coworkers are making fun of my masters degree

A reader writes:

I took a job I feel I am overqualified for due to the poor job market. I have always been very humble to my coworkers about my past accomplishments (my supervisor is of course aware but I do not mention it to coworkers). I have a masters degree and no one else in my department has anything beyond high school. I am hoping to move on when the job market improves and I am trying to be patient to find a job that goes with my degree.

The problem is that my coworkers found out I have a masters and call me “master,” “master Royce,” “college boy,” etc. I find this extremely rude and unprofessional, especially since I try to never mention it and be humble. Should I bite my tongue or tell my manager? Will I sound silly and like a tattletale? I would like to hear your advice on how to approach this.

I have to admit that I now want to do this to all my friends with advanced degrees (and probably will).

Yes, it will sound silly and petty if you complain to your manager about this. And it definitely won’t help your standing with your coworkers if they get reprimanded for this.

Seriously, let it roll off of you. Maybe they’re insecure about their own education, maybe they’re just teasing because some people like to tease, maybe you do come across as thinking you’re above them, who knows. It doesn’t really matter. This is something that will only be an issue for you if you let it. Have a sense of humor about it or ignore it.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 150 comments… read them below }

  1. Andy Lester*

    I remember being in 4th grade and getting back a perfect spelling test. The kid next to me saw my paper and disdainfully asked “Are you one of those smart people?” I couldn’t understand why he thought being smart, or at least acing a spelling test, was worth mocking.

    Years later, I know it’s about the insecurities that the others have about themselves, and I try to help my 4th grade daughter with the same sort of unwarranted scorn.

    That said, I’d keep Allison’s guess that you may be coming across as being better than your co-workers in the back of your head. There might be an undercurrent of legitimate resentment to their mockery.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      A lot of people are against education. It makes them feel inferior. which, if they persist in remaining uneducated, is absolutely true.

      I moved to a region where people, even educated people, normally talk like Ma and Pa Kettle. It took me a while to get past my own prejudices, and to see that most of these people are pretty darn smart.

  2. Carrie*

    What Allison and Andy said. I have an instant distrust of people who claim to be humble. Truly humble people don’t talk about how humble they are.

    This can be applied to many self-identifiers: I’m open-minded! I’m quirky! I’m humble! I’m ……. etc.

    1. Laura*

      Or it could be that he really is humble, but that it’s not coming across as that. It’s possible because he doesn’t talk about his past, he feels he is being quiet and humble, but others view him as aloof or arrogant. Sure, it’s projecting, but it happens enough.

      1. Mary*

        Or maybe the coworkers tease him because they think he is hiding something? Sometimes, by not mentioning information, people can come off as secretive or above others. Just my $0.02

    2. Anonymous*

      The one that really gets me is when people say they get along well with others or just plain easy to get along with. A former friend of mine said this once when she was saying that these few group members in a project in colllege were hard to get along with and were irritating her. Then, when we had a fight which broke the friendship, I realized it wasn’t the group members she was having a tough time with; it was them who were having a tough time with her! That’s why I never say I’m easy to get along with – because I know I’m not.

      1. Just Me*

        Good point. ( not that you are not easy to get along with,… cuz I don’t know you… LOL ) but just that we as people naturally might not think we are the issue.

  3. Anonymous*

    Deep down it’s their insecurities and jealousy, and perhaps they feel slightly threatened. In my opinion the coworkers are acting very childish.

    1. Callie*

      Or perhaps they are picking up on some arrogant, snobby vibes the OP, consciously or not, is sending out. Judging by the humblebrags, I think the OP’s insecurities are just as likely to be part of the problem here.

      Anyway, this is an issue of fit, not of education. The OP does not fit. Why? Some context would help. Based on the nicknames alone, I do not get the sense that the coworkers are being malicious. I could be wrong, though.

      1. Anonymous*

        Maybe they just think he is snobby because he is quiet? I think we need to know more before we make assumptions.

    2. Anonynmous_J*

      I completely agree.

      I’m a member of a bulletin board where a person actually said “I don’t like sophisticated people.” This guy is actually pretty smart himself.

      Another thing I thought of, because this has gotten me into trouble: If you speak clearly and correctly, don’t use a lot of slang, etc. people may mistake good diction for snobbery. Seriously. I used to be accused of being rude, when I was simply being direct and clean with my language.

      There’s a line from the movie, “Idiocracy,” that is perfect for this: “He could undertand them perfectly, but they found him to sound pompous and f—gy.” LOL!

  4. Dawn*

    I used to get this a TON when I was a lab clerk back in college- I would use words that my co-workers thought were “big” and so I’d get lots of comments like “oh my God why do you have to act so SMART all the time” or “What, did you eat a DICTIONARY for breakfast?”

    Just let crap like that go, make triple sure you’re not acting condescending or arrogant in any way, and remind yourself that the economy will get better one day.

    1. Josh S*

      I like this. If you can, find a co-worker who you trust, and ask them to be your double-check against condescension. It’s really hard to recognize when/if you’re being arrogant (because nobody ever *wants* to be arrogant or condescending–it just happens because they’re blind to the way their own actions come across). Having a ‘buddy’ to help might make it easier. And gives you support when folks are teasing.

    2. khilde*

      I tend to use big words because I simply cannot think of a different word to use!!!!! I haven’t had many people close to me make fun of me for it, but they do lightly tease sometimes (though that dictionary comment did make me snort :)). I think it might be tough to understand unless you’ve had the experience of truly being unable to think of an “easier” word. Plus, big, descriptive words are fun to say :)

  5. Rana*

    I’d be the first to admit that I hate this sort of teasing, but here’s one thought – is there a job culture of teasing more generally? Do your co-workers ever tease each other, and not just you? It might help if you treat their comments as part of a joke that you’re in on, rather than as a personal attack. If you can laugh with them, at yourself (not in a “I deserve to be picked on” way but in a “yeah, isn’t life ridiculous” way) it might help both with the teasing and with your relationships with your co-workers. “Hey, master, got that report?” “That’s Master of the Universe to you, buckaroo… yeah, here it is.” That sort of thing.

