Why for instance should I be called “Professor Cowen,” but few people would address the person fixing their toilet as “Plumber Jones”?

For a long time I have insisted that my graduate students call me “Tyler.” My goal has been to encourage them to think of themselves as peer researchers who might someday prove me wrong, rather than viewing me as an authority figure who is handing down truth.


This post from Tyler Cowen about titles resonated.

There is something about forced titles that annoys me. I do not like introducing myself with my title because it signals a place in the organisation.

Titles have always used as a status symbol, the same way number of followers on social media are a sign popularity or the verified blue tick conveys some form of royalty to certain people.

Humans beings will always seek status in things.

Which vaccine conveys a special status symbol, J&J or Pzifer?

Which university is cool enough to make me look cool enough?

Who should I befriend so that I can elevate my status symbol?

It is all a game, who is up, who is down? How should I position myself to be on top?

We have gamified what was meant to be authentic.

And I’m not a big fan of terms like mentor/mentee.

It is an idea a good friend shared with me a decade ago when I asked him if he would be my mentor.

“Let’s just be friends” he said. If he was wise enough, he reasoned, he would share perspective that was useful. He did not need to be called a mentor for that.

Elon Musk said it well recently:

“I don’t wanna be a CEO or boss of anyone. I’m just an engineer, trying to solve problems”

Exactly right.

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