coworker wants to be called “Doctor,” paid job trials, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Coworker wants us to call her “Doctor”

I have a coworker who is very weird, and she recently completed an online doctorate in business administration from a for-profit University of Phoenix sort of situation. Since obtaining her degree, she insists that we refer to her as “Doctor” if anyone other than our immediate team is present. So, that’s what we’ve been doing, but it’s very hard not to let the eyes roll when her name comes up. Should we do anything about this? It’s like the Maestro situation in Seinfeld.

(And everyone else here is on a first-name basis with each other. Even the psychiatrist who works with us makes us call him by his first name!)

When you’re all on a first-name basis, that’s obnoxious and pretentious. Ideally her manager would explain to her that it’s out of sync with the office culture, maybe pointing out that you don’t use honorifics at all in your office.

I generally take a pretty hard-line stance on calling people what they want to be called when it’s a first name. This isn’t about her name, but rather her title. She didn’t want to be Ms. LastName before her doctorate. It’s about the honorific, and she’s trying to insist on an honorific in an office that doesn’t use them, and where everyone uses first names.

One caveat: I would potentially change my stance if she’s in a context where she feels marginalized and has to work extra hard to be taken seriously because of her sex or race. There’s a long history of people in that situation deliberately using honorifics to make a point / as a sort of shield.

2. My coworkers keep talking about trips they’re taking during Covid

We are fully remote now, and we have started using “ice-breakers” to kick off our phone or video meetings. Everyone is expected to participate. The questions are often about travel, or where we’d like to go when the pandemic is over. But some of my coworkers (including big bosses and lower level staff) are already traveling recreationally. Not just a weekend camping trip nearby, but interstate road trips and cross-country travel, sometimes by air.

I originally decided to keep my thoughts to myself, but it’s hard not to speak up when we are required to talk about travel. I want to say that it’s hard for me to talk about trips I would like to take when the pandemic is over while people in the same meeting are traveling as if the pandemic is over. I know many of my other coworkers feel scared and disappointed like I do, but saying something to the travelers feels cruel, judgmental, and confrontational. I understand that not everyone assesses risks the same way. Am I crazy for staying home, ordering my groceries delivered, and telling family and friends I must wait to visit them? I’m lonely and wish I could take a big vacation. But I don’t think it’s safe or responsible. Do I just have to grin and bear it when coworkers return with photos and stories of the great times they had?

No, you’re not wrong for the actions you’re taking to keep yourself and others safe. (I’m taking the same ones.) But yeah, there’s not much you can do when others talk about their trips. And keep in mind that while some people undoubtedly are just being reckless, some are probably making calculations based on factors you’re not privy to (like a family situation you don’t know the details of).

There’s nothing wrong, though, with saying when it’s your turn, “Honestly, it’s hard for me to even think about travel right now with all the risk factors, so I’ll sit this one out.”

Also, repeatedly focusing these “ice-breakers” around current travel is a weird choice, and you wouldn’t be out of line to ask whoever runs them to consider a different topic.

3. Recruiter set up a call with me without saying it was a sales call

This past week I was approached by a recruiter on LinkedIn, and accepted their invitation for a 30-minute phone call. My profile indicates that I’m open to being approached by recruiters, so I thought — rather naively, I feel a bit silly typing this! — that they were calling to discuss my background and potential employment opportunities. Instead, the phone call was about how my department functions and what their company could offer me if I used their services.

This particular recruitment company is well known and respected so I’m not concerned about social engineering; I also kept my answers politely vague and didn’t reveal anything that wasn’t public information. Still, I’m curious how I should have handled this. Should I have explained that my company is unlikely to use external recruiters? Should I have tried to pivot and reveal my own interest in moving on from my current role? Should I have done what I did and gone peacefully through the phone call in the name of professional networking? I am a young professional and feel my age is showing in a bad way.

Don’t feel naive or silly; most people would assume, upon being contacted by a recruiter, that the recruiter wanted to talk to them about a job. If the recruiter didn’t make it clear this would be a sales call, that’s actually rather sleazy.

The best thing to do would have been to say, immediately upon the topic becoming clear, “Oh, I misunderstood the purpose of the call! My team doesn’t use outside recruiters at all.” They will then attempt to continue selling you (that’s what they do) and you could say, “No, I’m sorry — we don’t use outside recruiters, so this won’t be a useful call. I’m sorry about that!” And if they push even after that, you should feel free to end the call abruptly (as in, “It’s really not something I can help with, I hope you have a good day, goodbye” and hang up). If you aren’t involved in hiring, you could throw that in at the start too — “I don’t do any hiring, and I’m not sure who handles it” … because otherwise they’ll try to get you to refer them to whoever does. (You could also compress this into two rounds of “no” instead of three, but I’m writing it as three because a lot of people feel rude if they go to “I’m hanging up” that quickly.)

I suppose in theory you could have tried to pitch them on you as a candidate but (a) recruiters generally only go after specific profiles that fit jobs they’re working on filling, as opposed to looking for a job that will fit you, and (b) if this recruiter wasn’t up-front about the purpose of the call, they’re not likely to be a person you’d want representing you anyway.

4. Should I offer a paid job trial before hiring people?

I am hiring for a job doing office work, answering phones, filing, and dealing with customers. I would like to have a paid job trial period where I can assess the competency of new employees. I will pay $13/hour during the trial period of, say, 30 days. If said employee fits, I would hire them with a higher wage ($15), but with the understanding that the trial period may or may not end in employment. We’d agree at the outset on pay, hours, and responsibilities. Is there a minimum length of the trial? Under 30 days? 14 days?

It’s not a great way to hire. It means that you won’t be able to hire anyone who’s already employed (because no one would quit a job for work that could end after a few weeks), and you probably will miss out on the strongest of your unemployed candidates too (because it’s not an appealing proposition to strong candidates). You’ll also be investing in training people who you haven’t committed to, when training takes a huge amount of time and energy.

I imagine you’re considering this because you don’t feel confident about your ability to identify the right candidate through an interview process alone. It’s true that no interview process is perfect — there will always be occasional hires who don’t work out — but if you create a strong process, your chances should be pretty good. That means rigorous screening questions that delve deeply into the must-have’s for the role, exercises that let you see candidates in action, and rigorous reference checks. It’s more work up-front but it’ll likely save you significant time in the long run.

5. How do I keep therapy private in a nosy office?

I work in an academic setting with a small, overly close group of people (“We’re like a family!”) This has led to some predictable but also horrifying breaches of confidence — like my boss Harriet announcing to the weekly all-staff meeting that a coworker was absent because of a specific, intensely personal medical procedure, or Harriet and most of the staff widely discussing another coworker’s mental health issues and what antidepressants she was prescribed. I know, it’s pretty bad. HR is too disconnected from us to be any help, and this behavior is pretty in line with the culture of this industry. I cope by keeping my head down, being warm but professional, and not sharing details of my personal life.

My issue is that I’m in weekly therapy. I can’t make weekend appointments. I used to try to schedule appointments after work, which was difficult, or just say I had a doctor’s appointment, or just not say anything and go and come back. Now that we’re remote, Harriet constantly schedules surprise all-day meetings at the drop of a hat (“everyone, meet on Zoom in half an hour!”). My therapist tries to be flexible, but there is a 24-hour cancellation policy. My excuse that I have a doctor’s appointment is getting increasingly difficult, as people ask if I’m okay and straight up ask why I have doctor’s appointments so often. In past jobs, I’ve been open and said I have therapy, but due to the rampant boundary crossing in this one, I don’t feel comfortable doing that. Is there a standard way to handle this in a functional workplace, and can it be adapted to a severely dysfunctional one?

You don’t even necessarily need to specify that it’s a doctor’s appointment — when you’re explaining that you can’t make a last-minute meeting, it’s okay to just say, “I have an appointment that I can’t move.” If you’re pressed about what it is, say, “It’s medical.” If someone asks why you have doctor’s appointments so often (which is rude), you can say, “It’s medical so I don’t want to talk about it at work, but it’s nothing to worry about.”

It also might help to tell Harriet preemptively, “As a heads-up, I have a standing medical appointment every Thursday at 3 and it’s hard to move without a lot of advance notice, so I probably won’t be able to attend anything scheduled at the last minute for that time period.” (And a standing medical appointment could be a zillion things — therapy, physical therapy, allergies shots, etc. You’re not revealing anything.)

{ 650 comments… read them below }

  1. Temperance*

    LW1: does she have any friends in the office? I almost feel bad for her; sounds like her degree is from a diploma mill, people are hardcore eyerolling her, and she has no clue. I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell her that the “doctor” thing is coming off poorly, but I would tell a friend a gentler version of the truth.

    I’m getting flashbacks to that really angry person who wrote in about their U of Phoenix MBA and fought with everybody about it

    1. Mid*

      Yeah, I feel bad for her mostly. It sounds like people are talking behind her back, which is hurtful and rude. Even if it’s from a diploma mill type school, she still invested time and money into it, and sounds proud of that. Even though it’s a little strange and out of sync, would it really be that terrible to just be kind and call her Dr. [name]? Not to mock her, but to be supportive?

      1. Corporate Goth*

        Why not introduce her as doctor to others – even if it’s just “…and I’m sure you remember Dr Firstname Lastname”? It would be a kindness. My office does something similar even though we’re mostly on a first name basis.

        Presumably, she still did *something* to earn the degree. And she may calm down over time about it.

        1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

          It sounds as though she’s fine with being on a first-name basis with her immediate colleagues, but would like them to back her up in insisting that others from outside the group address her as Dr. etc.

          I’m assuming she would not request that if the people from outside the group were treating her with basic respect as a default.

      2. Rev. Doctor Doctor, Phd, Esq.*

        Interesting, to me she sounded insecure and obnoxious.

        It’s pretentious to use “doctor” outside of a medical setting, even in most of academia, and it’s doubly so here where it’s an office using first names. I would totally eye roll at someone doing this and make fun of them for it. People will no doubt say that’s making a toxic workplace but IMO pomposity merits mockery.

        This is aside from the degree being from U of Phoenix, which if not a diploma mill is certainly diploma mill adjacent.

        When she started this her manager should have simply said “it’s great that you got a degree, but we use first names here, not titles, as it fosters a spirit of informal teamwork” or whatever.

        1. TitlesMeanThings*

          Actually, no it isn’t. Academe uses doctor because those who have earned the Doctorate of Philosophy are in a different category from those who have not and because the academy (and the world) are hierarchical, whether we like it or not.
          And the word doctor has nothing to do with medicine.
          “doctor (n.)
          c. 1300, doctour, “Church father,” from Old French doctour and directly from Medieval Latin doctor “religious teacher, adviser, scholar,” in classical Latin “teacher,” agent noun from docere “to show, teach, cause to know,” originally “make to appear right,”

          1. Kares*

            Thank you. The equating the title doctor only with physicians irks me. If I really wanted to be picky, I would argue that if one is not actually teaching then the title of doctor shouldn’t be used.

          2. Nesprin*

            Eh, but most academics do not use their professional titles with peers. With students, yes, and when one needs to project authority, yes, but typically not with peers. So among my working group I’m Nesprin, but Dr. Nesprinlastname to undergraduate students (never Ms. NesprinLastname, ever). That OP’s coworker is asking to be Dr. lastname, when peers all use first names is weird, and implies to my ears at least that she’s out of touch or trying to project authority with a group that she shouldn’t have to project authority with.

            1. Helena1*

              Most physicians don’t use their professional title with peers. We’re all “Doctor”, so what would be the point?

              And the fact that this workplace has a psychiatrist on staff does make me wonder whether this coworker is actually trying to pretend to be medically-qualified? I’ve certainly met a couple of weirdos in allied roles with chips on their shoulders who used to try to pretend to patients that they were doctors too.

              1. Blackcat*

                Right. Most doctors I know refer to their colleagues either by first name or lastname (no title).

                The only time I’ve been called Dr. not by students is when I’ve been introduced for a formal talk.

          3. Sacred Ground*

            Etymology of it’s origins in Old French and Latin and current usage in spoken English aren’t the same thing. Outside of academia, “doctor” absolutely denotes a medical doctor. To say the word has nothing to do with medicine in standard spoken English is wrong.

            1. Sacred Ground*

              I mean, etymologically, the word “bitch” means female dog and to say it has no meaning outside of that in common usage would be wrong, yes?

            2. Green great dragon*

              “A doctor” usually means a medical doctor, but “Dr Fred Jones” doesn’t have to be the medical sort. I know a few Drs (not of medicine) who are pretty firm that they are Dr rather than Mr/Ms/Mrs. But none of them would expect a title where others are going by first names.

          4. Rev Dr Dr, Esq.*

            Well, in my years in academia, I have never encountered a professor that called themselves doctor, or insisted on being called doctor, outside of introductions at a conference or the like. I polled several Phd’s I know, some currently working at universities, and was told the same. One of them laughed outright.

            I work in a field that has plenty of people with advanced degrees and have only encountered one that uses “doctor” for himself, and yes he is widely mocked as a pretentious jerk.

            Perhaps it’s more common in your region or field, but let’s keep in mind it is NOT the norm in the LW’s office. Maybe the title usage you defend is not coming across the way you think it is, at least among the general public.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I know many PhDs who insist on using their title in non-professional settings. I’ve always found it pretentious.

        2. Yorick*

          It is not pretentious to use your actual name. I go by my first name at work, but in a situation where someone wants to call people Mr. or Ms., I will absolutely correct them. Especially since many people always call my boss Dr. Lastname.

          1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            +10000. Nobody ever screws up my dad’s or (male) boss’s title. It really irritates me when people screw up (female) mine or my aunt’s for that reason.

        3. Corporate Goth*

          But we don’t know the specifics of the situation, the accreditation, etc, just that it’s “U-of-P-like.” For-profit is different from “definitely a diploma mill where nothing was done other than handing over cash.” Yes, the implications are there, but we don’t know, only the LW’s assessment of the situation, the university, and the degree (which strikes me as judgy on its own).

          In other words, we have the LW’s perceptions, not the full factual situation.

          Is it pretentious? Sure. Is it worth being kind now, when all the coworkers didn’t tell this person they’d be eyerolling or why before the degree was complete? Sure, at least at first, while the diploma’s shiny and new. Then gradually “forget” and help the person get the long-term message that it’s first names.

          1. Shhhh*

            I wonder how the LW and their coworkers would feel about it if it was from a “more prestigious” program. Would they still be eyerolling? Maybe they would – there are contexts where I would (at least internally) and contexts where I wouldn’t. I was glad that Alison brought up how this can be different for people of color, women, and especially women of color, too – those are some of the factors that change the context for me.

            1. Clisby*

              I don’t care if she got a Ph.D. in business from Harvard. The idea of referring to someone with that degree as “Dr.” seems really strange to me, unless you’re an undergraduate and this is your professor.

          2. Kares*

            Yes, the judgement is heavy.

            I have a friend who obtained her doctorate from an European national university. The method wasn’t the same as the US (which in many ways seems to be an extension of the masters model). She did her major research thesis, attended a couple of seminars, worked with her advisor, successfully defended her thesis, and was awarded her doctorate. She’s had people question if its valid because she didn’t spend years going to classes.

            If the school is accredited by a real accrediting agency and she did the work, there should be less side eyeing the degree. Perhaps she’ll cool off. Often people do. They’ve invested a lot of time and effort and are rightly proud. How long is too long? I don’t know, but we can cut each other some slack.

            1. LC*

              Hello Kares, I’m not sure I understand your comment about the US doctoral model being similar to a masters program. I have a PhD and disagree with that statement. There is some coursework (usually 1 or 2 years) but the real focus of a PhD is on conducting original research. It is the data collection and analysis that takes the bulk of the time and effort, although this varies by discipline. The goal is to develop the skills to independently conduct scientifically valid research in your specific discipline. My experience has been that the quality of your program and mentoring from your advisor is extremely important. I’m skeptical that an online for profit university is really attracting the kind of high-caliber research faculty who can provide a quality doctoral education. I’m not trying to be mean but all doctoral education is not the same quality. It doesn’t really matter how much time she invested, it matters whether she now has the skills to conduct and evaluate research in her field.

              1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                Agreed on all counts. I was fairly confused by the above comment and everything I wrote to reply sounded condescending, so thank you!

              2. skipping girl*

                The lack of course work in non US PhD programs (at least in Australia which is where I did my post grad) does make the process substantially different. I think that may be what the other commentator is referring to. Obviously it’s not the same as another masters and the original research aspect of the PhD is identical (and an advisor definitely would be more than involved than meeting “a few times”) but even so the average completion time is between 3-4 years because you don’t have the coursework requirement. You can take or audit classes that your advisor thinks would be beneficial but they’re not required

                I thought that was very interesting when I learned about it!

              3. JSPA*

                Unless you have gaps to remedy, it’s actually pretty unusual in the sciences for coursework to extend beyond the first year of one’s graduate studies (whether that be masters or PhD) in the U.S. The additional 4 to 5 years is primarily research, often with some teaching duties either as part of one’s professional training or as a condition of financial support.

                If you already have a masters, you may have to repeat the process if the small slate of required classes doesn’t adequately match up with the classes taken while getting the masters, but getting a masters on the way to a PhD is already a nonstandard way of doing things.

                1. Blackcat*

                  “masters on the way to a PhD is already a nonstandard way of doing things.”

                  Except the “Hey, you completed your courses, here is your masters degree” is a thing in STEM fields. As in, I completed the 9 core courses for my PhD, filed a form, and was awarded an MS. In many ways, it serves the large population of students who drop out of PhD programs in STEM to go to industry–you at least have the MS.

                  Technically, the requirements of my PhD where that I complete the MS (same list of courses), then do the dissertation-related hoops. I did have to file the sheet of paper for the MS but that was literally all that was required beyond the standard PhD coursework.

                  I do understand that this is less of a thing outside of STEM, though.

              4. Forrest*

                PhDs in Europe (including the UK and Ireland) are pure research, without any coursework. So for us anything with a taught component looks more like a Masters than a PhD! I don’t know anyone who considers North American PhDs to be less rigorous or at a lower standard, though.

                Not sure that I agree with your comments about a online/for-profit university being able to provide a good doctorate programme. For a research degree in the arts or humanities, where you aren’t something that’s lab-based or requires significant external resources apart from access to a library, you only really need one good person to supervise your project and keep you on track. I think what you miss out on is not the core requirements of the degree but the drive to professionalise as an academic, network and get published, which are critical to getting into an academic career but not actually what the PhD assesses.

        4. charo*

          I knew someone w/a Ph.D. in English who’d use “Dr.” for making restaurant reservations. It was so pretentious. And not even at swanky places.

          1. Nonny*

            Some people do that because they prefer to avoid gendered titles when forms/etc force you to give one.

        5. Anon today*

          My Dad has Ph.D. and is academia. My mom worked three jobs while he got his Ph.D. If you don’t call him Dr. X in her presence, she will cut you. She sacrificed a lot for that Doctorate. But really, it is common in academia.

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            Ha! The person who most insists on using my title is my Dad. He always made sure I prioritized my education and is proud to have had a hand in my getting a doctorate.

            The insisting on being called “Dr.” is very strange. Most academics I know, when they first got the title had huge issues with Imposter Syndrome and almost shun the title in non-academic situations. I was temping for minimum wage when my degree came and I can only imagine how much people around me would cringe if I suddenly started to demand they call me Dr. Butterfly Counter in the cubicle farm where I worked.

            The only time I insist on the title is the first day of classes for my students (so that they don’t call me Mrs.) or when my husband is referred to as Dr. and I’m referred to as Mrs.

            I’m pretty fine being called Ms. or my first name by anyone. I just hate that there is a separate title for married women and not married men. Also it feels too intrusive. Why should perfect strangers know whether or not I’m married or have been at some point by just looking at my title?

        6. Alice's Rabbit*

          I agree. All of my school principals growing up had doctorates. Only one insisted on being called Dr. Jones, and it was cringey. No one respected him, everyone rolled their eyes at the title, and the more he pushed it, the worse everyone thought of him. Students, staff, parents, everyone.
          It was like “okay, so you have a doctorate. That’s nice. So do several of your employees. It’s not exactly uncommon, so why are you making such a big deal over it?”

        7. Ice and Indigo*

          I may be wrong, but if they’re working with a psychiatrist, that suggests to me it is a medical situation, or medical-adjacent. If that’s the case, I might raise the issue that addressing someone as ‘Doctor’ when they’re not a medical doctor is liable to cause confusion.

          If nothing else, it’s less personal than ‘You’re out of step with our norms and we don’t respect your qualification’! The confusion issue would be true even if they had a bulletproof PhD.

    2. Elle by the sea*

      Oh dear.

      Well, there are possibly many things at play here:
      (1) The POC/minority issue. I’m a woman in tech. I have a PhD in a related field and have worked with many other PhDs, including women and POCs. Under no circumstances would I insist on being addressed as Dr. In the industry it is utterly irrelevant whether you have a PhD or acquired that knowledge by self-study or a long work history. In academia, it doesn’t make sense, either, as it’s kind of a given that everyone has a PhD. But a considerable majority of female PhDs I know are particularly sensitive about this topic and they do make it a point that they should be referred to as doctor, but even they would not go by Dr in an office where everyone goes by their first names.

      (2) About the questionable status of the degree: It depends on the definition of “diploma mill”, which is a rather nebulous concept. Many people aren’t hesitant to call tier 2/3 universities a diploma mill, out of sheer snobbery. If her degree is simply not from a top university, I would venture to say it should be considered to be (nearly) equivalent to a PhD from a top university, provided that she put in several years of hard work and wrote a thesis. However, if her degree is from an actually diploma mill, which is akin to buying a certificate from E-Bay, then I wouldn’t give any credit to her. In my experience, the people who put in the least effort will be the loudest about their achievements.

      If I were her colleague, I would definitely take up the uncomfortable job of letting her know that this sort of behaviour is slightly out of touch.

      1. Khatul Madame*

        Points well taken. However, it’s a well-known fact that for-profit institutions target disadvantaged populations including POC for advanced degrees. If the person in #1 is a POC, would you still enlighten her on how her degree is viewed?

        1. Jenny*

          I don’t think that’s a good idea for a coworker because it comes across as nasty. It’s going to need to come from someone like a mentor or someone who is giving asked for career advice. A boss could shut down the use of the title in front of clients or refuse to let her use it on her bio on their website, for instance.

          1. Corporate Goth*

            Agreed, not a coworker.

            But it would have been a much greater kindness for a mentor or boss to tell her how the PhD from a disreputable university would be viewed before she completed the program and spent who knows how much money on it.

            1. JSPA*

              That’s something for a friend or mentor to do. Unless I ask, or make it clear that I’m taking classes for career development, I don’t want my boss weighing in on my academic choices any more than I would on my romantic choices or hobbies.

        2. anonymous 5*

          What good does that do, since the ship has already sailed? If you want to help disadvantaged populations avoid being taken in by degree mills, that has to happen *before* they enroll! If colleague is going to be in a position where the degree itself would be viewed negatively (e.g. applying for another job) then hopefully someone would work with colleague to help craft a resume that helps override any negative impressions from the name of the school. But the matter of an informal/no-honorifics office isn’t a function of who awarded the degrees.

          1. serenity*

            Just chiming in to say that there’s a also *lot* of loose language around this subject and there are legitimate online schools or remote learning programs that are referred to as “diploma mills” by people not in the know or who are skeptical of online schools in general.

            This may or may not describe the OP, of course, but people’s perceptions of this area are often pretty subjective and it’s worth keeping in mind.

            1. KateM*

              I just started a remote-because-covid course with lecturers from my country’s top universities. I sure hope it will count…

              1. virago*

                I wouldn’t worry about it. Nonprofit institutions that offer remote degree programs in response to COVID have made the responsible choice and are not the same thing as the more sketchy online for-profit programs in the US.

                The latter lure first-generation college students who didn’t get much, if any, college counseling by a) not emphasizing test scores and grades in the admission process and b) promising that their degree will be attractive to employers. And they don’t tell students that community colleges , which offer two-year degrees, work with students to bring up their test scores and academic skills and don’t cost nearly as much as a for-profit college.

            2. A*

              Are they for profit, though? Genuinely curious because I’ve yet to encounter a for profit that didn’t suffer for a deservedly negative reputation.

        3. Elle by the sea*

          Well, after rereading my post, I realised I didn’t express myself clearly enough. I would definitely not enlighten her about how her degree is viewed. She must have made an informed decision, and even if she hasn’t, she is an adult and doesn’t need anyone to condescend on her in this way. My undergraduate degree was from a lesser known (but high quality) institution. So, I got these “benevolent” attempts from people to tell me how my degree was viewed. I didn’t take such comments lightly and I can guarantee that even now, with a degree from a top university, I wouldn’t take this lying down. So, no, I wouldn’t go and make assumptions about other people’s degrees, let alone tell them upfront.

          What I would probably tell her is that insistence on being called a doctor in an office where everyone goes by their first name comes across as rather pretentious. For that matter, even as a POC/minority/woman. But I would also make sure that we respect her preference in a formal context, that is, where people are called Mr or Ms/Mrs, she should definitely be referred to as Dr. And I do agree with those of you who think that it should ideally be a manager or a mentor who has this conversation with her.

          1. Caroline Bowman*

            This completely. It’s less about the perceived quality of the institution, and more about the norms of their office culture generally. I’d absolutely introduce her (including putting her name on slides / formal work) as either First name Last name PhD or Dr First Name Last Name, but in normal conversation, yeah, no. Your name is X and that’s that.

            1. Raven*

              I wish we knew how they introduce other people.

              Do they say “This is our sales manager, John”? Or “This is our sales manager, John Smith”? Or “This is our sales manager, Mr. Smith”? I think that only in the latter case would “Dr. Jones” be appropriate.

        4. Caroline Bowman*

          Yes, why not? Are PoC never to be addressed on topics like adults? I would first of all try and work out exactly what kind of degree the person in question has attained and from where – snobbery aside – and then have a frank discussion like a grown-up about how… ridiculous it makes her sound, when even the actual medical doctors in the office don’t get called ”Dr”.

          1. Raven*

            “Are PoC never to be addressed on topics like adults?”

            That struck me too. That seems very infantilizing. Not to mention it’s lumping everyone and anyone into a monolithic group based only on the color of their skin.

        5. Jim Bob*

          Not saying anything specifically because of her race smacks of “poor POC, I’m sure that’s the best she could do.” That seems like the most infantilizing and elitist possible way to handle this.

          If this is harming their professional reputation, a supervisor or mentor should let them know as gently as possible. I agree this is out of scope for a coworker.

    3. Suffering spouse*

      Just a small point- but often missed- there are multiple terminal degrees which confer “Doctor” as part of the final title which are not Phd’s. DBA- doctor of business administration, Ded- Doctor of Education. Not all doctorates are equal.

      1. Justin*

        As someone in the midst of an EdD, we’re definitely not going to be “lesser” than other doctorates. (Dissertation and same amount of credits required, several publications etc.)

        But yes, not all doctorates are Phds, as a very literal statement.

        (Stepping back down off my soapbox, sorry.)

        1. Texan In Exile*

          My husband’s father, who had a PhD, sniffed in disdain about someone with an “ee-dee-dee” who wanted to be called “Doctor” and I didn’t even know what he was talking about. I asked what he meant and he explained it was a doctorate in education and I was still confused as to why that did not count as “Doctor.” It’s still a doctorate, just not in English, which is what my FIL had. Which he used to teach at a T4 school. So.

          1. A*

            This is the first I’ve become aware of the distinction! I’ve known people with Doctorates in Philosophy that us the Dr. title, so I had assumed it was the same across the board.

            1. nonegiven*

              There was this guy in town who had his name on his checks printed The Rev. Dr. First M. Last, the letters after were the theology and education degrees, don’t remember what they were but he had two sets.

          2. Tidewater 4-1009*

            There are people like this in every group, who have a disdainful, critical attitude towards those who have different paths or attitudes. Whether it’s advanced degrees or vintage clothes, there are at least a few such people in every setting. IME the best thing to do is ignore them. Most people can see what’s really going on.

          3. Victoria*

            I have a PhD that is technically in Education (it was a specialized program that had a wide-range of applications outside of Education, and if I ever pursue a faculty job, it could be in another one of the social or behavioral sciences, but my particular program just happened to be housed in the school of education), and from what I’ve seen (when I was investigating PhD programs and when I was on the academic job market before deciding to go into industry), some EdD programs have the same expectations as a PhD and it’s just how the program named the degree. Other programs have both PhDs and EdDs with different goals, in which the former is meant to train research faculty and the latter is meant to train high level education professionals like Superintendents and principals in large districts where a degree beyond a master’s is the expectation. When the programs are differentiated that way, the standard is less intense than a PhD-usually a lower number of credits required for the degree and the final project may not have quite the level of involvement of a PhD dissertation. That said, either way, it’s a degree beyond a master’s degree, so there is still a consistent expectation of quality of work, so your FIL is just a snob.

      2. Jenny*

        Technically a law degree has “doctor” in it (juris doctor) but no one ever calls lawyers “doctor” outside of a joke.

        1. Amy Sly*

          We’re actually not allowed to call ourselves Doctor. Our title if we want to be pretentious is “Esquire.”

          1. Delta Delta*

            I only have that on my pleadings paper. And if I get something in the mail to Delta Delta, Esq. I know it’s usually junk.