    1. KellyK*

      Master of the Universe! I like that. I think my alma mater forgot to mail me the She-Ra sword when I got my master’s!

      I think that if it’s good-natured teasing, teasing back or laughing it off is the best way to go. Yes, it does sound like they’re threatened or jealous, but making a big deal of it is likely to make it worse.

      If someone crosses a line from what seems good-natured to what you think is rude, it’s totally reasonable to call them on it in a low-key way. And if someone ignores the existence of a line all together and jumps clear into bullying, by all means, tell them in no uncertain terms to knock it off and follow up with the boss or HR. But I don’t think this is at that point.

    2. Nichole*

      Yes, definitely get in on the joke. If it’s malicious (which I doubt since they do it to your face) they’ll get bored, and if it’s not, having a sense of humor about it will make it easier for you and degrade any underlying sense of “Mr Fancypants thinks he’s better than us.” Some suggested retorts: “You should get a master’s too, then I can let you in the secret clubhouse.” “I didn’t go through X years of schooling to actually have to do work!” (In response to “Where are those reports, master?” etc.)

      On another note, be sure your humor is more along the good natured self deprication vein than the I-can’t-believe-I’m-stuck-with-you-no-degree-losers track. Remember, they do this to feel better about themselves, so this is a situation where ribbing them back would make it worse, at least at until you’re more friendly with them.

      1. Kim Stiens*

        Yeah, I agree with this stuff. I don’t even think it’s all this psycho-babble about them feeling insecure or anything… in my experience, unless its noticeably malicious, people just generally don’t rib people that they don’t like. At work, people tease each other. It could be a sign that they’re actually accepting you into their workplace culture. Tease them back. Be good natured about it (as it seems like they generally are). Take it as an opportunity to have fun at work!

        1. Emily*

          “In my experience, unless its noticeably malicious, people just generally don’t rib people that they don’t like.”

          x 1,000

  6. Ellen M.*

    To the O.P.: They feel threatened by your education.

    When you leave, you can always remind them that you *can* move on to something better, and will make a lot more money, *because* of your education… lol

    …or you could just remind yourself of those facts and leave them to enjoy their high school diplomas

    1. Oh please.*

      I have a master’s degree. I paid a lot of money for that thing and did a lot of hard work to get it, 7 years ago. Having a master’s degree does NOT guarantee you “something better” or “a lot more money”.

      My last position, requiring a master’s degree and professional experience, paid just over $22/hr. A job recently advertised with the city, requiring only a high school diploma, starts at $23 something an hour.

      The level of education that a person has does not necessarily reflect one’s intelligence. I have a handful of relatives that never even graduated from high school who are some of the smartest people I know. And I’ve met plenty of idiots with PhDs. So your point is moot.

      1. Jamie*

        This. Some people with advances degrees make tons of money – but there isn’t a perfect correlation there.

        On the TWOP forum for the Big Bang Theory there was a discussion about the average salaries for physicists and some academics with PhDs posted some real world info. Surprisingly some people with doctorates make less than the average mid-level IT.

        Some mid-level ITs make WAY less than the people on the road crews who fill in pot-holes – no degree required.

        And also agree that an advanced degree doesn’t necessarily equal superior intellect. There are plenty of brilliant people who either didn’t have the opportunity or didn’t see the need to pursue post-secondary education and there are plenty of knuckleheads with advanced degrees, and vis versa.

        An advanced degree tells you a lot about how that person values education and their ability to follow through and see a sometimes arduous process through to completion. Those are good things – but it doesn’t make them superior. Just different life choices.

      2. Anonymous*

        I think the person you’re answering means that sometimes with a higher degree more doors are open than to someone with just a high school diploma.

        1. Ellen M.*

          Yes I meant it is possible with the advanced degree, but not guaranteed. Chances are much better than with just a HS diploma.

      3. Josh S*

        “My last position, requiring a master’s degree and professional experience, paid just over $22/hr. ”

        Oh, you’ve got a MSW then? ;)

          1. Anonymous*

            I did a holiday stint at a call center and my average hourly pay there (commission) was $24/hr! I’m sometimes shocked by low hourly pay for some positions. $22/hr with a master’s…how would you even earn enough to pay off the loan?

          2. HB*

            Yep. My first job post-MSW was earning $14/hr, and that’s if you calculate with a 40/hr work week. 50 hour work weeks were typical . Of course, I got to wear blue jeans and sneakers and I worked with adorable kids who said hilarious things all day, so I think it evened out. :)

      4. nyxalinth*

        Agreed. I have some college under my belt, and it does help some. the only issue I’ve had is people demanding a BA for jobs which someone with my education could do in their sleep with one arm tied behind heir back. I am not being facetious here. These are entry level positions, that require no formal degree.

        The interesting thing is, they will also say “No experience necessary” or “BA required, or 3-5 years equivalent job experience”. Excuse me? So what you’re saying is “If you have a degree but no experience it makes you a better employee than someone with the experience, who can hit the ground running, but no degree?” I never understand that.

        I have had the theory for a while that with education in US high schools deteriorating, the BA is being treated like the new equivalent of high school. This is just sad.

        I am not bashing people with degrees. I need to get my stuff together and finish my own. I am bashing silly employers with requirements that make no sense. Their prerogative, yes. But still silly.

