Janet asks, “How should we professorial types be addressed by our students?” I’m introducing myself to a new crop of students in an hour, so this is something I also go through every year.
My answer: if the students don’t know the professor, the default should be “Dr” or “Professor.” Always. It’s the safe thing to do.
To my students, I always tell them I’d rather not be addressed so formally, and “Paul” or “PZ” are better choices. “Hey, Myers!” is a little too brash.
I think the appropriate way to answer the question is to turn it around: how do we professors address the students? If you insist on being called “Dr”, I think you should be expected to address all your students as “Mr” or “Ms.” We can set the level of formality to whatever we want, but it has to be reciprocal. Of course, I’m also at a small college where I get to know every student, and by name…I suppose another alternative at the bigger places is to insist on being called “Dr,” while addressing all your students as a nameless, faceless, tuition-paying mob.
Keith Douglas says
I remember one of the students I TA’d for calling me Mr. Douglas once. I knew beforehand that I didn’t like formality, and that clinched it. I think I will request first names always, no matter how degreed or awarded I get. Mind you, if someone really is more confortable calling me something else … like that friend of mine who calls me “the philosopher” half the time. I am a little creeped out at being put in the same league as Aristotle, but …
Students should take a bit of caution of using “doctor” in ignorance. If you look carefully at the faculty at most major universities, you will find a handful of fully tenured professors who took an odd career route there, and who never acquired a Ph.D. along the way. Every semester they get called “doctor” by their students. I’ve never met one who was offended by it. Still.
Personally, I only use “doctor” when talking to someone who is treating patients. I view it as the title of a practice or role, much like “professor,” “counselor,” and “officer.”
Well, yeah. I hate it when a physician who barely knows me calls me “Theophylact” rather than “Mr. Unbearable”; I’m likely to call him “Fred” in return. When I was teaching, I always addressed my students as “Mr.” or “Ms” unless we were friends, and expected to be addressed as “Dr.” or “Professor” in return.
Listen to what your students are calling you behind your back, and ask them NOT to call you that. Anything else should be fine. Unless your name really is “Dr. Pigignorant”.
(Although I had one student who called me “Professor” as though it were my name; it always sounded like an insult to me.)
When I finally, knock wood, become a Professor, I definitely want to be called Herr Professor Doktor. ;)
I also plan to wear a tweed suit with elbow patches and smoke a pipe … or maybe I’ll wear a bow tie.
Actually, historically Dr. is more correct for Ph.D.s and even the odd Prof. who’s not a Ph.D. than it is for physicians, nu?
Back in the early ’80s, I had a classmate who had somehow managed to get out of Ceausescu’s Romania and into an American university. He spoke English quite well, but he’d learned from extremely dated and often innacurate texts, and had never before used it outside Romania with native English speakers. This led to some unusual vocabulary choices.
He referred to his professors as “Maestro.”
(Also, once he called me “Old Bean,” and I tried really hard not to giggle, because he was a great guy, otherwise.)
Students in Spanish (and I imagine French as well) speaking countries have an additional difficulty: choosing between the formal and the informal forms of “you”. It is more acute than the problem in English because you can speak with someone without addressing him/her by name or title, but not without using verbs in the second person. I used to speak to my younger professors with the informal and the older ones with the formal, but sometimes got them mixed up with awkward results.
Get a job in Japan – you’ll be “Myers-sensei”, which means “Master” (although other people will call you that, you don’t use it for yourself). Even if you ask students to be informal, you’ll probably be “PZ-sensei”.
Herr Doktor PZ has a nice blend of old and new. Cephalopod Overlord is going a little too far, IMO…
HP: Was there any historical time and place when students called professors “Maestro” and they called their students “Old Bean”? In a way, it’s kind of cool, especially the Maestro part, but it sounds like he was using the dictionary from that Monty Python sketch.
In the unlikely event that I ever find myself in a class taught by PZ, I think I’ll go with “Teach”: as in “Ooh! Ooh! Pick me, Teach, I know it!” just to be as annoying as possible.
Steve Watson says
That’s all very well, but are Canadian students (umm…do you ever get any?) supposed to pronounce that “pee-zee” or “pee-zed”? (When talking about you behind your back, we use the former on the grounds that it is a proper name).
So, how would you like your blog commenters to refer to you? Professor Dr Myers? PZ? Crazed cepholod loving darwinist atheist hellspawn?
I put in my West coasttime, so I answer to dude.
I have some German colleagues who facetiously refer to each other as “Herr Doktor Professor” just to get everything in. (No, I don’t know German, so I know I can’t spell in it.)
It’s a situation that is actually different from place to place, I think. Here we have a lot of adjuncts and a lot of students from community colleges who are used to calling people with Master’s degrees “Professor” and Ph.Ds “Doctor”. People from Brooklyn tend to just say “Miss” for some reason, no name applied (Hey, Miss?) I think it is a bit different depending on the person in question – I’m a young female, and look even younger than a lot of my students, so I tend to emphasize the “Dr” in large part to make them understand that I am indeed in charge of their grade, and they do need to pay attention to me in class, and I do have some amount of authority. Otherwise I look too easy to trample on.
And really, you start classes on Friday? How asinine is that? Then again, we start Monday, and I’m still short one syllabus (and what am I doing? Posting here.)
Most of my students call me “Mr. Z”. We’re at a two-year school and we’re not very formal, but I’m one of the older, tie-wearing math instructors, and students tend to address me semi-formally. “Professor” as a standalone form of address is common, too, if a tad overblown. “Dr. Z” is catching on with just a few students, but doctorates aren’t all that common at my school (a master’s degree suffices for a California community college faculty position) and I don’t make a point of advertising mine. (At least part of the reason for my uncharacteristic modesty is a reaction to those colleagues who can’t write “Ph.D.” after their names often enough. Yeah, we know. Enough already.)
I address most students by their first names, although I give everyone an opportunity on their student information cards (which I pass out during the first week) to fill in how they prefer to be called. Almost everyone fills in their first name (or nickname).
What about referring to people in writing? Many of us keep blogs, what’s the correct form for speaking of a Ph.D. or of speaking of someone who has tenure, but not a doctorate?
In news articles it seems common to give a person’s name and title once, and there after only refer to them by their last name. Perhaps I’m off here, but I find this practice to be a bit rude. I prefer to give full name and title first, and afterwards will refer to them as “Dr. Xavier” (or whatever their name may be.)
“The Elements of Style” doesn’t seem to have much to say about this particular usage.
Daniel Martin says
In college, I called my professors all “Professor [[LASTNAME]]” when addressing them, even though I went to a relatively small liberal arts college in rural Minnesota. When mentioning them in the third person among other students, I’d use either their first name or the Quaker custom of “firstname lastname”. (e.g. Q: “Who’d you get for your advisor?” A:”Jack Goldfeather.”)
It never seemed to phase the professors to be addressed that way even though I was pretty much alone in doing that. Now I use first names when I go back for reunion, and it feels a bit odd.
The one exception was my Japanese class, where the professor was LASTNAME-sensei and all the students were LASTNAME-san. (It was many months before I learned the first names of the people next to me in that class) It was odd when someone who’d actually lived in Japan joined the class and outside of class addressed me as “Daniel-kun” instead of “Martin-san”.
See, Alejandro, there is an advantage to speaking Spanish poorly, as people credit such things to poor grammar.
Speaking of bow ties, when I was an undergraduate and wet behind the ears, I took a diff eq course from a professor who every day wore a short-sleaved white button shirt, a bow-tie, with a case for his spectacles in his shirt pocket. On the final, eight students showed up early, sitting on the front row, wearing the same thing.
It was much easier when I went to a military school. I was “Mister” and the professor was “Colonel.” Wearing your title and rank on your collar makes things so much easier. I suggest that PZ come up with a rank and wear it on his collar.
What do you do at a social function and you introduce yourself as John Smith and the ass reaching for your out-stretched hand says, “Nice to meet you, John. I’m Doctor Arrogant Ass.”
Mark Paris says
I found that even as a graduate student I felt more comfortable calling some of the faculty in my area doctor, even one that encouraged us to call him by his first name. Maybe it has something to do with how we were brought up. In the south it used to be common (maybe not so much today) for young people to call adult friends of the family by their first name with an honorific, as in Mr Mark. A coworker told her son to call me Dr Mark more as a joke than anything else, but he has done it for years, and even some of my coworkers occasionally do the same now. I seldom see my advisor, but if I did I would probably call him Dr J (the J from his last name).
