For the first few years of my doctoral program, I defined myself as a “doctoral student” and “research assistant.” This seemed like an appropriate designation, despite my experience as an education and information professional, because I was taking classes. I kept calling myself that as I was working on my comprehensive literature review, because there didn’t seem to be anything better to call myself than that. It was very exciting when I got to change my email signature to “Doctoral Candidate” in December, because now I was someone who had met all the requirements for a doctoral degree except for the dissertation. But I kept the designation of “research assistant.”
This summer, though, I started thinking about how that designation doesn’t really communicate much to anyone not steeped in academia. And also that it doesn’t say anything about what I do. So as of this school year, I started referring to myself as a “doctoral researcher.” This fits much better. I am doing what researchers do: I am running my own study as PI (my dissertation study) and I work in a lab with two other researchers, designing interview protocols, collecting and analyzing data, and writing reports based on the data. There is no part of my work that is really the work of a student. While I am technically assisting the PI of a research lab, the work I do is not so much assistive as collaborative. So.
I am a doctoral researcher.
For more thoughts on the distinction between a doctoral student and a doctoral researcher, see Pat Thomson’s blog post, “what’s with the name doctoral student?”