        1. Kat*

          No experience required with a BA means they can pay less than someone with experience and no BA.

          Believe me, I know.

          1. nyxalinth*

            Well, that makes sense, but what is the logic of require the BA at all? Are they afraid of getting someone stupid, because they think a BA means the person is smarter and will learn faster?

            1. Anonymous*

              I had an employer explain the Bachelors degree requirement of a job to me not as being a gauge of how smart you are, but as a show of your ability to commit to something for a set period of time and complete it successfully. This could also be shown through “equivalent experience” or staying at a job or company for a certain period of time.

              May not be an explanation for every job that requires a bachelors, but that seems like a reasonable explanation to me.

    2. Hollis*

      I agree with the other posters. Remember that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg only have high school diplomas since they dropped out of college. Money and degrees don’t correlate.

      1. jmkenrick*

        I think what you’re trying to say is that a college education is not a guarantee of lots of money. There is a pretty well-documented positive correlation between eventually earning more money and having a college degree.

        But correlation is not the same as causation, and it’s not a guarantee. There are naturally exceptions.

      2. Anonymous*

        I always hate the Zukerberg/Gates examples. They were wealthy kids who drop out of Ivy league schools. They had both intelligence, deep pockets, AND the right connections to start them off.

        1. Kim Stiens*

          Agree totally. When you have money and connections, college is almost a waste of time. You could be four years deep in running your own business instead!

  7. Jamie*

    I would personally just ignore it. This kind of thing has a limited shelf life and it will get old for them quickly.

    Complaining would be such a bad idea – what would that accomplish?

  8. Anne*

    I have an advanced degree and I would laugh SO HARD if anyone called me “Master Anne” at work. My advice is to laugh it off, and if you can’t do that, ignore it.

      1. Anon.*

        I had a teacher in HS and his name was Bates .. yup .. they called him ‘Master’ .. and I recall him just laughing it off – I mean, what else could he have done? lol

    1. Anonymous*

      Likewise. Come to think of it, I might enjoy that! I’m going to start encouraging this among all the people I know.

  9. Anonymous*

    is the Master’s even remotely relevant to your job? I work in academia–the humanities, no less–so I say this without judgement, but: many, many advanced degrees are borderline useless in a corporate environment. so a good way to diffuse the teasing might be a joke like, “oh yeah, I’m so smart that I decided to become an expert in 9th-century Sanskrit poetry” or “not really–unless you’d like to learn about the mating habits of Amazonian river fish” or something else referencing whatever your obscure specialty is.

    if that won’t work, you could also insist they add “…& Commander” every time they do it.

    1. fposte*

      Love the “& Commander.” And maybe you can turn it into a shared office joke–give them titles in return, but not mean ones, stuff genuinely built on things they focus on and enjoy. “Yes, O Madam of the Spectacular Shoes?” “In a moment, thou Ruler of the Basketball Court.” That way you’re also casting your master’s as a good thing rather than buying it as a denigration (or reading that into their teasing, even though it might not be there).

  10. ChristineH*

    I sort of feel this guy’s pain. I have a Masters degree and I always feel self-conscious in an environment when most everyone else are at lower education levels. No one has teased me about it….I just know that I haven’t gotten nearly as far as I would’ve liked, and it just bugs me that I can’t find anything commiserate with my education.

    Anyway, I digress…

    It very well could be that the OP is coming across as arrogant, but I honestly don’t think it’s intentional. I’m sure I’ve come across that way without realizing it. It might be a good idea to just have an honest discussion with your coworkers; let them know this bothers you. Also, perhaps ask if there is anything about your behavior or personality that rubs them the wrong way.

    It is weird that his coworkers found out he has a Masters degree….maybe they just figured it out or the supervisor mentioned it at some point in passing.

          1. Anonymous*

            As I was reading the post, I couldn’t wait to make this joke. I am glad someone else is as immature as I am.

            BTW – teasing at the workplace (or anywhere) is a sign of affection. If they really didn’t like you, they wouldn’t tease you. They would snarl when you approached and call you things like d-bag, not college boy.

            Come up with cute nicknames back (slappy, fonzi, bullethead, zippy). Just don’t have them be mean or insensitive (shamu) or based on any protected category. Keep in light.

            Honestly, it actually sounds like a pretty good place to work. Particularly while you pass the time waiting for something better.

            Finally, consider that your co-workers might be right. It kinda sounds like you have a stick up your butt. Extract the stick, go have a beer with them after work, and lighten up.

            1. Master Anonymous*

              The OP never used the word “teasing” so I would hold off on saying that until the OP can clarify voice tone (to differentiate between teasing and taunting).

  11. Anonymous*

    I agree with what Carrie wrote above that claiming you are humble doesn’t seem humble at all to me. I don’t think it’s the issue here, it’s just a big pet peeve of mine.

    I also don’t think the teasing is necessarily because they are insecure with you having a higher education–especially since everyone knows you are over-educated for the position. It could just be their way of trying to bond with you. In any case, the best thing to do is what Allison advised and just go along with it, have fun and try not to be so uptight.

    1. Anonymous*

      It sort of reminds me of a minivan my neighbor has with “sport” written on the side. You never see that on a Porsche.

  12. Breanne*

    Truth: I laughed when I read the title of the blog.
    When I was working on my PhD I got plenty of jokes from people who called me “Doc” or would say things like “Well, I’m not as smart as you Miss Ph.D.” First off, I don’t believe any of those people were trying to put me down at all, they’re just making jokes, so I always responded with “What part of paying off $100,000 in student loans for the next 30 years makes me smarter than you?” That always got a return laugh. Then, of course, when I dropped out of grad school with my Masters those same people liked calling me a drop out. :)
    Again, they were harmless jokes. Let it roll off your back. Complaining about it will only draw more attention to you, and make you look super thin-skinned.

  13. Anonymous*

    Wow, really? Major eyeroll. Maybe you’re giving off the attitude that you’re too good to be there. After all, you said yourself “I took a job I feel I am overqualified for…”

    1. Jamie*

      This verbiage reminds me of a post from the Evil HR Lady a while back about what it means to be overqualified.

      It was along the lines of just because you have vast experience or education in A doesn’t mean you’re overqualified for B. I.e. if you have a PhD in applied mathematics you aren’t overqualified to be a waitress if you’ve never waited tables before.

      Hopefully Suzanne will forgive my clumsy summary of her excellent post on the subject.

  14. Mark*

    I got a big chuckle out of this post. In particular, it made me think a great deal about AAM’s posts regarding Masters degrees and her warnings against them. It looks like – in more ways than one – your degree is more a liability than an asset.

    I’m somewhat skeptical that you are being humble, since the overall sentiment of your email is that you are simply deigning to work there. It’s refreshing to read this. I work in an office that seems to have a bias towards advanced degrees when I can see little utility of that much education in the work we do.

      1. Anonymous*

        It can be. I worked on a hiring committee a few years ago and we would toss apps for lower-level positions if the person held a master’s degree. Those people simply did not stay; they were just waiting for a real job to come around. It’s unfair but I know this is a concern at many companies.

        1. Kim Stiens*

          I think this is completely fair. I work somewhere that has had certain departments and functions that were just WRECKED due to really high turnover (and there seems to be a general acceptance of high turnover as a way to keep salaries low), so I think when I hire I’m really conscious of that… I want people who will stay, and I think in my own future businesses I may even be willing to exchange a bit of exceptionalism for a lower turnover rate. You don’t really see how valuable institutional knowledge is until you work somewhere that doesn’t have much!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            There’s a third (and better) option though: Hire exceptional people and treat them well (including paying them enough) so they don’t leave quickly. What you ultimately want are exceptional results, and that tends to take exceptional people. You just need to retain your best ones, which you can do through good management. (You should also NOT strive to retain people who aren’t exceptional; you want to have good turnover, meaning replacing the people who aren’t reaching a high bar with people who will.)

            1. Kim Stiens*

              Oh, yeah, I definitely believe in retaining the best, and that you have to be willing to pay a truly exceptional person way more than they’re job position may have started out at in order to keep them. But I think I may be more willing to keep someone who is “good enough” for longer than you would be, especially if that department had recently lost a lot of people or was in the middle of a particularly difficult project. It’s just that the learning curve in real jobs (this being my first long-term real job) is steep, and it takes months to get things going in an efficient manner. Of course, if people are treated well and allowed to be honest, they’ll give notice, which probably helps a LOT (most people who have quit in my current company in the last year quit without notice).

        2. ChristineH*

          And exactly why I don’t apply for lower-level positions, despite the nagging voice in my head that says I should so that I have *something* in this economy.

        3. JT*

          I was commenting on statement that in this case it was a liability And in this case it clearly was not a liability in getting a lower-level position – the OP has such a job right now.

  15. Master Anonymous*

    I work part-time and just finally got another part-time job which uses my degree. When those in other departments at my first job found out where I got my second job and the education I needed, they started to question me all about it, saying “oh I didn’t know you did that” or “I didn’t know you had that degree.” And then I got the most annoying “how old are you?” Those are mostly from those my age or slightly younger.

    I don’t know how humble you act. I try to be nice to some of those people but they don’t always return it. I ended up being treated a bit more respectfully by the older people. The younger people still don’t seem to care; I’m just one of them making the same wage doing the same thing day-in and day-out.

    Just join with them. If they call you “Master Royce,” then just “Yup, that’s me, don’t you forget it!” or “Yup, that’s my name, don’t wear it out!” It sounds like both of you are insecure – them for having to make a big deal out of it and you for having to question this.

    I think I might just make this my new name on here instead of just “Anonymous!”

  16. Beth*

    When people say something, say “I prefer ‘Master of the Universe’. Thank you very much.” If they are being good-natured, they’ll laugh; if they don’t laugh; they are idiots and who cares.

  17. Michael C.*

    OP’s entire post is a thinly veiled brag…

    But in all seriousness, when they tease you, just grin and move along.

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree with Michael C…the whole post comes off like a humblebrag…

      Its funny how the OP knows that no one else has above a high school degree, but is shocked that they somehow found out he has a masters.

      1. Anonymous*

        That makes me wonder also, how did they found out… and agree that maybe someone else also has some college or even Masters and it’s quiet about it.

      2. Nichole*

        Humblebrag? That word is awesome. There is a true need for that word in my vocabulary, so thank you.

  18. Karen*

    This is all about tone, in my opinion. If you work in a more playful environment where everyone teases back and forth, it’s all in good fun. If it’s dripping with disdain, then we have some insecurity issues.

  19. JC*

    I’m surprised by the responses for this post – It seems like the OP might be experiencing some work place harassment, depending on the tone of it anyway. Is it stated in a hostile manner or in a joking manner? If they are joking, then I would say forget about it and make jokes back with them. If it’s taunting or impacting your work relationship/ability to get work done/etc though, I would say tell your supervisor about it.

    Honestly, I would get fed up after awhile of being called “college girl” or “Master” – regardless of it being a joke or not. If it was continuous, I’d be pretty annoyed. I have a name you know, so knock it off!

      1. Long Time Admin*

        It does when everyone in the place is doing it!

        Well, maybe not legally, but it does feel like bullying if everyone does it, and they don’t ever stop.

        If you’ve never been through something like this, you can’t understand how it feels.

  20. Anonymous*

    It could just be that there’s a cultural disconnect (blue collar/white collar, perhaps?) and the teasing is honestly a way to try to bridge that. Sometimes it truly is hard to really connect with some who has a higher education level and has spent a lot of time in academia and likely more white collar circles.

    1. Anonynmous_J*

      I kind of wondered about that, too. I’ve been in that situation, and it can be tense, until you manage to connect with people.

  21. Jon_Ferg*

    True humility is being able to laugh at your own expense.

    This sounds like somewhat gentle ribbing to me. Take it in stride.

  22. Liz*

    Like a lot of other people have pointed out, there’s a huge difference between the sentiment, “I try not to let people know that I have something that is better than what they have, because I don’t want them to feel bad about it” and the grace that allows a person to say, “I know I have something they don’t have, but that makes me no better or worse than anyone else because everyone has something different to offer.”

    The first is condescending; the second is the undeniable truth.

    Besides, if you really believe you’re better than another person because of what you have that he/she doesn’t, then what happens when a third person has something you don’t? *clears throat and climbs down from stop-being-so-high-school-people soapbox*

  23. Just Me*

    I find it hard to believe that co-workers would out of the blue just tease him for something they don’t technically know about.
    OP states he is being” humble? “Humble” is saving a life out of a burning building and not wanting a lot of attention. Is the OP’s humbleness “ Aw shucks.. I know I have a masters and I know this job is below me, but golly I am really not that great” Just wondering.
    I am not advocating teasing although I think the OP is making way too much of this and possibly bringing this on himself.
    And telling on them? My guess is they are really not picking on your Masters as much as maybe just you. Are you an easy target? They are catching something from your demeanor.
    But bottom line, roll with it. Come back with something snappy as the others suggested. If you can’t deal with this now, if you are too thin skinned at this point and want to” tell on them” you will never succeed in the business world

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m curious what your take is on the coworkers?

      Regardless if he is being humble or not don’t you think this is unprofessional behavior?

      1. Just Me*

        If he takes offense to those comments he will never make it in the business world. I am NOT saying it is OK but he needs to take the high road and either ignore it or roll with it. If he gets higher positions that he apparently thinks he is more capable of do you think co-workers and bosses are going to coddle him and always talk “nice” to him? This is not about a co-worker being “really” mean. This is about a worker in the business world that needs to straighten his spine. There are a lot of unprofessional people out there and he is going to have to deal with it.

        1. Anonymous*

          Ok– There are a lot of unprofessional people out there that’s why it’s best to try to figure out how to deal with them and not put yourself in a position that will make you unprofessional as well.

          I say he should ignore it.

  24. Anonymous*

    I have to strongly disagree with you, AAM. I think this is extremely unprofessional behavior on behalf of his coworkers and you make no reference to that. I do agree that he should not tell his manager that would make him look silly but I don’t think they should be joking about his accomplishments. I think what really needs to be addressed here is the lack of professionalism.

    You’re telling me it’s not rude to make light of something he probably worked very hard for and now is not using?

    1. Just Me*

      It is not the job of the co-workers to make him feel better about him not in a job that uses is Masters. As for having co-workers say “mean ” things ? I been called shorty, midget and been the butt of every short joke there is. I am 49 and 4’8”. Yesterday I fell in the snow right on my knee. I told my friend and co-worker today that just because I was closer to the ground doesn’t make it hurt less. Ha ha ha, I picked on myself!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Anonymous, how do you suggest it be addressed? You agree he shouldn’t tell his manager, so what should he be doing? He should lighten up and let it roll off of him. That’s really the only sensible option.

    3. Anonymous*

      I agree with you. If it is something that happens only once or twice it’s ok, but if it is an everyday thing where it is not only unprofessional but annoying, then he should speak to them directly. Speaking of unprofessionalism… if all of those people have only highschool education, how professional could they be? It seems like an unprofessional environment so you can’t expcet them to act that way. What this would do to me is to push me even harder to search for a job that he deserves.

      1. Anonymous*

        Really? Because they have a high school education there isn’t any way they could be professional? Really?

        I bet you think you are “humble” too when you speak to people.

        I never realized being professional depended on the level of education someone obtained. Maybe they teach that in graduate school.

        1. Anonymous*

          I think it’s the way people act at work. Unless people have a lot of experience in their field and also learned to act professionally with their coworkers and clients/ other companies, high school may not be enough. So it’s eigther or; experience in a professional environment or a college degree where you are able to learn professionalism.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            College doesn’t teach professionalism — far from it. Work teaches professionalism, which is why new grads usually have a lot of learning to do at their first jobs.

            1. Master Anonymous*

              I’d have to somewhat disagree. There are certain majors that force students to come to class as if they are going to work – in other words, dressing and acting professionally. Please don’t generalize.

              But yes, there are other classes and professors who allow students to come in wearing pjs and act unprofessionally about anything.

              1. Anonymous*

                hey now, I was one of those students who came to class in pjs. I was also the student who completed all of my work on time, was considered responsible and trustworthy – given extra tasks by my professors, handed keys to their office when I needed something, ect… – and paid attention in class. I know lots of people who dressed much more professionally and often slacked, turned things in late, and played on their phone in class. Even when their professors required them to dress nicely for classes. There was no correlation that I could see between dress and attitude in college.

              2. Master Anonymous*

                I can’t reply to your answer since it has reached the limit so I’ll answer mine. While I did say professional dress, I also said acting professionally. If you are a teacher, they expect to behave as you would on the job in the college classroom. I have heard this from other majors as well. Also, while I can’t speak for every single college within the USA, I can say my college has a 1-credit course on jobs – from the job hunt to working on the job.

                In other words, it is being taught. Maybe it’s not everything you listed in the link you provided in your answer, but there is a level of professionalism colleges do relay onto their students.

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Obviously this is a generalization, but I can certainly say that the majority of recent grads that I see spend their first year or two on the job learning what professionalism means. So some schools may be teaching it, but it doesn’t seem to be the norm.

              4. Master Anonymous*

                To the anonymous who answered my post:

                Please note that I did not just solely mention college classes teach professionalism via dressing appropriately.

                So don’t take it personally. I was just like how you describe yourself in college. I, too, did well in all of my classes and was allowed to monitor classes if a professor could not get there on time. It has nothing to do about how we were in class; this conversation is more about how some classes create a professional environment vs those which allowed it to be high school part 2. The former is usually in the major classes whereas the others are just usually gen ed. The point is, you have to wait, if at all, for some classes to start to instill that professional atmosphere. There are colleges that do; there are colleges that start out strict and then let it go. Then there are those that just don’t.

                It depends on your own college experience, and colleges cannot be generalized – majors either.

          2. Anonymous*

            I’m under 30, don’t have a degree, and have been in the workforce for more than 15 years. The most common positive feedback I’ve received from past employers is about my professionalism. Now, how is it possible that I’m regarded as professional if I don’t have anything beyond a high school diploma? Please don’t make these generalizations that “high school may not be enough”. I’ve worked with plenty of people with degrees who have been some of the most unprofessional people I have ever met in my life.

      2. Anonymous*

        My father is a very successful telecom executive. He doesn’t have a college degree. He still manages to be professional. I know, it’s absolutely shocking! Wake up call: the majority of people in the USA and Canada do not have a bachelor’s.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “if all of those people have only highschool education, how professional could they be?”

        Um, what the F? Seriously? There are plenty of people without a college degree who are highly professional, and plenty of people with advanced degrees who aren’t. This is a ridiculous and ugly statement.

        1. Anonymous*

          Is this a professional response? Seriousley I’m starting to dislike this site because of the comments like this. “what the F” is not a professional response. Sorry, but I’ve been reading your comments and they are great and amazing, but somethimes they just don’t seem right. Also, as the other reader mentioned, there is just something about you not liking the Masters Degree in most (not all) of your posts. It sounds kind of judgemental, and since people “worship everything you write here they just might take your advice and not to pursue that Degree. Not because you told them so, but because the way you write about them. Sorry, I had to say something.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m pretty sure no one worships everything I say here. And I have no issues with masters degrees when they make sense for your career path; what I’ve written is that you shouldn’t get one if you don’t know how or why you’ll be using it — i.e., you shouldn’t go back to school to hide out from a bad job market, for instance.

            As for “what the F,” yes, that’s how I talk. And write. I like writing the way I talk. Others may not like it, and that’s totally fine. You get to decide if you want to keep reading or not! It’s a big Internet.

            1. Sandrine*

              I actually LOVE the reasoning that basically says “don’t go to school if you just want to hide from the job market”.

              I kinda did this once. After high school I started to go to college to be a teacher and gave up after a few months because I was completely BORED (am in France, so the financial loss was minimal) . I started working because I wanted to start supporting myself instead of using my mom’s money, and after getting a degree I did not originally want (in business, even o_o) , I started working some more and then… woops, no more job, what shall I do ?

              So I’m thinking hey I am a little more mature now, maybe I can try the college thing again and this time it will work and I finally get to be a teacher!

              Guess what, it completely backfired, turns out college really isn’t my thing.

              I have found a job now, my contract may be made permanent shortly, the commute is great, everything is nice about it. Sure, I am “only” a CSR for a big French ISP, but I am quite happy to be a productive member of society now :) .

              (sorry for the ramble, btw XD)

          2. Anonymous*

            This is a blog, not the office. AAM is known for sharing her honest opinions in a straightforward way. That’s why people like her so much.

            1. Jamie*

              This! We can all go to our co-workers to have cautious, guarded, politically correct conversation about management/workplace issues where every utterance is filtered based on how whatever you say can come back to haunt or help you in the future.

              Alison, and by extension most of her ‘readers who leave comments’ (because commenter isn’t a word and commentator sounded so high- falutin’ for posting to a blog), provides a refreshingly direct and honest appraisal of the questions at hand.

              Quite frankly, as excellent as her advice is, if her writing style sounded like a management textbook for B school I wouldn’t come here every day. I’d come by if I were researching a specific problem – but in reading daily because I find her (and the comment sections) informative and entertaining I’ve built a repository of knowledge in my head for situations I’ve yet to face.

              In the future if someone leaves nail clippings on my desk? Steals my lunch? Starts keeping stinky clothes in an unused office at work? I will be totally prepared. They don’t teach you that stuff in business school.

              Her brilliance (and I know I posted recently about overuse of this word, but I submit that it applies here) is that she comes across as a real person – so that her blog posts feel like conversations and not lectures.

              She doesn’t write like she’s some smartypants with all the answers who is deigning to help the huddled masses with our trivial problems from on high. Instead it’s as if she’s this super knowledgeable person whom we (most of us) don’t know personally, but is happy to share what she knows because sharing the tricks of better management is a public service.

              And the fact that we can pick her brain and remain as anonymous as we choose makes this blog such a huge resource.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                This is awesome to read! That’s exactly what I always hope this site is — a normal person having a normal conversation about these issues, like the way you’d talk to someone in real life, not the generic, sanitized crap you read in so many career books.

              2. Just Me*

                I totally agree. AAM, says it like it should be said. But without the ” I am the Godesss of the business world” attitude.
                Having comments in writing, like this site, as well as emails in general leaves a lot up to perception of the authors intention. ( anyones not just AAM) Is this sarcasm? Snotty? Or whatever. But AAM never comes across like that. I think she is funny upbeat and is flat out REAL.

                I read this site all the time and always come out with a.. OK I am not kookoo for thinking this about my manager, job or yeesh,, I better not do ” this”, or that is why my manager did this and how can I handle it.
                Keep telling it like it is…

      4. Anonynmous_J*

        Wow. Sorry, but I disagree. I have only a high school education plus a few years of college, and I conduct myself in the most professional manner possible.


        1. Anonymous*

          I have a Masters of Science in Organizational Management and I’m under 30, with just 7 years professional experience. I wouldn’t never talk like this regardless of this being a workplace blog or actually workplace environment. This isn’t Facebook, there’s no reason to act this way. Not classy and unprofessional. You put this on your resume, that you’re a blogger, you use the site URL for verification and they find these posts. Nice, that’s smart thinking right there. I wouldn’t hire you for the way you conduct yourself, whether at a physical workplace or as an independent blogger.

    4. Anonymous*

      I think the larger issue here is that he needs to learn to not let petty stuff like this bother him. I come from a blunt, honest field (finance) where anyone that sensitive wouldn’t last a day. Corporate and higher earning positions tend to be like that because people don’t have the time or inclination to worry about sensitive people’s feelings. If he truly wants to use that master’s then the ability to let stuff bounce off of him is a necessary skill.

  25. Tim C.*

    This is not about your education. It is about being different. It appears to me you have a bunch of extroverts mixing with at least one introvert. I am an introvert and find such interaction possibly the same way the OP does, exhausting and inefficient. Extroverts have this overwhelming need to interact with people, no matter how unproductive or annoying it is to us introverts. After realizing how handicapped extroverts are ;-), I have learned to just play along. The best advice is exactly as mentioned. The more you ignore the behavior, the worse it gets. Respond lightly: “college boy? How about school loan debit boy?”. This gives the extrovert a bit of attention they need and they are happy. They go away sooner allowing you to get back to work. Sooner or later a new position will open up and you will find the same issue at your new employers. Consider this experience as interpersonal training.

  26. yalm*

    Like many posters, I don’t see humility here. It’s great that you have a master’s degree, but what tangible work experience did you bring with you to this job? Is the answer “none?” If so, you’re not overqualified. Education |= work skills.

    Does the work you do provide value to someone? I’d guess it does, since someone is willing to pay someone else to do it. I’d also guess that this applies to the work your co-workers do. But I don’t see any indication in your letter than you feel this way. If the attitude I do see in your letter comes through in your workplace, the message that you’re sending to your co-workers is that what they do is meaningless, and by extension, they are meaningless.

    Some of the ribbing is driven by the insecurities of your colleagues. That’s their problem, and you can’t fix it, but you can avoid exacerbating it. Your defensiveness over being teased about your education is something you can control. Let it go. Learn to laugh at yourself. Do a self-check to make sure you’re not subtly insulting your co-workers. Challenge yourself to turn this around. If you can, this just might be one of the most important jobs you’ll ever have.

  27. Anonymous*

    Reminds me of the Office episode, when Michael found out that Ryan was taking college classes and started teasing him “college boy” or something along those lines. Pure insecurity!

  28. FreeThinkerTX*

    I’m in Mensa, and the co-workers at my two previous jobs knew about my membership. I loved it when I did something [humanly] bone-headed and was teased extra hard for “Mensa material” doing something so stupid. (Like freaking out because I couldn’t find my glasses, even though I’d *just* had them in my hands mere minutes ago; and, yes, my desk may be a mess, but how the heck could I have lost my glasses in that mess in just a matter of minutes???? Only to have a cube neighbor who has been witnessing my personal freak-out say, “Um, Ms. Mensa? You’re *bleeping* glasses are in your HAND.”) :-D

    I almost always consider any form of teasing a type of platonic affection. If you don’t like someone, you don’t tease them *good-naturedly* to their face. But there’s a level of trust and camaraderie that comes from being able to razz each other about unique characteristics, histories, hobbies, etc. So being teased — good-naturedly and to your face — about having a Masters is, in my opinion, a sign of having been accepted into the group. Because, heck, if they really hated / disliked / distrusted you, then they would just rip to shreds behind your back.

  29. FreeThinkerTX*

    :: sigh ::

    “YOUR *bleeping* glasses…”

    [See, there’s that Mensa thing coming back to haunt me!]

  30. Nathan A.*

    Anybody notice the sheer number of people with master’s degrees who chimed in?

    Anyway, if the OP were truly humble, he would have laughed at this situation and would not have looked for advice. A humble person is able to laugh at (un)constructive criticism, no matter what it is, and keep on moving.

    He must have felt some kind of personal attack from this, which would indicate that his pride may have been hurt a little…

    1. Primecut*

      I got this alot at my last job. When I started I was in tech support and I was the only person with a master’s. The department was maybe 1/2 people with bachelor’s and half people with HS, or HS plus technical certs from community colleges, etc. Most people didn’t have an issue but those that did had a problem with me from day one. I wasn’t high falootin’ or anything but people ask what you did before working there and you gotta be honest.

      1. anon-2*

        Yeah, I was much in the same boat many years ago — I have a bachelor’s and some grad school. And in my first job, my co-workers all only had high school diplomas.

        It doesn’t make you any better. It DOES cause some to resent you. Because of the college background, you may come from a different culture.

        Your outside friends will likely have the same education you have, while your peers in the workplace will have different friends, and run in different circles. During your college years you were exposed to certain things that they never were, and may never will be. You’ll have alumni connections in higher places. Your weekends will probably be spent in different activities than those of your co-workers, and those activities might seem snobbish to them.

        Most of all — it DOES give you an advantage over others. You’ve earned a degree. It’s not an easy thing, it’s a considerable amount of work. Management often recognizes that. It does mean SOMETHING.

        Furthermore, my degree is in political science, with minors in education and sociology. You, therefore, will have (at least a theoretical) background in politics, economics, how to get ideas across, psychology, and even the ability to weigh out whatever management is telling you.

        More than that — it WILL open doors. If you’re in an environment where you have to earn your way up rungs on the ladder — the education doesn’t hurt you in that effort.

        Just be sure of one thing. Always remember, that your education is like a wristwatch. Don’t use it to impress people, use it to tell the time. Likewise, using a sheepskin as a badge to sway people doesn’t work — and nor does intellectual bullying. But, you can use what you learned in college to better function in the workplace.

  31. Anonymous*

    Every workplace has idiots regardless of education level. Just respond in kind. Call ’em GED or Blue Collar.

    1. anon-2*

      I wouldn’t do that. See my comment about education being like a wristwatch.

      And to reply to someone who hurls a non-intellectual barb at you in kind only generates a similar response. Don’t play the game. Ignore it.

      Name-calling is not an intellectual game. If you can proverbially “play chess”, why play “you’re a doo-doo head”???

  32. Guido*

    Tell them you were going to stop after the Bachelors degree but thought B.S. looked funny on your resume.

    Seriously, don’t take this seriously.

  33. Jaime*

    And maybe they’re teasing you about your Masters because they think you’re just waiting for something better to come along – which you are. Perhaps some of them were really glad to be hired on there or feel accomplished to have that job for a long period of time, so then they might be insulted if you come along and are perceived to be slightly disdainful of it (ie “…I am trying to be patient to find a job that goes with my degree.”).

    In my experience, most people do not do as good a job of hiding job dissatisfaction as they think they do. If you’re always looking for something better, then they probably know it and some may not like that attitude. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to use your education, looking for something better suited and more meaninful to you or that pays better, but not everyone at your placeholder job is going to appreciate knowing that you consider your job and theirs to be so undesirable.

  34. Anonymous*

    It’s incredible how jealously and insecurity can lead to such silly teasing in the workplace. Don’t let it get to you! They probably feel inferior and unqualified compared to you.

  35. Anonymous*

    I don’t know if this guy is bragging really but the post is not about the humble thing. I don’t know how it got so off track I just read all these comments. I think I agree with the blue collar / white collar thing. Maybe he feels he is losing credibility? It would be interesting to hear what his job and degree are I think we are all making assumptions.

    I think what this guy is asking is how he should approach this and what is the most professional manner he should approach it in.

    Royce, I think you should just ignore it. You don’t have to give into their jokes and unprofessionalism if you don’t want to.

    Eventually you will find something with your degree!

  36. Smithy*

    I worked in a place where the really brainy guy was nicknamed ‘Prof’ – but the others all asked his advice when they were doing the crossword puzzle – and also when they had official forms to complete. There was another guy whose nickname was Tiny Grainger – because he was about 6′ 6″ tall. And there was Jinx, who may or may not have brought bad luck to some projects. I think males seem more likely to give each other nicknames than women do. The females were generally just known by their names. But if you react badly, they will rib you all the more – especially if there is any element of superiority in your attitude. Bullying? Possibly I suppose. I think you do sometimes have to learn to roll with the punches. My nickname? I was called Flossy or Fuzz because of my hair – to the extent that when we had to initial the bottom of invoices, I used to put Fz.

  37. Anonymous*

    I think your issue is in your first sentence : “I feel I am overqualified for”.

    Its obviously showing. Try to relax and do your job not potentially stalk around as if you are only here on sufferance of this low, low position when you deserve better.

    If you can’t do that laugh it off. make jokes back.

  38. Mabel*

    Next time they call you “Master Royce,” just wave your hand at them and say “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”

  39. Proud 2 BA Receptionist*

    Having a college degree is nothing to be ashamed of. However, I can tel you from personal experience, I’ve learned quickly that the average person in the workplace doesn’t give a damn about your degree or your university experiences. In fact, with some people if you talk about it, you’ll be considered a braggart who thinks you are better than them. The assumption some people have of college educated people in lower level jobs is that they’re book-smart but lack common sense…or are somehow failure because they’re not in an appropriate job. That may or may not be true. I know plenty of people who take and keep so-called lower level jobs by choice…and that’s ok as long as you’re happy. If the person drops the fact at every turn that he has a Master’s degree, it’s not unlike flashing expensive jewelry in front of people who can barely afford their rent and groceries, or the really obnoxious mom who has the bumper sticker about their freaking honor student plastered on their car and endlessly brag about their kids! That guy if he wants to survive where he’s at, he’d better zip his lip about his degree and not say one more word about unless he is in a job interview trying to move out of the job he considers “beneath” him. The less he talks about the sheepskin and the less he reacts when people make snide comments, the sooner they’ll leave him alone. Not fair, but such as life.

  40. ew0054*

    I can understand the OP’s frustration after spending much work, time and money to earn the degree only to feel crapped on for it.

    I have been in this position. At first I was upset, but I found that if I could laugh at myself for it (most jokes are not mean-spirited), that it broke the ice and I was more accepted into the group.

    Showing that you are bothered by it only reinforces the standoffish persona in their minds. This is a case where if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

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