Doctors come in many varieties. On Saturday the issue of who gets to call herself Doctor arose when the Wall Street Journal ran a pretty darned stupid opinion piece. As you have no doubt heard by now, the writer of the op-ed chastised Dr. Jill Biden for insisting people refer to her by her degree. Only medical doctors, the writer argued, deserve to use the honorific prefix.
Let’s get the etymological profile out of the way. The word doctor is from the Latin docere ‘to teach.’ Okay, Dr. Biden earned her PhD in Education from the University of Delaware.
I, too, have a doctorate. A PhD in Linguistics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I worked hard for it. But I don’t care about using the title. That’s my choice. On the other hand, I do insist on using my title of Professor when it matters. Say, on a letter of recommendation, when my professional achievement is relevant to an admissions committee evaluating a student’s application.
I’m not going to engage with what the WSJ chooses to publish. Or how they bother to defend it. Let’s just enjoy three fabulous women with PhDs!
Gotta Love ‘Em Doctors #1: Kizzmekia Corbett
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett has a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She has popped up in the news all year for her part in developing the covid vaccine. If anyone deserves to be called by her non-medical PhD title, it is her.
By the way, she is from Hillsborough, North Carolina! And that’s only the second reason why I chose her for the title image. (Image: NIAID Soundbites. No copyright infringement is intended.)
Listen and love:
Gotta Love ‘Em Doctors #2: Condoleezza Rice
Dr. Condoleezza Rice has a PhD from the School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She was the first woman to serve as the National Security Advisor (2001-2005).
She is the current Director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. So she probably goes by the title Director Rice these days.
Otherwise, she could go by Doctor. Or maybe Former National Security Advisor? Don’t know if she needs the ‘Former.’ After all, Joe Biden still went by Vice President Biden until he became President Elect Biden.
Gotta Love ‘Em Doctors #3: Angela Merkel
Dr. Angela Merkel has been Chancellor of Germany for the past 15 years. So, it is difficult to think of her in terms other than Chancellor Merkel.
Nevertheless, she has a PhD in quantum chemistry.
Final Note: Johns Hopkins University
I included Chancellor Merkel to make a point. About the American system of higher education. If you didn’t know better, you might think our system follows the British system. It does not. It follows the German model.
The first PhD-granting institution in the US is Johns Hopkins University (1876). And it took Heidelberg University as its model. And Hopkins, in turn, became the model research institution in the US. (I still don’t understand the British system. With its O Levels and A Levels.)
Our PhD system revolves around small, specialized seminars. And the idea of the Doktorvater ‘doctor father.’ That is, the person you choose as your PhD advisor. The person who singularly helps you to become a doctor. By overseeing the writing of your doctoral dissertation.
So, the very notion of doctor is in the DNA of the American PhD system.
Are we all on board now?
While we’re speaking of German education…. Let’s not forget we begin ours with kindergarten.
And, finally, Andrea Wurzburger of People magazine scooped me on Rice and Merkel.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen