Advertize PhD on business cards?
February 27, 2007 7:50 PM   Subscribe

Should I put PhD on my business cards? I'm starting a new job in a senior technical role, but my PhD is not in that technical field - I'm completely torn whether having the PhD after my name is horribly pretentious or helps raise the perceived value of my name & advice.

To expand on the above - I'm an Enterprise Architect with a large software company and want to make a good impression in this new role with colleagues and clients. My PhD is in geological sciences and generally I don't advertise it at all. Recently, though, I met another person doing the same job for a different organization and he had PhD after his name on the card. Over a beer later, it turned out his degree was in metallurgy - so equally irrelevent to the field we both work in.

So what do you think? Pretentious or moderately impressive (or both or neither?) I need to order new business cards soon, so would like the external feedback.
posted by raoulm to Technology (45 answers total)
I don't put any of my credentials on anything where it's not directly relevant.
posted by davy at 8:02 PM on February 27, 2007

If you put it on there, people will assume that your degree is in software or something similar, which it's not. To me, that feels, not exactly dishonest, but a little disingenuous.

On the other hand, my partner suggests that having the PhD will at least signify that you have certain abilities in critical thinking and analysis that non-PhD folks aren't necessarily expected to have. (of course, she's in a PhD program atm, so she may be biased :) )
posted by FlyingMonkey at 8:02 PM on February 27, 2007

Misleading and pretentious
posted by necessitas at 8:10 PM on February 27, 2007

Misleading. I have been advised to only use my creds in very specific and relevant (to those creds) situations.
posted by oflinkey at 8:15 PM on February 27, 2007

Yeah, I'm thinking probably leave it off since it *could* be construed as misleading. I don't think it's pretentious at all though - it's an achievement to be proud of.

Any chance you can hang your diploma up on your wall instead? Kinda joking here, but kinda serious, too.
posted by rmm at 8:20 PM on February 27, 2007

I don't think it is pretentious if the PhD was related to the field in which he actually works.
posted by necessitas at 8:29 PM on February 27, 2007

Little pieces of paper with your contact info aren't pretentious. People are. If, when meeting someone, you come across as a normal, nice guy then when they look at your business card later you'll achieve the desired effect of building respect.

If you're a complete douche bag and go around tossing your card around and insisting people note the PhD then you'll be treated as such...

You spent a lot of time and money getting a degree which requires a certain level of commitment, intelligence, and professionalism and you should be recognized for it even if it doesn't apply to your daily job.

Besides, if someone asks you about it you can certainly make a light hearted joke out of it... WIN!
posted by wfrgms at 8:30 PM on February 27, 2007

"Should I put PhD on my business cards?"

Not if your PhD is in an unrelated field.
posted by paulsc at 8:38 PM on February 27, 2007

I don't think it's pretentious at all though - it's an achievement to be proud of.

Being proud of it isn't quite the same thing as using it to advertise yourself, though. I think that's what people tend to find pretentious about this kind of thing (classing it along with e.g. putting it next to the author's name on self-help books), and I definitely wouldn't put it on a business card if it wasn't directly relevant. If it is relevant, then it wouldn't be pretentious at all.
posted by advil at 8:39 PM on February 27, 2007

I have a tendency to ask people who have PhDs (with honest curiosity) why they got one. Especially if their work isn't in the exact niche they studied.

If you would enjoy answering that question, conversationally, then I'd put it on there.

if it would put you off balance, then I'd leave it off.

I wouldn't find it pretentious, but I'd find it a bit odd.
posted by PEAK OIL at 8:43 PM on February 27, 2007

Where I work, we have a number of people with degrees that are unrelated to their work. Two I work with in particular are senior management in the company. Both use their degrees on their business cards, in resumes attached to proposals, and so forth (one has a B.Sc. in Nutrition and oversees government contracts, and one has a B.A. in Political Science and is a service director for safety management systems.)

This isn't the first company I've worked for where this has been the case. I don't think there's a strict etiquette. If you want to have your Ph.D. on your business card and your employer is fine with it (or actively wants it there), then do so.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:45 PM on February 27, 2007

I say include it. Your ability to think critically, organize information, review research and manage a project over the long term is part of that PhD.
posted by acoutu at 8:53 PM on February 27, 2007

you earned the right to use it. you shouldnt even consider subjugating such an impressive achievement. your are a DR, it is a part of you now. people will just have to get over it.
posted by Davaal at 8:59 PM on February 27, 2007

I don't work in a software-related field, and I have no experience that would bear on that circumstance. However, your question seems generically phrased so I'll comment that in politics, I'd find nothing pretentious about what you describe.

Putting a title on your business card isn't comparable to introducing yourself aloud as "John Doe, PhD." Moreover, there's a shared understanding that most people come to the field from varied backgrounds. Possessing a doctorate is, foremost, an indication that you are educated and accomplished. It lends credibility irrespective of subject or school.

Frankly, this wouldn't rise to a question of whether business cards are an appropriate venue for bragging because it isn't bragging. It's representing yourself. If anything, it would be odd to omit your PhD. But again, I have zero experience working in IT — so if your field operates in a radically different climate, then my input might be irrelevant.
posted by cribcage at 9:00 PM on February 27, 2007

It is classy not to mention it. And for every person who's impressed there'll be someone who wonders if you couldn't cut it in your original field.

Also some jocular colleague will start calling you "doctor" in every meeting and that'll get old fast.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:05 PM on February 27, 2007

It'll create confusion. Don't do it.

It's also pretentious, but then I think that anyone who isn't an MD who goes by Dr is likely an ass.
posted by Good Brain at 9:18 PM on February 27, 2007

I always think people who make a big deal out of advanced degrees are a little silly. Unless you're an academic, leave it off
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:24 PM on February 27, 2007

I'm in the same field as you.

I second wfrgms' advice. Some people will ask you about it. How it all comes off depends on you not the card.

I've seen a few people with it and inevitably they seem to be European. It's not as common here in the U.S. to include it in one's title or business cards but in my experience it comes off as more of a cultural quirk than as an attempt to be pretentious.

Your clients might be impressed. Your colleagues will be secure enough to either find it interesting or just ignore it all together.
posted by vacapinta at 9:40 PM on February 27, 2007

Reminds me of the time that a Ph.D in anthropology was on the airline list as Dr. XYZ. A medical crisis happened on the plane and a flight attendant rushed to ask him to help. Imagine his chagrin when he had to say (with everyone listening with rapt attention...) that he was an anthropologist.

I have a JD in law that is a doctorate. Not a snowballs chance in hell that I would EVER call myself Dr. That said, when I was in the Ukraine, many lawyers were addressed as Dr. As they are in Brazil too.

To each his own, but as your Ph.D is not in the field you are working in, I would leave it off. Certainly it is an accomplishment. But I would worry that at some point someone who assumed it was computer related would feel (perhaps wrongly), that they had been deceived.
posted by toucano at 10:02 PM on February 27, 2007

I side with vacapinta here--it's about you being comfortable.

I earned a PhD in the social sciences and had "PhD" on my business card when I worked in an academic environment, dropped it ('cause I was worried it'd be pretentious) when I moved over to the private sector but added it back to my card when I helped launch a company where my degree was (from one angle, anyway) related.

It's much more common in Europe to see degrees on a business card, whether they are directly related to the job or not.

I think you should evaluate your situation . . . if you feel a bit new/vulnerable in your gig then leave the PhD off the card--you need to become socially acclimatized to the environment and your degree, while something to be prooud of, can either be a source of "hidden wealth" that you can reveal in one on one conversations as a point of interest or it can be used as a shield ("see who I am!") which is not likley the way to win friends and influence people.

If you're in an established career path and a more senior position then don't shy from the credential you've earned.
posted by donovan at 10:47 PM on February 27, 2007

I have a JD in law that is a doctorate.

Sort of, but not really and not in this context. "JD" stands for "Juris Doctor," not "Juris Doctorate" — the difference being that, while you do have a post-graduate degree, you don't have a terminal degree (e.g., an SJD). The OP does.

Moreover, there's a tremendous difference between a business card that reads "John Doe, PhD" versus a card that reads "Dr John Doe." It's true that some PhDs refer to themselves as "doctor," but that wasn't the OP's question — and it's unlikely that anybody will read the former business card and conclude they're addressing an MD.
posted by cribcage at 11:12 PM on February 27, 2007

I used to work for a business that encouraged people to put advanced degree notations on business cards whether it applied or not. They did this to assist in getting various work bids. Project bids submitted with a phd on the application could potentially earn more than those without. I don't have an advanced degree and was never put in the position of having to decide.

My gut would give me problems if I had been.
posted by lilywing13 at 11:32 PM on February 27, 2007

I dont think it is pretentious at all. Here in Australia (which tends to follow UK conventions), it is extremely common to list all your qualifications after your name.

Put it the other way around. I have a PhD in biochemistry, I work in biochemistry.. yet I also have an unrelated arts degree (history major). In correspondence I still officially refer to myself as:

TheOther Guy BA B.Sc(Hons) PhD

Why should I drop the BA? Its still part of my educational background.

I think you should see what your co-workers are doing. if they are listing their BAs and B.Scs after their name.. then do it. If not.. I would probably leave it.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 12:01 AM on February 28, 2007

If it was pretentious they wouldn't give out the letters to put that the ends of names. PhD tells people something about you. MD(Medicinæ Doctor) and PE (Professional Engineer) do too. Thing is that given your job you only need to list the things that apply, and since your job is not teaching or research you should leave off the Phd. If you have an MD leave that off too. Though, if you like letters added to names a PE could apply to what you are doing. Software Engineers can get a PE too.
posted by magikker at 12:11 AM on February 28, 2007

There is a lot of status awarded based on your educational degree so in England and other countries you will see on business cards and correspondence including checks the educational designation e.g., "Dr."

Now in the US there is a more relaxed attitude dependent on area of the country and field of endeavour. I personally, would not place my credentials unless it was related to my field or academia. When filling out grants and funding forms believe me, they will want your CV and have you provide your educational background with all certifications.

Now consultants are happy to put all their certifications on their b. cards but since you are already in a firm and have specific role it depends on your personality and the culture of your firm. Does your firm CARE about this kind of credentialing? How will your compatriots feel when you explain what field you received your doctorate in? Are you prepared to answer questions and feel comfortable about it?

Now tech, from the old days that I remember, was one of those fields where it was how you performed that counted more than the credentials per se. But if you put your credentials on your b. card or advertise your higher education be prepared to have higher expectations due to your advertisement of the fact, assumptions made and questions that maybe asked.
posted by jadepearl at 1:36 AM on February 28, 2007

(1) Do what everyone else at your place is doing

(2) I know plenty of people in my field (genetics research, UK) who have several different business cards with different information on to use in different roles (academic, administrative, teaching, etc.)
posted by primer_dimer at 2:21 AM on February 28, 2007

I'd say no. As somebody considering hiring you - or your company to do some work I'll make an initial judgement from a meeting with you. If all seems promising then I will want to see your resume and your company's portfolio. If I find out you have a PhD at the point of already being interested then I would be impressed - even if it is in an unrelated field. On the other hand putting the qualification on your business card risks making you and your employer look like they are boosting your credentials on false pretences. I would then worry that your work might be costing me an undeserved premium.

In short you would be better demonstrating to me how good your thinking is now and on the subject in hand rather than once upon a time in a different field.
posted by rongorongo at 3:31 AM on February 28, 2007

I'm in a (perhaps) similar situation.

My title is Director of Software Engineering for a relatively small (60+) person company. We make a handheld Raman spectrometer. My PhD in optical physics absolutely helps me, even though I'm no longer doing research.

By the rules described above, I shouldn't include it because my PhD is not in Raman spectroscopy. (however, our instrument includes a laser and a spectrometer contains tons and tons of optics).

I say include it. This is absolutely not a case at all similar calling yourself a Dr. in a situation where people will assume a medical doctor.

(one slight thing to point out however, I do NOT put it on my email signature. I find that to be pretentious... so YMMV!)
posted by gregvr at 3:59 AM on February 28, 2007

My CEO has a PhD in chemical engineering as well as an MBA. Our company makes underwater robots. He adds the PhD.

Another CEO I know has a PhD in Ocean Engineering. He runs a statistical analysis consulting firm. He adds the PhD.

I've learned from many mentors that in the engineering world (which I do believe software falls into), if you intend to be in a high-level managerial or officer position, having a PhD lends a lot to your credibility, directly relevent or no -- it shows you have delved deep into something, you're capable of a lot, and you've worked a ton for it. The idea is that a Master's degree is "the new Bachelors'" in some realms of engineering, and you may have to actively show off that you've gone beyond that. Mid-level managers it's not such a big deal, but as soon as you're high enough to be networking a lot for your company, I hear the PhD addition is a good thing. And while it is true that job interviews and such will have your CV and be able to reference it, the first-impression meeting at a big conference only gets your business card, and if you're in the position where a PhD would make a difference, put it on the card.

It also isn't unreasonable to have two sets of business cards -- one for high-level networking, and the others for casual lunches, interviews, etc.

If your PhD were in Shakespearean Literature and you were doing software, I'd feel it was 90% irrelevant. Since it's still in a science, many of those skils carry over more directly, so I'd consider it much more relevant. Equivalently, your PhD in science being used while you work at an advertising or PR firm would be less relevant than Shakespearean literature.

