Should we stop using the title of PhD student? This was a blog topic covered recently.
The blog raised some good points, but the take home message was that many 'PhD students' don't fit the traditional student mould. Some are older, some are already employed and completing PhDs part-time. It was also pointed out that PhD students fulfill roles in departments that are above the status quo for a typical student role.
Does this matter? Likely not. These days, there are large numbers of students that don't fit the 'straight out of school' criteria. Some of my students may well be older than me. The point is, a student is someone who is studying/learning/training for a particular profession or to better themselves in some way. It doesn't matter if you are 8 or 80, you can still be a student.
Why should it be upsetting or disrespectful to refer to someone as a student? We should be embracing that individual's courage and tenacity to mentally and/or physically push themselves through the exercise of learning. When did the word student become a slight?
Also, if we consider removing 'student' from PhDs, should we also remove student from undergraduate? Better yet, should we do away with Postdoctoral Fellow or Postdoctoral Researcher? They aren't exactly considered students, yet the majority of the time they are not considered staff either. Many institutions classify postdocs as trainees. I mean technically they are, but it still stings the ego to think you are in training after 7-10 years of being a student.
My vote is to worry less about the title and focus more on the education and experience - that's what will matter in the long run.