Friday, June 02, 2006

Mister Professor Doctor

A team from Kolej Universiti Sains Malaysia has discovered a third species of the world’s smallest fish (from the genus Paedocypris blah blah blah) in a peat swamp in the foothills of Bukit Bauk urban recreational forest.

Professor Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Mohammad, who led the team said:
"This discovery was the highlight of the Bukit Bauk expedition. We are confident this will attract biologists from around the world to do more research on the bio-diversity of Bukit Bauk."

This posting is not about the fish but about Abdul Latiff Mohammad’s academic title.

Not many realise that in university protocol the title ‘professor’ outclasses a mere ‘doctor’. A professor would normally be appointed from doctors. Usually in the west, it would be just Professor KTemoc or
Professor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Yet I see in Malaysian universities the insistence of many professors in including the title ‘doctor’ before their names, as if they are scared that people may not know they have a PhD.

It’s like a military commander titling himself
Major General (once) Lt Colonel KTemoc.

General practitioners (MBBS) or doktor ubat, on the other hand, are really not academically entitled to be addressed as Doctors, though society has accorded them this title through common (rather than academic) usage. Afterall, they only have double bachelor degrees, but they are quite happy to call themselves Doctors rather than GPs.

But the real medical postgraduate blokes and lassies, for example the surgeons, who are entitled to be called Doctors insist on calling themselves Misters - hey, what do lady surgeons called themselves - Miss-es?

A surgeon friend explained that the rather common title of Mister remembers their history when the original surgeons were barbers. So for a surgeon, their career paths see them worked their guts out to be called Doctors, then worked harder to return to be Misters again.

In French it’s a different story of course, for the word ‘professor’ just means ‘teacher’ so when a French says he or she's a professor, don't get academically too excited. I wonder what title the French allow their PhDs to carry?


  1. I would be even more interesting if the person was knighted by the Malaysian King and the British Queen, performed a Haj, an Ir. That would make the bloke Yang Berhormat Prof. Sir. Datuk Dr. Ir. Hj. XXX!

  2. Hey that is news to me... Our King bestowing knighthood.

  3. I like Howsy's scenario. But the King don't give Datuk but Datuk Seri or Tun etc, and if that bloke, a Sri Lankan Malaysian Muslim was a former army engineer, say Lt-Gen rank before he changed over to become a lecturer in uni, and was knighted with a Datuk Seri and a Tun, then he would be titled a humongously long:

    Yg Berhormat (or militarily Yg Berbahagia) Lt-Jen Tun Datuk Seri Professor Dr Ir Haji Kamaruddin Kamalanathan Ponnai Arunalsingam Vingalerusivagam bin Abdullah ;-)

  4. malekz, 1st class analysis! we have always been concerned about 'appearances' rather than substance.

  5. In Malaysia (or UK system in general) a professor does not necessarily has a PhD degree (which entitled to carry Dr. title). Not like in USA where a professor is definitely a PhD holder (i.e., Dr.). That is why he put Prof. Dr. bla..bla...

  6. Yang Berhormat is reserved for MP or ADUN. The rest are yang Berbahagia. Yang berhormat or Yang Berbahagia are not titles but just salutations.

  7. yah there is no such rule in proper english using more than 1 salutation, if u want to be known as PhD it was written after your name example: Architect ABC CDE, PhD

  8. KT,

    The French use "Docteur" for people holding PhDs.
    However, the proper translation for college lecturer is not "professeur" but "maître de conférence".