How to address a university professor

Discussion in 'English Only' started by baeks, Aug 8, 2008.

  1. baeks New Member

    This is my first post in this forum, if the question have been posted earlier I apologize.

    In about a month I am going to study in the US for one semester. The sponsoring professor have been very helpful in various practical matters, and hence we have had some mail correspondance.
    At some stage in this correspondance I begun to write "Hi Peter" instead of "Dear Prof. Stevens", which apparently was okay with him.

    My question now is: Should I, when I meet him in person, begin the conversation with "Professor Stevens", or would it be in order to use his first name? And also, how about other staff I have not met yet. Should I always start by calling them Dr. or Prof. until being told otherwise?

    Thanks for any help.

  2. Monkey F B I Senior Member

    Acton, MA
    English - USA
    Welcome to the forum!

    I would (and I will, starting in a month :)) always refer to a professor as "Professor <surname>". Then, if the professor has a problem with that, they can tell you otherwise. Most people with a doctorate degree do not insist on being called "Dr."

    I know my dad is driven absolutely insane by people referring to him as Dr.
  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I don't know your relationship with Prof Stevens, of course.
    It's possible that in your place I would be confident enough to address him informally when we actually met.
    However, unless you are really certain, be prepared to address him as Professor Stevens when you meet and follow your intuition from that point.

    Follow the tone of the introductions when you meet others. If they are introduced to you as Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice, it would be a little strange to greet them with their academic titles.
  4. baeks New Member

    Hello Monkey FBI, thank you for your welcome and answer.

    I am uncertain whether it makes a difference, but I am 32 and to me it seeme kind of odd to adress people younger than me Sir, Prof. Dr. etc. (not that my sponsoring professor is younger than me).

    It could also just be that where I come from it is very uncommon to call anyone by title. Even my dean I would not call anything but his forst name, even the first tame I saw him.

    But again, thanks for your reply.

  5. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Welcome to the forums, baeks,

    First, a generic answer: At most, not all, U.S. colleges and universities, Professor is the preferred form of address for Assistant Professors, Associate Professors, (Full) Professors and any adjunct faculty with the title Professor. Instructors and other teaching staff are called Mr. or Ms. _______. There are some institutions where the local custom is different, and faculty prefer to be called Doctor. One such place is the Johns Hopkins University, or at least some departments there. If you were to call Professor Whatshisname by that title, you would be, sooner or later, scowled at and corrected.

    In your specific case, you seem to have established a more informal relationship by mail. To be on the safe side, you might use Professor at the first face-to-face meeting. You will probably be invited to resume using his first name. For other faculty, use a title until you get to know them better.
  6. baeks New Member

    Thank you all for your comments. It seems that I cannot do anything wrong refering to the staff by their titles, so that is probably what I will do.

    I apologize for any misspelling, I can see now that a few errors have mysteriously appeared in my former posts...

  7. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    I agree with this advice. Here in California, the first name is almost always used in personal interactions, including at the university. Nonetheless, I always begin by addressing people by the relevant title and last name (e.g., Professor Stevens) unless (until) the person asks me to do otherwise.

    I also agree with cuchu about the use of "Professor" in academic settings.
  8. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    The fact that you are younger than your teacher does not change the fact that you are the student, that all adults in positions of authority are entitled to the respect of being called by their proper titles, and that someone who is your teacher is deserving of particular respect.

    I am 51, and in my current doctoral program I have instructors who are literally young enough to be my children. However, the differerence in our ages should not be thought of as some kind of permission for me to treat these adult professionals as children and to address them by their first names. In every American university I have attended, both as an undergaraduate and a graduate student, the practice is that the students invariably addressed faculty members with an appropriate honorific and a last name. In the same way, I would be made very uncomfortable (and would consider it very ill mannered and bumptious) if any student of mine presumed to address me by my first name without my asking him or her to do so.

    If one wishes to be very correct, the title "professor" is properly reserved to holders of endowed chairs, although by extension all full professors are also addressed as "Professor Lastname".

    Other faculty (assistant professors; associate professors, adjunct professors, lecturers) would be addressed as "Doctor Lastname" if they have doctorates (as almost all of them will) or as Mr. Lastname or Ms. Lastname if they do not have doctorates. It is common, however, for even adjunt professors to be addressed by students as "Professor Lastname".

    Really? In the United States, this would be considered very rude. One would ordinarily address the dean as "Dean Lastname".
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2008
  9. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    I called my professors Professor/Doctor until I became a postgrad student, when class sizes became very small, less formal, and I frequently had one-to-one contact with my lecturers - and I think this general model was the same for my peers. But as others have said, it's safer on first meeting to say 'Professor Such-and-such' and let him correct you.

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