When can you call yourself doctor?

  • I just passed my dissertation defense. This means there is nothing left but paperwork to get my doctorate. Among the various congratulations I've received a couple have termed me: Dr. My assumption was that I'm not really a doctor until I go through the graduation ceremony, but now I'm wondering. Is there a convention as to when exactly I can call myself Doctor?

    It is apparent from your question that, you are excited to hear people calling you Dr. Ewert! Congratulations.

    This may be country-dependent. In some places (such as the US), use of the Doctor title is merely a question of etiquette and may be subjective; but in others (e.g. Germany) it is actually governed by law.

    *“The name I chose is ‘The Doctor.’ The name you choose is like a promise you make.”* — Doctor Who

    Following up on @NateEldredge, in Germany some (not all) universities grant successful PhD defendants the right to hold a "Dr. des." (Doctor designatus) until the degree is officialy conferred.

    that is not an ideal comparison, rather: should you call yourself married once you have said "I do" and the priest or civil servant has proclaimed you and your partner husband and wife (or husband and husband)? Or must you wait until you have signed the forms?

    "[In the US the] use of the Doctor title is merely a question of etiquette"-- *unless* you are stating or even implying that you are a healthcare doctor (MD, DO, DC for example) and you are not. That is fraud and a type of felony. But excepting that, you can call yourself Dr. in the US with no education whatsoever.

    I have a PhD and rarely use my title (Dr). Happy to give it to those who clamour for the title. Any takers?

    @AlakeOmaAlele - don't just *give* it away - sell the rights! To quote a former governor of the US state of Illinois (now a resident of the Federal Correctional Institution in Littleton, Colorado), "You've got this thing and it's (political euphemism deleted) golden! You can't just give it up for (political euphemism deleted) nothing!". :-)

    It seems the question really is when others can call you doctor. The answer: whenever they want.

    Degrees are usually awarded with a specific date which appears on the transcript and the diploma document. Some employers (including the US federal government and the national labs) have insisted in recent years that a newly hired graduate must have the degree awarded before the start date. This was such a problem for graduates of my institution that we ended up moving from a system in which all degrees were awarded on the commencement date to one in which degrees are awarded every month- if a student defends his dissertation in October, then he can get a diploma with a date of November 1.

  • Writing as an Administrator:

    It is appropriate to use the title when you are a graduate, ie, when the degree is conferred either in notice by letter or by ceremony (which ever comes first). Prior to that your status is that of a graduand. If you've been using the work-title PhD Candidate you might consider changing to PhD Graduand to indicate this status: that you're awaiting conferral but you've met the substantive criteria for fulfillment of your degree. Additional source: Swinburn on Postnominals.

    Congratulations by the way!

    But in practice, nobody but lawyers and administrators will object if you claim to have a PhD once your thesis has been approved and deposited. The graduation ceremony is just a play.

    Following up on what JeffE said, in my experience it is quite common practice (but not one I agree with) for people other than the student to start using the title "Dr." from the moment the dissertation defense is passed.

    While this is somewhat tangential to the question, if you are applying for jobs, a letter (usually from the University Registrar) or an official transcript that indicates that you have "fulfilled all requirements for conferral of the degree of Ph.D." is usually sufficient to indicate proof that you have a Ph.D degree.

  • First, Congratulations! Second, in about two weeks you'll forget about the whole issue with when to call yourself a doctor, simply because it will have been overcome by the events of your actual graduation. That is to say: at this point, it doesn't really matter, and no one is going to care one way or another; the gray area between when you pass your defense, and when you are officially conferred the degree is a short, finite time.

    The bigger question may be, When should you call yourself a doctor (even after graduation)? Or, What is the proper way to address yourself. I recommend being tactful when considering introducing yourself as "Doctor X," because that can come across as pretentious, and you don't want that as a first impression.

    On a lighter note, a professor I know stopped selecting the "Dr." salutation for airline flights after a flight attendant asked her to help with a medical emergency. Her reply to the request was, "unless the medical emergency can benefit from intricate knowledge of computer architecture, I'm not the doctor you're looking for!"

    Thanks. The time period is actually longer in my case because I've defended too late to graduate this semester, so I'm actually graduating in August.

    @WinstonEwert Same thing happened to me -- either way, it is a matter of months, and not really long enough to stress about (though for official documents, I would refer to Samuel Russell's answer). My committee chair congratulated me with "Dr. Gregg" immediately after I came back into the room after defending, and that night to dinner I wore a "Trust me, I'm a doctor" t-shirt I was given. To the extent that you can, live it up now! :)

    I'm not really stressed about it, I'm just thinking I'm going to have a lot of people ask me about over the next months, and I'd like to have the correct answer.

    Congratulations! Also, from a lighter side, I am about 6 months off completion of my PhD, and are already called 'Dr. D' by my colleagues and 'Doc' by my students (ama high school teacher).

  • In British universities, the relevant point is when the result of the viva (thesis defence) is published. This usually takes the form of the result being pinned on a board in a corridor somewhere in the adiministration building - I like to think of the corridor being subterranean with the sound of constant dripping water, the only visitor ever to enter being the person who pins the results up. This is normally about a week or so after the viva, if you pass without corrections, or a similar period after the examiners have said that you have corrected the thesis to their satisfaction. Then you can call yourself doctor and have all your bank cards changed! The graduation could be 6 months after you pass, and when you get your certificate the date of the award will be the publication date rather than the date of the graduation ceremony.

    This may be the case at some British universities, but it is not universal (compare universities where graduation is the ceremony that *confers* the degree, rather than simply marking the change in status; then one is not a doctor until one has been made a doctor; a notice of results is just an announcement that this is going to happen).

  • Quoting Yogi Berra, "it ain't over till it's over". Just because someone feels the degree has been earned, does not mean it will be conferred. After a successful dissertation defense, the graduand likely has some additional obligations to the institution.

    Should you state that you are 'married' just because your wedding is near? Same thing for degrees. You do not have it until you have it.

  • I defended my final dissertation defense two weeks ago, and my chair congratulated me and called me Dr. Woo! I always thought it was until when the title is conferred in a doctoral commencement, they can call you Dr. But on the contrary, you are called Dr. the moment you pass your dissertation defense.

    I'm not so sure if it's technical/legally correct, but it certainly is a common thing for committee and friends to do after the defense. I remember, it feels good!

  • In most German universities, you're not a doctor before you've published the dissertation, typically a book. Another year to make it exciting. But at least you can call yourself Dr. des. (doctor designatus) in the meantime.

    In Germany, it is technically a criminal offence to call yourself a "Doktor" without the final certificate.

  • This depends on the country. Luckily there is a long Wikipedia page dedicated to the use of the Doctor title.


    In the United States, the title Doctor is commonly used professionally by those who have earned a doctorate-level degree.

    So in theory you're not a doctor till you get some paper attesting you earned your doctorate-level degree.

    I'm not sure that I would jump from what Wikipedia says is "commonly used" to an "in theory" assertion ;-)

  • This varies by institution. I haven't heard that attending the actual graduation ceremony is obligatory anywhere, but I haven't checked around. Where I got my degree, the University of Minnesota, the rule was that the degree takes effect on the last day of the month in which all the paperwork gets completed by the candidate and the institution, and there was no obligation to attend the ceremony. But a few years earlier, it was done quarterly rather than monthly.

    As to when you can call yourself "Doctor", I would think it depends on the context and purpose. At a party you can tell someone you just finished your Ph.D. In more formal contexts, you can say you finished your Ph.D., to be effective April 31st.

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution

Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM