a human would.

          Reply
        3. Turtle Candle

          In fairness, I have a wonderful ex-boss who genuinely would deserve it if I could endorse her for Defense Against the Dark Arts.

          (Although thinking about it, I probably don’t want to doom her, so best I can’t.)

          Reply
          1. Dr. KMnO4

            At first I skimmed over the words “wonderful” and “Defense Against the” in your comment and was about to ask if we had the same ex-boss…

            Reply
        4. Artemesia

          Some long lost cousin of mine, endorsed me for a bunch of stuff — some of it accurate, some of it not. I have not seen her in 35 years.

          Reply
  18. KV

    My husband has been in every kind of job, but now has his PhD. I can imagine him replying with “Well, before I got my PhD, I had a lot real world experience with office software.” Or, if he’s feeling snarky “Well, before I got my PhD, I had a lot of real world experience with basic office software.”

    Reply
  19. Mini Snowder

    I do admin work and don’t even want people to know I do admin work. Though, mostly, I would say my job entails sitting and staring.

    Reply
  20. KWu

    Given that this doctor is pretty senior to the OP, I’d bump up the initial appreciation-for-the-praise opening section in Alison’s script more. Like, “I’ve been really flattered to hear my work praised by you in front of other senior folks. This is definitely helping me get much more visibility than I would have otherwise! What I’m hoping to achieve in the next year is a promotion to a job where I can develop [those other skills] and if you’re open to it, I’d really appreciate your help highlighting that kind of work so I can build up a reputation for those skills. I’m glad the docs formatting I’ve been doing has been really helpful, but I think I’ll also need the senior folks to know that my core job is ___ to be able to get that promotion.”

    This wording is much less concise, unfortunately, but I think would help express your understanding of the positive intentions of the previous praise and maintain or build the relationship with this doctor by recruiting her help in achieving your goal. It can be tricky to ask people who are senior to you to stop doing something so I’ve found it to be easier to ask for directing their energies towards something different, as the opening request, and the thing you want them to do less of can drop off more easily. You don’t have to talk about the promotion that specifically either, if you’d rather keep that a bit more under wraps, but you could still phrase it in terms of, “I’m hoping to get more work like ___/develop my skills around ____” where ___ is not the admin work. And that’s just expressing your interests rather than diminishing the importance of admin work.

    Reply
  21. Anon Anon Anon

    I agree with being direct, but I would also encourage you to start referring to all the physicians that you work with as physicians, and correct people when they say doctor. I think if you get into the habit of this it may rub off, and help change the mind set of those around you.

    Physicians are doctors. Not all doctors are physicians.

    Reply
    1. LilyPearl

      Some doctors are surgeons… And in the UK, Ireland and some Commonwealth countries, surgeons go back to being Mrs/Ms/Miss/Mr once they pass the MRCS, just to confuse things further.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        And as far as I can tell, while that used to be snobbery about them (jumped-up barbers don’t get to be called doctor) now it’s their own snobbery, which I think is a delightful turn of events.

        Reply
        1. Charlotte Collins

          Yes, it used to be a doctor was a gentleman, who did not work with his hands. (Yup. Snobbery and sexism in one great package.)

          Was I the only one who was disappointed that Julian Fellowes completely dropped Dr. Thorne’s “non-gentlemanly” beliefs from his miniseries based on Trollope’s novel?

          Reply
        2. Artemesia

          I have lots of physicians in the family and have worked on projects with many in research that crosses disciplines and I tend to think of many of them as very skilled plumbers. They often have little education beyond the technical and they think they are very very smart and thus KNOW stuff about politics, economics, etc etc. They are smart but often very ignorant of whole fields outside their technical ones (as are we all) but don’t know it. My husband used to prosecute consumer fraud and doctors were very often the victims of scam investments because they thought they were smart enough to get involved in complex schemes without getting advice from experts. Plumbers — just very good plumbers for the most part.

          Reply
          1. the gold digger

            My husband’s father had a PhD in English that he thought made him an expert on everything. When he bought a restaurant for my husband’s half-brother, he consulted no experts, so they way overpaid for the place. When the restaurant failed (shock – not because my BIL can’t cook – he is a fabulous chef – but because they bought a place in a strip mall with no foot traffic that had already failed under another owner), FIL signed a contract with a broker to sell the restaurant.

            Anyhow who has ever listed a house with a broker in the US knows that the way the standard contract is written is that the broker gets her commission when the property is sold. Not if the broker finds the buyer – but when the property sells.

            FIL found the buyer and was ticked off that he still had to pay the commission. “Did he even read the contract before he signed it?” I asked my husband.

            Reply
            1. ilikeaskamanager

              Actually the technical language of most real estate contracts is that the commission is earned when the realtor finds a qualified buyer the buyer and seller execute the sales agreement. Generally it is paid at closing, but in some instances, commissions may be due even if the property does not close.

              Reply
          2. The Strand

            Absolutely agree with you regarding medical doctors being at risk from financial fraud: they often have a lot of money but not enough time to thoroughly investigate what they’re investing in, so fraudsters make a beeline for them.

            I would argue that a big part of succeeding as a clinician is to project confidence, even if you’re feeling some serious imposter syndrome. Some people never let the mask down, and have a hard time saying “I don’t know,” or “help”, and frankly, it’s contributing to a lot of burnout and worse in the medical community.

            Reply
  22. Been There, Done That

    Yep, a good admin is worth their weight in gold–as long as you don’t have to be one. There’s such a dichotomy about this occupation.

    Reply
  23. Lord of the Ringbinders

    OP, I just want to say I really feel for you. After years of self-employment, I was retraining and got a part-time job in a related field. Part (but not all) of the role was admin, which was fine but not my career goal. I was doing admin for people doing the kind of work I was training to go into and that gave me lots of insight but, like I say, not my career goal. I wanted to be known as someone who was training in teapot assistance and might perhaps apply for a practicum there in future. There were people there who kept praising my filing skills. It was excruciating. I didn’t say anything because it resulted in people offering me more part-time work doing more filing and I badly needed the money and wasn’t yet qualified to do the work I really wanted to. But it was pretty excruciating. Even if I was a career admin, being able to put files in alphabetical order is not something to have a party about.

    I’m also personally exasperated by people who treat computers like they are incomprehensible magical. Like the person who proudly insists she “doesn’t understand all that stuff” then is frustrated when she can’t make her computer work without someone doing it for her. I once made the mistake of trying to teach her how to empty her temporary files. Never again..

    Anyway, the thing with this kind of computer illiteracy is I think it can make them sound like idiots. If I heard this person say this about you then honestly it would leave an impression of them more than one of you. But I totally get where you are coming from and I hope you do say something. And would love to hear an update on how it goes.

    Reply
  24. Scarlott

    I think it depends on the size of the office. My experience is that being an expert in something has huge upsides, and most of the time people look at what you did and realize how smart you are. Of course they can sometimes not want to “lose” their smartest employee, but that could also be related directly to your actual job.

    Reply
  25. ilikeaskamanager

    A lot of us have had to learn a lot of administrative skills because organizations and companies at all levels are cutting admin support. And, if they do hire it, they want to low ball the salary to the point that you can’t even get a decent candidate.

    Some of the comments on this thread have an implicit message that I find troubling: that I am “more skilled” than an admin; that admin work is “low level” work; and that ‘admin work’ is not as important or interesting as XYZ.

    Admins are skilled professionals–differently skilled, but vital and important, as is evidenced by how surprised people are when they see what a good admin can do. We need to support and value admins and pay them what they are worth. We can start supporting them by not dismissing what they do or making our work sound more important, interesting, valuable, whatever. It’s evident that skills aren’t as readily available as the pay we offer would seem to indicate.

    Reply
    1. Been There, Done That

      Sadly, that implicit message is day-to-day reality for many. And the flip side of ilikeaskamanager’s comment above about people having to learn admin skills is that many administrative workers are doing higher level work than is traditionally “admin,” such as research, sales, editorial/communications, and technical. However, because they’re “admin,” they’re much less likely to be seen in light of those higher skills and to move up into those areas. An editor friend who was job hunting during the great recession told me that the few job openings lumped admin and editorial together, paid as admin, andso got two jobs filled for the price of the lower-paid one.

      Reply

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