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Calling faculty by first name


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Staring phd in political science this fall. As an undergrad, I've addressed every professor I've ever spoken with as "Dr." or "Professor". At my undergrad department (and it seems like most other places as well?) the grad students call the professors by their first names.

When do you make this transition? Presumably not at visitation weekend...?

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It's better to be overly respectful instead of not respectful enough, so I tend to air on the side of formality until I get an invitation to be more casual. Most professors will state early on "call me [first name]" if they're comfortable with it. Sometimes they'll just introduce themselves with their first name, which I take as an invite to call them as such - especially if they introduce themselves individually or to a small group - but some people will continue to address them with "Professor/Dr. [Last Name]" until they get an explicit invitation. If there's any ambiguity, you can always ask.

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In my field, we basically make this transition once we start working with the professor as a colleague. So, in many case, undergrads working in the group will call the professor by first name (but not other profs in the department unless asked to). Most profs will introduce themselves as just [First Name] on the first day of class (undergrad classes too).

I agree with the advice to wait until they introduce themselves by first name or ask you to call them by their first name. When you walk into their office, you can introduce yourself, "Hi, I am [First Name].". If they say "Welcome, I'm [First Name]" then you can use their first name. (Note: the reverse isn't necessarily true though, that is, if they want you to call them by Dr or Prof, they probably won't introduce themselves as Dr. or Prof X, so if they don't say their own name in their response, it's still unknown).

Another thing you can do is introduce yourself by saying "Hi Prof X, I'm [First Name]" and see how they respond. They might ask you to use their first name right there, or respond with something like "Good to meet you, I'm [First Name]". 

You can also combine these two, by introducing yourself without using their name at first and if they don't use their first name in their response, you can address them as Dr. X or Prof. X later on (e.g. "Good to meet you Prof X, I'll see you at [other event]" or something) and see if they correct you. Basically, if you use Dr. or Prof a few times and they don't say anything, then probably stick to that until you sense that something has changed!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I never called professors by their first name until I've been working with them for a little while (sometimes they'll insist just to call them by their first name during interviews, etc). But just to be safe, I'd kept addressing them as "Dr." or "Professor" until you are officially accepted and some time passes after your program starts. 

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Wait until they say call me ____. I am on first name basis with some profs in undergrad and they were the ones who wrote my rec. I actually find it awkward to call people on last name basis. I came from a high school where we only address teacher on first name basis (e.g. Steve)

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm also in a social sciences field. For what it's worth, when I interviewed at a West-Coast institution, I defaulted to referring to my interviewer as "Dr" and was politely informed that it was departmental convention to use first names. 

I've had several experiences with professors at my current institution where they actually prefer to be called by their first name but never explicitly mention it. They'll sign off their emails with their first name and even refer to themselves as their first name, but won't correct anybody for calling them Dr or Prof. 

I've also had professors that use their first names in written communication but still expect to be addressed as Dr/Prof. YMMV.

The lesson: You can always ask (politely) what the professor prefers to be called- IME, they recognize that you're trying to be respectful, and they appreciate that. Asking office staff is also always an option.

Edited by shoupista
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Everything is done on a first name basis at my university, even at undergraduate level, but maybe it's a British thing. Even in high school we didn't call teachers Mr/Mrs/Ms so-and-so, it was always first names, so the custom is already there before you go to university. I only really call people Dr/Professor so-and-so when writing emails to someone I haven't met, email etiquette and all that.

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I can definitely relate to this dilemma (lol). I definitely suggest keeping things formal until the individual you're speaking with explicitly asks you to call them by their first name. Otherwise, if the individual you're speaking with has a PhD, always address them as "Dr. InsertLastName" If the person you're speaking with isn't a doctor, but nonetheless further along in formal education than you are (e.g. if you have an ABD/graduate student as a course instructor), address the individual as "Professor InsertLastName" or "Mr./Ms./Mrs. InsertLastName" Of course, you could also make things a lot easier on yourself by just flat-out asking the individual how they prefer you to address them. 

 

Ya dig. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

It depends on the situation. For instance, my mentor. I will always call him "Dr.", even though we also have a personal friendship. It just feels weird to call him by his first name because I still see him as this amazing-holy-crap-I-want-to-be-like-you-when-I-grow-up sort of person. But I have another former professor whom we are still working together on a project and I call him by his first name.

For almost everyone else, if I have known them for a while and we have a professional relationship but we can feasibly go out for dinner afterwards and it isn't awkward, then I would call them by their first name. If I have a class with them, then I called them by "Dr." Outside social time: first name. Inside professional time: "Dr."

Edited by MinaminoTeku
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On 1/28/2017 at 7:33 PM, pro Augustis said:

In my experience it varies by the professor. The simplest thing is to wait for them to introduce themselves. Keep an eye out, also, on how other graduate students refer to them.

I don't know why everyone think this needs to be picked up based on social cues. If you are in a situation where you will have repeated interactions with a person, put on your adult pants and ask them how they'd like to be addressed.

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Why does this question come up almost every season?

What is the perceived benefit to calling Professor Jones by her first name? Is she less likely to stand on your head in seminar or bleed all over your essay because you call her Janet and have coffee now and then?

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lol...I initiated one of the topics that @rising_star linked to and I still struggle with this. Nowadays, I call professors by their first names only if they explicitly instruct me to do so and it's convention to do so. Most others I would address as Professor or Dr. However, I really struggle when they sign with their first name and students in the department call them by first names, but they haven't explicitly invited me to do so. I hate that and I feel awkward no matter which I go with. Half the time I just go with their last name to be safe.

Oh, and if a professor has referred to their colleagues as Prof. [last name] while in correspondence with me, then I usually take that as a hint that they want to be formal themselves, even if the majority of their students call them by their first name.

I call my M.S adviser Dr. [last name] even though he's fine with me using his first name and even though we're so familiar with each other that I could probably call him Mr. Daisysparkles without him finding it offensive. This is simply because his own grad students tend to call him by last name -- he says it's because his lab is almost all international students, and those students tend to be uncomfortable being on a first name basis with their professor. And he doesn't push it. I'm simply following the norm in this case.

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@Sigaba It comes up because sometimes referring to a professor by their last name in a department where the norm is to use first names can come off as not fitting into departmental culture. It becomes harder to be a part of that community of scholars. Remember that these professors are introducing you to the academic community as researchers and scholars, and eventually if you go into academia, these will be your intellectual colleagues.

It's a really hard transition sometimes, especially when the profs aren't more explicit about it. At some point I think we just have to ask. That, or design a T-shirt that says "Professor -- please tell me what to call you or else I might accidentally start avoiding your name" (hint hint to those creative souls out there).

Edited by ThousandsHardships
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1 hour ago, ThousandsHardships said:

 Remember that these professors are introducing you to the academic community as researchers and scholars, and eventually if you go into academia, these will be your intellectual colleagues.

It's a really hard transition sometimes, especially when the profs aren't more explicit about it. At some point I think we just have to ask. That, or design a T-shirt that says "Professor -- please tell me what to call you or else I might accidentally start avoiding your name" (hint hint to those creative souls out there).

Thanks for the reminder. :rolleyes:

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  • 3 weeks later...

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