            1. FosterDog Mom*

              I am a female lawyer, and actually got something addressed to FirstName Lastname, Esquiress.

          2. Jackson Codfish*

            Bwahahah. There is a college president in my state who has a JD and everyone must call him Dr. It’s so obnoxious.

            1. Temperance*

              That’s so cringe. I have a JD – it’s definitely hard work to obtain one! – but that’s just awful.

      3. Mainely Professional*

        And the only people I’ve ever met with a doctorate who insist on being called “doctor” are people with these degrees. No one in with a PhD in a STEM or a humanities field does. It’s every Ded, DBA, etc.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          My brother is an archaeologist (Ph.D. in anthropology) and he’s Dr. Lastname to his students. As was my dad when he was teaching (Ph.D. in geology).

          They were both Firstname to their coworkers, admin, etc., though.

          1. Quill*

            Yeah, my experience with professors that have doctorates: They’re Dr. [publication name] if you approach them from outside their institution or their class isn’t very small or relaxed, professor if they actually recognize you amidst their students, “The [lastname]” if they’re the cool advisor or heavily involved in a club (but never addressed as such, just spoken about that way) and “Last name” if you are, for example, their handpicked lab assistant / TA who has helped them treat a freshman for heat exhaustion while simultaneously wrangling birds.

            … Fieldwork makes a huge difference in formality.

            1. Lizzo*

              Interesting. It was always Professor So and So at my (small liberal arts) school even though all of the faculty had doctorates…and if you were in the department and/or had a good relationship with them, by the time you were in your third year you were typically on a first name basis with them.

              1. Quill*

                It was really dependent on department where I went to school. My cohort (Environmental science) was extra small, so they threw us in with the geographers and geologists and told us all to go ham. So the majority of us were on first or lastname-only basis with our professors by junior year.

                When it came to people in larger departments, the rule I stated held much more strictly. Don’t think anyone reached first name basis with my organic chem professor unless they directly worked for him, but that could just be because his labs were hell on earth, despite the enduring jokes about how in his day they pipetted by mouth and his crazy-intense courses were the product of minor poisoning… Oh, and the time he took me to task for showing up to lab after having missed class and predicting, for the product of the day’s experiment “Probably a white powder.”

            2. Arvolin*

              Where I was, it was either FirstName or Doctor LastName, with FirstName being normally used by grad students on up, when talking to the person. LastName was third person when the person wasn’t actually there.

          2. Friendly Canadian*

            I feel like its different with students because people really want to create distance in that relationship.

          3. Raven*

            Generally John Smith is Mr. Smith to his students, too, but John to his co-workers. It’s all about the relationship.

            I’m old enough to remember when you *never* addressed strangers, nor anyone of an older generation, by their first names.

        2. Katrinka*

          A friend of mine is in STEM and she uses Dr. Sh has colleagues and students who constantly marginalize her by using “Miss” (not even “Professor”) so she corrects them. Women in STEM are constantly discriminated against (and still sexually harassed), so they tend to use their degrees more.

            1. A scientist*

              I have a PhD in a STEM field, and work in the biotech industry. Everyone goes by first names, unless we are in a formal situation where those credentials are important. That being said, while I prefer to be called by my first name, I do take exception to being called Miss professionally. You can cal me by my first name, but if you feel you must cal me by my last name, it’s Dr. .

              1. Caroline Bowman*

                absolutely. That’s entirely understandable and of course people must be corrected till they grasp that women can also have PhD’s / be doctors, but this person doesn’t sound like that. She wants now to be always called Dr, which is faintly laughable and obviously out of whack with the company as a whole.

              2. DogTrainer*

                Yes, that works unless all the men are called Dr., which I frequently run into. Here is what I often hear: “I’d like to introduce you to Dr. X (male), Dr. Y (male), and DogTrainer (female).”

                Because of this, I actually do enforce the “in formal situations, please call me Dr. DogTrainer”, because otherwise the males are introduced as Dr. and I am introduced by my first name. It sounds like this is what the letter writer is referring to when they say, “She insists that we refer to her as “Doctor” if anyone other than our immediate team is present.”

              3. Raven*

                Somehow, people (usually older men) seem to think it’s flattering to address any and all women by their (presumed) marital status. I find it insulting, personally.

          1. AnonPi*

            Yup, there was a post in the last few days in a FB group about a newspaper article and the photo of the 5 professors was captioned so that the 3 men were Dr. X, Dr. Y, and Dr. Z, and the women were Mary and Jane. And yes they were also professors with doctorates at the same university.

            1. Raven*

              When I was young, that was actually the standard practiced by most newspapers. Men would be “Mr. John Smith” on first reference, and subsequently “Mr. Smith”, but women would be “Mrs. Mary Jones” (or “Mrs. Henry Jones”) on first reference and “Mary” thereafter.

        3. Elle by the sea*

          You would be surprised how many people do, with STEM and humanities degrees. But in general, the rationale behind it is that they have worked incredibly hard for it and are often denied the title. So, that’s mainly women and POCs, and although I find it a little grating, I can fully understand their sentiment.

        4. Annony*

          I have a PhD in a STEM field. Most of my colleagues do use Dr. and will correct people who use the wrong title. However most usually go by their first name so it isn’t an issue. I don’t mind being called by my first name but I do mind being given the wrong title. I think part of it is because Dr is the default title in my field. When in doubt and not using a title you always assume Dr. It is gender neutral and does not offend if you are wrong. Also, you will be right at least 75% of the time.

        5. Leap Day Highway*

          Eh, I think this really varies by field and situation. My master’s is in public health, and 100% of my professors were “Dr. Lastname” to their students (they were a mix of PhDs and DrPHs with a couple of MDs).

          1. Myrin*

            I don’t think Mainely Professional is talking about student-teacher relationships, which tend to be pretty different from other kinds of relationships anyway.

            1. Mainely Professional*

              Correct. I’m talking about the school superintendent who insists all his colleagues (teachers, admin, the school board) refer to him as Dr because he has an Ed.D. I’ve met more of that guy than I have of the college English adjunct/lecturer and or professor who has a doctorate uh, and does not. And may or may not ask her students to refer to her as anything other than “Ms.”

      1. Dee Mentor*

        A PhD is a research degree that requires a dissertation and defense. So, yes, many people (including my father) have PhDs in Business Administration.

      2. Rock Prof*

        The chancellor of my University has a PhD in University Administration (but no teaching experience), which I feel is a bit weird.

          1. Amy Sly*

            Which explains a lot of about how well they make money in comparison to how well they teach.

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              And why colleges and universities these days are more focused on making money than helping students.

    4. Pretzelgirl*

      I don’t think many people realize that University of Phoenix and the like are seen as “less than”. I myself had no idea until I came to Ask a Manager.

      1. Artemesia*

        Phoenix is also probably more respected than several other of these diploma mills. A fair number of people are sucked in by them. I used to hire PhDs and we never considered people with on-line degrees. PhDs from regular programs at lesser schools were considered but only advanced with exceptionally impressive credentials on top of that, whereas someone from a top school might get more serious consideration right out of the program. Where you graduate matters when having a PhD matters.

        1. Lizzo*

          Yep, this is also why people pay big bucks for MBAs and law degrees from big name schools: you’re getting the education but you’re also purchasing a brand name and access to a professional network.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is pretty common for those outside the “sphere”, I’ve learned. I was lucky to have someone fall on the sword for me and warn me against them early in my life, since one of the first times I thought to go to school, I leaned towards a For-Profit school and my friends practically knocked me over saying “Do. Not. Do. That.”

    5. Beth Jacobs*

      I just went back and reread the UoP MBA (it’s linked in original post). It’s really sad to see people deceived like that.

  2. Uldi*

    LW #1

    I’m a littler torn on this one. On one hand, it does sound pretentious. On the other, OP does not clarify if that doctorate is applicable to her current job. If it is applicable, then use the title as requested. She’s earned it and deserves the respect of the title.

    And I’m confused as to why mention that it was done via online classes instead physically at a university. Is OP implying that the degree is somehow lesser?

    1. Allison K*

      Unfortunately, if it came from a University of Phoenix-like diploma mill, it is lesser. Plus, “real” doctorates take several years and require a thesis that’s often a publishable book, so if those elements weren’t part of the studies, the degree is questionable.

      1. On Fire*

        A few years ago I had a colleague who had received an *honorary* doctorate from a local private university. She insisted on being called “Dr.,” including on her business cards. Sadly, it was the source of much private amusement, but most people publicly complied. (And since Alison mentioned this in her answer, she was both a woman and POC.)

        1. Penny*

          That reminds me of the Murphy Brown episode from back in the day when she received an honorary doctorate for giving a commencement speech and she insisted on being called doctor for the episode.

      2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Agreed. In the non-medical fields, there are few if any post-degree checks-and-balances to prove the degree has any merit (JD being one of the exceptions). Often, the only indication of the validity of the degree is the school that issued it; so a PhD from USC would have a lot more clout than a PhD from U of Phony-ix. People know that a PhD student at USC had their dissertation peer-reviewed, by experts in their field, and had to defend their research at an in-person presentation; a very daunting and rigorous review. That’s not the case for many on-line schools.

        By contrast, in the health sciences, just because a person has attained the degree (MD, DO, PharmD, DPT, DDS/DMD, OD, DPM, DNP, DVM) doesn’t mean they get to practice if they can’t pass the post-doctoral licensure exams and (if applicable) post-doctoral training regardless of where they attended school; so school means a lot less.

        1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          It also depends on the jurisdiction. In Germany, using a prenominal “Dr.” (postnominal letters are not commonly used in German) is illegal (a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine or up to a year behind by bars). Even a “Dr.h.c.” if achieved by donations or similar may not be used (but one bestowed for achievements are okay).
          Only accredited, licensed universities may bestow academic titles, so University of Phoenix-like outfits have little market.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      If it’s an unaccredited PhD program, it’s pretty much as useful as a University of Phoenix degree (ie, putting it on your resume makes you significantly less hireable than not having it). It certainly wouldn’t make her eligible for jobs which required a PhD.

      If she had a genuine PhD and was insisting on being called Dr. by her peers, she’d probably be regarded as pretentious and insecure, but people would roll their eyes and get on with things. Insisting on being called Dr. with a purchased degree, though, is likely to reflect really badly on her professionally.

      1. MayLou*

        I did my undergrad at an internationally renowned university you’ll have heard of, and in the four years I was there, only one of my seminar supervisors wanted to be called doctor. Everyone else was on first name terms with the undergrads, from senior professors through to graduate students.

        1. Jenny*

          My husband taught a class as a visiting lecturer via zoom recently and I heard him day “I’m Dr. Lastbame but you can call me Firstname” after he was introduced.

          1. Dr Logen*

            Yeah, he’s a man. They’re able to easily give up titles and still be respected. Quite different for women and POC.
            As a woman I expect my students to use that Dr title that I earned; my male colleagues don’t care because they’ve never had students assume that they’re not qualified the way that I have.

            1. Katrinka*

              Yes! My friend holds several patents and is well-respected in her field outside of her uni. However, her colleagues treat her like a secretary or a lab manager, so the students do as well. She even had one student who argued that he didn’t have to call her Dr. because he was paying for his education. Yet, he called all of the male professors either Dr. or Professor. She constantly has colleagues refer students to her for supplies or to learn how to operate a piece of equipment. They seem surprised when she points out that (1) secretaries have the supplies and (2) they’re supposed to teach their own students how to do things. But then they do it again.

              I have another friend (not in STEM) who was at a reception at her uni when she saw her boss working his way around the room. All of the male professors were greeted as Dr. or Professor, but when he came to a group of women (some professors and some secretaries), he called each of them by their first names. And continued to call the women by their first names even if they were in a group with male colleagues. It really is that blatant.

              1. BigTenProfessor*

                I had a job candidate come into the faculty panel and greet us as, “Hello, Dr. X, Hello, Dr. Y, Hello, Ms. Z.”

            2. Barefoot Librarian*

              You are so right there. I’ve worked in Higher Ed for years and I can’t tell you how many times I’ll hear students call a male/masc professor Dr Soandso, just to turn around and call a female/femme professor Ms. Suchandsuch. It’s doubly worse with PoC faculty. It makes my blood boil.

            3. Perpal*

              I’m not POC but I am female-presenting and I only throw around my degree (MD) when it helps streamline a process; ie I’m trying to call to communicate with health care teams things go a lot faster if I say I’m Dr so and so because it quickly communicates my role and what level of information I’ll probably need. I actually felt uncomfortable using it at first but I’ve realized it makes things easier for a lot of people (even calling pts, if they hear the dr they instantly recognize me, if I try to say hellow it’s [firstname] they’re usually confused for a short period of time).
              I can’t say what’s going on with LW1’s colleague and obviously I can only speak for myself, not all women and certainly not other groups; I think one important question is, do other colleagues have equivalent degrees? if so it is a little out of sync for one person to insist. If no one else has it then maybe it’s helpful to let others know what level of credentials they have so they understand what their role is. And yes, agree with allison that even if that is the case, if the colleague is otherwise represented it can be helpful to reference their doctorate while introducing them, and would do that if they are asking for it (but don’t do it in a scenario where they say not to, of course!).

              1. Perpal*

                *if colleague is otherwise UNDERrepresented [in the group] it can be helpful to reference their doctorate while introducing them

            4. Not the Doctor*

              I’m not sure how forcing someone to use an honorific title changes the perception of whether or not one is qualified, particularly in an environment like OP describes where the primary form of address is first names.

              I had a college professor who was militant about people using their Dr. So-and-So title. It didn’t inspire respect, it created a perception that they were insecure. It’s not fair or right, particularly given how prevalent bias is, but forcing use of a title is an ineffective way to garner respect. If it’s worth it to OP’s coworker to be called Dr. Whatever, that’s up to them, but it’s likely undermining their desire for respect, particularly in an environment where no one uses them.

        2. Littorally*

          My undergrad school had the tradition that no one was addressed as “doctor” regardless of qualifications. It was interesting to note who was visibly rankled at the tradition and who was not.

          1. JustaTech*

            At my undergrad all the professors were “Professor Lastname” (in their presence, often just Lastname among students), except one chemistry professor who insisted on being “Dr Lastname”. It was weird, because in academia “Professor” is often a “higher” title than doctor, but that chem prof was well liked so the students just rolled with it.

        3. Dagny*

          That’s not the standard everywhere, not by a long shot.

          At my very prestigious East Coast universities, professors are called Professor or, sometimes, Doctor. In the Midwest, professors are called Dr. until they attain the rank of full professor, at which point, they are called Professor. First names are not applicable in either situation.

          The issue in this post is a woman who completed a doctoral degree and is now sounding like a bit of a fool, going against her office (not academic institution) norms by requiring people to call her Doctor. She should be told that everyone is happy for her but that they aren’t going to use her title, any more than the general counsel is called Attorney Jones or the company president is referred to by President.

          1. Phony Genius*

            I went to an east coast school. I can can confirm that almost all of the PhD staff were addressed as “Professor.” Though none minded if you said “Doctor” instead. The only thing was that some adjunct faculty did not have PhD’s. Students addressed them by a mix of Mr./Ms., first name, or even “professor”. None of them ever thought to tell us how they prefer to be addressed, let alone correct us.

            1. Adultiest Adult*

              The undergraduate school I went to “solved” the title problem for faculty by dictating that anyone with a doctorate was called “Dr. X” and anyone without a doctorate was “Professor X.” In that context, using plain Mr./Ms. was considered a sign of disrespect and was promptly corrected. We did have one or two professors who allowed first names, but they were well-known for their preference and would still be introduced in formal contexts as Dr.

          2. Old and Don’t Care*

            I went to a Midwest university and we called everyone “Professor”. Even (brace yourselves here) a practicing CPA who was not an academic at all.

            I agree with your second paragraph.

        4. Esmeralda*

          That;s not surprising — it’s a kind of snobbery endemic to academia.

          For those who come from backgrounds where education is the means of getting into the middle / professional class (raises hand, white woman who’s the first woman and only the second person in her mom’s blue collar family to go to college), it can be maddening. I worked hard for that degree. (And thank you to the taxpayers of my state and of the US for funding the grants and low-interest loans that made it possible.)

          LW could have some compassion for their colleague, who may be a person who doesn’t know that where you go to school matters as much as (sometimes more than) going to school , that there’s a difference between for-profit schools and accredited schools, who may not be able to afford the money or time to get into an accredited school. Really, what’s it to the LW if this person wants to be called Dr.? Is it in any way impeding LW’s work? the work of LW’s team? How people see / judge the LW or LW’s team?

    3. JJ*

      I don’t think that fact that it was online is really the issue, just that the school is for profit / unaccredited school.

      1. Sarah*

        It is my understanding that Univ. of Phoenix is an accreditated university and their doctorate-level programs are all specially accredited in their fields. We should be cautious about assuming this person didn’t complete a valid doctorate program.

        1. Zona the Great*

          Unfortunately this is the damage caused by associating with an institution with such a reputation.

        2. workin from home*

          It is nationally accredited vs. regionally accredited. Ironically, the national accreditation is the less stringent and prestigious accreditation. Essentially every non-profit is regionally accredited. So yes, this is technically true, they are accredited – but there are key differences.

        3. A*

          They have also had their accreditation pulled from certain programs at various points in time. The point being that with U-of-P there will always be some level of doubt, which doesn’t necessarily exist outside of for-profit schools.

    4. pastelround*

      It sounds like a bullshit degree. Not all ‘degrees’ are equal. I don’t understand why some people try to make everything equal, like education. I believe in equality and respect and all of those progressive things but not all educational institutions are equal.

      You can treat different degrees differently based on how respectable they are. Diploma mills don’t deserve the same respect as a top university just because equality something something.

      1. MK*

        Here’s the thing: as long as the law I your country allows these institutions to operate legally and give out degrees, people who got these degrees have every right to claim the titles. You don’t have to consider their credentials equal, but you don’t get to say to someone they can’t call themselves Dr. because their PhD is from a disreputable university.

        This is a red herring, in my opinion, as far the letter goes. This woman is out of sync with her office’s culture when she demands to be called Dr., it wouldn’t matter if her degree was from Harvard or Yale.

        1. Traffic_Spiral*

          funny, I’d consider your entire point a red herring. Firstly, there’s no law that demands you address anyone by educational title – it’s more of a social courtesy. So really the only “right” the person has is the right to free speech – same as anyone else’s right to demand to be called Princess Moonbeam Sparklebottom.

          As the title is a societal convention rather than a right, it’s relevant to examine the other aspects of said convention: namely, is it considered gauche to insist on its use, and whether drawing too much attention to a Diploma-Mill degree makes you look bad.

          But as for the LW, I’d just split the difference and call her “doc.”

          1. MayLou*

            In the UK I believe there are laws that prevent anyone from using a title they aren’t entitled to as a name – so you can’t legally change your name to Doctor or Princess. Of course you could demand to be called anything you like socially, but there are also laws against impersonating a particular role for fraudulent purposes.

            1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

              Yup. We had a classmate at junior high school who was nicknamed “Doctor” or “Doctor Faustus” due to his Hermione Granger-ish mannerisms. The name stuck so well that it showed up even in some attendance logs.
              Obviously he hadn’t earned the title, and never claimed it.

            2. Helena1*

              Nope, not true. There are regulated professions, and it’s an offence to pretend to be eg a chartered accountant, vet (as in animals) or registered medical doctor if you aren’t one. But you can call yourself Dr X, as long as you don’t imply you are an actual physician. There’s also a specific crime of impersonating a policeman, for obvious reasons.

              There are also plenty of non-regulated professions, and there’s nothing legally actionable about calling yourself a university lecturer if you aren’t. We also have no Stolen Valour laws, so you’re fine to pretend you’re a sergeant-major or whatever.

              1. Helena1*

                I know several UK women called Princess (most famously one of Peter Andre’s kids), and we had a Dr Doctor in my class at med school. And a Dr Nurse.

                We also had a heart surgeon in the same hospital called Mr Death, pronounced Deeth, which is off topic but I thought I’d throw it in there.

          2. MK*

            I didn’t suggest there was a law compelling anyone to use titles or that anyone has a right to be called by it, merely that anyone with a degree from a legally operating educational institution has a right to call themselves by a title they earned there, regardless of the institution’s reputation.

            As for your other points, if it’s gauche to insist on a title, it is so no matter how prestigious the degree. And whether is a good idea to draw attention to it is something the person involved can judge for themselves, it’s not for their coworkers to protect them by refusing to use their title.

        2. Pineapple*

          Lots of crappy businesses are allowed to operate legally. Doesn’t mean we need to like and respect them all.

        3. pastelround*

          It’s reasonable to say the fact the degree is questionable makes the LW even less keen to go along with this.

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, I’m fairly sure that’s why she mentions it in the first place. I agree with MK’s point on an objective/legal level but I don’t think the for-profit aspect is as much of a non-issue – emotionally for OP and her coworkers, not factually – as the phrase “red herring” implies to me.

          2. serenity*

            I commented elsewhere but I think it’s worth taking a pause before assuming it’s a “fact” that this person’s degree is “questionable”.

            Maybe OP is absolutely right that the school is not one that’s respected but over the years I’ve heard way too many people conflate any kind of online learning with fake or scam degrees. Yes, University of Pheonix is considered a diploma mill. No, Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies is not (I actually overheard someone assume that once).

            1. Uranus Wars*

              I got my graduate degree online by a local, very highly regarded college (not Ivy, but well-known and respected). I can’t tell you how many people told me it must be nice to get a degree without having to do the work. Or that it wouldn’t count for anything when I earned it because online isn’t a “real degree”

              Online was HARD. My first 2 semesters were a nightmare and I got a C in the intro course because I couldn’t figure out the system. And I was way more involved in my coursework than I was in my first grad degree because of way the profs measured engagement.

              1. virago*

                I have a master’s in public policy from the local campus of the state university.

                My coursework involved one online class (the professor lived out of state), and it was more difficult than the face-to-face classes for all of the reasons that you mention. I’d be up half the night posting on special bulletin boards the professor had set up for this class because I never knew whether the answers I’d posted to other students’ questions were thorough enough.

        4. Joielle*

          Agreed! You can privately think she’s being daft, and I’d agree – but it’s a real dick move to refuse to use someone’s correct title just because you think they didn’t go to a good enough school. The real issue is that she’s pushing for her title to be used when everyone else is just going by first names, not whether or not she’s entitled to be called Doctor in general.

          I went to a midwestern third tier law school, but I get to use the same title as an ivy league grad, because that’s how credentialing works. Of course, I don’t go around making people address me as Esquire because that would be odd. And that’s the actual issue here, we don’t need to get weird about whether her PhD is “good enough.”

          1. Uranus Wars*

            I agree the issues are getting muddled here – and I am guilty. The actual issue isn’t the validity of her degree – it’s whether or not it’s appropriate to use the title in her workplace. Thanks for this reminder!

          2. Dagny*

            “I went to a midwestern third tier law school, but I get to use the same title as an ivy league grad, because that’s how credentialing works.”

            If you are not a member of the bar, your title is Joielle, J.D. If you are a member of the bar, you get to be Joielle, Esq., or Attorney Joielle, because that’s how admittance to the bar works. The degree is part of it; the other part that you cannot ignore is passing the same bar exam as everyone else.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Given that we’ve already talked about the importance of earned titles for women and POC, it might be prudent to reflect on the historic admission of already privileged groups to prestigious institutions, and question whether some ingrained snobbery results from and compounds sexist or racist prejudice rather than academic rigour.

        1. Jenny*

          I mean if their person’s degree was from Howard and someone was questioning it, I’d highly side eye them. But diploma mills are well established messes that give PhDs for insufficient work. Questioning those is legitimate.

    5. Well...*

      Maybe I’m biased coming from academia, but anyone bragging about being a doctor isn’t doing themselves any favors.

      It’s not that it sounds pretentious. To me it sounds amateurish and sad. Like if you have to brag about the PhD maybe you aren’t too proud of the research that you did to get it.

      1. Well...*

        Also I’m underrepresented in my field and I’m sympathetic to the effort of underrepresented groups pushing back against their PhD being dropped unfairly.

        Particularly in my field, I’m not sure that pushing the degree title would help you much (unless you’re doing outreach or something).

        1. Violet Rose*

          Yeah, a lot of my friends in grad school were doing PhDs (I was doing a short masters course), so I know a lot of “Doctors.” Most of them are very easygoing about the title, with the notable exception of the women who get called “Mrs” when the men around them are getting “Dr”. The most egregious example I’ve heard was from an academic couple who have received – multiple!! – letters addressed to “Dr. and Mrs. [CombinedLastName]”. One of these might even have been sent when “Mrs. [CombinedLastName]” was the *only* “Dr. [CombinedLastName],” since I’m pretty sure she submitted first.

          It’s clear that this isn’t what’s happening in Letter 1 if the people there are all on a first-name basis, but after hearing stories like that from every woman with a doctorate I know, I have a lot more general sympathy for people who are being weirdly insistent on the title. Like y’all, I mostly just feel badly for her, since this is probably having the opposite effect than she intended.

          1. Well...*

            Omg this. I got a postdoc offer that misgendered me as “Mr. Mylastname” like all the applicants have PhDs, there is a clear gender neutral title?? Hilariously this was linked to a professor who made worldwide headlines for sexist remarks, but it was so strange that I actually think it was an admin error rather than a deliberate snub. Who knows though.

          2. Aeryn Sun*

            Yeah, there are two times I asked to be called doctor 1) when someone is calling me Ms Sun and the male PhDs Dr Crichton. 2) when someone else is being condescending toward me or my staff (I work in an academia adjacent field), so then I emphasize the Doctor. There is a leader in my daughter’s scout group who me ruins her PhD in every conversation, which annoyed me at first, but then I realized that, since she is a Black woman, she is likely doing it to preempt jerks.

            1. MicroManagered*

              What if they address you as Ms. Sun, but they’re addressing your religious colleague as Pa’u? ;)

            2. cncx*

              I have a friend who does this as well- she lives in Germany where Dr is a honorific that is more widely used even for people with PhDs who aren’t medical doctors (e.g. regular forms have doctor alongside mr/ms) and when she feels like someone is being condescending to her, she does the whole “excuse me, I’m Frau Doktor..:”

              1. Aitch Arr*

                Not to mention Dr-Ing. and Dr. rer. nat.
                My dad’s a Computer Science PhD and when he worked for a German company he was referred to as Dr-Ing.

          3. DogTrainer*

            Yes! There have been several times in the last year where I have gone online to donate money to a non-profit, and the only options for contact info for myself/husband were “Dr. and Mrs.” but there was no “Dr. and Mr.” I was pissed and shocked that this was still an issue.

            I still donated, but I definitely emailed the non-profit executives to ask them to fix it.

    6. MK*

      No one “deserves” to be called by a honorific in a workplace that goes by first names. This shouldn’t be about the quality of her degree, but about workplace norms; asking to be called doctor or Mr./Ms. when everyone else goes by first names is tonedeaf, if not a power play, and potentially confusing. As a client I would assume that the person addressed by the honorific is the most senior.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes, even aside from the fact that it’s not from a legitimate university, insisting on being called an honorific usually just comes across as insecure or immature. The most you could do is say “I am Dr. So-and-so, but you can call me first name”, in order for people to know that you have the title but still be able to sound gracious.

      2. JM60*

        I very much agree. At my software company, you’d only know if someone had a doctorate from the introductory email their manager sends when they join (because this typically includes high level information about their work/academic history). I’ve never heard anyone call themselves Dr anywhere where I’ve worked, and it would come across as snobbish and/or pretentious if they did.

    7. Lynca*

      I work with people that have PhDs (non-Academia) and we call each other by first names in the Office setting even if we’re not direct peers.

      Where I work insisting that your co-workers address you all the time as Dr. Name instead of Bob, Sue, etc. is going to come off as a power struggle. Which at it’s core it is! I would evaluate whether this is a response to some sort of genuine power imbalance or if the co-worker is just power tripping. Because I have seen PhD’s insist on the honorific to demean others without higher levels of education. It can go both ways.

      Even then, I wouldn’t fall back on the legitimacy of the degree as the deciding factor. It would just be “we are all on a first name basis here.”

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Corporate world here. Our Ph.D. engineer was $Fullfirstname along with everyone else up to the CEO. Except when friends were getting whimsical and called him Dr. $Nickname.

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          Sounds like you work with my brother. I think he may actually be prouder of the P.E. after his name than he is of the Ph.D. (P.E. = Professional Engineer. Requires two national licensing exams with a period of several years supervised practice between them, plus state level requirements usually consisting of at least an engineering degree and a state level exam.)

          1. Nesprin*

            Italy has a formal title for engineer (Ingeniere) that’s used in place of other title, i.e. so you can be Dr. Prof. or Eng. Knowing how hard PE’s are to get, I think we should import this system.

      2. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        90% of my office has a PhD (Academia-adjacent), and the only time the honorifics are brought out are by people from outside of the office. Everyone here is on a first name basis, as well. I agree with you that it should not be a discussion on the legitimacy of the degree, but instead a look at the office culture. It would be akin to having an office culture of jeans and t-shirts, and a person walking in wearing a three-piece suit.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        I used to work with a guy with *two* Ph.D.s and he was still Firstname, just like everyone else in the office, including our executive director. I called the ED “Dr. Lastname” once when I was very new and was gently corrected that we all went by first names here.

    8. Artemesia*

      On line degrees are lesser. They don’t provide either the experience or the rigor. Since the PhD is a research degree, the research apprenticeship is a big part of what makes the candidate attractive. It is hard to get serious research experience as a student without being part of the ongoing research of professors in one’s institution — being a research assistant and having solid research experience is not something you get on line. And even where a dissertation is required, it is unlikely to involve impressive rigorous research.

      1. MK*

        I have no idea about online degrees (my country ‘s universities don’t offer them), but your perspective doesn’t apply as much to more theoretical fields, like law, philosophy, philology etc. Also, I guess this might not be universal, but I have always understood a PhD to mean you have made an original contribution; research is usually a part of that, but not always and not always the most important one.

        1. Katrinka*

          I think the degree requirements depend on the field. Every one requires a dissertation and defense (I think), but publication and research requirements vary a lot, I think).

        2. Paulina*

          A PhD is a research degree; the original contribution is considered research, especially since it needs to be shown to be a significant contribution to knowledge in its field. What it does not have to be, though, is part of a faculty member’s ongoing research program. In STEM fields it often is, but in the arts and humanities the student is often working on an independent topic, though usually sufficiently related to supervisor expertise so that the student can be guided and the work’s significance judged.

          Where remote PhD offerings can fall down is in the extent to which rigour and the level of significance are applied to the work. When you don’t have to provide students with space or other resources, and you’re not meeting regularly, it’s easy for standards to slip. Some programs enable a PhD to be taken in pretty much anything, so there’s no standard of the field to meet or even sufficient suitable expertise available. If faculty aren’t active in their research field, and for online universities usually they are not, they may not be able to judge significance. And it’s not hard for work to be new, so it’s the significance and overall research quality that matters. I’ve seen some very poor quality work get called a thesis at some places, usually with the student not knowing any better; they’ve produced a large piece of work and have no idea that it’s not being judged to suitable standards. (Sadly, the same is now also true for a lot of online journals.) But online just makes it easier for a program or journal to have poor standards and go the cash-cow route, it doesn’t require it.

      2. Pineapple*

        I totally disagree that online degrees are inherently lesser. Not all doctoral research is done in a university lab. A lot of doctorate degrees, like a lot of jobs, can be done remotely just as effectively as they are done in person.

        1. Helena1*

          I mean, a lot of it still is. Archive work, or field work may take you away from the host institution for a year or more at a time.

        2. Mary Connell*

          Yes, Artemesia is providing a dated and inaccurate generalization.

          That was largely true two or three decades ago, but the world has changed.

          There may be certain programs that still need to be in person, including lab-based programs, but a growing number of disciplines and universities have online programs. Penn State, for example, has a greatly respected online program.

      3. Joielle*

        Wow, yikes. If you think a PhD from an online program is no good, then fine. Take it up with the accreditation body, I guess – i.e. the people whose opinion on that kind of thing matters. Also, consider how your bias against online degrees has a disproportionate effect on disadvantaged populations.

        But, none of that is the point of this letter. The point is, 1. you can’t refuse to use someone’s correct title just because you’ve judged their degree to be not up to your standards, BUT ALSO 2. it’s silly to insist on using your title when everyone else is going by their first name. (And 3. if you’re a woman or person of color, it might be worth it to insist on it anyways.)

          1. serenity*

            I’d also add that in the age of Covid, when many people’s graduate degree programs are going online for either the short- or the longterm it’s super not helpful to be opining about the legitimacy of online degrees when 1) you have no knowledge or background of the field, and, 2) people currently in programs that have gone online, due to circumstances outside of their control, do not deserve that stigma being placed on them.

            And yes, this is not the focus of the letter either. If the professional environment is super casual and everyone refers to each other by first name, someone insisting on being called Dr. by colleagues will be awkward whether their degree is from Yale or Tr**p University.

            1. lazy intellectual*

              It kind of reminds me of how when I was job hunting a few years ago, and me and my peers kept getting criticized by professional Boomers as “job hoppers”, because the only jobs we could get right after graduation were short-term contracts and temp jobs. They didn’t seem to realize that hey! we were in a gig economy, now – having short-term/PT jobs was the norm.

              Pretty sure this is now the case with online education. Wake up – online degrees and distance learning is a new norm. Of course, it will not compeltely replace on-campus and in-person education, but consider how much it will make education more accessible to non-traditional (i.e. less privileged) students – students who have to work jobs during the day, students who have to raise kids, etc. Same with remote jobs.

      4. Uranus Wars*

        I know several people who did their PhD work online and then did fieldwork or clinical for the practical portion. Some took a year off of their full time jobs at that point, some worked 24 hour weekends to do it. It is most certainly not a lesser degree.

      5. Snarkaeologist*

        I’m in Anthropology, and the people I know who’ve gone with remote programs have done so specifically so they don’t have to abandon their long-term field research. Meanwhile, I know people in standard programs who have moved several states away from their campus while writing their dissertations and no one cares – because at that point they’re working independently and just need to be at the school when they’re actually meeting with advisors.

        1. Helena1*

          This. The LSHTM online taught post-grad degrees are a great example of this – working clinical trials coordinators/local public health workers, particularly in developing countries, get reputable training whilst working in the field.

          The exams are the same as the face to face course, it’s no lesser a qualification. Just taught part-time via distance learning, not full-time face to face.

    9. Esmeralda*

      Everyone’s doing online classes now. I’m having a good laugh at the depts on my campus that insisted that students who took their online version of the introductory majors class were lesser and would not be competitive to get into that major. Well, all of their “real” majors are taking that online version of the class.

    10. Daisy*

      I think it’s one thing to use “Dr.” where you would use “Ms.” since that could definitely be considered being about respect. On written items I think that’s totally fine to correct.

      Maybe I come to this from a bit of a different perspective, working in biomedical research where doctorates are very very common and also required for many positions but it would be super strange for me to insist on the title where people are going by first names. It would be seen as very silly both in and out of academia in my field for everyone to go around calling each other “doctor” all the time. It would also be considered pretty condescending for someone to insist that people who didn’t have doctorates call them “doctor” but perhaps it is different outside of STEM.

    11. lazy intellectual*

      It’s not so much that it’s online but from U of Phoenix/a for-profit university. These universities are essentially run like business rather than educational institutions, and there is no accountability for providing quality education. They are also exploitative and charge students a lot of money. Most, if not all, employers don’t take them seriously.

      Tangential rant: I blame these types of universities for being part of a reason it has been so hard to implement online classes and degrees in other universities (combined with the resistance of traditionally-minded faculty). Hopefully, this changes post-COVID.

      1. Mary Connell*

        Meanwhile, as I noted above, some universities like Penn State have forged ahead and created successful online programs. Programs run through reputable universities can be every bit as rigorous and much more accessible than in person instruction.

  3. voyager1*

    LW1: If this a medical/health services provider, calling someone doctor could cause some confusion.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      Precisely. I worked in a healthcare adjacent office where our clients were mainly medical practitioners, with some allied health professionals. We had an incredibly pretentious woman join staff, who had obtained a substandard PhD (in nursing) from a diploma mill. She insisted on being called “Doctor” even though it was wildly out of sync with office norms and confusing to clients and others. It was ridiculous and the sad thing is she had no idea how badly it reflected on her. (And her PhD supervisor. Her theseis was embarrassing and would not have survived the rigor of a reputable university.)

    2. Job Carousel*

      Agreed. I earned my PhD (after five years of incredibly challenging work, many publications, and a dissertation) and then went to medical school, but I didn’t ever ask to be called a doctor. I elected not to have PhD embroidered next to my name on my short white coat that I wore on medical wards. I introduced myself by my first name and explained my role as a medical student, and that was it. (Being female, I still got confused for a nurse all the time, though.)

      Nowadays I’m finished with medical school and residency, and I only go by doctor at work (never personal life) in a few specific professional contexts. My colleagues and lower level staff all call me by my first name.

      Without knowing more context, I’d definitely be taken aback by a person in a healthcare setting without an MD/DO/DDS/DVM insisting on being called doctor when an actual physician in the practice goes by their first name. Especially if said person is in a patient-facing/external-facing role and introducing themselves as a doctor there. I think the conversation should be less about the dubiousness of their degree program and more about how this doesn’t conform to workplace culture and may be a safety/liability issue for the business.

    3. Well...*

      Insert gif of captain holt yelling that “medical practitioners have co-OPTED the word doctor”

    4. Rexish*

      I used to be a physio. I was explainin something to a patient and her son kept bringing up that he was a doctor. Finally, I said something referencing that the son must be aware of something medically related and it turned out that he had a PhD in History. He had just thought that his mom would get better treatment.

      1. Artemesia*

        He is probably right. The only times I have used ‘Dr.’ socially is when dealing with airlines and similar settings. I well remember the standby situation where there ended up being one ticket and the clerk called out ‘Dr. Artemesia’ and handed my ticket to the distinguished looking grey haired man also waiting (who was not a doctor) — I swooped in and grabbed the ticket and was off home.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          See, interestingly, when my husband was in grad school, one of the first things he was warned was that you NEVER book your plane tickets under “Dr.” Because the airline will assume you are a MD in a medical emergency on the flight.

          I have no idea if this is true or not, but typically when he’s traveled for work his tickets have been booked as Mr., not Dr., even at other schools.

    5. Lily Rowan*

      Flashback to when I was in college, went to Student Health, was told I was seeing Dr. X, got to her office and saw that she was (approximately) Jane X, RN, PhD. I was happy to see a nurse! Nurses are great! It just seemed weird to call her Doctor in that context.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        There are doctoral programs in Nursing — either a PhD or DNP — so she probably wasn’t a PhD in Literature.

        1. Kares*

          The nurse practitioner that I see (much preferred over MDs for my daily health care) has a DNP. She’s caught things that MDs overlooked for years.

          I do know multiple medical doctors who insist on using the title even though they never passed their boards. Now, they get snickers from less kind people.

        2. Helena1*

          It’s still confusing for patients. I work with two nurse PhDs and they are both amazing. They do not call themselves “doctor” in a clinical setting because it is misleading. They are also proud of being nurses! That is not something you need to hide.

          In a medical academic setting, they are absolutely Jane Smith PhD (which is the convention in our medical school for non-clinician PhD holders, clinicians without PhDs are Dr Bob Jones MBBS, so no confusion in either direction).

    6. Anon today*

      Absolutely. I am a woman with a PhD in math and husband who does people-doctoring. In social situations in which snark is needed I’ll introduce myself as Dr. Whatever and indicated that my husband is a *physician*, the descended from barbers rather than philosophers…. But that’s only when we want to be jerks to each other for fun :) I avoid the honorific Dr. in any situation in which medical attention might be needed, including most airplane flights.

      1. Artemesia*

        LOL. I haven’t been asked to deliver a baby on a plane yet even when I used Dr. in that context luckily. The other setting I use it is when rampant sexism is being dished out. I did my career in the south where a fair number of men are very dismissive of professional women. It is not uncommon if you use ‘Ms’ to have some jerk ask ‘Is that Miss or Mrs.’ with the tone and look of ‘gotcha — so have you managed to attain that only status by which we judge a woman – ‘trapping a man?’ In that situation I just blandly say ‘Oh you can just use Dr.’

        But mostly insistence on being addressed as Dr. outside of the medical profession comes off as a bit pathetic. (except in the situation Alison describes where disrespect is endemic and it becomes a shield against that ugliness)

        1. Blackcat*

          Yeah, the only time outside of work I have ever been asked to be called doctor was someone who said, “Well you must be a Mrs. with that ring.” I just stared at him and said, “Not that it’s any of your business, but it’s Dr., not Mrs.” He got quiet pretty fast.

    7. Dust Bunny*

      Irrelevant. Doctor is a level of attainment. You’ve still earned it even if it’s not in medicine.

      1. Artemesia*

        And it is not a social title nevertheless. Or an appropriate professional title outside medicine or in an academic setting some places.

  4. Anononon*

    I had a boss who often had trial weeks for potential employees, at all levels, even attorneys. He was exactly as Alison said, awful at hiring and trying to use these trial runs as a way to make up for bad hiring practices. He sucked at hiring because he wasn’t generally able to attract top candidates due to low pay and a bunch of red flags during the interview phase, like the same five-page test for all candidates that included questions for all levels. (I accepted a job there because I needed the experience, I was fortunate to be able to live with the low pay, and I was able to get out within a year.)

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      LW4 the standard way to do what you’re describing is to contact an agency about “temp to perm” contracts. They will do the pre-screening, and you’ll pay a surcharge for the temps, and a fee when you hire one.
      I will point out however that $13 seems low for a professional admin. I was getting that as a fairly new college grad in the 90s.

        1. Dave*

          But when we have used temp services in the place we have been able to change temps for performance issues as needed so they would get us someone new.

          I would take a hard look at what you are paying though. Many big box stores are at $15 an hour and granted there are advantages to office jobs they are also generally less flexible with scheduling. I get hiring realities and localities but my office keeps hiring at that rate or less and we keep getting candidates that can’t do the job. (In addition to the people hiring not being able to hire or write and ad) I believe the low rate keeps us from getting decent talent.

          1. Middle Aged Lady*

            So true! Hard to commit to a job where the low wage will have you constantly worried about paying your bills. Hard to attract talent at $15 an hour. It is not a living wage.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I made that Lifeguarding in Highschool in the 90’s. Admittedly the economy was different then, but still…

      2. Annony*

        If you are not giving benefits, the pay should actually be higher for the temp portion to make up for it. At the very least it should be equal. Offering less makes it look like he is trying to get cheap labor and will just keep firing people after the trial period. I’m not saying that is what he is planning, but those are the optics. I agree that offering temp to perm is the way to go. Also, make it clear what the goals are to make it permanent. Don’t be nebulous about “good fit”.

        1. Arvolin*

          I’ve been in temporary-to-permanent jobs three times. There never were specific goals to go permanent, just doing the job well (software development). Two were among my least favorite jobs (in one I was just as happy to not be offered permanent – I did something routine that turned out to be a mistake because of dreadful practices), and one was definitely my favorite of my career.

      3. Sacred Ground*

        If the problem is that they can’t attract good candidates due to low pay and an off-putting hiring process, they’re unlikely going to want to pay more to an agency to vet the substandard candidates willing to accept their low pay. Wouldn’t paying the temp agency cost more than just paying market rate in the first place?

      4. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This is exactly what I came here to say.

        LW #4 – use a temp agency. This is literally what they are designed for.

      5. JSPA*

        Also came to say, “official Temp to Perm” or just regular Temp, if there’s nothing in that contract that stops you from hiring them away when you find someone who fits.

  5. Dr. J*

    For poster 1, as I read the letter my immediate thought was basically what was in your caveat. Women and POC doctorates 100% get the ‘Dr.’ dropped as a prefix more often than our white male colleagues do, and so as a response we may therefore push extra to keep it, or feel it’s more important to make note of.

    1. Mid*

      And given that the LW says her coworker is weird, the coworkers might be feeling that disconnect and think it’s at least partially due to a lack of respect/credibility.

      As a former weird-kid-in-school, we know we’re the odd ones out, and it doesn’t feel great. And I used to spend a lot of time trying to figure out why I was so weird and how to fix it. (I gave up years ago and just live my weird, happy life.)

      If the coworker is more on the quirky side of weird (as opposed to the potentially dangerous side of weird), I’d encourage the LW to try and get a little closer to the coworker, and gently bring up how Doctor is coming across, or reach out to someone who is closer to the coworker.

    2. Viette*

      Agreed. Maybe this is the sort of person who’s “very weird” and therefore struggling to get respected as a coworker despite being good at their work, or maybe this is the sort of person who is “very weird” = “thoughtless, self-centered, or rude” and the title fixation is just an offshoot of that.

      Calling her Dr. Bean versus Ms. Bean is not going to address the fact that your office isn’t meshing very well and some people at very at odds with each other. Either she can be better integrated into the team and treated with more respect (for her good work) despite her weirdness, or she’s a “bad culture fit”/a bad coworker and that is the problem.

      1. JSPA*

        Especially as it’s Kaley, Aubergino, Carotta, Gurke and Dr. Bean.

        That said, the right time to discriminate against bogus and near-bogus degrees is during hiring and promotions, not in whether or not you accord someone the title they’ve formally received. OP can roll their mind’s eye all they want, but if they’d use the title if it were, in their estimation, a “real title,” they should use it when asked, here.

    3. Keladry of Midelan*

      Yes, this is a tricky one for me, because of those issues. It does sound like the person in this letter is going overboard, but in general it can be hard to figure out how to non-awkwardly insist that your title be used appropriately. I’ve had to have several uncomfortable conversations with our marketing department because somehow they always manage to remember my (60’s, male) colleague is “Dr.” in our marketing material but never remember that I (early 30’s, female) also have a PhD and have earned the same title.

      1. Anon today*

        Yes! This is when I get insistent about title as well. Worth looking at the dynamics in the office.

      2. JM60*

        This one seems straightforward to me: The OP’s workplace is on a first-name basis, so they aren’t singling her out by addressing the coworker by her first name. Maybe there are more issues going on, but making an exception to the first-name basis specifically for that coworker probably isn’t going to solve those issues (and may actually aggravate them).

    4. LQ*

      I have a coworker in a similar situation to #1. She wanted to be called Doctor after she got her degree from pheonix. The problem is in a casual enough office “Doctor Jones” sounds sarcastic. Even out of the MOST sincere and straightforward person here. Absolutely did not mean it to be sarcastic but it sounded that way. I basically just avoided referring to her with her name if it all possible for the week she wanted it because I always sound sarcastic and there was no way it wasn’t going to sound that way from me and I didn’t want to insult her.

      She dropped it after about a week because of that. Honestly, just do it and your person will most likely move away from demanding it. If your coworker doesn’t drop it then just think of it as that quirky eccentricity. It’s pretty much a nothing thing and if you can shrug at it that’s ideal.

    5. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      There was a Twitter thread of women with PhDs who were constantly called ‘Mrs’ in academic settings. The worse example was of a conference attendee whose hotel tried to charged double assuming she was with her husband because only a man would order a copy of the Financial Times. Ick.

    6. Argh!*

      I thought of that too. My inner voice said, “They call me DOCTOR Tibbs.”

      If someone feels insecure about how they’re perceived (rightly or wrongly) I wouldn’t have a problem going along with that preference. The fact that eyes are rolling indicates to me that there could really be a situation where the coworkers’ attitudes are the bigger problem.

    7. MissDisplaced*

      I’m kind of mixed on this.
      Just because a university is “online” doesn’t automatically mean the PhD isn’t valid, or that the person wasn’t working on the degree part time for several years.
      Is it pretentious? Maybe if it’s just to coworkers and colleagues. But not if this person is writing articles, hosting webinars or speaking at events, or putting her name on company collateral.
      I worked with many chemists and scientists, and when marketing them always introduced them as Doctor So and So.

  6. Forrest Gumption*

    LW#4: this is what employment agencies were invented for. In a temp-to-hire scenario you employ someone on a temp basis with the understanding that if all goes well during the temp period, you’ll convert them to permanent status.

    1. MsM*

      Exactly what I was thinking. If you absolutely have to test somebody out for an extended period, temp to hire seems way more logical than a probationary month of less than living wages.

    2. Chocolate Teapot*

      Yes, this is what happened to replace a permanent employee who was leaving and the position needed filling urgently. We got one temp who did their best, but didn’t have the direct experience, whose contract wasn’t renewed, then another, who did have more experience, and was later offered a permanent role.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        We’ve done this a couple of times for someone to handle accounting. We’re a teeeeeny tiny office of 4 people. Unfortunately we had two people that didn’t work out well, so we were glad we used the temp-to-hire method. My boss doesn’t really have the attention span to go through a rigorous hiring and interviewing process! I think it would be different if we were a larger company, but as it stands we’re all wearing multiple hats and don’t always have the time to put into the hiring process. A lot of the training of a new hire falls to me, so it stretches me a little thin. It almost feels like a safety net to have the option not to keep them on.

        Not saying this is the best way to go about things, but being a small company isn’t very easy.

    3. Anax*

      For this particular kind of work, I wonder if a paid internship would also work? Basic office work does seem like “college student intern” territory, and this sort of position seems like it would have high turnover anyway.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I think for an internship, you’d be expecting to hire someone who is untrained, and have them working underneath someone experienced who could teach them the ropes. If the OP is hiring because they don’t have someone in the position, and need someone trained and competent doing the work, throwing someone inexperienced but cheap at the problem and expecting them to figure it out is likely to be messy.

        The other problem that might occur with the OP’s proposal is the fact that they’re offering a lower salary for the trial period. I’d be giving that job offer a suspicious look, and be worried that after a month the raise is either going to vanish, or the job is.

        1. Amaranth*

          That would be my worry, that the company would rather save a couple hundred dollars than show they are serious about recruitment. Are they pinching pennies everywhere? Are employees not especially valued? Is there a reason they think someone might not stay past a trial period, after getting a look at the workplace? I know a lot of people are in situations where they’d grab the carrot and hope the full offer materialized, but it feels kind of petty to me. I think strong candidates with other choices would turn away.

        2. Arvolin*

          I made jokes about my take-home pay going down over the first year at my final job, the first six months being hourly, then going on salary, then becoming eligible for the 401(k).

    4. Mel_05*

      This is a great idea.

      I will say, your results will vary depending on the agency you use.

      Years ago I signed up with a temp agency and eventually got a nice little admin job with a lot of typing.

      The woman who trained me told me that the agency kept sending over people who couldn’t type. The only reason I got an interview is that finally this woman told the agency she wanted to go through the resumes herself. She came to mine and asked, “Is there some reason I can’t have her?”

      But, apparently that’s a typical issue in my region. Temp agencies work well with factories, but not offices.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      And as an aside, you can try someone out at a low level, decide to their more qualified than you realized, and hire them for an upper level position. I temped as an admin assistant, was given progressively more involved (interesting!) assignments, and after 3 months was hired as a junior project manager.

    6. Natalie*

      If the employer is trying to save a few bucks on the trial period, I really doubt they will want to pay the conversion fee a temp agency would charge.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        If you run out the contract, you don’t have to pay the conversion fee! But it’s still feels more expensive to most cheapskate employers =X

        At least for reputable companies that’s how it has worked. You do 3 months @ temp rates or you buy out the contract plus a fee whenever you see fit. Most places only buy out the contract if they’re worried the person may find another full time job.

  7. SBH*

    Lw4 : speaking for myself and my friends over the last twenty years, this fills candidates with anxiety or distrust depending on their experience. “I’ll pay you better, later, if you’re good” is invariably a tool for “eeehhh you’re still getting up to speed, mayyyybe next month”.

    Pay the final wage day 1, attract the strongest candidate you can and if (and only if) you’re not getting your money’s worth, consider termination and starting over AFTER you have laboriously gone over your on-boarding process to see if you failed the candidate or if the candidate failed you.

    1. Finnish Rye*

      In my European country we have employment contracts and they often have a trial period built in. It means you get paid the same but you can quit on the spot or the employer can fire you on the spot if need be. The trial period is typically 3 months – plenty of time to know if somebody fits a role. After the period elapses, you have to give the customary 2 weeks notice or more if the contract states so.

      I agree that without this kind of contract, and with the lesser pay, it’s not a great idea and will not be appealing to any good candidates.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I think it matters a lot what the focus is. With a probationary period on a contract, it’s usually a case that they hire you intending to keep you, but if things go badly either side can end it without going through the usual PIP/extended notice/severance routine. If you’re doing a decent job, you don’t have to stress out about it.

        With something like the OP is proposing, the balance is much more towards it being a one month job, with the possibility of being kept on afterwards if you do really well. As Alison says, it’s not going to attract anyone currently employed, or unemployed people with options. Also, I’d fully expect people to continue to actively job search during the first month, because they can’t depend on continued employment.

        1. WS*

          Yes, this is exactly how it works here in Australia – you’re paid in full during that time, usually 3 months but sometimes shorter or longer, and if things don’t work out, either party can end things on short notice. Most of the time, things work out – I’ve never had to let someone go after the probationary period, but I have had a staff member decide that, due to a family situation, she wasn’t going to be able to continue a full-time position.

    2. Lady Heather*

      Yes, and, really? 2 dollar/hour for 4 weeks is 320 dollar a month – what business doesn’t think a one-time 320 dollar payment is worth “attracting better candidates”?

      1. Mookie*

        Exactly this. I’m not even sure if that’s the rationale for the LW, but if it is, what a penny wise pound foolish policy that, on top of everything else, is unlikely to attract competent applicants with plenty of options.

      2. Pilcrow*

        I’m hoping that the final wage was a typo and it’s supposed to be $25 or $35/hr, not $15.

        Still not a great idea, but it makes more sense than going through all this effort to save $2/hr.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          No, this is about the wage for an admin on my area ($15). I am a customer service rep, and my salary is only $5/hour more (if you recalculate to hourly).
          My current job did the 3 months trial run for me first at % of pay and no benefits, and the difference was $3/hour.
          I was out of work for few months at that point, so I took whatever offered.

        2. ...*

          $35/hr for an admin? Maybe in downtown SF….but I doubt it! Thats 73k a year. Certainly not what most admins are getting paid.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            Yeah, $73k in my area is rather nice salary, would be a not a beginner engineer or a programmer/IT professional.

    3. Annony*

      Yes. A probation period instead of a trial period. Either that or pay more for the trial period to make up for the lack of security and benefits as you would for a temp position.

  8. Tam*

    Repeated for emphasis: “One caveat: I would potentially change my stance if she’s in a context where she feels marginalized and has to work extra hard to be taken seriously because of her sex or race. There’s a long history of people in that situation deliberately using honorifics to make a point / as a sort of shield.” I work at a college and got resistance to me requiring this for the very reason stated here = sex AND race (woman of color).

    1. Amaranth*

      Wouldn’t it still be better to explain that it’s jarring to force everyone to use it exclusively in more casual circumstances though? Put the title on cards, the door, phone directory, used in intros, certainly. But if they she is the only person requiring it in a setting where *everyone* is using first names, I’m wondering if it would have the end result of appearing distant and unfriendly, and leave a negative impression with coworkers, higher-ups, clients, etc.

      1. Anon today*

        Speaking as an academic, women (and especially women of color) already get lower ratings for teaching (there are some interesting studies on this and when perceived as warm they’re seen as incompetent and when competent they’re cold, and if they pull off warm and competent they’re disorganized….) So if you’re going to get worse reviews than your male colleagues no matter how you teach, why not at least have your PhD acknowledged instead of students literally thinking that you’re a non-PhD high school teacher just teaching courses part time?

        I know we are not taking about teaching, but it’s the setting I’ve worked in where male colleague can say, “Call me Joe” and forget the exams and students will think he’s so smart, while if I do the same and not forget the exams students will ask me if I’ve considered getting a PhD and will call me disorganized for not having next week’s readings up yet.

        1. Eukomos*

          In academia, having your students call you “doctor” or “professor” is completely normal, a certain flavor of bro prof just tends to forgo it in an unwitting display of privilege. Having your coworkers do it is misjudging how the eternal petty status wars are fought, and thus losing a step in them due to signaling a lack of understanding. Just introduce yourself with the title you want to the students on the first day of class, it’s not weird and they generally follow orders, but the coworkers are a different kettle of fish.

    2. Anonymoose*

      In this context she’s shooting herself in the foot because her insistence on it is causing people to view her as being out of touch and weird

  9. Hats Are Great*

    LW2: I guess I want to know what kind of trips. My parents are driving 8 hours without stopping to visit their grandkids. They see nobody else while in their hometown, and only see us when traveling. It seems very low Covid-risk, but others in my dad’s remote office aren’t taking any trips, and it probably looks weird.

    If they took a vacation-vacation I’d be furious, but that’d also be a whole-ass Boomer situation that I couldn’t control, so …

    1. WellRed*

      I just spent two weeks out of state, drove from low incidence area to my parents in another low instance area. Change of scenery was much needed and I don’t think it’s more inherently dangerous than going to the grocery store.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I want to know what car they have I can drive 8 hours without a refill. That’s a joke, but there is a serious concern with 8 hours of driving. If they have car problems or someone crashes into them, they are exposed.
      The problem is this disease has a High rate of people who show no symptoms at all. And there is a very long incubation period. I have a co-worker who went to visit family because neither area was a problem. They got stuck there because covid-19 hotspot turned up… coworker is just lucky that their job can be done remotely, and that they had chosen to bring their laptop along. They are working in a different time zone then the people they live with.

      1. Jennifer*

        Most people still have to run essential errands in town like going to the store, doctor, veterinarian, etc., which means we occasionally have to get gas and are still are at risk of having an accident. I don’t understand your point.

        1. Emi.*

          And highway driving is safer, in fact, so you’re better off, per driving-hour, going on a road trip than going to the vet.

          1. Mystery Bookworm*

            Not disagreeing with you here, but I’ve heard this a lot and I always wonder about the specifics. What do we mean by safer? Is it just that you’re less likely to crash? Or less likely to be involved in a serious crash?

            It seems to me that the aphorism that accidents are most likely to happen close to home makes sense, given that we are driving near our home often and there are a lot of interesections and such that would allow for accidents. But I imagine that accidents that happen on the highway would be far more likely to result in serious injury.

            1. Emi.*

              It’s fewer deaths per vehicle-mile. A crash is more likely to be serious at high speeds, but it’s *so much* less likely to happen on a controlled-access interstate that you’re less likely to die *by driving*. (Rural highways are more dangerous, though, due to a combination of environmental factors like narrowness, ditches, wildlife and personal factors like higher drunk driving rates.)

      2. Jennifer*

        Also, it seems this month everything in my apartment decided to break so workers have been in and out. We wear masks and distance as much as we can in this small apartment but it’s not ideal. There are even risks if you stay home 24/7.

      3. Ashley*

        I had to make a trip to see family this summer. There are two route options that are not terribly time different. I picked my route based on if we broke down where would we be safest in terms of risk of catching COVID. I intentionally picked less crowded gas stations. There are ways to minimize risk, but the general point about hearing people travel adds a weird level to work conversations right now.

      4. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        I drove 6 hours straight last weekend. Stopped once for bathroom break (with N95 mask, motorway rest stop, single stall, using plenty of sanitizer). 600 km / 400 miles.
        The trip was from my girlfriend (recently tested negative) to my home (I’m healthy and also negative, have had 4 tests in as many weeks for work reasons).
        Both places are low risk, masks are mandatory in shops and public buildings…
        If you have to travel as a vulnerable person, carry N95 masks in your car for fuel stops or if you need car help. Seriously, these should be accessible from your seat, as well as a high visibility vest.
        Stay safe!

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, a whole lot of people in my office, myself included, have taken trips to see family this summer, often because it gives them a break on the whole work from home with kids at home thing. I worked more during the two weeks we were at my in-laws because the grandparents provided full time child care, and it was fabulous.

      If people are going to Vegas to the casinos, then I think it’s reasonably to be angry and annoyed. But most people I know are carefully evaluating risks and not being reckless, even if they drive to see some relatives.

      Yes, we stopped very briefly at a rest stop to use the bathroom on the way there. But we otherwise stayed home just as much there as we would have here, and both sides had been pretty close to full quarantine before our visit just to be on the safe side. I judge the entire two-week visit as less risky than going out to a meal indoors locally would have been, and plenty of people around me have done that (which seems like a really bad idea to me. Outdoors maybe, takeout sure, but indoor dining?)

      As a side note, people who imply that getting groceries delivered is some sort of standard for “being careful” confuse me. If you’re high risk it’s a great move (I encouraged my parents to do it when cases were spiking around them because my father is 74 and significantly immunocompromised). But who do you think is filling your order and doing the delivery? You can only reduce your risk that much because other people are taking it on instead.

      1. Colette*

        I agree there is a level of someone else taking on the risk – but assuming the person filling the order is doing that for a bunch of customers on a regular basis, everyone (including the person going to the store) is at a lower risk because fewer people are going to the grocery store overall. If one person fills orders for 20 people, that’s 19 fewer people going to the store.

        1. ...*

          Thats really not how it works though. With services like instacart its more like a 1-1 ratio of instacart shopper replaces regular shopper going for themself. I do my own shopping and the stores are packed to the gills with instacart and shipt shoppers. If you want to hire someone to take on the risk for you, be my guest, but the whole ‘its so much lower risk to just send someone else’ is so tired. Its lower risk for YOU and you like that, just admit it.

          1. Eukomos*

            It does sometimes work like that though. My grocery store does its own delivery and curbside pickup service, with grocery store employees who would be there anyway doing the order packaging, and if you use that service it’s definitely safer for everyone. You can’t dismiss all delivery options as unhelpful just because some unhelpful ones exist.

          2. Colette*

            But an instacart shopper isn’t only shopping for one person; they might be at the grocery store 6 times instead of 6 people making individual trips. It’s not risk-free for them, agreed, but it’s less risky for everyone than having everyone going individually.

          3. babylawyer*

            I’m not sure I agree. I have been doing curbside pick-up or delivery only since March, partly due to immunodeficiencies in my household but partly because my parents and sister work at grocery stores. In a lot of stores (particularly if you do curbside) store employees are doing the picking at least a good chunk of the time. Moreover, the instacart folks are essentially regulars at this point–they are there for long chunks of time akin to working a typical shift according to my mom and sister. So it’s more like if the size of the store’s staff increased– resulting in a similar amount of people in the store at a given time, but fewer individual visitors per day.

            I have had the same thought about basically paying someone to take on risk for me, which feels gross. But my conversations with my family have made me feel like the choice to have someone else shop for you (if feasible) is not an inherently unethical choice, and may in fact be more beneficial for store employees (though with mandatory masking and social distancing measures, any benefit to store employees is probably fairly negligible).

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              From my perspective, the point is not “all grocery delivery is bad.” As you explain, the particulars of a particular service matter a great deal, and it can sometimes make a lot of sense.

              My issue is that “I’m never leaving my house and getting all my groceries delivered” is something that I often hear from people who seem to be judging others for not also maintaining that exact same level of permanent quarantine. And that kind of attitude is deeply unhelpful.

          4. Jennifer Thneed*

            Don’t the shoppers fill multiple orders at once? I’m not snarking you; I honestly don’t know.

      2. Anononon*

        “But who do you think is filling your order and doing the delivery? You can only reduce your risk that much because other people are taking it on instead.”

        It’s still less risk to everyone overall as the more people getting groceries delivered means, generally, less people in the store as often it’s the store employees who gather the items. A less crowded store is safer for the employees and other shoppers.

      3. Jennifer*


        Someone is still going to the store and taking on the risk, even if it’s a lesser risk. I’m tired of this attitude as well.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          It feeds into this idea that it’s possible to basically eliminate one’s own risk and that therefore no one should ever do anything that’s not totally safe. And some people can basically eliminate risk, but that doesn’t mean that’s a reasonable expectation for everyone at all times in all circumstances.

        2. Artemesia*

          These are almost all people desperate for work because they won’t be able to eat or pay the rent otherwise and who have made that calculation. They can mask up and most of them are young. One could make the argument that people with means to do this and who are at particular risk i.e. elderly, are contributing to the survival of families in their community by hiring these tasks done. It is like arguing hiring a house cleaner is somehow exploitive when those housecleaners can’t support their kids without the jobs.

          1. Jennifer*

            I’m not sure if I understand your point, but I’m definitely not saying that using a delivery service is exploitative. There are some people who do these jobs just because they want the extra money, not necessarily because they are desperate and can’t make rent without it. A lot of people want to save as much as they can.

            I’m just saying that someone is assuming the risk, even when you get your groceries delivered. People say they get their groceries delivered as though they are eliminating all risk for everyone and they aren’t.

          2. ...*

            so you think people exposing themselves to covid to get your groceries is a generous opportunity that you bequeath to them otherwise they’d be out on the street? lololololol. I cannot imagine having this elitist of a mindset. ‘Well without assuming all the health risk onto themselves to get my super special uber eats, the poors would have nothing! You’re welcome lower classes!’ That is what you sound like. Going to leave it here because im definitely crossing into not kind territory.

            1. Jennifer*

              Yeah, that’s kind of how it read to me too but I wanted to give the commenter the benefit of the doubt. But wow…

          3. Sacred Ground*

            You know that masking up doesn’t protect them, right? It protects the people around them. The more they’re out and about and going into crowded indoor spaces like grocery stores, the greater their own exposure.

            And “most of them are young” is pretty meaningless. Young people are at no less risk for contracting the virus. Though they *may* be at less risk for getting seriously ill or dying, they are at greater risk for contracting, carrying, and spreading the virus precisely because they aren’t experiencing symptoms themselves.

            And yes, I would argue that every underpaid service job is exactly that: exploiting people’s need to not starve to get dangerous work done for as little as possible.

        3. ...*

          its so elitist and tired. Grocery store works and door dash people can get corona too. Sorry if that hurts peoples feelings to have to think about.

        4. Trolly*

          Jennifer – I’ve done grocery store pickup since this mess began. The grocery store employees are the ones doing the shopping and putting in my trunk. They were working there anyway, so I’m not making them take an additional risk. I don’t interact with them directly – just smile/wave/thank you from inside the car. They all wear masks. If *everyone* did what I did, it would JUST be the grocery store employees in the store. So much safer – for them, and for the shoppers. You’re making assumptions here that aren’t right. The more people who do pickup like me, the better. Less numbers of people in the store – I am doing a GOOD PUBLIC SERVICE by shopping the way I do. You’re not, FYI!

          Some delivery shopping is how you describe – you pay a specific person to drive to a store, shop, drive to your house, and give you your groceries. In that case, yes, you’re just passing the risk to someone else. But not the way I do it!

          1. Gray Lady*

            “They were working there anyway” doesn’t add up. They weren’t picking and packing other people’s groceries if they were already working there, which means someone else must now be doing what they were previously doing. Or else, they are an additional person hired to do the picking and packing. Somewhere along the line, if people are doing the job of picking and packing, more people are working in that store than if people did their own shopping, ergo the purchase of groceries will always involve an increase of people present in the store over the number of workers needed to keep the store open. It’s either the end customer, their Instacart gig shopper, or the store-employed packer. It’s still a human being doing additional work to complete the purchase of groceries.

          2. TTDH*

            This fixation on “I am doing a good public service… you’re not” (not just from you, but you put it succinctly) is worrisome and just sits very wrong with me. It’s great that you’re able to do pickup, that it’s available in your area in the first place, and that you can get a timeslot. Of course this does cut down on level of risk, but it doesn’t make you a better person than someone who is doing their own best but doesn’t have the circumstances to get grocery delivery or pickup regularly.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              I have a friend whose family has complex dietary needs due to allergies, and they can’t use these services. They have to be able to read labels, not trust that someone else can handle the substitutions and get the right version of everything.

              Not to mention the hassle and extra cost in wasted food of getting incorrect items and substitutions that seems to come with lots of these pickup and delivery services.

              “You’re doing something bad for society by going to the grocery store” is not a great take.

      4. Trout 'Waver*

        >As a side note, people who imply that getting groceries delivered is some sort of standard for “being careful” confuse me. If you’re high risk it’s a great move (I encouraged my parents to do it when cases were spiking around them because my father is 74 and significantly immunocompromised). But who do you think is filling your order and doing the delivery? You can only reduce your risk that much because other people are taking it on instead.

        Going to the grocery store is a two-way risk. You could infect someone or someone could infect you. Getting groceries delivered is a one-way risk. The person delivering the groceries could infect you, but you can’t infect that person. In general, replacing a two-way risk with a one-way risk decreases pandemic risk overall.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          I think it may depend on what service you’re using. If it’s a normal grocery store employee, then maybe you’re right. But if it’s a delivery app contractor filling lots of orders from different stores and who would otherwise not be in the store you chose, you haven’t reduced the two-way risk of a new person entering the store, you’ve just shifted it all away from you. And possibly increased it overall – I work from home and am low-risk to others in the grocery store. The instacart shopper who’s been to three other stores today may be a different story.

          And if grocery stores have to staff up to do all this delivery, then the people assembling orders all day may be at higher risk than individuals who are only in the store for a few minutes. It’s hard to know how the math works out on that one.

        2. bluephone*

          “The person delivering the groceries could infect you, but you can’t infect that person”
          I think that’s a pretty big reach there. There is nothing magical about Door Dash/Insta-Cart/Shipt/Peapod/etc that prevents COVID from getting into the delivery person’s lungs.

          1. Gray Lady*

            It’s not magic, it’s the fact that they have absolutely zero interaction with you and no means of being infected by you.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              Well, you can’t give them your germs. You are, however, paying them to enter a store full of other people on your behalf. Hard to see how that isn’t potentially exposing them to infection.

              1. Gray Lady*

                That’s true. I was taking “you can’t infect them” literally but I see now that the claim was that delivering your groceries doesn’t put the delivery person at *any* additional risk just because they can’t be infected *by you,* which doesn’t make sense. In fact I very much agree with your point above that pawning off the risk on another person doesn’t significantly reduce the net risk of transmission through the population in most cases.

      5. Beth Jacobs*

        My grocery service doesn’t have a brick and mortar store, orders are filled at their warehouse. Sure, the warehouse workers are exposing themselves to each other and the drivers too to a lesser extent, but it still works out to fewer people than a classic grocery store (warehouse -> driver -> store -> shelfstacker -> dozens of other customers -> cashiers)

        1. Jennifer*

          You’re right, but I think I know the service you’re referring to and don’t think they have a big national footprint yet. Most grocery delivery people are taking on a significant risk to keep us fed.

    4. Pretzelgirl*

      I do know some people have taken trips to the beach, rented a house and stayed far away from others.

      We had family visit from out of town last month. They drove straight thru and we basically hung out at my in laws all day.

      I do know some people who have gone to Disney World. That just blows my mind. So much exposure. Plus the fact Florida is such a hotspot right now.

      1. Old and Don’t Care*

        Actually Florida is right in the middle of U.S. states in the cases/100k for the last 7 days metric. Iowa is the hottest spot in the U.S. at 259/ 100k last seven days, compared to 98 for Florida. Next week it will be someplace else. But personally I’d avoid Disney World and all amusement parks.

      1. soon to be former fed really*

        I don’t know why people think they can’t get covid-19 from family. Each additional human inside is an additional possible disease vector. I can’t understand why folks can’t wait a few more months to see family.

        Short shopping trips in uncrowded stores using masks and cleaning hands afterward are relatively low risk. The store workers are at a higher risk than the shoppers. Longer exposure with more people indoors, especially if there is no outside air coming in, which is typical when air conditioning is in use, means much higher risk. Doesn’t matter if the people are friends and relatives.

        1. Pineapple*

          “I can’t understand why folks can’t wait a few more months to see family.”

          Because it’s not just going to be a few more months. We are going to live with this for several years. A lot of people seem to think that once we have a vaccine, this whole thing will be over, but that’s not the case at all. We’ll probably have several vaccines that improve overtime, but it’s unlikely that the first vaccine is going to be effective enough to end this pandemic.

        2. Guacamole Bob*

          In my case, we don’t at all think that because they’re family they somehow can’t transmit the virus to us. But we carefully considered the risk and decided that exposing ourselves to the germs of two more people was worth it. We were all as careful as we could be for a couple of weeks before the visit, and the trip boosted all of our mental health immeasurably. My in-laws were terribly lonely, my wife and I were terribly burned out from constant work + child care, and my kids were totally stir crazy and needed the change of scenery and really enjoyed having someone besides their stressed-out parents to play with for a couple of weeks.

          And really, it’s not “wait a few more months”, it’s much longer than that. Vaccines may be coming, but they won’t be manufactured and distributed immediately, and they won’t be totally effective (like the flu vaccine). We’ll be living with some level of COVID risk for a long time, and we each have to find a balance between staying safe from COVID and doing some low-risk things that let us weather all this without going totally nuts.

          People can decide to do things that have risk levels above absolute zero without being recklessly irresponsible.

          1. ...*

            Exactly, good for you for seeing your family Guacamole Bob. People cant live in isolation for years at a time. Especially seniors which is sounds like your parents are. Its pretty scientifically proven that we all need human interaction to survive. And you know what? I hugged someone Saturday night so there. I confess. I corona-sinned.

            1. Gumby*

              This brings up a good point – humans need physical touch to be healthy. That applies to both emotional/mental and physical health.

              I live alone. When I decided to visit family it was because my mother was having surgery and I wanted to be there to help during the early part of her recovery. But I realized after the fact that it was the first time a living being (no pets either) had touched me in over 4 months.

        3. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

          Some of us can’t/didn’t wait because we didn’t have a few more months. My family and I packed up and went to see my parents over Memorial Day. We went from state that had a high rate of Covid to another state with a high rate of Covid. My father was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer the week before and I knew that we needed to get up and see him again. And I thank God every day that we did and that we took an extra day to spend with him and my mom because that was the last time I saw him alive. Two weeks later we were told he was going into hospice and had 1-3 weeks left. We left 2 days after getting that news and he passed while we were en-route.

          Was it risky to go? Yes, it was. But our family decided that the risk of Covid was less than the risk of us not seeing my dad again.

          1. Sally Cat*

            I’m so sorry about your father. I’m glad you got to see him before he died.

            There is no such thing as zero risk. We can take precautions and try to stay as safe as possible, but we can’t count on being able to wait this thing out. For all we know we may never have a vaccine.

        4. doreen*

          First, it’s not just waiting a few months to see family – it’s waiting a few more months to see family. As it happens, I don’t have to travel far to see my family ( less than an hour) – but I didn’t see my almost- year old granddaughter or my 80 year old mother for months. A month or two is one thing, but it’s already been six months, and I doubt very much if everything will be over before March. A year is a long time when you’re talking about elderly people and babies.

          Second, no one thinks they can’t get it from family. The idea is that most people are less likely to catch it if they spend two weeks visiting family and essentially just changing their home base * than if they spent the same two week sat a Vegas casino or visiting crowded tourist attractions.

          * If I’m only leaving the house to go grocery shopping, it doesn’t much matter whether it’s my house I’m leaving or my brother’s

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            And also, is it really riskier to relocate to the grandparents for a couple of weeks, or to hire someone locally to come to your house to do child care? Because if we can’t do the former we’re going to have to do the latter, and that strikes me as a bigger threat to our virus bubble.

        5. Green great dragon*

          Each additional human is an additional risk, but an extra human you know hasn’t left their house for a fortnight other than to drive straight to you is an extremely low additional risk.

        6. bluephone*

          “I can’t understand why folks can’t wait a few more months to see family”

          Yeah, no, I’m not going the next 2 years (or who knows how long) not seeing a family member who was already struggling before the pandemic (death-related grief) and at risk for serious mental health emergencies that were exacerbated by pandemic-induced isolation and anxiety. So I broke quarantine with their household in like, April. Absolutely not sorry I did it, would absolutely do it again. I’m doing what I can to mitigate risk to both myself and others but it’s not my fault that our stupid idiot of a “president” went out of his way to mismanage this pandemic because he wants to kill off anyone who might vote for him in November (even though his PURPOSEFUL incompetence is also killing off the very population that would vote for him. God he’s so stupid).

        7. Tulla*

          ACTUALLY I just watched a Youtube video on portable air conditioners, and apparently they are very inefficient and let in a lot of outside air especially if they only have one air vent tube so technically my apartment is getting a lot of ventilation!

          I still don’t want my parents in there, but that was true before the pandemic so

        8. Jennifer Thneed*

          Commercial buildings have fresh air coming into the ventilation system. The big question is how frequent is “complete turnover” of the air. (I can’t think of the proper term, sorry.)

          I don’t disagree with your overall comments, btw. I just like to bring accuracy into these conversations.

        9. Ele4phant*

          Well the thing is we don’t know if it’s going to be a few more months, do we? And it’s already have been at this for six months, so we could be taking going a full year, or more without seeing loved ones.

          My mom isn’t in great health, and she’s in that high risk age group. But you know what, she survived cancer a few years ago and we learned then that we don’t really know how much time she has left. That life isn’t just about staying alive, it’s about what you do while you’re alive. And for her, that is being around people she loves. Indefinite isolation for her is not worth it.

          I’m planning on spending a month with her in November. It’ll require a plan trip. I’ll do everything I can to minimize my risk, quarantine before, quarantine when I first get there and we’ll stay sequestered in her house so we don’t expose her wider community.

          But at the end of the day, we don’t know what the future holds, how long she has to live or how long this pandemic will rage.

          We won’t just wait until it passes because we don’t really know how long that will be or what sort of shape she’ll be in when we finally get there.

    5. Miss V*


      In a couple weeks my partner and I are taking a week and making the six hour drive down to my aunt and uncle’s lake house, which is in another state. But we’re taking all of our groceries, staying in the house, and have masks and gloves for when we need to stop at gas stations on the way down.

      We’re actually going to be at a lower risk of transmission of the virus then, since we’re both essential workers, whereas when we’re there we aren’t planning on seeing anyone. We both have a stack of novels we’re bringing and I have a couple knitting projects I’m bringing.

      It sounds like some people in LW’s office are taking unnecessary risks, but not all travel will be inherently risky.

    6. OyHiOh*

      I drove two days cross country (with kids) after both the state I live in and the one I was traveling to went to shelter in place. Didn’t get sick: Masks, sanitizer, drive thru for meals, etc. Isolated (I’ve been in a store three times since the trip), did remote job hunting. Tying up loose ends and getting ready to do the same trip in reverse. Wear a mask out of the car, use sanitizer when running water isn’t available, use pay at pump and drive thru options as much as possible, take driving breaks at rest stops/avoid other people.

      Going to places where people tend to congregate and cluster is a problem. Driving across US flyover country and avoiding people as much as possible is probably less of an issue. The problem is that a “trip” can mean everything from “giving my adult child and spouse a break from childcare for a few weeks” to “party on the beach and go back to work Monday” and the later is so visible that it’s the first image that pops into our brains, rather than people physically distancing in their cars.

    7. Jennifer Juniper*

      I would start pointedly wiping down everything with Clorox and using hand sanitizer when someone brings up some trip. And not say a word. That way, my point would be made and I wouldn’t get penalized for not being a good team player. After all, we’re supposed to use hand sanitizer and disinfect surfaces, right?

      1. Eukomos*

        You really think people don’t notice passive aggressive behavior is meant to be a type of aggression? It’s better than picking a fight but you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s going to look team-spirited.

      2. ...*

        They’re literally all remote. Also pointed Clorox wiping- sure to make a statement! I’d really be put in my place if someone pointedly wiped near me. (fwiw im remote and have actually not taken any trips but my goodness)

        1. TTDH*

          I know, it’s like “ok knock yourself out wasting precious Clorox wipes in your remote workspace just to be petty…”

    8. Free Meerkats*

      I’m one of those people who took a trip. My 84 year old mother went in for emergency surgery in April and when she was finally getting out of the SNF, it was late June. While my brother and his family live next door, she needed someone who could be there 24/7. I stayed almost 2 weeks, and other brother got there 5 hours after I left to stay for 2 weeks.

      In my case, it was a 2100 mile drive each way. I had enough food in the car so I didn’t have to get food – it wasn’t haute cuisine, but it was food as fuel. I paid at the pump, masked and gloved and sanitized after. The trip there took 3 days and I interacted with 4 people; 2 hotel clerks, distanced through plastic, one convenience store clerk to get more ice, and one gas station cashier when the pump malfunctioned. When I got a hotel room, first thing I did was to wiped down all potential touch surfaces with sewer plant grade sanitizing wipes; the kind you have to wear gloves to use. Potential TMI, I pooped in the hotel rooms and tended to pee alongside the road so I didn’t have to use rest areas.

      Coming home, I took 4 days and interacted with a few more people. Same basic plan, but I ate from a couple of drive throughs and stopped at a winery I like near Rapid City to stock up. I’d hurt my back getting Mom up when she fell the last day there, so I stopped at rest areas because I needed to walk around for a bit. Otherwise, same MO.

      Yeah, it was a slightly higher risk than my normal life of going into the office one or two days a week where I’m the only one in the building and shopping once a week. But it was a risk that needed to be taken.

      Mom is doing much better. Older sister is there now; she had to hold off because she had to recover from the ‘Rona. She belongs to the giant church in Phoenix where Trump had his rally. Got symptoms 10 days later.

    9. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m torn, because on one hand there’s been two funerals I couldn’t go to (both friends dead from Covid) because I count as high risk and my mother is extremely high risk. Additionally an ex coworker took a two week vacation in NYC a month or so ago and has been complaining a lot about how she’s been ‘treated like a leper’ ever since.

      But…I’ve had some serious mental issues this year. Let’s just say they required hospitalisation. And the one thing I want more than anything to help right now is a hug from my parents. The thought it’s going to have to be years before I can do this is not helping my recovery. (I’m crying typing this)

      In a previous career I was a trained virologist (herpesviruses) so I know the risks, I take them very seriously. At the same time I want, I need to see family and friends again. I didn’t even know my friends x and y had Covid till I got those phone calls saying they were dead.

      So… I’m no longer able to judge people who travel. (I’ll judge those who think viruses aren’t real, or that this is all overblown, or that nobody healthy or youngish has died). Certainly I’d opt to pass on any icebreaker asking me questions about travel.

    10. Ele4phant*

      Yeah, I think we’re past the point where we should be trying to avoid all risk, rather we should try to minimize it.

      Which is kind of how we approach everything else in life.

      The pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon. For most, it’s not going to be sustainable to strictly stay at home and completely isolate. If you can do that, great. But that’s not the standard we should expect from everyone.

      Frankly, if someone that flies across the country is diligent about wearing masks, washing their hands, getting only takeout or bulk groceries, basically staying at their hotel/cabin and avoiding crowds, they are probably causing less harm than someone who stays local but socializes widely with their friends without masks, eats at indoor restaurants, and is sloppy with their mask wearing.

      Honestly you can’t tell how reckless someone is or is not being without observing everything they do, so just let it go.

  10. Why, though*

    #1 is terrifically classist and snotty. She didn’t get a doctorate to NOT be called doctor, and you’re not so exalted that you get to dismiss her hard work just because you don’t care for her choice of school. I think the real pretension here comes from other sources than the woman you’re writing about.

    1. Myrin*

      I mean, I have half a dissertation floating around on my computer – I stopped last year and don’t plan on going back – and I definitely didn’t do it with the goal of being called “doctor”; I wanted to have the title, not make everybody use it as soon as they talk to me. In fact, I know that I would’ve been actively against it unless someone was being a condescending douche to me first and I could rub it in their face. But insisting on something like this, especially in an environment where it’s out of sync, comes across as tone-deaf and pretentious and wouldn’t have gone over well even in the academic circles I’m familiar with.

    2. Allonge*

      I would agree if they were not on a first name basis otherwise. So, if the normal is Dr this and Professor that, then indeed it should not matter in which school she gained her degree.

      But in an environment where it’s Sasha and Lourdes and Angelo, it does seem to be out of step with the organisational culture. And that will get some internal eyerolls.

      Mind you, I am assuming they were not calling her “hey, you” before.

    3. Lyonite*

      I’ve spent my career working with people who have PhDs, and the only time they were addressed as Doctor was on official communications. You get the degree because it (arguably) represents a specific skill set; what you are called is secondary at best.

      1. Well...*

        This. My first thought was pushing to be called dr. meant she had to skillet, which fits the pattern considering where she went to school.

        Also for-profit schools literally prey on poor people and give them useless degrees? How is it classist to refuse to help advertising for them by buying into their fraud? No.

    4. Not that kind of Dr.*

      Not really. Most of us with non-medical PhDs know that it’s pretentious to insist on being called “Dr” outside of an academic work context. It really does reflect poorly on her to behave that way. I have a PhD from let’s just say not the University of Phoenix and I don’t allow people to refer to me as Dr outside of the university I teach at (and even then only either by students or in the presence of students).

      1. WoodswomanWrites*

        This is my take as well. Some of my co-workers have a PhD, including people of color. Our office has an informal first name culture and it would be strange to address someone with PhD as doctor. We do address them that way in written correspondence to someone outside the organization so they know about their having a PhD, but if someone did that among our own staff, people would find it weird.

        1. Annony*

          Yep. I and most of my coworkers have PhDs. I don’t care where she got her degree. She has stated her preferred title and it should be used when using titles. The part that will rub most people the wrong way is insisting on being addressed formally when everyone else is addressed informally. Her first name has not suddenly become incorrect. It is still the informal way to address her. Addressing her as Miss/Ms./Mrs. Nastname has become incorrect and should not be done. If she is calling people by their first name and then insisting on her last name and title being used it will seem like she sees herself as above everyone else. If she addresses people using titles regularly I would feel differently.

      2. I'm just here for the cats!*

        she insists that we refer to her as “Doctor” if anyone other than our immediate team is present.
        This to me sounds like she isn’t making her co-workers stop calling her Jane and instead call her doctor Smith. It sounds like she’s doing g it with clients or other people in the company that she doesn’t work with on a regular basis. It could be that she feels marginalized or that people don’t take her seriously.

        1. JM60*

          Even so, it sounds like she’s probably working in a sector where addressing someone as Dr in front of clients is uncommon and out of touch.

    5. Still don't think you are right*

      Guess I’m just trash or something, but I still think 1. if you EARN a doctorate, you have the right to be called doctor, and 2. maybe she’s proud of herself? I don’t know.

      1. Gingerblue*

        Part of the problem here is that if her degree is from a predatory for-profit school, most people won’t consider her to have actually earned a doctorate, and with good reason–these places simply don’t require from a student what even a lower-tier not-for-profit school would, since they’re designed to part students from money as efficiently as possible. If the point of a degree is that it certifies you have a certain degree of expertise in a subject, a degree from a scam school doesn’t do that, since people know what their (largely nonexistent) standards are. The only thing that differentiates someone with a PhD from one of these places from someone without a PhD is that the person with it has paid a lot of money for a piece of paper which a lot of employers will take as proof of their poor judgment.

        It’s sad and infuriating, because plenty of students who might do well elsewhere are lured into these places through a lack of guidance, and they come out with, realistically, less than they started.

        1. Khatul Madame*

          I am with you on sad and infuriating!
          The for-profit institutions are also after GI Bill money. From a PBS article:
          “VA officials say their chief role in the GI Bill program is, and always has been, administering payments. Unlike the Department of Education or the Department of Defense, the VA has few tools to investigate the educational institutions into which it last year pumped $11 billion of taxpayer money. This limited oversight authority previously resulted in the now-defunct for-profit Argosy University being allowed to take GI Bill benefits even after the Department of Education made it ineligible for any other kind of federal student aid.

