You may have read that dumb opinion piece that has been circulating about how Dr. Biden should drop the “Dr.” because she’s not an MD, how getting an Ed.D is not as rigorous as a Ph.D. & how getting a doctorate in anything basically doesn’t mean anything anymore. AKA anyone can do it. And that it’s almost comical to use the title.
I’m sure most people thought the piece absurd, but it got me thinking about my own complicated feelings around the title. I got my Ph.D. over 10 years ago (yikes! literally feels like yesterday I was rewarding myself with candy for every new paragraph added to the dissertation), and I have never introduced myself as “Dr.” The only time I ever use it is on my CV/resume or signing an e-mail passive aggressively.
Any package my dad sends me is for Dr. Messer. This is how I identify his packages (most of the stuff inside is for his granddaughter, but still). My friends will use it in when bragging about me. Sometimes people touring around fancy VIPS at work will use it to describe me, as I sit there sharpening pencils or trying to eat my lunch during our 30 minute break.
I never used it because I didn’t want to brag. I got the degree out of pure curiosity. I wanted to know: how can I become an expert at what I do? How can I become better by studying with other people who do the same thing? I went right back to the job I had before after I got the degree, so it wasn’t like I transitioned to being some big shot professor. The kids at our school call us by our first name for goodness sakes–how casual can we be?
When I do teach university level classes, I love introducing myself as Professor Messer (as did my friends at NYU) because IT RHYMES. I have always hated pretentiousness. I have always loved humor. I loved learning but often hated academia, never feeling at home at stuffy conferences presenting research. One of my friends at NYU had an amazing vocabulary. I had no idea what he was saying half the time, and one time I asked him why he chose to speak like that–especially when we were just hanging out as friends. Cut the act! And he said, “I don’t do it on purpose. I use whatever word best fits what I’m trying to say.” Simple enough, but it made me realize there was ZERO pretentiousness involved (he had none by the way), and he didn’t seem to mind how people perceived him. I never dumbed down my vocabulary after that. He helped me understand that utilizing my full intelligence only helped me articulate my thoughts/feelings/etc & that I didn’t need to worry about seeming pretentious.
My thought before that was always “why use a big word when a small one does just fine?” LOL. And now all this rambling to get to my point, which is, people often want you to play SMALL. Especially if you are a woman. (Especially if you are a woman of color!). “No Kristy, you’re just imagining that.” Nope. People are often very transparent about it. I thought it would go away as I got older, but in some ways–the further away I am from school, the worse it gets. I won’t go into details (I KNOW YOU WANT DETAILS–email me! one day lol!), and yes–I know it’s all about their insecurity, etc etc–but it has real life consequences.
As a result, I often want to appear not to take up too much space. Don’t mention the degree. Don’t talk too much about triathlons or the marathons. Don’t post too much about your business. Don’t show them your biceps. (OK, really I could chill on showing them my biceps). Honestly, this site has become a secret spot where I can take up all the space knowing it’s mostly my family and close friends reading who always only want me to play BIG.
I believe in humility. I believe in being humble. I believe in being the first to admit when you are wrong and not taking yourself too seriously. But I’m starting to understand that I can be all of those things & still stand in my own worth. I can still be proud. I can still offer guidance and expertise when it is called upon (or when it’s not but I think it’s needed). I can still be Ms. Kristy when I want and Dr. when I’m feeling it & Princess Belle for Halloween & a triathlete (even when I’m not racing) and not be ashamed to fill all those shoes.
I for one am looking forward to having a doctor (who is also a teacher!) in the White House.