A PhD is hard work. It's certainly something to be proud of. My friends in grad school right now told our old undergrad professors that "Goddammit, when I'm out of here, EVERYONE is calling me Doctor. I've earned it." There is a strong feeling in the US that it is essential to play down education, and I don't understand why that is the case -- as a total geek and someone who always loved school and plans to go back for more, I hate being made to feel bad about myself because someone else thinks I'm being "pretentious" just for being excited about something I'm working on or something I want to do. I wouldn't walk into McDonalds and announce yourself as PhD, but in a professional environment, THAT'S WHAT IT'S FOR. So take advantage of it!
posted by olinerd at 4:09 AM on February 28, 2007

It depends on the corporate culture. If your peers all have bachelor degrees and are not the academic types it will definitely come off as pretentious. If you're in a firm where everyone went to top schools and often have advanced degrees (perhaps not PhD) it would be more appropriate.

I do not think it is fair to call it pretentious. I do not know anyone who went for a PhD so they could impress people. It is not simply a matter of going to school for a few extra years (at least in all science fields I know of). That does not change the reality of the situation that this is highly subjective based on the particular industry and the corporate culture.
posted by geoff. at 4:46 AM on February 28, 2007

I was going to say "misleading and pretentious," but solid-one-love and a couple of others made me rethink. I'll just say that I personally find it ludicrous when people put "PhD" on their business cards and correspondence, and think "self-important twit." But that's just me, and I Am Not A Businessman. Maybe it's because I went to a grad school where the professors (many of whom were world-renowned experts) were addressed as "Mister" rather than "Doctor" and it was simply taken for granted that they had a doctorate, but I despise those "Goddammit, when I'm out of here, EVERYONE is calling me Doctor. I've earned it" people.

As for its helping in getting jobs, sure, that's why you put it on your resume. A business card is not a resume.
posted by languagehat at 6:25 AM on February 28, 2007

Might the answer be to simply state what the PhD is for?
John Doe
PhD Flyfishing
posted by heh3d at 6:54 AM on February 28, 2007

I'm not surprised by the amounts of people who say don't include it. So long as you youself are not pretentious, I see nothing pretentious about a degree. You, no doubt, worked hard to get it and I see no problem in putting it out there.

I think anyone who's being negative about it has some issues with themselves. Maybe they feel threatened by it. Insecurity or jealousy. Whatever. Those people, to me, are the ones who come across as.. well, asses.

Also, someone said that anyone other than an MD being called a doctor is likely an ass.. I've met some MDs who are total asses.

And why would someone assume what your PhD was in? It's really silly to jump to conclusions like that.
posted by VegaValmont at 8:26 AM on February 28, 2007

I've worked in scientific academic publishing with groups from many disciplines and am currently a science writer and researcher. A PhD on a business card or in an author credit is not pretentious. Using a PhD designator in casual social correspondence is pretentious. Listing fellowship or other honorary designators -- the kind issued by scientific societies and that you can acquire for a few continuing education credits -- is pretentious. Insisting that others address you as Doctor in non-academic settings because you have a PhD is extraordinarily pretentious, and marks you as an insecure striver among other highly educated people.

(Just for the hell of it, here's a helpful general guideline of how to formally address people.)
posted by melissa may at 8:26 AM on February 28, 2007

I've found that Europeans tend to cite their degrees and professional designations in their email signatures and business cards, whereas folks living in the Americas or Asia tend to not do so.

I work with one person (European) who's email signature and business card reads "Dr. FirstName LastName, PhD. CISSP" - both his PhD (in CompSci) and CISSP (a professional certification for Information Security practitioners) are directly relevant to his job.

I (an American), on the other hand, also hold the CISSP certification (but no advanced degree), but do not use that designation on my business cards or in my email signature. I do include it after my name (John Q. Deadmessenger, CISSP) in publications where it is professionally relevant to do so.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:51 AM on February 28, 2007

What melissa said.
posted by xammerboy at 8:53 AM on February 28, 2007

If you didn't put it on your card, and I subsequently found out you actually had a PhD, I would be impressed.
posted by kaizen at 9:31 AM on February 28, 2007

Considering you'll be passing your cards out to clients, don't include it. Clients will assume you have a phD in SW engineering; if/when they find out you don't, it will make them wonder "What else have they misrepresented/exaggerated?" (especially if the project begins to get rocky, which they all do at some point). I think implying you are more skilled in your current position will be a disservice to your company. It only takes a single seed of doubt planted in the client's mind to ruin the relationship.

Your other alternative is to have your cards say "phD, Geological Sciences" which would make me think, "What does this have to do with our contract?" and, probably, "What a pretentious guy."

That said, it's obvious you want to do it, considering what you marked as best. I'd advise against it, though.
posted by sfkiddo at 9:41 AM on February 28, 2007

I think anyone who's being negative about it has some issues with themselves. Maybe they feel threatened by it. Insecurity or jealousy. Whatever. Those people, to me, are the ones who come across as.. well, asses.

honestly, I consider PhDs as an error in judgement, unless the person is working in the same field.

If they changed fields, they almost certainly would have been better served by multiple master's degrees.

I don't think poorly of the person for it, since almost everybody's life changes between education and work, but it doesn't impress me either way. The only real signal it sends is that the person in question is unlikely to be a quitter, which is good.
posted by PEAK OIL at 10:03 AM on February 28, 2007

You, no doubt, worked hard to get it and I see no problem in putting it out there.

And while your at it, don't forget to list your karate belt status, no doubt you worked hard for that, too. Why stop there? Are you part of a church's layclergy? Perhaps add Deacon or Elder to the card, as well. These things show dedication, ability, etc. None of the have anything to do with your job. In this case, neither does your PhD.

Nobody is going to look at your business card and think "PhD! I'll bet he has amazing critical thinking and analysis skills!" they are going to look at your card and think "PhD! I'll bet he is an expert in computer sciences!" You will be building relationships with people who are, to some degree, extablishing their trust in you based on your industry expertise as represented by your PhD. Should it come out that your PhD is in a completely other subject, your credibility will suffer. There are plenty of other ways to let people know you have a PhD without misleading them into assuming your PhD is related to the job title on your business card.
posted by necessitas at 10:38 AM on February 28, 2007

toucano: "I have a JD in law that is a doctorate."

Yes, but would you use "Esq."? My parents both have JDs. Only my mom is still in the law (as an administrative law judge), and she only has "Esq." added onto her name in continuing education mailings, even though she never uses it professionally. On the other hand as she works for the state, she doesn't get business cards, AFAIK.
posted by Xoder at 11:20 AM on February 28, 2007

Not exactly the same but how does it strike you when you see "John Doe, Esq."? It irks me to no end. Probably because it seems that there is a direct correlation between it's use behind your own name and being a pretentious jerk. It's a nice thing to add to the addressee's name on correspondence when it applies but otherwise it reeks of "I'm more important than you"! (IAAL). Again, not the same thing but I get the same sort of vibe when someone uses PhD when the degree is unrelated to their profession. (Don't get me started about business people with an EdD who plaster "Dr. Joe Dilbert" on every email.)
posted by Carbolic at 11:26 AM on February 28, 2007

If your PhD were in Shakespearean Literature and you were doing software, I'd feel it was 90% irrelevant.

Actually, I could see a lit PhD being more relevant than a geological sciences designation. Advanced work in information design, document development, semiotics, knowledge management and the like can be involved in a lit PhD -- and that applies to software architecture.
posted by acoutu at 2:11 PM on February 28, 2007

For those who think it's pretentious, go do one, then come back and tell us that. Also, many PhDs will never work in their specific field of study (I don't, just in scientific research generally). If it was relevant to your getting the job, it's relevant to mention. But overall I agree with the people who say go with the standard in your field and company.

On internal university pages I am PhD. On my ID cards and elsewhere I'm not... so people tend to assume I'm a student (if I wear jeans to work) or a receptionist (if I don't). It's annoying. Most of the people I work with flaunt their PhDs somewhere. "Respect" from people who find out I'm better educated than they thought? No, they just look annoyed that I don't know where Dr so-and-so's office is.
posted by methylsalicylate at 5:54 AM on March 1, 2007

"For those who think it's pretentious, go do one, then come back and tell us that. "

This sentence captures, quite beautifully, why some people say not to do it. methylsalicylate is strongly implying that his PhD was more significant, or more difficult than what the rest of us did with our time.

This idea is silly at best. At worst, it's pretentious and disconnected from reality.

There are many very difficult, important and interesting paths that a life can take, most of which do not give you letters after your name.

You likely recognize this, and as long as you act like that, I see little issue with the letters.
posted by PEAK OIL at 9:00 AM on March 1, 2007

« Older Long term motivation towards a career change?   |   Biking/balling/lifting for fat dummies like me. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.