          The VA Office of Inspector General has estimated that, if oversight is not ramped up significantly, $2.3 billion in GI Bill funds could be funneled over the next five years to potentially ineligible academic programs. It said this could put at risk the educational outcomes of more than 17,000 student veterans.”

        2. Amy Sly*

          these places simply don’t require from a student what even a lower-tier not-for-profit school would, since they’re designed to part students from money as efficiently as possible.

          If you look into the research, half of all students in not-for-profit colleges show no improvement in their writing skills after two years. It’s a nice theory that the lower-tier not-for-profits are better than the for-profits, but frankly, the colleges are more interested in getting paid than making students learn are found in both categories.

          My pre-med student coworker who thought “New England” was a foreign country and my fresh business school graduate manager who hadn’t heard of John Maynard Keynes are my favorite personal examples of how little education one can get at a “proper” university. The fact that my law school was offering remedial extra-curricular language classes in subjects such as subject-verb agreement is another great anecdote of how even supposedly above-above average students don’t have the skills once associated with a bachelor’s degree.

          1. Colette*

            Those don’t seem like relevant measurements, as you’ve described them here. No university program teaches everything. In fact, there are university programs that don’t require a lot of writing. No one in guaranteed to take geography or economics unless that’s part of their major.

            1. Amy Sly*

              The most important man in 20th Century macroeconomics is relevant to a business major.

              The definition of New England is part of basic American history which should have been covered in elementary school and high school. Even pre-med majors are supposed to take at least one history class, and the colonization of North America would be topic covered in many of the introductory survey classes one would take.

              Granted, writing is not a major part of many college curricula. Granted, one need not have a degree in a writing-heavy major to go to law school. (We had a gentleman with a bachelor of fine arts in piano performance in my class.) However, by the time one has a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree, and the grades and tests scores to be admitted into law school, one should understand which is correct: “The dog catches the ball” or “The dog catch the ball.”

              1. Colette*

                So you’re judging the quality of a university by skills people should have learned in elementary or high school? (I’m assuming the person in question went through all of their schooling in the US; I’m pretty sure I never learned about new England in school.)

                My university didn’t require history for my degree. (We had to take humanities and social sciences; history was an option but not required.) And not all history classes are survey classes.

                Now, I’m not in the US; maybe US universities have very standard curriculums where these expectations are reasonable. They aren’t where I went to school.

                1. Pineapple*

                  No, US universities don’t have very standard curriculums that teach people about New England and John Maynard Keynes. It’s also very common for people to learn about these kind of things and then forget them because you don’t use the knowledge on a regular basis. I agree these are not good standards for judging the quality of a university.

                2. Amy Sly*

                  I’m judging the university by the fact that it appeared to let in anyone with a pulse and the ability to get federally-backed loans and never made up the deficiencies in their education so they had the background knowledge and communications skills appropriate for a bachelor’s degree. The law school matriculating these credentialed but not educated students in order to collect the inflated tuition fees that paid for other programs on campus I find equally disgusting.

                  If you’d like another example more directly focused on university malfeasance, here’s one. In the US, one must have a bachelor’s degree (taking supposedly four years) to enroll into medical school, which also takes four years. My university structured its classes in such a way to provide the entire education in six years. This required things like compressing the Organic Chemistry requirement, normally done as two semesters and a requirement for many other courses, into a ten week summer class. I took this class. The instructor had never taught an accelerated course; he was skipping large amounts of the necessary material, and the class was failing — both to understand and the tests. The medical students successfully lobbied the department head into increasing everyone’s grades so that they would pass, using the argument that they had to pass that course that summer to continue in the program.

                  In order to maintain the appearance that the medical students were getting a quality medical school education in only six years, the chemistry department head allowed the class to pretend we had learned the material that was a necessary foundation for our other coursework with a massive inflation of our grades. Again, this was at a not-for-profit state school that supposedly cared more about our education than our tuition payments.

                3. Colette*

                  @Amy Sly – I fundamentally disagree that universities should make up for their students’ deficiencies in general knowledge unrelated to their classes. That’s not the purpose of higher education. A university degree does not mean that you have knowledge in all fields.

                  It also doesn’t mean that you have specific communication skills (unless your area of study was related to communicating).

                  It sounds like you had a bad instructor for Organic Chemistry, but I’m not sure what you think the university should have done. Let an entire class fail and wait a year (and pay) to take the class again? Run another class concurrently with the next semester’s classes (and again make the students pay for the second class)? Kicked everyone in that class out of the program?

                4. Sarah*

                  A quality university in the U.S. would have spotted those deficiencies and allowed or required the student to course-correct. In elementary or middle school you may have sat down and learned, “this is what New England is” or “this is what subject-verb agreement is,” as part of your lesson. In college or university, you would have gotten points taken off or comments written/spoken during lecture, like “New England doesn’t include Delaware” or “‘the dog catch the ball’ is incorrect” even if you didn’t dwell on it.

                  As Amy Sly touched on, the U.S. has a lot of “standard” or “core” courses that college students are required to take. One of them would be history and another would be at least a couple of semesters of Composition or English, regardless of your chosen specialty.

                5. Colette*

                  @Sarah – I agree you might lose points for poor grammar, but … losing a few points can mean you still get a degree. I was required to take an English class, but it wasn’t a grammar class – it was essays and poetry and Shakespeare. So while I probably had to write something about what we read, I could have passed the class if I’d made grammatical mistakes. I only had to pass the class; I didn’t have to do well in it.

                6. Amy Sly*

                  Step 1: Not offer a course without a professor able to competently teach it in the form offered.
                  Step 2: Fail students who don’t understand the material. Yes, I wouldn’t have liked it, but do you know what I like even less? Doctors who don’t understand the material they are supposed to know because their grades were inflated to avoid embarrassing the university.

                  A college degree is not supposed to be a check mark that says “I knew how to fill out forms, borrow money, and squeeze enough partial credit in classes I didn’t care about to pass.” Traditionally, it was supposed to give one a well-rounded education; today, it’s supposed to give one the job skills to succeed in one’s chosen profession. Either way, credentialing people who don’t have the education the credential suggests they do does two terrible things. One, it depreciates the value of the credential for the people who actually do have the education to go along with it. (Hence the credentialing treadmill where employers require ever higher credentials in their search for people who can write coherently.) Two, it puts people into jobs they simply cannot do, whether it’s engineers killing people by not recognizing the danger of changing out one rod for two to hang a balcony (the Hyatt Regency disaster), doctors killing people with malpractice, or lawyers unable to defend their innocent clients.

                7. Sacred Ground*

                  If a university is admitting, let alone graduating, people without skills they “should have learned in elementary or high school,” then yes, I most certainly am judging the quality of that university.

                8. Amy Sly*

                  @Colette, to give you a sense of the scope of the mistake, thinking New England is not part of the US would be roughly comparable to a Frenchman thinking Brittany was part of the United Kingdom.

              2. Oh No She Di'int*

                The most important man in 20th Century macroeconomics is relevant to a business major.

                What are you talking about? I mean, sure it’s never a bad thing for anyone to learn some macroeconomic theory. But lots of (maybe most) business majors aren’t economics majors. Depending on specialty, business majors need to know about organizational management or accounting standards or corporate strategy. None of those things are macroeconomics. That’s a terrible way to judge the effectiveness of a business program.

                1. Uranus Wars*

                  I think for my MBA I took one general econ class and one financial class. The others were all tied to largely to operations, strategy, people development, management/leadership. I definitely didn’t take a macro-focused class.

                2. Amy Sly*

                  Business majors need to take an econ course. An econ course that doesn’t include John Maynard Keynes … I’m struggling to think of a parallel. An astronomy course that doesn’t include Stephen Hawking. A linguistics class without Noam Chomsky. The American Civil War without Shelby Foote. The history of Rome without Edward Gibbon.

                  There are just some people so important to their field you simply cannot understand the field without addressing their influence. I only took one econ course out of the 200 or so undergraduate credit hours I acquired in getting degrees in chemistry and history with a minor in classics, but I did come across him.

                3. Oh No She Di'int*

                  @Amy Sly With respect, I think you have a slightly different notion of what a business major entails. Check out the curricula over at Wharton, one of the best business schools in the world. There are some specialties that do include macroeconomics (e.g., Finance) and many that don’t (e.g., Entrepreneurship or Healthcare Management).

                  So while you may not be able to take a linguistics class without encountering Noam Chomsky, you can certainly, say, become a translator without knowing who he is. Business is an applied activity. Macroeconomics describes how that activity (among others) operates. You can go into business without studying macroeconomics, just as you can plant crops without studying Charles Darwin.

                  You’re not wrong about the importance of JMK to economics. I get it. I’m arguing that a formal knowledge of economics has little bearing on whether you know anything about

                4. Gray Lady*

                  I have never heard of an undergraduate business degree that did not require at a minimum one semester of introductory economics, which is typically structured as an overview of the principles of macroencomics. And I struggle to imagine how one does a halfway decent job of teaching the principles of macroecnomics without impressing upon the student’s mind that John Maynard Keynes has been an extremely important figure in the modern conception of macroeconomics.

                  I think the Chomsky parallel is spot on. You might not be going for your degree in order to specialize in the kind of theoretical linguistics Chomsky has worked in, but to get a degree in a linguistics-adjacent field where some rudimentary familiarity with the field of linguistics could normally be considered a part of the curriculum without even knowing who he is, is unacceptable even if highly possible.

                5. Amy Sly*

                  Exactly, Grey Lady. I wasn’t surprised that the manager didn’t recognize the Keynes quote I was reciting: “Markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.” I was shocked when I mentioned that it was a quote by Keynes and he said he’d never heard of him, even when I added that Keynes was the founder of modern macroeconomics.

                6. Oh No She Di'int*

                  @Gray Lady — Amy Sly spoke of a manager who had graduated from “business school”. This person had not been exposed to John Maynard Keynes. (I take her at her word that that is true, and not simply that the person was perhaps sick that week or skipped class.)

                  So how can we explain this? Amy Sly’s explanation is that the business school in question provides “little education”. My explanation is that it is entirely possible to receive a perfectly decent and reputable business school education and not study John Maynard Keynes, because not all tracks in business school require you to learn macroeconomics. And if you understand what business school is for, that is not shocking.

                  Here are the two courses in the Wharton school Fixed Core Curriculum (the courses that everyone has to take) that come closest. These are pretty far away, but everything else is even farther. You can see how you could do just fine teaching these topics without Keynes.

                  Microeconomics: Microeconomic Foundation
                  Master the basic theory of microeconomics: supply, demand, consumer behavior, market price and output, production, cost, simple competitive market equilibrium, simple monopoly pricing and output determination, price discrimination, and bundling.

                  Economics: Advanced Topics in Managerial Economics
                  Apply microeconomic theory to firm management and learn how to use microeconomics to enhance decision making. Topics include: sophisticated pricing policies, transfer pricing, strategies for dealing with competitor firms, cooperation strategies, managing under uncertainty, and more.

                  There is a macroeconomics Core course, but that is in the Flexible Core, meaning you can take it or not take it. Which is precisely a recognition of the fact that it’s possible to learn business just fine without any special knowledge of Keynes.

                  To use your words, business is indeed “economics adjacent”, but not all aspects of business rely on knowledge of it. You can excel at business without studying macroeconomics just as you can be a brilliant general contractor without knowing who Frank Lloyd Wright is.

                7. Amy Sly*

                  The University of Missouri Columbia Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration (the school and degree in question) requires all students to take two of the following: Principles of Macroeconomics, Principles of Microeconomics, General Economics for Journalists, or General Economics – Honors. Unless Econ for Journalists is even more of a blow-off class than it sounds, three of those four classes should have a least mentioned Keynes.

                8. Oh No She Di'int*

                  @Amy Sly — At first your point was that “proper” universities are sometimes so bad that they don’t teach Keynes. Now your point seems to be that Keynes is actually unavoidable. So I’m not sure what those points add up to.

                  My point is that yes, you will learn about Keynes in certain tracks in many business programs, such as the one you point out. But that it’s also possible to receive a decent–even exceptional–business education without that. It all depends on the focus. Not all of them require macroeconomics; why is that controversial? If someone didn’t get that particular piece of knowledge in their particular business focus, that fact in and of itself is not enough evidence to say that a school provides “little education”.

                  My point is NOT that Keynes isn’t important. He is extremely important to a particular field of knowledge. My point is that not all areas of business rely on that field of knowledge. Again, notice that I am speaking of business education, not economics education. Those are different things.

                9. Amy Sly*

                  My point was that encountering Keynes ought to be unavoidable if the university was teaching what it promises to teach. The fact they had a graduate who hadn’t encountered him suggests that the university is failing to provide the business education it advertises. Likewise, graduates with the high grades and test scores necessary to matriculate into law school who do not understand basic grammar concepts like subject-verb agreement are victims of universities who have failed to ensure their graduates can write at a level appropriate for a BA degree.

                  Now, should I buy a ring that a jewelry store claims has a diamond at the price one associates with a diamond ring but turns out to only have a cubic zirconia, I would rightly say that jewelry store is a fraud. Many comments on this thread have talked about how this woman’s Ph.D. from a diploma mill is a similar fraud — she thinks she owns something far more valuable that what she does. My point, as noted elsewhere, is that many graduates of not-for-profit universities have been similarly defrauded. They have been awarded credentials without having obtained the education the credential supposedly certifies.

                  Frankly, I’m no more impressed by a degree from a not-for-profit university than a for-profit one. Third-party certifications are proof of competence; a degree just shows you could borrow money and show up.

              3. Colette*

                @Amy Sly – How is a university supposed to determine, let alone fix, issues with their students’ general knowledge that are not related to the classes they take? Who agrees on what general knowledge everyone should know (since universities will have students from different states and countries, all with different education systems)? It’s just not a reasonable thing to expect.

                In your organic chemistry example, what happened when students went to their next classes? Did they have issues since they didn’t know the underlying principles? Or was the prerequisite class not actually necessary?

                In your opinion, does a mathematics degree imply that the person holding it can write well? Accounting? Fine Arts? Of course some people in those programs can write well, but I don’t expect that those degrees put a lot of emphasis on writing. If employers want to hire people who can write well, they should include a writing exercise in their interview process; a degree does not do it for them.

                1. Amy Sly*

                  I know I had quite a few issues in the biochemistry course I took that required organic chemistry as a prerequisite. I had to remedially teach myself the organic chemistry in order to understand what I was supposed to be learning about biochemistry, and I did so poorly in biochemistry that I would not have been able to pass the next class for which biochemistry was a prerequisite. Fortunately for my potential patients, I decided not to pursue a podiatry doctorate for which I was not qualified to even enter the corresponding school.

                  Yes, I believe a Bachelor of Arts degree means that the owner can assemble properly spelled words into grammatically correct sentences that are arranged into thematically related paragraphs composing a sensible argument. Anyone who has a BA degree without the ability to do so has been defrauded. My point through the whole sub-thread is that this fraud happens in not-for-profit schools in the US as well as the more often vilified for-profit schools.

        3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          I worked somewhere that offered, as an employee benefit, tuition reimbursement to Strayer and Capella for bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhDs.

          It drove me up the wall. But I guess they’d integrated those programs into their internal training program, so you could credit one against the other for internal advancement. It was wild.

      2. Allonge*

        She has a right to insist that others call her doctor and she can certainly be proud of what she achieved. They _are_ calling her doctor.

        BUT: it’s weird for the others as otherwise they are on first name terms, and it will have consequences on how they perceive her – probably why the question was asked in the first place. In this the docorate is a bit of a red herring: the same weirdness would come up if someone insisted to be called Mrs/Ms/Mr Lastname.

      3. PollyQ*

        You only have the right to be called doctor when formal titles are being used. In many workplaces, apparently including this one, that time is never. And a person can be as proud of her achievements as she likes without demanding constant formal recognition from her colleagues.

      4. Well...*

        I think the problem is a PhD can mean wildly different things (even assuming an above-board school), so bragging about the degree itself feels a little… Off. Like I would think you’d be more proud of your skills or the research you did, not just the fact that you have the degree itself. The natural next thought is… Oh maybe they don’t really have anything else to brag about because they just barely made it through the program or something…

      5. Amaranth*

        I think its terrific to add your title to your intro, your stationary, and ask people who address you formally to now call you ‘Dr. Zhivago’– but if she’s asking people she was on a first name basis with to now start calling her Dr. Zhivago its rather off-putting to me. There’s no reason she can’t be introduced to and addressed formally by clients, new hires, etc., but to insist that coworkers cut off casual chit-chat and single her out as the only person called ‘Doctor’ when outsiders come in is a bit..performative? It also would imply to me that she is the boss since Joe and Anna and Friedrich have to address her so formally.

      6. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’ve worked in a university HOSPITAL where the medical doctors were on first-name basis unless it was initially meeting someone, temps included.
        Senior admin: SSC, this is Dr. Smith.
        SSC: Hi Dr. Smith.
        Dr. Smith: Call me Steve.

        1. Helena1*

          Yep, this is standard in the UK. My Filipino nurses call me Dr Helena, which I think is cultural, and everyone else from the cleaner to the Medical Director calls me Helena. You would look like an absolute twat if you insisted the admin team or your colleagues called you Dr Lastname.

          With patients it depends on how long I’ve known them – if we’ve just met once or twice it’s Dr Lastname, but my dialysis patients who I have seen every week for the past five years can call me Helena too if they want to.

      7. Archaeopteryx*

        It’s not classy to insist on being called by an honorific when no one else is going by them, only first names. The fact that it’s from a bogus university it’s just an extra layer of sadness on top.

      8. Laure001*

        But Still don’t think you are right, imagine the scene:
        “So, coffee break everyone! I’m buying! Linda, what can I get you?”
        “A tall one, no sugar! Thanks Anna, that’s awesome!”
        “What about you Jane?”
        “Oh only green tea for me, thanks Anna!”
        “What about you Mary… Hum, I mean, what about you, Doctor?”

        … See the problem?

      9. InfoSec SemiPro*

        She absolutely has the right to use Dr. as an honorific, in situations where honorifics are being used. Her work place is a first name basis situation, and insisting on being addressed formally there is going to be seen as out of touch and weirdly combative. About the only situation where one person uses a formal title and everyone else uses first names is in a school room, and even there, the best educators I know even the playing field. (One of my favorite teachers insisted that she earned being called Dr. so she addressed everyone in her classes by their honorifics as well. Ms. SemiPro it was. The idea that I deserved that kind of respect really underlined the seriousness of seventh grade algebra for me.)

    6. Gingerblue*

      In addition to what other people have said, if her degree is from the likes of University of Phoenix, it’s not a matter of “not caring for her choice of school”; it’s a matter of someone proudly announcing that they’ve been scammed, in a way that is likely to harm their professional reputation. A “PhD” from a degree mill of that sort and a genuine PhD from an accredited, not-for-profit university are not the same thing, and it’s going to be genuinely detrimental to her career if she isn’t aware of that.

      1. Well...*

        Also to me bragging about being a dr feels way more classist than refusing to engage with these bs schools that actively harm people, particularly poor people who have been failed by traditional higher ed.

        Not that bragging about being a dr is always 100% classist. I’m just saying there’s a distastefully classist group that overlaps a lot with the group that brags about people they know having PhDs.

        1. TechWorker*

          Honestly I get the opposite view – lots of those who have PhDs find it weird and ‘bragging’ to be called ‘doctor’ because they see it as ‘not that special’. (See above, people saying ‘I work with loads of PhDs and *none* of them use it – well exactly, because to them it’s not that unusual). If you are the only or first person in your family to go to university, then I would guess making it as far as a doctorate seems a pretty mammoth achievement.

          1. Lalage*

            I have just realised I did not use the title Dr in front of my name on my CV for a position. Anyone applying for that position will have a PhD, it’s more a matter of where, doing what etc… I added it when I was asked for a CV for an audit, assuming that CV won’t be read that well, if at all.
            Also it seems more common here to use in writing Name Surname, PhD (as email signature for instance). I assume this avoids being confused for a medical doctor, since I work with some. We go by first name at work, luckily, I may forget who is technically Prof Dr or Mr/Ms. I should add I would insist being call Dr if the alternative was Miss, for sure.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, it’s like the educational equivalent of trying to show off you’re rich by buying a hugely tacky knockoff designer bag with enormous logos everywhere.

    7. Mookie*

      You know what else reeks of classism (and racism!), though? Predatory, exorbitantly pricy, for-profit schools. We all know why they exist and who they target.

    8. Traffic_Spiral*

      LOL! “It’s DOCTOR. Evil, I didn’t spend six years in Evil Medical School to be called mister, thank you very much.”

      1. Helena1*

        The other side of that is that UK surgeons revert to Mr/Ms when they pass their board exams (throwback to being barber surgeons). You can REALLY offend a surgeon by calling them “doctor” – it implies you think they haven’t passed their exams yet, either because you think they are too junior to have taken them yet, or because they are too rubbish to have passed.

    9. Artemesia*

      People work hard for lots of things and don’t wear a badge on their forehead about it. ‘Dr.’ is not generally a social title for people not physicians. So people who have doctorates and expect to be called that just come off as silly.

    10. Eukomos*

      How is it classist to think it’s weird to insist on a title in a situation where no one uses titles? Even if it’s a nice title. If someone at that office used to be Secretary of State it would still be weird as hell if she insisted everyone call her Madame Secretary when everyone else was addressed by their first name. Just because you’ve earned a better title doesn’t make it any more suitable for non-title situations.

    11. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It’s, to me, like listing all the letters after your name if you have them. For example it’s exceptionally rare that I’ll put the letters after my name outside of a CV, but when I see coworkers insisting people refer to them with all their letters at work (usually on emails) I cringe. When you’re used to calling someone ‘Pete’ it’s very difficult to rewire the brain cells to ‘Dr Pete’ instead, especially if you’re not expected to do it constantly.

      (Not degrading letters or titles. Getting mine was a struggle. But I personally wouldn’t define myself with them anymore than I’d insist on ‘Mrs’ before my name)

      Depends on the surroundings basically. I think a more acceptable to the OP solution would be to just give coworker free reign to refer to themselves as ‘Dr’ and introducte themselves to clients as such, without expecting others to do it.

      1. Helena1*

        I literally have more letters after my name than in my name (as do the majority of people in my field). I have never used more than “MBBS PhD”, and only then in publications. People usually just pick the top two. It just looks ridiculously pretentious otherwise.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I still chuckle over the guy who insisted on putting every single qualification after his name on emails at work AND wanted them printed on his business cards too. It was right down to an award he’d got at school level.

          Bizarre guy, but provided many laughs to the rest of us.

  11. DS*

    For #5, I wonder if you could get away with saying it’s allergy therapy? When I was looking into getting the allergy shots, I was going to have to go weekly for a long time. I’d hate to lie about it, but this sort of situation has set it up so you’re rather forced to. Bottom line is that you shouldn’t have to give a reason at all.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Never lie, then you risk the awkward “go talk to DS about allergy shots.”
      Safer to stick with “It’s just maintenance.” If pressed, “Nothing critical as long as I don’t skip appointments.”

      1. Sara without an H*

        This. Lying is always risky, especially given that the OP’s co-workers are chronically nosy. OP should stick with “routine maintenance,” and be as matter-of-fact and low-key as possible.

        1. LimeJarritos*

          Yeah, im not a very good liar, I think if I said something like allergy shots I’d be caught out pretty quickly

    2. AKchic*

      Why give any information at all? Harriet (and the rest of them) have already shown that they cannot be trusted with information. LW can say that she has a “standing appointment” and won’t be able to attend whatever impromptu meeting is being scheduled. Harriet can learn to schedule things a little better, with more notice.

      1. RB*

        Exactly. When you work with nosy people, they have shown they can’t be trusted with personal information. Vagueness is your friend here. I don’t even think you need to say it’s medical, unless your supervisor asks and you trust her not to share that information. There are lots of kinds of appointments that need to happen on a regular basis, acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy, etc., and it’s none of their business which type this is.

  12. Myrin*

    OP #5, please feel free to use the chronically inflamed bursa in my right knee as an excuse should anybody in your incredibly nosy office be, well, incredibly nosy and press you for details. I need to get shots for it pretty regularly, although not so regularly as to have a standing appointment for it, but I’m sure that could at least potentially become the case in the future.

  13. Allonge*

    LW4 – I don’t know how many hours this person would work per day, but based on a 40 hour workweek, the difference in what they get is $320 for four weeks. What with taxes etc, this will save you… no more than $450, I hope (I am not in the US, so no clue really)?

    I mean, that is not a negligible amount, but is it worth it for what you are losing otherwise, as Alison explains?

  14. Dancing Otter*

    Re #1:
    Nobel laureates at major universities aren’t called doctor.
    You’re called doctor on the day your degree is granted. After that, you’re one of the crowd.
    She’s a pretentious egotistical [epithet of your choice].

    1. Well...*

      I would add that highly regarded professors at major universities as also often pretentious, egotistical whatevers.

      They just code it in other ways. So she’s kind of failing at both self-promotion and not annoying people by being overly-invested in self-promotion.

      1. Morning Glory*

        Yeah agreed, it’s the higher ed version of ‘old money’ vs. ‘new money’ but for doctorates.

    2. Mookie*

      People with prestige degrees from prestige institutions don’t use the title because they don’t have to and it’s become declasse, especially as the honorific becomes aspirational for people seeking certain professional degrees. People outside both those bubbles appear to understand and abide by the former but are contemptuous of the latter practice. The fact remains, for many communities these degrees are a source of pride and confer a promise of social mobility otherwise inaccesible; whether they deliver is another matter altogether.

      1. TechWorker*

        +1 & better phrased than I could.

        The reaction seems to be half
        ‘It’s not a proper doctorate so you look silly’ and half
        ‘Even if it was a proper doctorate, *proper* doctors don’t need to boast because where they hang out, everyone’s got a PhD’.

        I don’t think it comes across well in an office where first names are standard… but neither reaction is particularly kind.

        1. Well...*

          Neither reaction reflects well on academics, but they are sadly good advice. She’s hurting her own reputation.

          And probably she’s out of sync with professional norms of most people with PhDs because she got subpar mentorship in her program.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      So you’re saying that if you’d met and been introduced to Dr. Stephen Hawking you’d have called him Steve when asking him something?


    4. mgguy*

      Ummm, I’ve met and spent a lot of time with several Nobel Laureates. By spending a lot of time, I mean that in Graduate School, as part of the student organization I was president of, we brought generally a Nobel Laureate(and failing that a “deserves a Nobel prize” person-over 30 some odd years we’d actually had 3 who won a Nobel prize after they visited). When they visited, I picked them up at the airport, took them to the hotel, took them around campus or to things around town, and went to the Derby with them(yes, we’re in Kentucky). So, in other words, over 5 days or so, I spent a LOT of time with them.

      Dr. Robert Curl was “Bob”. Dr. Martin Chalfie was “Marty.” Dr. Richard Shrock was “Dr. Shrock” or “Professor Shrock.” It’s all their own preferences for how they want to be called, and we respected that.

      BTW, most people DID address them by their formal title when first meeting them, and were not corrected. It was mostly those of us who spent a lot of time with them that earned “first name rights.”

  15. RollerGirl09*

    I work for a major multinational corporation and could, and have called my CEO by his first name. I would be extremely uncomfortable being asked to refer to colleagues as doctor when I don’t call everyone else Mr/Ms LastName. I remember applying for a job at a large pharmacy chain once as a manager and being told that they call employees Mr/Ms LastName. I found that super awkward and didn’t accept the position.

    1. Agnes*

      If they call everyone by their last names, what’s the problem? It’s interesting that this is the only place that the AAM commentariat’s very strongly held view that people should be called only exactly what they want to be called doesn’t hold.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I don’t read RollerGirl as saying an office going by honorifics and last names was a problem *in general,* just that it was something that they wouldn’t be particularly comfortable with themselves, so they self-selected out of that particular environment due to the office culture being outside of RG’s personal comfort zone in that aspect. Honestly, I probably would too, if I were in a position to do so — I’m SUPER uncomfortable being called Ms. Reader even just as an introduction, so if I found out I was interviewing in an office where people intended to call me that permanently, because that was the office standard, I’d leave a Red-shaped dust cloud in my wake.

        1. Absurda*

          I hear you. I hate being called Ms LastName, mostly because my name is somewhat difficult to pronounce (there was a running joke in my office that it takes 6 months to learn how to pronounce my name correctly). Some people get it the first time but most often I’m having to correct people, pronounce it for them first, or just live with having it mangled. Just call me by my first name for the love of God!

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I don’t even know why it bugs me so much, it just does, and always has. Mrs. is even worse – I’m married, but my husband and I don’t share a last name, which makes Mrs. extra wrong. The closest I get to accepting honorifics is that if my friends really want their children to call me Mizz Red, I’m okay with that, but luckily none of them seem to be going that direction, knock wood.

      2. UKDancer*

        I think Rollergirl is saying she doesn’t want to work somewhere that calls everyone by last names. The pharmacy is completely within their rights to use last names and she’s within her rights to decide not to work there.

        There is a very old fashioned gentleman’s outfitter in my parents town that uses last names for the staff and that’s one reason I wouldn’t work there.

      3. Absurda*

        ” It’s interesting that this is the only place that the AAM commentariat’s very strongly held view that people should be called only exactly what they want to be called doesn’t hold.”

        I think there is a difference between calling someone what they want to be called within the culture of the office and calling someone what they prefer when it clashes with that culture.

        For example, calling someone by the correct first name and pronouncing it correctly when everyone is on a first name basis is essential. Calling someone by an honorific when everyone else goes by first names seems odd and out of step. That said, if that’s what they want to be called, you should honor that; but it’s still okay to say it’s not the best idea for her to insist on it.

      4. RollerGirl09*

        As a woman in the workforce if I started a job where I had a coworker who is a peer (especially a man) tell me to call them Mr Smith because that’s what he wants to be called when everyone else goes by first names, I would find it infantilizing and a sign that the coworker wants me to see them as superior.

        As a mom I don’t have any of my kid’s friends call me Ms LastName. They are welcome to call me by my first name or some parents have asked me to let their kids call me Miss FirstName.

        I used to work at a university in a civil service capacity. I worked directly for the dean of one of the colleges and she and all the faculty used first names. I didn’t have to refer to any of them as Dr or Professor SoandSo unless I was talking to a student or other outside person. Maybe that’s where I learned it.

  16. Malik*

    LW1, your coworker does sound really annoying, but you said yourself that she doesn’t insist on being called Dr in front of your immediate team. Do you think maybe that’s a sign that shes in line with your workplace norms and is maybe trying to find a compromise from being proud about what she achieved (like someone else said further up) and what she knows is appropriate for your workplace?

    To be honest, I don’t know why you haven’t just calmly and politely broached the subjetc with her already.

    1. Mookie*

      I think that’s a great corollary to what Alison said, as well. It may not be that this colleague feels she’s being dismissed by her peers, but perhaps by the team’s clients or the organization’s higher-ups?

    2. Absurda*

      Well, and she’s also a new Phd. Insisting on being called Dr with those outside the immediate team may be her way of letting them know she now has a PhD. This might be important to do if the PhD now means she gets a promotion, to take on new duties, higher pay, etc.

  17. Dr.*


    I am a single mom and got my doctorate through a distance learning program. It took a long time and a lot of sacrifice. I am not stupid, nor am I a jerk for asking to be called “Dr.” in a professional context, although I would not insist like your coworker does.

    I am sorry you do not like your coworker’s behavior, but there is no need to denigrate her achievements because she went to an online school.

    1. Batty Twerp*

      I don’t think it’s online vs in-class learning that is being denigrated, but rather the choice of institution providing distance learning.
      There are plenty of reputable universities offering distance learning (especially as an option right now). But it’s the for-profit ones that are under greater scrutiny as they charge higher fees for less useful degrees, often accelerated.
      I too am undergoing distance learning, but it is with one of the accredited awarding body’s preferred supplier, the exams are proctored online via webcam. I don’t get to be called Dr Twerp at the end of it (it’s not a PhD).

    2. Well...*

      Sadly online universities are too strongly associated with scams.

      Even traditionally legit universities are moving services online without lowering tuition to prop up their budgets (pre-covid). Whether this practice means they are not fulfilling their obligation to students is an open and heated debate. The increase of access to higher ed is an obvious pro, but the real motivation may just be that it cuts cost. The association with online learning and trying to scam students runs deep, and even into accredited and prestigious schools.

      That said, I think we can admit scam universities do real harm, and identifying them and distinguishing them from others is important.

      1. carlie*

        Online doesn’t cut costs – just moves them around into different categories. The monetary benefit is in getting more students who otherwise wouldn’t have moved there to take classes.

        1. Well...*

          I think it really depends on the implementation. One could use the money saved in buildings and utilities management to reinvest in student learning, but one certainly doesn’t have to. I have sat in meetings with admin where online learning is literally sold as a cost-cutting measure. The opportunity to reduce resource investment in students is there.

    3. Joielle*

      Exactly! I don’t know why people have veered off course into judging the quality of the degree, which none of us can actually do because we don’t know the actual school. The issue is that it’s a bit weird to insist on being called Dr. Lastname when everyone else is going by their first name – and as Alison notes, particularly for women and people of color, there can be good reasons for doing it anyways.

      If a person completed a doctorate degree, then their correct title is doctor. I get that the OP doesn’t like this particular coworker for other reasons, but judging them for getting a degree online is a real dick move. I’m assuming that the PhD program is accredited, even if it’s not the most prestigious institution on earth (because if it wasn’t, I’m certain the OP would have mentioned that).

      1. Anonymoose*

        The OP says the degree was obtained by a for-profit University of Phoenix type of institution. Judging the quality of the degree isn’t veering off course, its literally the first sentence of the letter. And saying that the OP doesn’t like the coworker for ‘other’ (read: imagined in your head) is both off course and out of line.

        1. Joielle*

          I mean, the OP calls the coworker “weird” right off the bat, so there is SOMETHING else about them that the OP finds objectionable. My point is, the quality of the degree doesn’t matter for the purposes of the question. Regardless of which school you went to, you shouldn’t insist on Doctor Lastname when everyone else is using their first names. The advice would be the same if the coworker went to Harvard.

          And also – the program has been completed! The money has been spent! It’s too late to warn the coworker of the ills of for-profit universities. So what’s the point? If the complaint was that the coworker is bad at their job because they went to an inferior university, that would be one thing. Or if they were pushing for a big raise based on their new degree. But that’s not what the problem is. Will the coworker have a hard time in the future if they apply for a job for which a PhD is required? Yeah, maybe (probably). But for now… I don’t understand how any of this affects the OP.

  18. Drag0nfly*

    For LW1:

    I respectfully disagree with Alison’s caveat. That caveat would apply *only* in a situation where your colleague had earned an actual doctorate from an actual school. One that did require rigorous training and the acquisition of knowledge and all that.

    But if she is a “marginalized person,” then calling her “Dr” in this case is counterproductive. If no one thought of her as a minority hire before — hired with lower standards, in order to check off the diversity box — they will now if they’re obliged to call her Doctor even though she has a fake degree. That’s on top of her being in an environment where true doctors aren’t called “Dr. So and So.” It leaves you open to the question of whether or not the “bigotry of low expectations” is in play, especially if new, *actual* doctors come on board who are also black or Latino or Asian, etc.

    Treat everyone equally. If your culture calls everyone “Ted” instead of “Dr. Seuss,” then take your Maestro (Maestra?) aside and explain how the culture works. And why only the medical doctors should be called “Dr.” in a medical setting, when patients are around. You already know that Maestra doesn’t know any better about the credentials, so rolling eyes behind her back is just cowardly and mean. Talk to her and explain the culture in plain English. Don’t hint.

    When you catch your colleagues rolling their eyes, tell them to cut it out if you have standing. Talk to a manager if you don’t; the point is to set the tone for the kind of environment you want: do you want an office environment where people are catty and condescending? Do you want to work with adults, or do you prefer middle school?

    I don’t think your Maestra is stupid. I think that like a lot of people, not just those victimized by diploma mills, she didn’t understand what a degree is supposed to mean. Many people think of credentials and degrees as just arbitrary, that they’re not signaling true expertise or knowledge. For a lot of people, a degree is a piece of paper that’s supposed to open doors, and so it’s “unfair” if some people have them or not. All degrees look alike to them, and there’s no qualitative difference in a Ph.D in astrophysics from MIT vs. a BA from a fly-by-night diploma mill. But it’s not true, and that’s one of those unspoken rules a lot of the victims of diploma mills don’t understand.

    Unspoken rules can be cruel to those not in the know. So don’t leave your company’s culture rules unspoken with her. Have some compassion. She had the grit to pursue a degree; that it turned out the princess was in another castle is unfortunate. But it doesn’t warrant treating Maestra with contempt.

    1. Amaranth*

      I’m also hoping that ‘very weird’ isn’t code for ‘from another culture.’ If that’s the case, OP probably isn’t the one to offer a kind suggestion.

    2. Mookie*

      I agree with a lot of this, but I don’t think the people you’re talking about are as ignorant of the enormous distinction between these degrees and ones from accredited institutions in more prestigious, less professionalized fields as you suggest. Degree and certificate mills are a problem; many consumers recognize the scam just fine, but believe the trade-off is worth it. This is true of Americans and of immigrants who seek even those degrees that are partially or totally ephemeral (no taught courses, no research, no independent learning). And “unfairness” is absolutely a factor in every aspect of our education system in the US, early education through post-grad. The people of the losing side aren’t just SENSING unfairness, they live it, from the cradle on up. Academia remains very white and very privileged and whole fields of study lack meaningful representation of anyone else, and are the worse for it, frankly. Whole generations of promising, capable, bright, ambitious, hard-working, interesting people simply have no access to the education, mentoring, and training they could excel at, not to mention the kinds of legitimate and non-predatory subsidies, loans, and grants that won’t bankrupt you. There’s no other word for that but “unfair.”

      Being poor is expensive. Not every victim of poverty is a true mark, unaware that they are trying to buy themselves access to a career they can live off of and promotions that help that life be comfortable. And let’s not being naive ourselves. Privately educated Americans definitely “cheat“ like this all the time. They buy grades that are already skewed and test scores that indicate very little. Their parents barter with endowments and donations. Legacy admissions, when they actually produce a degree, graduate students no better off or more capable than when they went in.

      The best elite analogue for these for-profit “business” degrees, in terms of producing something of value for the student at a reasonable cost or not, are second-tier law schools and below. What a racket.

      1. Katefish*

        Umm… Law school ranking is a particularly bad example of educational grift because all you need to practice is an accredited school (in most states) + bar admission. Unless you mean that the lower tier law schools should be cheaper than they are (on that, I agree!).

        1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          Yeah, I’m not getting Mookie’s point, either. So long as your school is accredited (and the standard for accreditation is very low) and you pass the bar, you’re a lawyer. Sure, you’re not going to be a Supreme Court judge, but there are only nine of those. The only problem is if your law school fails to teach you enough to pass the bar – which IS a problem with schools like Thomas Jefferson School of Law, which is why their accreditation got yanked. Comparing any law school that’s not T14 to for-profit diploma mills with no accreditation or standards is just insulting.

        2. Artemesia*

          Maybe I am missing your point, but in a society where law degrees are a dime a dozen and many ‘lawyers’ can’t make a living, the school one graduates from becomes pretty important. The lawyers in the law firms where they can make a good living are usually recruited from top schools and this is 100% true for clerkships and other prestigious career building early jobs. Anyone can hang out a shingle but it is not the route to success many hope for.

          1. Comment*

            Why do you have lawyers in quotes? People from sub T-14 schools may never end up as Supreme Court justices or partners in big law but if they went to an accredited school they still have to take the required number of classes in certain subjects and pass the bar. Its not an easy road despite the employment numbers.

            There are plenty of areas of the law where a T-14 degree would be less useful because it didn’t teach the practicalities of being a lawyer. Are there un-accredited scam schools? Of course and there are schools where the cost probably doesn’t equal the benefits and there are probably more law schools then there needs to be. But it doesn’t denigrate the work people at less than top 14 schools put into getting there degree.

        3. Comment*

          It’s a terrible example. There’s a huge difference between going to a non-prestigious school and going to a degree mill. There is a difference between a school that’s not prestigious and one that doesn’t give a decent education. By saying anything under the top rated institution is a degree mill is completely missing the point.

      2. Madame X*

        This is also a very good point. Your comment reminds me of the main thesis in the book Lower Ed by Tressie McMillam Cottom. The book, which was published from her doctoral work, is about the pitfalls, costs and benefits of for-profit colleges. She also discusses how for-profit schools exploited the inherent inequalities in higher education.

      3. Drag0nfly*

        If you thought I meant unfair in the sense that I think it IS fair that some kids are trapped in substandard schools, that’s not the case, and that’s not the unfair I’m talking about.

        The air quotes “unfair” I’m referring to is the belief that academic standards *don’t matter*. That there is no meaningful difference between a degree in a school with higher standards and background knowledge required, and a school with lower standards and little background knowledge required to gain a degree. Some people think it’s unfair to have standards. They don’t believe those differences matter. They’re wrong.

        Let’s say you’re teaching American history at the college level, for history majors. You have two students, Angie and Bianca. Angie is prepared to discuss the influence of the Magna Carta, John Locke, and the Scottish Enlightenment on the Founding Fathers. Bianca thinks that George Washington and Socrates might have been neighbors. In some colleges (State U, public), Bianca would be placed in remedial history. In other colleges (U of State, private) Bianca isn’t admitted at all, because ALL of the students are expected to be up to Angie’s level of academic preparation.

        Some people believe it’s unfair to not have Bianca in class with Angie, but that’s where I disagree, and that’s the point where I use air quotes. The women shouldn’t be in the same class, because its harms both of them. Angie is paying for a more advanced class, but is forced to waste time doing remedial work to accommodate Bianca. She gets nothing for her money and time, which is NOT the outcome her blue collar, factory-working parents scrimped and saved up for.

        Bianca is also paying to be educated, but is struggling because she’s out of her depth if the class is geared to Angie’s level. She *also* gets nothing for her money and time. If Bianca is poor on top of being academically unprepared, then she’ll end up dropping out with huge loans to pay, and no degree. Plus she’ll likely feel isolated if all of her classmates are on Angie’s level, AND there are visible differences between Bianca and the others (class, race, nationality). Setting Bianca up to fail is egregiously unfair to her, no air quotes. As you say, being poor IS expensive.

        Fair would be to put Bianca in a class where she’s at her own level, and can rise from there.

        Then there’s a third kind of college, where Bianca’s twin sister Candace attends. Candace is on Bianca’s level, but the school doesn’t care that she can’t correctly place Washington and Socrates on a timeline, even if she’s a history major. She’ll receive unchallenging work. The school may not even care if she knows how to read or not. She will obtain an American history degree without ever learning about the Magna Carta or Enlightenment. The problem is if she believes herself to be as educated Angie, who started with baseline knowledge in those topics. A baseline Candace never reached. I disagree that it’s unfair to treat this third degree as inferior.

        I *do* agree with you that some people may be savvy about using the University of Phoenix degree. Not all are marks, true. I suspect the ones that come out ahead are the ones where the Phoenix degree truly does *not* matter, because the credential is strictly a formality, used for gatekeeping. But LW1’s “Maestra” does not appear to be savvy, she appears to be Candace, which is why I argue for compassion.

        1. Thoughtful*

          I think it’s less obvious than you argue whether or not someone has cleared a given bar of minimum required knowledge just based on where they graduated from.

          I’ve met people who graduated from private colleges and state Universities without being able to write well enough, or read statistical data well enough (for example) to succeed in their chosen field. Likewise, of course, I know people who thrive in their careers who have any kind of degree, including from for-profit schools, or even no degree, because they have the knowledge and skills necessary to do their work well.

          The fundamental unfairness is in degree requirements for jobs outside of those connoting specific skills (i.e. nursing degree, etc). I’ve met Bianca’s who’ve struggled through debt and retakes to get English degrees from legitimate schools, who ultimately can’t write for crap; and I’ve met high school dropouts who write brilliantly. I’d rather hire the latter if I’m looking for a Junior Copywriter, but my boss insists that our marketing department say that a BA in *something* is a mandatory minimum requirement. Why? Is it truly worthwhile to commit to something for four years– even if that something isn’t “learning marketable skills”? Many bosses seem to think so, but I’m dubious.

      4. for sure anon*

        I have to agree with Mookie here. I’ve taught at Ivies and at small Midwestern colleges, and the bigotry of low expectations but nice degrees/grades for rich kids and legacy admits is real. (I’m being snarky here, and also honest.) One college I taught at in the Midwest let in legacy kids and religious affiliate kids with a full 200 points lower SAT score than the primarily-students-0f-color-‘diversity’/merit-admits who boosted their stats. I understand why after seeing their budget — the poor kids brought the scores, the legacy admits brought the cash, and because of the history of the religious affiliation there weren’t a lot of legacy admits who weren’t white. They all got the same degree although it was clear to people in the know that there was a party track and an accomplishment track (and certainly there were legacy admits who took advantage of the accomplishment track; I went to grad school in a STEM field with some of them).

        Academia is in a money crunch. There are definitely accredited brick-and-mortar schools passing students who are not up to high standards because they need cash flow. Beware in particular of new certificate programs — ask around in your community, for instance, if that data science master’s program from University of State is really worth it. Maybe it is worth it for the knowledge; maybe not. Maybe it’s worth it for the connections; maybe not. They’re not all created the same, and you might be able to save $40k if you are savvy about asking around. But that’s part of the point, right? If you’re not already connected into the community, how can you figure that out? It’s a difficult problem to crack.

      5. Joielle*

        WOW, no, I went to a *gasp* THIRD TIER LAW SCHOOL and my bar admission is just as valid as someone from an ivy league. If you want to be a supreme court justice or practice at certain very specific law firms, then yeah, you have to go somewhere top ranked. But that has more to do with networking than the education itself. If you want to be a good lawyer and do good work, you can go all kinds of places. My third tier education that focused on public service and learning the actual practice of law has served me quite well.

        If you think the ranking of a law school correlates much with the quality of lawyers being produced, then you have a very narrow frame of reference for what lawyers do. And I imagine it’s the same with any kind of higher education – the prestige of the institution doesn’t indicate the intelligence of the alums.

        Of course, this assumes that the institution is accredited. If it’s literally a scam, then yeah, that’s not a real degree. But there’s no need to denigrate quality institutions because they don’t live up to your narrow idea of a legitimate education. This comments section is something else today.

        1. LawLady*

          I’m sure you’re an excellent lawyer. But a lot of those low-tier law schools are absolutely a scam. Places like Cooley put their students hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt, then 2/3 don’t pass the bar, and those that do can’t get jobs that come even close to servicing the loans. The schools may be accredited, but they’re a scam the same way Phoenix is a scam.

  19. Batgirl*

    OP5: “My doctors appointments? Oh no, they’re just routine treatments. They’re nothing to worry about”
    Most people would stop there after getting the concern out the way, but if people push further than that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just blandly saying “physio”.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Some of the language I used was “I’ve got a chronic condition that needs regular checkups. It’s nothing serious, but I do need to keep up with my appointments to make sure it stays that way.”

      1. LimeJarritos*

        Batgirl and Daughter of Ada and Grace, OP5 here. Thank you so much. I think this is really good language. Part of the problem is the attitude that you’re either all in in the family, or you’re a malcontent. When I used similar language with a coworker who is gone now, they 1) asked if I was dying 2) asked if I was pregnant. Harriet fuels this by speculating casually whether or not her employees “really are having a mental breakdown or [are] just faking it” or why they’d need certain medical procedures bc, in her view, they’re too young to have them. It’s so gossipy and nosy and I’d really love to not be subject to discussion about how I’m being shady about my (personal, private) medical information. It’s a medical-adjacent field so maybe the makes her feel entitled to that information?

        1. kt*

          Wow. That’s really tough, LimeJarritos.

          I guess I’d say, “Yeah, every day is a step toward the grave… it’s our final common pathway, isn’t it?” but… my spouse is a physician so I’ve gotten used to inappropriate humor about death…

          A more serious response might be a sigh and a, “Really? Are you going to be nosy?” response as you turn and walk away. Or, “I’m finding this really unprofessional.”

        2. Sara without an H*

          Wow. Just…wow.

          The only advice I have to offer is to go with something like what Batgirl and Daughter of Ada & Grace are suggesting, and try to be as low-key/bored about it as possible. Maybe if you’re otherwise pleasant, cheerful, and apparently committed to the “family,” they’ll lose interest and leave you alone.

          And, just in case, you might want to start documenting any comments or behavior that might eventually cross the line into harassment. Keep your notes in an online account, NOT on your local computer. I don’t want to make you paranoid, but I’m convinced that it’s always better to have documentation and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

          Good luck!

          1. Batgirl*

            Yeah this, LimeJ. Be boring. The co-workers you’re describing are people I too work with; they have boring enough lives. They seek and live on drama to pep up a very dull existence. Being boring to them is like waving a cross at a vampire. Tell them you’re seeing a dietician/physio and yes, their first line of defence will be to gasp and check; “Are you sure you’re not dying/pregnant” but don’t let anything like expressiveness/shock/offence show. It’s more like: “Yes, pretty sure. See it’s mostly just indigestion/low back pain.” Then you make like a Treebeard with loooong descriptions of fibre types/stretching. They will never ask again.
            No, you won’t be part of the family of drama llamas but that’s great. The whole “you’re a malcontent” thing is just negging until you put out the good stuff. Generally, just treat them as vaguely amusing children, don’t put too much stock in their opinion, respond warmly when they’re being appropriate and ..they still will be a PITA but it’s not on you.

        3. PollyQ*

          The problem isn’t the field you work in, it’s the people you work with. Harriet’s an awful person and boss to act this way and to encourage this kind of behavior. If anything, people who in a medical field should be more understanding of people’s right to privacy. I’m not saying that you should quit this job today — obviously there are pros and cons to every job. I am saying that if you move to another workplace, even in the same field, I think it’s very likely you wouldn’t be dealing with any of this nonsense there.

        4. Not So Negative Nelly*

          What I said about my weekly therapy appointments was “It’s a family matter and I can’t go into details.” My mental health IS important to my family so I was 100% not lying but it also construed that I can’t/won’t share personal information out of respect for other’s privacy. I’m a nurse in a clinic so I know it’s very common to have a family/friend/caregiver at doctor’s appointments.

        5. Lies, damn lies and...*

          Yikes! You could gloss over with “just working to resolve a nagging issue from awhile ago” – what is it? “Oh you know regular treatment just helps me keep up with the day to day, but my doctor recommends I don’t skip it.” Skip what? “Oh it’s like acupuncture or chiropractor, just keeps me in order.” But you’re being so vague…. “Is that a problem? I’m glad you’re concerned, but really it’s just maintenance and nothing to worry about.” So why don’t you tell me? “It’s [insert something ridiculous and outlandish]. No, I’m just kidding, seriously, don’t worry about. Do you have the agenda for the meeting with client tomorrow yet?”

  20. Emma*

    I am a PhD myself and therefore am occasionally called Dr Z. I don’t mind, but I generally introduce myself with my first name.

    What I do hate, is when, mostly men but also women, introduce me with first name when I am in a group of male colleagues. “This is Professor X, Dr Y and Emma.”

    Either everyone goes by title, or no one does.

    1. Artemesia*

      oh yes. I remember being in a group of ABDs and all of them being Dr. Wilson and Dr. Smith and me being Ms Artemesia — the only one in the group who had completed the degree at that time.

      I remember graduations where Board of Trust types and parents of graduates and so forth would congratulate me on my degree assuming I was a new graduate although I was wearing the colors of my own grad school not of that college because they can see women as ‘students getting their degree’ but have trouble seeing them as ‘Dr. Whatever’ —

      1. kt*

        Oh yes, people congratulating me on my PhD when it’s 8 years after the fact and I’ve been teaching the master’s-level class they’re in for five….

  21. Lumberg’s pet Bob*

    #1 There is probably something warped with my sense of humor, but I’d do a Bugs Bunny ”whassup doc” at every instance.

  22. Lumberg’s pet Bob*

    #4 Hum, different jurisdictions I suppose. I thought that was the standard practice outside say agency work or contracting – that you have a 3-6 months trial period during which you can leave or be told to leave before you get a permanent contract? After which leaving or getting sacked /made redundant requires a whole other round of musical chairs.

    1. Natalie*

      If you’re not in the US (assuming based on “getting sacked” and different jurisdictions) it might help to know that US employment is generally “at will”. We don’t typically have employment contracts and anyone’s employment can be ended at any time for any reason outside of a handful of specifically prohibited ones. So the OP doesn’t need this specified trial period to let people go if they aren’t working out.

      1. Pineapple*

        It’s worth noting that even though employment contracts are not common in the US, many employers have their own internal policies of starting all new employees under a 30-90 day probationary period after which it becomes much more difficult to fire someone.

        1. mgguy*

          My last employer(before my present one) carried it out to 6 months of probation. During that first 6 months, they tended to frown on things like taking time off(which I didn’t really understand/appreciate) and also could treat you as a true “at will” employee. In other words, you could walk in one day and your boss could say “Pack up your office and go home.” Such a situation was rare, but I knew of more than one person who was let go just before the end of their 6 months(they always knew ahead of time). After that, our handbook outlined a series of escalations that you had to follow before firing-including oral warnings, written warnings, and PIPs. There were exceptions for egregious conduct(stealing was a big one-and that happened alarmingly often) but just plain bad work did follow escalation.

          At my current job, I am under contract for one year now. Again, barring anything egregious, I CAN be let go at the end of the of the contract, but as they view it they’ve invested enough in you at that point that you have to just be really bad to not get a renewal(and they will take steps to hopefully help you improve if they do see deficiencies in the quality of your work). After 3 years, you’re eligible for tenure, and assuming you do get tenure removal becomes a lot more difficult.

          BTW, both of these are at public colleges/universities. At oldjob, I was staff and at new job, I’m faculty. 3 years for faculty to get tenure is unusually short, but since quality of teaching(not publications, grants, etc) is the primary consideration and other stuff is good but not expected, I’m glad tenure is so short.

    2. Exhausted Trope*

      I’ve worked two professional positions in which I served 90 day probationary periods. I couldn’t access any benefits during the period but I was paid a full wage. Serving a probation period is quite common in my area. I didn’t like it at the time but I understood why. It protects the company and makes it easier to cut a new hire loose without having to go through an improvement plan.

    3. Beth Jacobs*

      I’ve always had a probationary period too but with them, the default was that I would be kept on, only if there were problems the company could fire the employee without going through the usual process. OP is saying something different: work for us for three weeks and then we might hire you but maybe not.

  23. Lumberg’s pet Bob*

    Oh, regarding #1 there are certain cultures, especially German but also other continentals are pretty pissy about titles. Well, in Germany getting on fist name basis or using the familiar ”you” is a feat in itself (mind you can get fined for ”disrispecting the law” addressing a policeman with a ”familiar you”). So if you have a multinational office do pay attention to the overseas offices or you might come across something unintended.

    1. AdeleQuested*

      I’m from Austria, where the prissyness about titles is famously even worse (it’s one of the core national stereotypes; probably a legacy of the K&K empire), but time and tides are waiting for no one, and even here, in an office where everyone is going by first names, insisting on the title will get you sid-eyed hard.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I worked at a German university (in a support department rather than a subject department) and everyone was known by first names but absolutely everyone called their boss Sie (respectful you) and I’m cringing at the idea of using du (familiar you).

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes, you just wouldn’t use familiar you. I’ve been working with some Germans for over 4 years and we are still on formal you terms.

      1. Anne Kaffeekanne*

        Yup – I’m German but the (white, male) Managing Director at one of my last jobs lost a lot of respect for insisting on his Dr in an otherwise first name basis company. He was scrupulously correct about using formal you + last name for everyone else as well, but it felt completely out of touch with the office culture.

  24. Thistle Whistle*

    All degrees are not equal. It might not be what people want to hear, especially if they spent time and money on it, but its real. Both in degree subject and university.

    If I get a degree in Applied Golf Management Studies or Contemporary Circus with Physical Theatre or Puppetry Design and Performance, its a degree from a recognised UK organisation with degree awarding powers and is great if that’s your niche. But in reality it isn’t regarded in the same way as a 4 year honours degree in Maths or Physics or Engineering. (this isn’t a view on whether they should be regarded as the same, just that they aren’t).

    Also, different universities are not held in the same levels of esteem. I think its something you need to consider when you pick your degree as it is something you will be judged on throughout your working life. Sometimes its taken to extremes (only employing Ivy League/Oxbridge graduates) and that is warped, but that isn’t the case here. The OP says the colleague went to a degree mill.

    People know how much time and effort is required to get a doctorate and so if they got it for less work or time then they should be looking hard at their awarding institution to see if its really as rigorous as it should be.

    I’ve done online studying myself and I know it can be hard to pick an organisation. I’ve always picked either chartered organisations or Russell group unis but I know how you get flooded with adverts from organisations that are offering the word for pennies. Sometimes they even sound legit until you do some indepth digging and start looking at league tables. It sucks, but if you want to be taken seriously you need to do your research.

    1. pastelround*

      I agree. I think once someone has work history then where you went to college shouldn’t matter. I also think talented students from all schools should be able to apply to any job, I don’t agree with companies that only take from certain schools.

      That said, I worked extremely hard to get into the best university in my country. I was fairly assessed and properly passed my course. I really, really object to be being told that’s the equivalent of someone who went to a diploma mill where they pass everyone and it’s basically cheating. No, we don’t have the same degree.

    2. Jennifer*

      I know that for certain fields the type of degree you have matters a lot. However, I have worked with people with degrees from a variety of fields that don’t do anything related to what they studied in school. All the company cared about was that they had a degree. I don’t think it matters as much as you think. Depending on the field, of course.

      1. Batgirl*

        Yeah I have a Russell group uni degree but I’m usually amongst at least 50 per cent people who went to the newer unis. I don’t think I’ve worked anywhere that gave a crap, though I’m sure those places exist.

  25. Eleanor*

    #1 why do you go out of your way to dismiss the nature of her degree? If it was a PhD from Harvard in a STEM field would you be more receptive to calling her ‘Dr.’, all else being equal?

    Besides, maybe your co-worker is uncomfortable with using first names and doesn’t identify as either gender so using ‘Dr’ is a good solution for her?

    1. Bluesboy*

      My uncle has a doctorate from Cambridge University, along with a long list of other accomplishments. My grandfather (his father) once tried to call him in the office, “Could I speak to Doctor James Coleman please?”
      – “Who?”
      – “Dr James Coleman”.
      – “I’m sorry, nobody by that name works here”

      Cue Grandad getting annoyed, knowing his son actually worked there. After about ten minutes of arguing, the person on the other end said “But…do you mean Jim?”

      I do understand how after years of expensive hard work you want that to be recognised. But I also think it sends a sign of insecurity, like that somehow entitles you to respect that otherwise, you don’t feel like you deserve (or worry that other people won’t give you, such as in the cases of women/POC that Alison references).

      But this isn’t the problem in the letter. LW1s problem is really just that this kind of annoys her. Is it really so bad to just let her have this little thing? It’s a title that she’s earned, she likes using it. Don’t we normally say to call people by the name/title they choose?

      1. Smithy*

        I’ve really struggled with this letter because I think the woman/POC aspect of this is such a huge component. My father (cis/het white man) got his PhD at the beginning of his career and worked primarily in research (with some teaching) and went by his first name all the time and always disliked the honorific. Except when publishing or presenting, but that was just cause “that’s how it was done”.

        My mother (cis/het white woman) received her PhD the same year my brother graduated high school. It was an incredibly difficult for her to reach that level and has 1001 stories of being a professionally dismissed woman in science. Being called Doctor is hugely important to her as a sign of respect. But she also still struggles to receive the professional respect.

        If it’s truly out of line with norms, then focus there. But it may also be worth reflecting on the level of professional respect granted and whether focusing on the honorific is a way of highlighting something silly while bypassing other complaints.

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          Yeah. It’s easy to be blase about titles when you already have plenty prestige and respect coming via other channels.

      2. JM60*

        Don’t we normally say to call people by the name/title they choose?

        Name? Yes.
        Title? Usually.
        Honorific title? Not unless that honorific title is commonly used in that context.

        The main point of an honorific title is to distinguish between having that honorific and not having that honorific. There are good reasons to do that for “Dr” in some contexts, such as in medicine, sometimes in academia, etc. However, in most workplaces that are on a first name basis, I don’t think there’s much reason to demand that others announce that distinction whenever they refer to you. So demanding that people call you “Dr” in those workplaces would give me an impression that someone has an ego problem, and it would probably rub me the wrong way.

    2. WellRed*

      I wish the OP hadn’t mentioned the degree background. It’s leading to a lot of derailing on the merits and nuances of various PhD, when the issue is this coworker wants to be called DR and it’s out of step with office culture. Period.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        It’s actually pretty relevant. It’s the difference between “is it tacky to show off wealth” and “is it tacky to try and show off wealth with obviously fake jewelry (that she might have been scammed into thinking was valuable)?” The worthlessness of the degree and whether she understands its value really do add their own layers to the issue.

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          Eh, I agree with WellRed here. If we were advising OP’s colleague, then YES, it would be very relevant, because it’s valuable to know how you are percievec. But we’re not advising OP’s colleague.

          And in OP’s case, the main issue sounds very much like it’s the fact that it’s out-of-step with the culture. For example, look at how OP points out that they work with a psychiatrist who doesn’t insist on titles. It’s very likely OP believes the psychiatrist went to a reputable school (certainly an accredited, one, since it’s a protected title)….but they still don’t go by their title.

          Bringing up the merits of the school opens the door to an area of debate that is unlikely to serve OP in their quest to resolve this.

        2. TTDH*

          I mean, we’ll never know whether she “understands its value” because we’re getting this information from OP, not from the co-worker. While the degree background has clearly added a layer to the way the OP and others see the situation, it also hasn’t changed the substance of either the problem or its answer. It also feels pretty disrespectful to assume that she must have gone this route through ignorance, when there’s a real possibility that she knows but is trying to make the most she can out of something that’s accessible to her.

      2. Natalie*

        I suppose that’s useful for the LW, in some way – whomever speaks to the coworker should just stay focused on the office norms and ignore the entire question of whether or not the institution is legitimate.

      3. Temperance*

        It’s not derailing, it’s absolutely relevant. Going against the norms is bad on its own, but it’s extra cringe to brag about a degree from U of Phoenix or other for-profit schools.

    3. Cinq or swim*

      Ehhh… I don’t think you meant to be offensive or anything, but as an enby person, the suggestion of someone using “doctor” in lieu of a name or pronouns just really rubs me the wrong way. I’m not saying no enby would ever do that EVER, and I don’t want to derail the thread by getting into why this is not a good thing to suggest, but I feel uncomfortable seeing someone suggesting that as a possibility. Just wanted to point that out.

      Unless you are enby yourself and have extra insight, in which case I apologize.

      1. Anon Occasionally*

        As someone who is enby but not particularly out about it, having “Doctor” available to me as a gender-neutral title is, in fact, part of the draw of going into a PhD program.

        Not my only reason, nor my primary one, by far. But I am actively looking forward to being able to pick a gender-neutral title from a drop-down menu when forced to fill out such fields.

        That said, my first name is already gender neutral, so the gender neutral title is helpful specifically in situations where people don’t use first names.

  26. Analyst Editor*

    I have a question: if you got the PhD, from whatever school, but then are in am unrelated field in a job that doesn’t require it and nobody would guess you had one — should one still insist on being called Dr.?

    1. TechWorker*

      Short answer, no.

      Long answer – if everyone uses titles there’s nothing *wrong* with doing so but you should be aware it might read strangely to folks.

  27. Asenath*

    LW 1 – My view is that it is pretentious to use the title “Dr.” outside a professional setting. As some people have noted, in many professional settings, like the one in the letter, people do not use the title either. So the person sounds a bit tone-deaf, but I think I’d just treat it as a personal quirk. I don’t think her use (or not) of the title depends on the quality of her degree. Sure, there are universities of all levels, from the very bad to the very good, and sometimes specific programs may be better or worse than the university’s overall reputation may indicate. That doesn’t make any difference as to whether the person receiving a PhD can call herself “Dr.” – she can do that, if she wants, whether her degree is from Yale or Oxford or The Online University of Degrees-Are-Us. Even a cheap low-quality university has the right to award degrees. Well, unless you get into the places which are just a website with no legal standing whatsoever, but they’ll sell you a diploma, but I don’t think that’s the case here. This is just another case of someone who wants people to admire her degree, and is going against the norms in her office to do so.

  28. Long Time Fed*

    I work for an agency that has thousands of medical doctors and PhD’s, Everyone is called by their first name in person but when you refer to them professionally the honorific is used.

    The only ones who use “Dr.” in a day to day setting are the much older medical doctors and they aren’t of the University of Phoenix generation.

    1. Jenny*

      My Dad is a doctor and I think he gets called Dr. Last name in front of patients and gets mail addressed to Dr. Last name but coworkers use his first name.

  29. agnes*

    Congratulate her on her achievement and then just tell her that this isn’t the workplace culture to use titles among the employees. and be done with it. It’s unfortunate that people fall for the U Phoenix line and pay so much money to get a not-very-respected-degree from there, but in a lot of ways society has exacerbated this problem by making advanced degrees the be all and end all for being hired or for advancement, rather than taking the time to assess people’s actual skill sets and aptitudes. . I wish people considering U Phoenix would call their old high school guidance office and get some guidance before spending all that money. There are many accredited schools that offer a better quality education for less money and have online programs.

  30. Jennifer*

    Re: travel

    You definitely aren’t wrong for staying home but I do think you maybe are being a little too hard on your coworkers. There are ways to travel and still take precautions, wear masks and social distance. And as Alison said, there may be situations in their lives you aren’t privy to. I’d give them the benefit of the doubt.

    I think icebreakers related to travel are strange in general, especially at a time when so many are refraining from travel. Plus so many people can’t afford to travel even when we aren’t in a pandemic. I’m not saying no one should be able to mention travel because some people can’t afford it, I just think maybe the icebreakers should cover a variety of topics. Maybe you could say, “I haven’t traveled much lately but I have done…” and start talking about an interesting hobby, movie, tv show, book, that you’ve enjoyed recently. I just worry that maybe sitting out every time may make you appear a bit standoffish.

    1. Annony*

      I think it may be a good idea to suggest to whoever organizes this that it would be better to rotate though multiple topics instead of talking about travel every single time. You could talk about new recipes you have tried, crafts, home improvement, gardening, books, tv shows, ect. Not every topic will apply to every person but neither does travel. By rotating topics it decreases the chance someone will feel excluding every single time. It also allows people to talk more about the present instead of missing what they cannot do right now.

      Or just drop the icebreaker. That would be a solution too.

      1. Jennifer*

        I hate icebreakers. I just wish you could have normal chit chat about the weather or the weekend or get right down to business.

  31. Jenny*

    My husband has an egineering PhD and no one calls him Dr. Last name on a day to day basis. Now maybe half his colleagues have PhDs. They’ll use it when he’s giving a talk or teaching a class but not commonly outside of that.

    My experience is that generally doctors, dentists, and vets get called Dr. Last name socially but generally not PhDs.

  32. I'm just here for the cats!*

    LW #1 stated “she insists that we refer to her as “Doctor” if anyone other than our immediate team is present”

    So I take that to mean that other different departments, and clients. It may be something important to her to be addressed correctly because she earned this. And I would really like to know the school. Because there are some misconceptions on for profit schools.

    1. Jill*

      There could be lots of other people that earned doctorates in different departments, possibly even C-level ones or clients, but if she’s the only one all of a sudden insisting to be called “Doctor” I think it’s going to look out of touch regardless of where she got the degree from.

  33. Analyst Editor*

    For LW2:
    One kind of has to bear these things with philosophy. Life has to happen; and you really don’t know the circumstances of the travel. The most you could do is make it so taboo to talk about traveling that people will just do it secretly and lie.

    If it makes you feel better, I think a lot of places are in a good enough place with covid cases that you can travel with reasonable safety from one to the other; there is also reason to believe there flying can be done with reasonable safety.

  34. Not So NewReader*

    OP#1. I actually agree with you. But I know that real life becomes a bit encumbered.

    I went to two colleges for my degree. The community college had a very informal environment and it was considered INSULTING to address someone as “Doctor”. Think of it as scolding a small child by address them as Ms./Mr. Lastname. It was overly formal in a casual environment.

    The second school had the exact opposite approach. You had to know who did and did not have their doctorate and get the title correct. It was a Big Sin if you forgot and there were rumors it would impact your grade (wtf). Additionally, the second school could not accept/understand any other approach to this question.

    But I do know from talking with people who work in courts, they call the judge , “Judge” or “Your Honor”, in front of other people in order to create a culture of respect for the court. Behind close doors all these people are on a first name basis with each other. It’s role modeling to the general public what to do. That’s what it sounds like she is trying to do.

    I am a big fan of going with the group or the culture. If no one else in your organization is doing this, then it probably feels awkward and looks bad. Back to, I so agree with you.

    I tend to think this is like herding cats to get everyone on the same page and addressing her as “Doctor” in front of others. I think people will forget to do this often enough that this whole thing will fizzle out in time. There might even be a few smart mouths who address her as “Doc” which also kind of defeats the point.

    Perhaps at some point you can find out the reason why she feels the need to put people through these hoops. But until then you can settle back and say, “Yeah, Good Luck with that.” For myself, I would just forget to use her name entirely in front of others unless absolutely necessary. I’d sort of side-step the point until it finally fizzled out.

    It could be me, but the people who have impressed me most in life have not played up their degree. Rather they are all about their subject/arena and talking about current time activities.

    1. Delta Delta*

      Weird. I’m an attorney and I live down the road from one of my state’s Supreme Court justices. When I run into him at the gas station I always refer to him as “Your Honor.” As in, “when you’re done cleaning the windows on your car, Your Honor, I’d like to use that squeegee.” He’s never asked me not to call him that, so I do.

      1. Anononon*

        Yeah, it’s a bit more casual here, but if I see someone I know is a judge outside of the courtroom, I still address them as “judge”. I had an internship with one judge almost ten years ago, and she’s now retired off the bench, but I still call her “judge”.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Judges and lawyers are different. 1.) Judges actually have legal authority, and 2.) no lawyer in their right mind chooses to disrespect a judge. But you don’t go around calling your fellow attorneys “esquire,” do you?

        (it should be noted that some lawyers *do* refer to themselves as “doctor” – but only to troll their actual doctor friends at parties)

      3. Temperance*

        One of my friend’s dads is a judge. I still call him Judge Lastname (or Judge in a friendly manner). Never by his first name.

      4. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        Our clients include judges, and years ago I helped one with a transaction. The first couple of times we spoke he was very formal: “This is Judge Robert Zigblutz calling.” But another time he cheerfully said “Hi, Sansa, this is Bob Zigblutz. How’s the paperwork coming along?” I figured there was someone else there when he was formal. But the difference was a crack-up.

    2. Absurda*

      At my university, almost all professors were PhDs so pretty much everyone was a Dr. Some insisted on being called Dr. X while others went by their first names. It wouldn’t impact your grade, but the best bet was to default to Dr until told otherwise. It actually seemed to be a generational thing with the younger crowd doing first name while the older folks used Dr.

  35. Jules the 3rd*

    So, seriously: Why not just call her Doctor and move on?

    The underlying reason is that it’s a term of respect, and LW1 doesn’t think she deserves that respect. I submit that’s on OP to think about, hard, before just dismissing it as ‘she’s out of touch’. Why don’t you respect her? Does she do her job well? Is she an ‘outsider’ in your work’s social structure? Is she trying to leverage the title to state authority in other ways?

    There can be legitimate reasons why her bid for respect is annoying, but if it’s just the title and I respected her in general, I’d call her Doctor, and warmly, no eye rolling. The desire to call her on it says something else is going on.

    1. Pineapple*

      Well, something else is going on… the fact that no one else in the office who had a doctorate asks to be called Doctor. That’s what’s out of touch. She’s insisting on a level of formality that doesn’t exist in this office.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes, but why does that matter so much to the OP? The coworker is aware of the fact that everyone in the office goes by their first names and she wans to go a different route. The OP and the rest of the office are expending a lot of energy on something that’s not really a problem and could be resolved with one simple, non-offensive, word. Just move on.

        1. Pineapple*

          It could actually cause problems if the office is so large that not everyone knows each other or public facing. Having only one person who goes by “Doctor” can imply that other people are not doctors when they really are and cause people to think that this person is superior to everyone else.

    2. JimmyJab*

      There is no indication that LW doesn’t respect Dr.. No one in LW’s work place uses honorifics or last names, including the psychiatrist with which they work. It’s far outside the norm for her workplace. Even if Dr. just wanted to be called Ms. it would be odd and out of place.

      1. Emi.*

        LW calls out the coworker’s degree as being insufficiently valid and says they’re either rolling their eyes at her, or barely restraining themselves. That’s a clear indication of disrespect.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          If the LW liked and respected her coworker, they’d probably have called her doctor without thinking much about it. The resistance itself tells you something, and the urge to roll their eyes is confirmation. There’s more going on, and it would do LW good to really examine their resistance.

          I’m not saying the feeling is unjustified, just saying that LW should really dig into it and understand where it’s coming from. That will probably give them the clearest guidance on how to move forward.

          1. TTDH*

            I agree with this so much. It costs nothing to examine your own position, and you can learn a lot from it.

    3. Littorally*

      Agreed. I see all the arguments people are making about being out of touch and pretentiousness and all of that, but at the end of the day, why is it worth all this effort to justify a desire to call her something else?

      If the team tends to be casual, heck, call her ‘Doc’!

    4. Arctic*

      Seriously. Yeah, it may be annoying. But it costs nothing to call her “Dr.” and it’s important to her. So, what is the real issue here?

    5. pastelround*

      I don’t see ‘something else going on.’ I think LW1 has been pretty clear that the reason they don’t respect this person is because they are insisting on a title when no one else does and the degree itself is apparently questionably, taking LW1 at their word that it is indeed a dodgy degree.

      I also in this situation would not respect someone with a dodgy degree in a first name office calling themselves Doctor. It is worthy of eye rolling. These days when people talk about respect there seems to be some confusion that everyone and everything is deserving of respect. Some things are suspect and you don’t have respect it or them.

      It’s like those people who buy an online certificate that says they are a Reverend or Lord PastelRound of Ask a Manager Comments, Four of their Name. It’s weird that some people would seriously be like, ‘They ARE a Lord, you should respect them, even if they did buy it from, all titles are equal, everyone deserves respect’

      1. Paperwhite*

        These days when people talk about respect there seems to be some confusion that everyone and everything is deserving of respect.

        Someone I used to know used to say that when authority figures (teachers, police, etc) would say “You have to respect me before I’ll respect you” what they meant was “You have to treat me like an unchallengeable source of authority before I’ll treat you as a human being.” There’s a baseline of respect all human beings, but which many people view those in certain groups as being exempt from. (Example: the incredibly disrespectful sexual comments being made in increasing numbers about Kamala Harris, despite her considerable accomplishments.) Then there’s respect that’s earned by accomplishments, such as earning a doctorate from a ‘real’ program. Sometimes the two kinds of respect get conflated.

    6. Beehoppy*

      But it just seems so bizarre in practice.
      Who is going to be in the meeting later?
      “Alan, Kelly, Jon, and Dr. Jones.”
      “I’m heading out to lunch can I grab you anything Alice? How about you Dr. Jones?”
      It’s setting her apart from the rest of thr group in a weird and distancing way.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        It’s her choice to be separated this way. Why does OP (and us, the commentariat) care? I am surprised to see this question dominate the comments the way it is.

        Serious question – I miss some social things sometimes, especially hierarchy stuff: why is this smidgen of (possibly borrowed) respect affecting so many so strongly? Do people see giving a signal of respect as… maybe losing some of their own position?

        1. Temperance*

          For me, giving “respect” when not earned properly is uncomfortable because you’re elevating someone in status when they shouldn’t be. I work in a very status-conscious industry (law), and you need to follow the rules to fit in.

          It’s like when an intern or a first year associate decides to do something out of step with the established hierarchy.

        2. Allonge*

          That’s a good question. To me it would be irritating (yes, low-level) because it does not feel like a small thing when it’s recurring – it builds up.

          Would I do it? Yes. Just as LW 1 and colleagues are doing it. Would it take at least a month before it fades into the ‘new normal’? You bet. Would we be (internally!) rolling our eyes? Probably. Would it come up again every time someone new joins the team? Yes.

          All of that may well be worth it to her, that is her choice to make! It’s like she could choose to dress formal when everyone is business casual etc. There are benefits, there are disadvantages. Just like any choice.

    7. Genny*

      Yeah, I have a far bigger issue with people rolling their eyes and scoffing at a coworker than I have with someone who’s out of step with the office culture on such a minor issue. Have a basic level of respect for your coworker and refer to her the way she prefers when interacting with people outside your team. Any blowback from being outside the office norm is going to fall on her, not you, so why expend your energy on it?

  36. Delta Delta*

    #1 – OP says the coworker recently got the degree and just started asking to be called Dr. Warblesworth. It seems like she is looking for attention and maybe a recognition of the degree she just finished. It’s recent, so I’m guessing this will pass, as everyone continues to call each other Lucinda and Angela and Marcus and Evelyn.

  37. Workerbee*

    OP #5, in addition to my horrified sympathy at the violations of one’s privacy, I commiserate on you having the same kind of boss as mine, who will schedule, require, and extend out any meeting for anything rather than get actual work done.

      1. LimeJarritos*

        Op5 here, YES!!! My God. I feel like I’m in a video game where you have to get through a day without a surprise all day meeting to set you back.

      2. Workerbee*

        I appreciate that! I am somewhat job hunting. I didn’t have insight into this aspect of office culture until a week into my employment, so I’m going to have to figure out how to screen for excessive, useless meetings in the next job.

    1. Batgirl*

      From what the OP has said upthread about the boss believing her staff is too young to need any doctoring, I’m going to assume she’s one of those terrible youth-eating work-life dementor bosses. Curiously, this type does not care about the work at all; more about sucking the life out of you for no particular purpose.

      1. Workerbee*

        Every so often I cynically wonder where I went wrong in my career that I don’t have a cushy office where all I have to do is get paid to sit in meetings.

        Current Me would still feel like a drained husk so I imagine I’d have to be a different person to begin with. :)

  38. CynicallySweet7*

    LW #4. This is actually really common in the office mgt/secretary world (I was thinking abt switching careers for awhile, but had rent and didn’t want to worry about getting a job but not really having it). I think in the vast majority of fields Alison would be on point. But at least in the NE this wouldn’t be out of the norm for the kind of work ur describing

  39. soon to be former fed really*

    I don’t know if anyone else ishaving this problem, but my comments are disappearing from the comment box and not posting since yesterday.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I had a problem yesterday where I got an error message that said the site could not be found. I did something else for a few hours and did not have any more problem.

  40. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    Both my parents are PhDs (guess how they met!), and both go by Doctor in official correspondence and sometimes in person. My mom the professor is more picky about it (years of letters being addressed to “Dr. & Mrs. Badger” grate on a person), my dad uses “Dr. B” almost as a joke (he’s a tech guy, so he’s the “computer doctor”).

    The big thing about both of them is that they aren’t “Dr. Badger” to coworkers. Their coworkers know their first names and call them that. They’re “Dr. Badger” to students and strangers.

    It’s not just that LW1’s coworker is acting overly formal in an informal office. At best, the formality is creating distance; at worst, it makes it seem like she’s creating a superior/inferior relationship between colleagues who are meant to treat each other equally.

  41. CynicallySweet7*

    I actually agree w/ you. As someone who knows people who worked incredibly hard to Graduate from these programs and were taken for complete rides. This whole thread just kind of feels mean towards people who are being taken advantage of

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Just because someone was taken advantage of doesn’t mean everyone else is obligated to pretend their magic beans are real.

      1. pastelround*

        It makes the problem worse if people actually accept and pretend the magic beans are real. It encourages people to sell more magic beans if some form of new political correctness makes us pretend magic beans are real.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          It sounds to me like a continuation of the “name change” conversation. The title “Dr.” won’t make someone less of a glass hammer, or less of a superstar, than their name would.

          I’ll roll my eyes just as hard at a “Dr. Jones” from Harvard as I would “Dr. Smith” from UPhoenix Online if they’re saying the same things.

  42. Sebastián*

    In reference to letter 1, it’s better to understand and adapt to the office culture than to die on this hill. I’m reminded of the guy, new to the team, who used his (very real, very much skills-based, tech) PhD to bolster his points in meetings. (“I have a PhD!”) Unfortunately, everyone else on the team had equally valid, skills-based PhDs from highly reputable universities, which just meant that Dr. PhD cemented his reputation as someone who had no confidence in his ability, was ridiculously pretentious and clueless as well. It wasn’t a good look — and all those deficiencies would have been unnoticed if he had been more aware of the culture around him.

  43. Khatul Madame*

    LW#3 – I have an even better story.
    A few years ago I received a reference call for a former direct report from a staffing company. After a few questions about “Jane’s” work history, skills and so forth the caller went into a hard sales pitch asking whether/where our group needed staffing help and had the nerve to imply that getting business from us would help “good people like Jane” get job placement! I must say, I’ve had quite a few WTF situations in my career, but this is in the top 3.
    By that time, I already had a stock response to sales pitches that I can recommend to LW3#: “I do not have the authority to add preferred vendors”, so I just used that phrase.
    LW#3, pivoting to your own career needs in this call would have been useless, so it’s a good thing you didn’t. You can potentially work with them in the future, but you’d have t apply to their job posting to initiate this process.

    1. OP3*

      That stock response is great, I’ll commit it to memory! I’m starting to wonder if anyone has any *good* recruiter stories or if I should just steer clear entirely…

    2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      Another stinky thing I experienced w/ staffing agencies/recruiters (don’t know if they still do this), from the other side: when applying to them, they asked what companies you’d already applied to on your so they wouldn’t send you there if they happened to be a client. But it was a ploy to find out who was hiring so they could call the co. and pitch their service. One recruiter all but begged me for the names of companies that I knew were hiring. I basically brushed it off by saying I’d only begun my search so I didn’t know yet. Seriously, if you want me to generate leads for you, you’ll have to pay me! But she kept pushing and pushing.

  44. bluephone*

    “(And everyone else here is on a first-name basis with each other. Even the psychiatrist who works with us makes us call him by his first name!)”

    LW1 specifies that everyone is on a first-name basis in their office so their coworker is just really making a mountain out of a molehill (and making themselves look foolish as well).

  45. Beth*

    LW #5: “Now that we’re remote, Harriet constantly schedules surprise all-day meetings at the drop of a hat”.

    YEEEEEK. All-day meetings are terrible, surprise meetings are terrible, both at once is insane. It would serve Harriet right if everyone in your group would start having regular appointments that interfered with this nonsense.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Agreed. I’m not sure if I’m quite brave enough, but I’d fantasize about announcing that I’m stepping away to use the bathroom…frequently.

  46. Elizabeth*

    #5, and really anyone for that matter- I believe with the pandemic, seeking teletherapy particularly over state lines is relatively easy. My boss told me he found a therapist in a different time zone so that it didn’t interfere as much with his work schedule. So the doctor’s 9:00 am appointment may be 7:00 am here and then he can start his work day at 8. Just a thought for anyone seeking help but concerned about schedules!

    1. Adultiest Adult*

      Please be very careful with this advice. In the US, some jurisdictions have temporarily suspended the requirements that the therapist and client be located in the same state because of Covid, but this is widely understood to be a temporary measure that can be rescinded at any time. Most professional boards that license therapists otherwise consider it a legal and ethical violation to practice across state lines without also being licensed in the state the client is in, so I would be very careful about any therapist taking an out-of-state who doesn’t raise this as an issue immediately. They either aren’t properly licensed or are deliberately in violation.

  47. Shrugs*

    Disagree with Allison on #1 – people like to be called Dr the same way people prefer to be called Miss or Mrs. Its very polite normal manners to call people Dr in a lot of circles!

    1. Colette*

      But no one in the OP’s office is being called Miss or Mrs. (or Ms. or Mr.) and it would be strange if someone insisted on using a title.

      1. Jennifer*

        People are strange sometimes. Sometimes you just have to chalk it up to that and move on.

        I remember a letter a while ago about a lady who drastically changed her nail color, hair, and outfit during every lunch break. Yeah, it was weird, but as long as she wasn’t hurting anyone, who cares?

        1. Colette*

          In this case, I don’t think the OP has the standing to mention it – but the colleague’s manager would, and should, because requiring people to address you with a title when you don’t address them with titles is putting up barriers with them, and that will affect the colleague’s ability to get stuff done.

    2. Beehoppy*

      But not in situations where everyine is going by first names. The same way it would be weird to call someone Mr. when everyone else goes by first names.

      1. Jennifer*

        I used to address an older woman in my office as Mrs. because that’s what she preferred. Yeah it was a little strange because it was an informal office, but it wasn’t worth fighting about.

    3. Temperance*

      Ms. is the neutral address for women. Miss/Mrs. inappropriately focus on marital status, which is not cool in a work setting.

      1. Jennifer*

        Knowing whether or not someone is married is inappropriate for a work setting? I default to Ms. too but if someone preferred Mrs. it wouldn’t matter much to me. As long as they weren’t trying to get me to go by that.

  48. Jostling*

    LW #4 – I wanted to give a different perspective to this sort of paid trial period. In the restaurant industry, it’s really common to invite candidates in for a paid stage (pronounced stahj) shift where they can demonstrate skills that cannot be assessed in an interview. For back-of-house (kitchen) roles, that means they demonstrate their prepping and cooking skills while shadowing an employee on a regular shift; for front-of-house (serving and bartending), they demonstrate their multitasking and interpersonal skills by interacting with real guests while shadowing an employee. The stage is usually paid hourly (though for servers, this is usually less than they’d make on a shift with tips), and if it goes well, the candidate is hired and the shift counts as a training shift.

    A couple of things make this appropriate, compared to the situation LW#4 describes: a) it’s one day; 2) it’s in an industry that has some flexibility with scheduling; and 3) it fulfills a genuine hiring need of testing skills that can’t be evaluated in an interview. LW#4, if your role doesn’t fit the above, consider making the role temp-to-hire or creating a probationary period instead. It sounds like you’re considering this course of action because you’ve “been burned before,” but I don’t think this is the answer. Your first few weeks with a new hire will be spent on training anyway, so hire well in the first place and you won’t end up regretting your sunk cost.

  49. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    For some reason, I’ve always gotten my best jobs through temp-to-hire placements rather than through straight interviews. Once I’m in the door I can wow them on the job, but getting past an interview is nearly impossible–unless the place is toxic and doesn’t know how to hire! (There was a period of time where one of the red flags for whether a place was toxic and dysfunctional was if they offered me a job based on an interview, I kid you not)

    When I was unemployed I would have jumped at the chance to prove myself for a few weeks’ guaranteed work, especially if the raise when made permanent was set out in advance and was fair for the work. I will say that you should make sure that’s true and that if the job changes you should offer a wage commensurate with the actual job. One of my Learning Experiences was working for a place where I had been hired as a temp at $10/hr for a receptionist/front desk job. During the ensuing 3 months “temp to hire trial period”, the employer became aware that I had a lot more potential and experience and moved me to a more complex assistant role. To hire someone at this level, during this time period, the wage needed to be closer to $14. But of course they kept me at the $10 until the last possible moment, then when the time came to convert me, they excitedly offered me the grand sum of…$10.50.

    In retrospect, I should have turned the job down and gone back to the agency for another placement. The person I was replacing in the assistant role had been making a lot more than that, so it’s not like they couldn’t have found at least a whole dollar in the budget.

