[TUHS] Dennis Ritchie's Dissertation

Dan Cross crossd at gmail.com
Sun Aug 2 02:43:06 AEST 2020

On Sat, Aug 1, 2020 at 11:09 AM John P. Linderman <jpl.jpl at gmail.com> wrote:

> The use of honorifics was subtly discouraged at the Labs. I never saw a
> policy statement, but nobody I knew used "Dr" (except those in the medical
> department), even though the place was crawling with doctoral degrees.

My officemate has a PhD and told me a funny story. Someone (not him) from
his program graduated and shortly thereafter flew somewhere. Realizing that
they could put "Dr" as an honorific when booking their flight, this person
did so. Shortly after take-off, a flight attendant approached the
newly-minted PhD and said something along the lines of, "Uh, Doctor? We
have a passenger we think may be having a heart attack..." This person had
to quickly explain that they were not "that kind of doctor" but rather "the
other kind." The nonplussed flight attendant advised this person not to use
"Dr" as a title when booking future flights. As an aside, I have a close
friend who is a medical doctor and she's been on _five_ separate flights
where the flight attendants have asked for medical assistance from
qualified passengers: usually it's a heart-attack or an allergic reaction.
As a result, she now prescribes herself an epi pen and keeps it in her bag.

I think there are times when titles are contextually appropriate: perhaps
on the byline of a paper, in accordance with the editorial guidelines of a
publication or conference proceedings or something, or perhaps when
teaching a class in an academic setting. Occasionally I teach a session of
a graduate course somewhere or another; less occasionally I get emails from
students who attended the lecture. I always find it flattering and amusing
when they variously refer to me as "Dr" or "Prof": I am neither, though I
understand that in academic settings that's simply the norm.

About half of the people in the immediate vicinity of my office have PhDs.
When my kids have come to visit, I try to use titles and last names.
Sometimes this gets them confused, "why did I have to call that person Dr
So-and-so but you call her Lucy?" "Because you're six and I'm her
colleague." But otherwise everyone is on a first-name basis; if a PhD tried
to assert use of their title outside of some context where it's explicitly
relevant, I don't imagine it would go well and that person would likely not
remain in their position long due to a cultural mismatch.

A particular impedance mismatch is when someone has a PhD in a completely
unrelated field: It's not unheard of for someone with a degree in the
humanities to work in software. I once briefly met someone who had worked
on MVS as a systems programmer, but who had a PhD in study of the Japanese
language. I doubt he insisted on being called "Doctor" at work.

        - Dan C.

On Sat, Aug 1, 2020 at 10:14 AM Larry McVoy <lm at mcvoy.com> wrote:
>> On Sat, Aug 01, 2020 at 09:14:36AM +0200, markus schnalke wrote:
>> > Hoi.
>> >
>> > [2020-07-30 20:30] Dan Cross <crossd at gmail.com>
>> > >
>> > > I understood from Mike Anshel that he was rather proud of this, [...]
>> >
>> > I once read that someone is famous when people omit the titles,
>> > because they add nothing to the name, but rather would smaller it.
>> > A good example is Albert Einstein. Who cares what titles he has.
>> >
>> > Another is Dennis Ritchie. What does it matter what degrees, titles,
>> > whatever he has? -- He's already a genius!
>> My dad wasn't famous, but he had a PhD in physics.  He never asked people
>> to call him Dr McVoy.  As we grew up and realized he could be called that
>> we asked him why not.  He said it sounds fancy, the only time he used it
>> was when he wanted a table at a crowded restaurant (which was very rare,
>> Madison didn't pay him very well).
>> Somehow that stuck with me and I've always been sort of wary of people
>> who use their title.  The people I admire never did.
>> Someone on the list said that they thought Dennis wouldn't appreciate
>> it if we got his PhD official.  I couldn't put my finger on it at the
>> time, but I agreed.  And I think it is because the people who are really
>> great don't need or want the fancy title.  I may be over thinking it,
>> but Dennis does not need the title, it does nothing to make his legacy
>> better, his legacy is way way more than that title.
>> Which is a long ramble to say I agree with Markus.
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