Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Doctor, doctor, give me the news!

by Rob - June 13th, 2020.
Filed under: Awards, Milestones, Tube Alloys.

Six years ago, on June 12, 2014, the University of Winnipeg — the oldest university in the province of Manitoba, Canada — gave me an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree; former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chréitien also received the same degree that day.

I was nominated for the honorary doctorate jointly by the Dean of Science, Dr. James Currie, and the Emeritus Dean of Theology, Rev. Dr. James Christie, in part in recognition of the thoughtful treatment of the science-and-religion dialogue in my work.

This was my second honorary doctorate; I also hold an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, which was awarded in 2007.

So, does that mean I can call myself “Dr. Sawyer”?

In many contexts, yes, and, indeed, almost always when I speak at a university the professor introducing me does so by calling me “Dr. Sawyer.” Here’s an excerpt from the definition of “Doctor” in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

a. A person who has earned the highest academic degree awarded by a college or university in a specified discipline.

b. A person awarded an honorary degree by a college or university.

But I never use the title Doctor, or the abbreviation in front of my name, myself for several reasons:

First, my father worked really hard to get his PhD. Although he was incredibly proud when I received both of my honorary doctorates, him well understanding how rare and special an honor those are, I honor him by not using the title himself earned.

Second, even though my father was indeed Dr. Sawyer, he refused to use the title “Doctor.” We happened to live three doors up the street from an M.D. when I was growing up. My dad once said to me, when I asked him as a kid why he didn’t use “Doctor” that, if someone gets hit by a car out front of our house, he wants the neighbors to run and get Dr. Jacobs, who can help save the person’s life, not Dr. Sawyer, who can explain Keynesian and Neo-Walrasian macroeconometrics to the poor sap while he exsanguinates.

Third, for that matter, my father — and, by osmosis, I — resent the use of the related title my father was entitled to until the day he died by those who don’t have a PhD, namely “professor.” These days, every sessional instructor at a junior college swans around referring to themselves as Professor So-and-so, but professor traditionally an earned title, too, normally reserved for those who have a PhD.

My father earned the even rarer title of Professor Emeritus when he retired, upon recommendation of his colleagues and approval of the dean, meaning his contributions to his university had been of such magnitude that he’d continue to be considered a faculty member, with the privileges thereof (including supervising grad students if he wished) after he’d retired.

Fourth, honestly, I have honors far rarer than either an earned or honorary doctorate. I’m a Member of the Order of Canada, my nation’s highest honor, and a Member of the Order of Ontario, my provinces’ highest honor (and the latter, on a per-capita basis is an even rarer honor than the former).

Only on those extremely rare occasions on which one must peacock (the top line of my C.V., for instance), do I have more letters after my name “Robert J. Sawyer” than there are in my name:

C.M., O.Ont., B.A.A., D.Litt., LL.D.
Still, as I wrote in The Oppenheimer Alternative, when General Leslie Groves is talking with Los Alamos security chief Peer de Silva, who is the first speaker:
“Of course, he figured I couldn’t make head nor tail of them, or of what he was saying about them.”

“The intellectuals’ hamartia,” said Groves.


“My goodness, son, don’t they teach the classics at West Point anymore? Their hamartia; their fatal flaw. Arrogance. They assume that anyone without a string of letters trailing behind his name like pretentious ducklings can’t possibly grasp their thoughts.”

So, as I say to everyone, “Just call me Rob.” ;)

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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