    Keeping people underpaid with the promise of jam tomorrow is a terrible sign. Don’t be that employer.

    1. Who Pays Backgammon?*

      I had this experience more than once, and like you, always when I really needed a job. The one time I held out and told the agency “They want me to do X (using higher level skills) and I can do it, but I would have to be paid appropriately.” End of assignment.

  50. blink14*

    OP #2 – I think you need to cut your co-workers a little slack. Unless someone is really bragging about a trip – which is totally a possibility – many people are traveling safely and are allowed by state and federal guidelines to travel in a safe manner. Travel right now, even super locally, is a mental health need for a lot of people right now as well, and if you can safely take a break with low risks, protocol is being followed, and you are careful when you get home, then the low amount of risk is worth it to many people. There are also so many people that need to travel to see family, take care of personal obligations that can’t be pushed any further, etc.

    I went on a previously planned vacation in May – the county had just reopened, I went to the grocery store once, only did take out, and was very socially distanced (I’m also high risk). I’ve been temporarily living with family and splitting my time a few different locations across three different states, with occasional trips back to my apartment for appointments or supplies. I’m extremely careful when traveling – driving – keeping stops to an absolute minimum, no indoor or outdoor dining at all (takeout only), very minimal shopping, etc.

    It can be done and done well to the utmost safety precautions.

  51. Phony Genius*

    On #1, my office has the reverse situation. An employee with a PhD who has worked here for 20 years has always been called “Dr. Smith.” One day, he suddenly said he wanted to be called “John.” Note that his real name is in a foreign language, and is nothing similar to “John.” Well, it hasn’t taken. People still usually refer to him as “Dr. Smith,” or occasionally by his real first name. Even his supervisor only calls him “John” about half the time. I think the problem for us is that we’ve known him that way for 20 years, and dropping his title from his name feels like we’re “demoting” him.

  52. Laura H.*

    Re Lw 1,

    Titles matter, workplace naming conventions (How one addresses coworkers) matter.

    Sometimes one person doesn’t match. Sometimes that’s okay. I’ve shared this before but it makes me smile to recall and it’s relevant. At my old workplace, it was first name with no title added. Except for Mrs. Ruth- a sweet older lady. It was pretty much a universal thing and she’s super sweet and it wasn’t an issue at all. I don’t know who initiated that but it was set in the store.

    It was always sweet and it wasn’t a big deal on the rare occasion I forgot.

    Asking, and not making a stink about it if folks slip into the older address is huge in not making it weird.

    Good luck.

  53. Jackson Codfish*

    I work in K-12 education, where many people in the administration and faculty have doctoral degrees – all Ed.Ds. The General practice is to refer to them as “Dr. So-and-so,” even in direct conversation, even in meetings with just staff, and even if you’re a peer at their level.

    I – who have no degree at all but 20+ years of experience – find it all incredibly pretentious and silly. I refuse to follow along except in front of students. We had a district superintendent once who did not have a doctorate, but a master’s, and quickly halted that practice by calling everyone by their first name. That was a breath of fresh air.

    This may be snobby, but: My professional opinion of an experienced person who has an advanced degree from Phoenix or Walden or Grand Canyon or Kaplan (formerly) immediately takes a dive. I’ll give a pass to really young people of color or folks from disadvantaged backgrounds who are taken advantage of and don’t have the support system to help guide them through the college process, but any grown adult should be able to tell a scam from something real.

    1. Esmeralda*

      It is snobby. Even “grown adults”, especially those from the groups you mention, are in there. I see resumes with degrees from these places from people who have been working at lower-level admin jobs who clearly want to move up, can’t move up without a graduate degree (it’s right there in all the job ads), find a way to get a degree that fits the time and resources they have, and then…are discounted for having a crap degree.

      Time for job ads to say: degree from an accredited university, so that folks aren’t wasting their time, I guess.

      And yes, I do give those folks with the crap degree the same consideration as folks with a degree from an accredited school, because our job postings don’t specify and because I know that otherwise I’m cutting out a lot of BIPOC and economically disadvantaged people .

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This reminds me of how in high school, we somehow found out that one of our teachers was actually a PhD. So our collective smartass juvenile delinquent jackasses decided to ridicule them by insisting on calling them “Doctor”. So it makes me smile a bit to envision such pretentious behavior among the K-12 administration, I guess “someone” has to take them seriously and they’re the only ones who can…since it’s rarely the students or their parents *face desk*

      Remembering how awful we were to adults with great credentials for the pettiest bullshit makes me still feel bad.

  54. 2 Cents*

    OP #5 if it’s not too wildly out of line with your culture, could you block out that hour as “busy” on your calendar? It could literally mean anything — but you’re busy, so not available for last-minute phone calls. I have a similar weekly therapy situation and though I’d feel comfortable telling my immediate coworkers, everyone in my org has access to my calendar — they don’t need to know why I’m busy, just that I am.

  55. Sciencer*

    #5 – I think the advice is still too much info for this crowd as OP describes them. It sounds like the *boss* is revealing coworkers’ medical details, so if OP tells her she has a standing medical appointment, that will become common knowledge and invite all sorts of questions – putting her in a place of lying, or trying not to answer, which could get people speculating behind her back about what’s going on. IMO the most obvious speculation for a standing weekly appointment is therapy, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t guess it pretty quickly.

    OP, do you have the standing to turn down last-minute meetings with a vague “hmm, I have a conflict with that but I’ll be able to join in at 4:30 if you’re still going” or something to that effect? “Conflict” suggests a work priority rather than an appointment. If the meetings frequently end up on your therapy day, you could approach it with your boss as a request to have one day a week that’s consistently free from meetings so that you can stay focused on other tasks. Then quietly change your therapy appointment to that day (or, advocate for the current appt day by saying it’s often your busiest day of the week or so on).

    Sorry you’re dealing with this. Academia can be such a weird world but what’s happening in your group is definitely not normal or acceptable.

    1. Colette*

      Your boss can override work conflicts, though, so she’d potentially still have to tell her what the conflict is. There’s nothing wrong with having a medical appointment, and she should be able to brush off any follow up questions. “Yeah, it feels like my warranty has expired, I’m there every week so I don’t fall apart.” (But physio is a good lie, if it comes to that; it goes on for a long time and isn’t necessarily for a serious issue. I recommend “ipad injury” as an explanation.)

      1. Sciencer*

        There’s nothing wrong with a medical appointment, but OP has plenty of reason to believe her therapy sessions would become a topic of conversation and speculation among her coworkers behind her back – initiated by her boss! She should make every effort to keep this info from them because there’s no evidence that they’ll take it with any maturity or respect for privacy.

    2. LimeJarritos*

      Hi, opt here. That’s pretty much exactly what’s going on. Also, I’m new to academia, and it’s hard to know what’s just something I’m gonna have to live with and what is…… not usual. I think non specific “conflict ” is good as it is less likely to inspire the speculation that a medical conflict apparently does.

      1. Colette*

        I think you can also use “hard stop” – i.e. “I can join the meeting at 3 but I have a hard stop at 4.” – and then at 4, you leave.

      2. Sciencer*

        The nice thing about academia is there’s a pretty pervasive culture of individual autonomy. Even if that’s not the case in your group, you might be able to operate that way and they’ll let it slide (or not notice) because they’re used to it with other colleagues. If it comes up as a specific problem you may need to move up to the “standing appointment, nothing interesting or serious” level of vague specificity, but hopefully not! If you’re working from home right now, I second the recommendation to call it physio therapy or vaguely refer to back problems with your home office setup (which may invite lots of unwelcome advice, but that’s easier to deal with than the responses to honesty would be).

        Managers in academia are usually entirely untrained in management and had no intention of doing that kind of work when they entered their field. It’s common for them to be horrible at that part of their job, and for there to be no one in the management structure who is capable or willing to deal with it. It becomes a huge burden on those being managed, but hopefully you can find a support system outside your immediate group to help you strategize and get through these weirdnesses.

  56. Lynn Marie*

    Re #4 offering a 1-month paid trial: This used to be common except it was called temp to hire. As an admin job seeker, I always preferred this option. It gave me experience in a variety of fields, if I missed red flags in the initial interview, they popped up in the probationary period, and if at the end of a month I didn’t want the job (or vice versa) I departed on good terms with a new recent reference that I felt comfortable using. When I was in a position to hire, I also preferred it for all the same reasons. I found if someone was good, they dug in from the get-go. If someone was not so good, or simply not a good match, we realized it together, could speak frankly with them, and I was always glad to be a reference for them if they wished.

  57. OompaloompasGetABadRap*

    We actually had this happen once at a Fortune 500 company we were working at. A rather silly individual that nobody much liked anyway (with good reason) managed to get a cheesy EdD from some sketchy degree mill like Phoenix and corrected people whenever they didn’t refer to him as “Doctor”. His email sig line has “EdD” in bold letters.

    We had a departmental meeting over lunch and one of the departmental “ringleaders” came up with plan that we all agreed to and ended the problem. When the meeting started, the ringleader had us make introductions all around the room (there were about 5 people)…..”Hi, I’m Lisa Smith, MBA from Ohio State in Marketing, BA from Michigan, with a major in psychology, minor in business, high school diploma from West lake High School where I played field hockey.”…..”Hi, Tom Weber, BBA from the University of Colorado where I played intramural basketball…I was a point guard mostly, went to high school at Sarasota City High School, Middle School at Saint Luke’s in Sarasota, where I was was in the band…..Doc, you’re up?”

    The offended EdD complained (he was a white male, so not marginalized, just obnoxious) to both the department director (who just laughed) and HR who both told him that if he insisted on having his academic credentials recognized, then he should expect others to as well. He left within a few months.

    1. Esmeralda*


      Ed.D. is a real degree, you know, not “cheesy.”

      Thanks for the excellent example of snobbery and bullying. Not surprised that person left — not a nice place to work, at all.

      1. OompaloompasGetABadRap*

        I didn’t say ALL EdD degrees were “cheesy”, just the one *he* had, from a school widely known as a diploma mill. It actually was a great place to work. Sometimes folks get what they deserve. He did. And responding to a ridiculous request with an equally ridiculous response isn’t “bullying”.

        There are plenty of real degrees and real schools out there. And there are plenty of worthless degrees that will be granted to anyone willing to pay $30,000. His was the latter, and we respected it as such, especially when he started insisting we refer to him as “doctor”.

        1. mgguy*

          Yep-Doctoral level degrees, whether PhD or EdD or whatever from any recognized, regionally accredited university at least are to be respected as they are not easy degrees to obtain and require devotion to your field of study. There can be some snobbery about WHICH school granted your degree, but my experience in my field at a somewhat lower ranked R1, and others I’ve talked to both at highly ranked R1s and R2s(including faculty that have histories at Ivy Leagues and other top schools), is that a doctoral level degree at a lower R1 or any R2 can be a lot more difficult to earn because the schools WANT to prove themselves at turning out quality graduates.

          Diploma mills are a different story.

      2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        Thanks. When I was a kid, a middle-aged cousin got her doctorate, which was her lifelong goal. She should have been an example to all of us kids about the value of education and pursuing your dreams. Instead, my mom and some of her friends who new the cousin mocked her for being pretentious. I thought all those “good” church ladies were mean.

    2. Oh No She Di'int*

      Eek. That guy might have been kind of silly and annoying. But the response just seems mean-spirited.

    3. Jennifer*

      He still could have been from a disadvantaged background as a white male, but regardless, this was unnecessary.

  58. Booksnbooks*

    Re #5: I assume if you have a meeting, you block out the time in your calendar so your boss knows that she can’t schedule something then? You could do the same for these appointments — just block out the time as busy, and leave it at that.

    1. LimeJarritos*

      Hi! Op5 here. Unfortunately nobody here uses shared calendars, and its assumed you’re available at all times hahaha so great it’s great

      1. WellRed*

        Sounds like you’ve got a bigger problem. I can’t imagine you’re the only employee inconvenienced by these pop quiz meetings.

      2. Sara without an H*

        It just keeps getting worse. I know jobs are hard to find right now, but I really don’t recommend that you look on this place as a lifetime career.

        Oh, and btw — what you’re describing is absolutely NOT typical of academic jobs in general. I suspect that all this reflects Harriet’s private obsessions.

      3. Workerbee*

        Oy! Though on the one hand, makes it harder for people to deny that you have previously scheduled “meetings” or whatever you choose to call your appointments when you block off your calendar…

      4. Booksnbooks*

        Ugh. That makes it really tough. Do you often have calls or meetings with outside people? Can you just start responding that you have a call/meeting so you aren’t available until X time?

  59. Esmeralda*

    LW 1: The fact that the doctorate is from a for profit insitution suggests to me that this person is likely from a less-privileged background. Best respnse is for the person’s manager or someone they trust within the office to talk to them about norms when communicating outside the team.

    I’m also getting a vibe from LW1 that is…maybe classist? maybe snobbery? Your colleague did earn the degree, regardless of *where* they got it. If you and your co-workers refer to your colleague as Dr. Lastname without eye-rolling (internal eye rolling can be evident in one’s tone, so be aware of that) when outside your team, then nobody else will thinks it’s weird. They will take their cue from you.

    Also, I have to say that AAM comparing this person’s desire to be called “Dr.” when they didn’t insist on “Ms.” previously is beside the point. “Ms.” isn’t a title anyone EARNS. “Dr.” indicates that the person put in the time and effort at education, completed a dissertation, and was awarded a degree.

    To be transparent: I have a doctorate from an exceedingly impressive university, I go by my first name at work in an academic-adjacent dept at a large research I university, I use “Dr.” when I think it will make those outside my dept take me more seriously. [Maybe your colleague wants your team to take them more seriously, LW, and not dismiss them as very weird.]

    1. Grapey*

      If someone is eager to use “Dr” because they learned it earns them more social respect, then they should know earning it from an ‘exceedingly impressive university’ (EIU), or at the very least not at a diploma mill, is a large part of that earned social respect package. I assume you chose to attend an EIU over UoP for a reason?

  60. Jaybeetee*

    LW4: What you’re describing is temp-to-hire, and I tend to take a shady view of it due to my own experiences: when I was temping, I twice went into temp-to-hire roles, and twice was let go and told “it wasn’t working out” within 2-3 days. I’d mostly been shadowing and barely done any actual work! Each of these jobs also had interviews, so it suggested to me they were not good at actually recruiting the sort of person they wanted, and just plugged me in because I was the first warm body that happened by.

    By recruiting in this way, you’re going to screen out a lot of talented people who won’t want to take the gamble, when a little extra effort and resource upfront will likely net you a much better employee.

  61. YoungTen*

    Lw1, Since she insist on being called Doctor, ask her where her TARDIS and Sonic Screwdriver are.

  62. PhDPartner*

    My PhD partner refers to other PhD friends as Dr. FirstName as they refer to him as Dr. Partner, even when they aren’t present or just together in causal conversation around tacos and beer. This is a Real Thing.

    Granted, that’s the norm in their circle and it sounds like it isn’t the norm in this office, but where is the harm?

    1. mgguy*

      I did think of that also-Dr. FirstName is a common sort of an informal recognizing their degree but also forgoing the formality. In many case, the first time I talk to a newly minted-PhD(who I’d know previously) I’ll address them Dr. LastName to recognize “yes, you can relax, but you’re done” but if I use their title it’s Dr. FirstName after that, again in informal situations.

    2. S. Ninja*

      Reminds me of the Black Widowers, where everybody at the club’s dinner was addressed as “Doctor” regardless of whether they had a doctorate or not (and Dr. Drake, who DID have the title, was always “Doctor Doctor James Drake”)

      1. Sleepless*

        Oh, yes! If I recall, they gave Henry the option to be addressed as Dr. Jackson. He would have never asked for any such thing.

    3. Oh No She Di'int*

      Well, I think you answered your own question. The harm is precisely that it’s not the norm in this office. Typically people try to adhere to the cultural norms in their offices. Of course you have the right not to–you can yell over the partitions when most people use interoffice chat; you can sit at the meeting table in the seat that everyone knows is “reserved” for the CEO’s executive assistant; you can insist on keeping your door closed in an office where the norm is to keep doors open. You can do whatever you want, but if it’s against the norm for that culture, you have to accept that people are going to think you’re strange.

  63. mgguy*

    Re: LW1
    I work and have always worked in acadæmia where PhD(real, earned PhD usually from 5+ years of 60+ hour weeks) are the norm rather than the exception.

    I don’t have one, but rather a master’s in my field. A bout of depression(clinically diagnosed and fortunately now well under control) about halfway into my program, and causing me to lose close to a year of productive work, made me realize that for my own mental health I shouldn’t complete it. With that said, I respect those who did complete their PhD.

    I’m often addressed as “Dr.” either both from people who don’t know(usually students before the first class, where I succintly address the “Don’t call me doctor” issue) and from people who tell me “You worked hard enough and are accomplished enough that you should have one.” The first is a simple correction, the second is more persistent than I’d like and makes me uncomfortable even though I know they mean it as a complement.

    I’ll also add that in grad school, most professors transitioned from “Call me Dr.” to “Call me first name.” It was awkward at first, but I got use to it. Part of grad school was seeing people AS your colleagues, and not necessarily a superior. When I became a full time staff member, only a few hold-outs insisted on me holding out the honorific, even though I never did unless specifically told.

    Now that I’ve moved on to a new institution, I only used honorifics in the interview stage. EVERYONE since then has been first name only since-again-they’re colleagues and not superiors(aside from the ones who I report to, although that’s still a different situation).

    Of course, in situations in front of students, honorifics and titles hold, but that’s a different story. In front of students at my last job, “Jane” when talking to her one-on-one was always “Dr. Smith” in front of students. That’s a bit different, though.

    I’ll also add that in industry in my field, there are a whole bunch of PhDs, but I don’t know anyone who uses their title.

    Short answer is-I’d argue that in most workplaces, even when you’re around people with the work, dissertation, and publications to show for their PhD their title is rarely used among colleagues. Using it is definitely weird given that whole situation.

  64. Ali*

    At first I thought the honorific thing was a little weird, but if she only wants it done when non-team members are present, maybe not? For whatever reason I am thinking about Criminal Minds and Hotcher introducing the team to the local PD every episode… “This is SSA Derek Morgan, SSA Jennifer Jareau, and Dr. Spencer Reid.” He was an SSA too, but preferred to be called Dr. and they always did it for him.

    1. AKchic*

      in Reid’s case, he was also extremely young (at first) and dismissed because of his youth and appearance. calling him by his title (which was, technically more impressive than his SSA credentials, considering he had 7-9 doctorates at the beginning) was a way of making others feel dumber and to stop treating him like a non-entity. It was a way of leveling the playing field for him in a way.

    2. Victoria*

      My immediate thought was that because it was outside of the team, it was an (albeit clunky and tone deaf) attempt to let people know that if the conversation takes on the tone of titles that her title is Dr. and not Ms. I have a PhD. I work in a first name only workplace, and would never insist on being called by titles rather than my first name, but in a situation where everyone is doing first names and titles, I would absolutely want to be called Dr. Lastname, and as a woman, I’ve noticed people are much more likely to balk if you correct them than they would for a man.

  65. sofar*

    LW2: There are probably things you are doing that others deem a big risk. How would you feel if a coworker called you out on it (even politely and indirectly)? The other day, a coworker mentioned a birthday BBQ she was attending, and I had the knee-jerk reaction of “wtf,” but then I took a moment to think about the fact that my husband recently took a road trip and went camping. And I got a haircut a few weeks ago and…

    At my workplace, we are all talking openly about our socially distanced vacations out of state (and sharing tips). Lots of us were heavy travelers before this, so it’s just kind of an extension of what we’d usually talk about. And so I make a point not to judge when someone talks about their weekend plans, whatever they are.

    COVID-19 is going to be with us for a long time, and there’s never going to be a magical moment when everyone is like, “X, Y and Z are totally OK to do!” And I think we cross a line we don’t want to cross if we start spending a lot of time doing risk-calculations and should-I-judge calculations about what coworkers do in their time outside of work and make remarks on it. Go ahead and judge silently (we all do). I just wouldn’t remark on it, because you can’t walk that back easily.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      I’ve become less judgmental of people’s outings than I was in April-June. Complete social isolation was supposed to be a temporary solution – not a long-term one. It’s unsustainable – particularly from a mental health angle – to be completely isolated for a whole year. I think at this point the most we can wish for is for people to take calculated risks, consistently wear masks, stay clean, maybe time outings for every 2 weeks, etc.

  66. boop the first*

    4. Isn’t this what probation is for? Every job I’ve gotten usually comes with a 3-month warning that any benefit status doesn’t kick in until 90 days and we can part ways without notice at any time before I “pass”, so to speak. Even if they hire two or three people at a time, I’m usually the only one left at the end of it anyway.

  67. abcd*

    Is it possible coworker is fishing for congratulatory words or a party? Regardless of what school she attended to earn her degree, she’s probably excited and wants others to acknowledge her accomplishment. Some people love and crave the attention and until they get said attention may behave in a totally out of touch manner. Celebrate her accomplishment and gently let her know calling her doctor all the time doesn’t fit with the business norms. Simply acknowledgement and congratulations may be all she needs.

  68. Uranus Wars*

    Even non-profit, traditional and reputable schools end up getting pulled into the “not a real degree” conversation when you talk about online degrees. Not everyone outside of academia understand the difference.

    I agree that there are some out there that are AWFUL. But there are also some traditionally distance learning schools, who shifted to online when the internet became more easily accessible, and they get lumped in with the for-profits who fleece people now. But their degree is equally credible as someone who went to your local state college or university. We don’t know which school this is – only the OPs perception of the school and the degree.

    The real issue here is that the staff member is asking to be called Dr. day-to-day in an office that doesn’t. She really needs someone to say to her “this isn’t the norm, but here’s how we can make sure you get recognized for your achievement” – and do a name plate, put it on presentations, on your website, etc. Send a company-wide “Congrats!”.

    For all we know she is the first person in her family to graduate high school or college – and then to go all the way to Doctorate means something to her. Just say “hey, great job” and figure out a way to let her feel ok.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      I should say figure out what her real need is not “let her feel ok”. That was worded oddly.

  69. Aggretsuko*

    I’ve had to cancel a lot of therapy appointments at the last minute because of my work having spontaneous Zoom meetings (or having them AND then they go overtime because it’s an emergency) too. And I had it booked on my calendar AND I am open about going to therapy and have been doing it for years. It’s always awkward as hell to have to bring up, especially since my boss always schedules a meeting right before the therapy session. Sigh.

  70. charo*

    Re: “trial period” — how easy does LW think it is to do this job well? It sounds like he pictures anyone could sit down and just do it. And I automatically picture a “he” hiring a “she” in this case.
    Guys like him think the job is easy when they made up all the rules, and can change them at will. Any problem, they just change the rule, problem solved. But she can’t.
    Their idea of “customer service” is something free if there was an error — “see, that’s how you keep them happy” — but she couldn’t offer that, she’d be stuck w/his rules.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s the same vibe I get and it makes me groan because I’ve seen so many people peg jobs as “anyone can do it” and then get mad that hiring for it is “hard” and it’s a “turnstile”, etc.

      I once had someone tell me “it’s bookkeeping, it’s not rocket science.” and I was like “Well your expectations are wildly out of reach, I see why you’re looking for your 12th accounting person, when your business has been around all of five minutes. I’ll show myself out.” [Damn, I haven’t thought of that weird interview in a long time, lol]

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I once had someone tell me “it’s bookkeeping, it’s not rocket science.”

        After one Accounting course, I believe the accurate statement is “it’s only rocket science; it’s not book-keeping!”

  71. Mannheim Steamroller*


    Her boss is the one to shut it down. (“We use first names in this office. Change your email signature to ‘Bertha McFancypants, PhD’ if you want, but your first name is still Bertha and we’re calling you Bertha.”)

  72. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I know literal doctors who no longer practice medicine and go by “doctor” socially because it’s just a “fun personal fact”, “Did you know he’s a doctor?”kind of thing. So just shrug at it and call her by whatever makes her feel good, in the end an ounce of kindness and iota of respect to her wishes should not be that big of deal. It’s not that serious!

    You will get a lot of bad candidates if you are playing “training” games, ESPECIALLY with the jerk around about the wages. You’re saving next to nothing by just paying full cost out of the gate for starters. If you want to play a training game, do NOT mess around with the wages. You are taking advantage of a worker because of your insecurity in hiring.

    Hire someone at full cost and then if you don’t think they’re hacking it, let them go, respectfully.

  73. AKchic*

    LW5 – it’s going to be tough, but becoming more detached from your coworkers and their “family” style is called for as you enforce boundaries.
    You have a “standing appointment” and won’t be able to make the impromptu meeting. No apologies. Harriet is going to have to stop calling last-minute (and at a whim) meetings. Schedule your appointments for a consistent date/time if possible for your convenience (and the office’s scheduling), but don’t tell anyone what they are. It’s an appointment. Leave it at that.
    Keep copies of all meeting requests so if a complaint ever comes in, you have documentation of how often last-minute requests for meetings come in, and how many of them could have been phone calls, emails, or could have been scheduled better.

    If anyone tries to get details out of you: “it’s an appointment.” That’s it. If they press – “it’s a *personal* appointment. Thank you for your interest?” Note the use of the word interest instead of concern. You don’t want to give them any credit for concern. It’s curiosity and potential gossip fodder that has the person asking you, and your use of the word “interest” is to subtly call it out and redirect them, as well as using a questioning inflection, as if you aren’t sure why it’s so interesting and you aren’t sure why they’d be so interested or why they are even asking.
    If the questioner isn’t deterred, and tries the “I’m worried about you” and the “we’re a family here” routine, you can shut it down with “I do not discuss non-work matters with coworkers” and “this is a place of business, not my family”. At some point, you may need to be more blunt/aggressive and say something along the lines of “you aren’t missing any gossip about me. There is nothing to tell” or “really, my private life is just that, private. As in: separate from work”.
    You can also fill in some “how odd”, “that’s unusual”, that’s an inappropriate question” type responses as needed to questions about your appointments.

    Ultimately, your appointments are just that, generic appointments. They need no description or qualifiers. Harriet, et. al., has lost the privilege of knowing any kind of details about your appointments. It could be getting your toenails done, your tires rotated, having your pet’s renaissance portrait painted, dental appointments, elderly parent’s doctor appointment, whatever. Doesn’t matter. They get no information. If HR or payroll ask, then you can re-evaluate.

  74. PostIts*

    Spin off to #1. I work at a university and our new VP is a woman of color with a DBA and has asked to have her name listed as Dr. Soandso in our marketing materials. However, we follow AP style in our writing, which means only MDs get the honorific of “Dr.”

    No one at the university has Dr. before their name, not even the president. And we don’t have a med school and therefore have no MDs teaching. On business cards we’ll put the terminal degree after the name and then title (ie: Jane Doe, PhD, Professor of Basket Weaving) and the same on promotional materials if that is what the person requests.

    I totally understand why she wants Dr. (our own faculty get attitudes about those with degrees that aren’t PhD [insert massive eye roll], especially if they aren’t part of the teaching faculty).

    Do we get points for not using Dr across the board for everyone, or is it still problematic to refuse her request?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think the first thing to do is explain that’s not how you do things. Then see if they double down or if they accept it?

      Did you explain the first part to her yet?

      Usually before changing an entire system, you want to know how much someone is invested in that change. If someone is really that invested in it, maybe it’s time to overhaul the system.

      I’m a firm believer in “just because you do it that way all this time doesn’t mean it’s the right way.”

      1. PostIts*

        Yes, it’s been explained why we do that and why AP (and other style manuals) have that rule. It’s largely for reader clarity (most people read Dr. Soandso and will jump to medical dr.) and a bit to do with flattening a hierarchical system. Though that comes across more strongly in some higher ed publications who refer to everyone as Miss/Mrs./Mr. Lastname, regardless of title or degree. (Which to me, puts too much emphasis on gender and is not inclusive of people who don’t identify within a gendered binary).

        I believe she has accepted the answer (I don’t work with her on a regular basis), but you have a good point. Academia can be rife with “but this is how we’ve always done it!” and that’s not a good reason to maintain status quo.

  75. it_guy*

    LW1: You could always insist that she call Mr/Ms LastName if they want to sink to that level of formality. I worked with someone who was like that and was soooooooo tempted to pay $20 and go get an online Dr of Divinity so that I could force them to call me Dr. as well.

  76. OP2*

    OP 2 here, from the Workplace of the Traveling Colleagues. Thanks for the perspectives and reality checks, everyone! I’m definitely being unfairly judgmental of some of my colleagues who are taking what sound like reasonable trips, probably because of how unreasonable some of the others are being (think: “let’s eat at every Denny’s between Atlanta and Albuquerque, as a goof!”). It’s also a lot about my own anxiety; we live in a state where our political leaders have never been concerned with containing the virus, and many people believe that because they are “allowed” to do something legally, that makes it automatically safe to do. Will work on redirecting some of our icebreakers ahead of time so there’s less travel talk overall!

  77. jccbeach*

    OP1: earning a doctorate is a big deal and should be celebrated! Congratulations to your co-worker. As a co-worker, I would have acknowledged her achievement and probably called her doctor the first day or so without any prompting and then tapered off back to the office norm. That your co-worker has to ask to have her achievement recognized also says a bit about the office culture.

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