An Unwritten PhD Policy

By Annie A. ’21

Within virtually every department, at least one teacher has a special, secret qualification unbeknownst to the student body— no, Winsor doesn’t have superhero teachers, but rather, a significant number of PhD holders. Of the six classes I am taking this semester, three are taught by teachers with PhDs, and the other three are taught by teachers with other advanced degrees. One unspoken rule the vast majority of the Winsor faculty has chosen to abide by is that teachers who are qualified to use the title “Dr.” instead go by “Ms.” or “Mr.” I hadn’t realized that this was even an issue— it simply had not registered that my very own teachers had PhDs because I’d never heard anyone call them “Dr.” Students tend to find out only if their teachers put PhD at the end of official correspondence, or somehow their doctorate work or research comes up organically in class.

Dr. Bricklin, or Ms. Bricklin, as most students know her, has a PhD in ecology. She explains that she “was at first surprised that Winsor didn’t refer to people by Doctor, because that is usually what is done professionally and in other high schools as well,” but feels that “whatever is most comfortable for the school and for the students is what [she’s] comfortable with.” Ultimately, electing not to use Dr. is “not a policy— it’s a complicated thing because somewhere around 92% of the faculty have advanced degrees— some are master’s, some are PhDs, and so the school has never distinguished between the people with master’s degrees and the people with PhDs in their titles,” as Ms. Pelmas (also known as Dr. Pelmas) puts it. 

It’s Winsor’s culture that guides how we refer to teachers. Ms. Pelmas noted that “these things are typically cultural in schools; it’s not usually a policy one way or another, and the culture of this school is to understand that all the faculty are equally talented and expert, and that a PhD isn’t necessarily a distinction around the expertise people have.” For example, “Some people are teaching in the specific field they got their PhD in, but some aren’t. It’s about acknowledging the collective excellence of this faculty, whether or not they have a PhD,” Ms. Pelmas continues. Ms. Bricklin adds that it “comes down to what is considered respectful and at Winsor, calling someone Ms. or Mr. is that sign of respect.” Furthermore, because Winsor students tend to form close relationships with faculty members, and classes are generally relatively relaxed, it would seem unfitting to some if their teachers insisted on a more official title.

The majority of faculty members seem to have little preference for their formal title within the school, and thus, the issue of Dr. vs Ms./Mr. seems to be one of the last thoughts on many Winsor teachers’ minds. As is the current status, it seems that teachers just use what is comfortable and feels appropriate. I do find this policy a bit contradictory, however, since one of Winsor’s goals is to prepare us for college where, generally, people with PhDs are referred to as Dr. Maya Bodick ’21 shares the belief that “a teacher’s level of education does not necessarily denote their level of teaching ability, and it’s not demeaning to one teacher to essentially refer to another as having a ‘higher level of education.’” Ultimately though, as long as doctorate-holding teachers at other schools do have the choice to go by Dr., the current situation is more a reflection of Winsor’s relatively laid-back classroom environment and close relationships among faculty and students.