Titles are such wierd things — as if passing a particular course of study entitles you to be the recipient of certain verbal behavior. One title we have all earned is Survivor-So-Far and with that should go a good deal of respect.
Alejandro: In French, one would never refer to a professor (regardless of age) with the “tu” form. I don’t speak Spanish, but I would argue based on your comment that the French language has somewhat less discretion in when to use the “tu” and when to use the “vous.” There is a specific point when the object requests to be addressed less formally: “tu peux me tutoyer” (lit. “you can address me with the “tu” form). Of course the rules are a little more complex than that, but I think with professors it would always be “vous” unless they specifically requested otherwise.
As for English, I always liked (in movies, for example) when adults addressed a professor of their own age, or even younger, as “Professor.” I think it’s a handsome title of respect, and I tend to use it whenever appropriate (unless, of course, I am asked not to). When I infrequently email Professor Myers, I always begin my emails “Prof. Myers,” even though I was never his student. In law school, I became close friends with several professors, but to this day I refer to them as Professor. I suppose with one of them, I’m waiting on him to ask to be called Jim, but until that happens, I’ll stick with Professor.
Similarly, with judges, once you’ve been a judge, you can expect to always be called Judge, even into retirement. Mostly this is true for men and women that made the bench a major part of their legal career, but even if you spent one term on the bench, you will likely be called Judge by people who know.
One last thing: the American Bar Association once issued an advisory opinion comparing the educational requirements of Ph.Ds, MDs, JDs and the like, and concluded that it is appropriate for lawyers to call themselves “Doctor” unless that title would be confusing for the public (e.g. if a lawyer primarily worked in the medical malpractice field, where it is somewhat common to have MD/JDs, he could not call himself Doctor). Of course this is kind of silly, and I’ve never met a lawyer who called herself Doctor, but it’s out there, for what it’s worth. My wife is to become an optometrist, and I’ve advised that it seems more appropriate for her to call herself Doctor, as it is in the health field, but I’ll just have to stick to lawyer, attorney, counselor, esquire, etc.
I say nobody gets to be addressed as “Professor” unless you can make a radio out of 2 coconuts and some twine.
Boat-fixing skills… optional.
I think all of you are missing a real opportunity here:
The Dread Pirate Myers?? Arrrrrrr…
Jonathan Badger says
To each their own. I get called “Badger” quite often, and I don’t mind it — but maybe because it has such a nice “Wind in the Willows” feeling to it. Maybe they could call you “Squid”.
Rey Fox says
Funny how this sort of confusion never arises with athletic coaches…
The Dread Pirate Myers?? Arrrrrrr…
Adding to personal lexicon. Saving…
I generally require my students to address me as Holy Roman Emperor.
thins the herd . . .
Anyone heard this yet?
Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys
BONO, STING, LOU REED, BRYAN FERRY, JOHN C. REILLY, RICHARD THOMPSON, LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III, LUCINDA WILLIAMS ARE AMONG THE DIVERSE ARTISTS ON THIS TRULY EXTRAORDINARY COLLECTION
Jonathan Lubin says
1. My best teacher in college was the great and blameless Serge Lang, who insisted on being addressed as Mr. Lang; accordingly, I made the same request of my students.< /br>
2. It is never correct to address someone as Professor (without name), any more than it is to say, “Hello, Mistuh” or “Hello, Missiz”. Same goes for Doctor and Reverend.< /br>
3. Some Professors are not Doctor: in the Harvard Math Department when I was there, some of the most important senior faculty had been Junior Fellows, and had never bothered to get the doctoral degree.< /br>
4. When you get beyond a certain age, you can be as pompous as you want.
PaulC: In fairness, I was studying music at the time, and “Maestro” was once a common form of address when addressing teachers of the arts, especially when Italian was the default language of art and music. It’s basically the European equivalent of “sensei.”
However, it was a University music school, not a private conservatory, and I think “Professor” or “Doctor” (or “Mr./Ms/etc.) have been standard forms of address in American music schools since — well, probably since Yale first started granting academic degrees in music.
As far as “old bean” goes, I believe that the only conversational English texts he had in Romania were 60-year-old pre-war British English that taught Jeeves & Wooster era public-school slang. He also referred to classmates as “chums” and “fellows.” At least he never called anyone a “rum cove.” (That is, not when I was around. Hmm….)
One of the advantages of Brazilian Portuguese over the European dialect and Spanish is that we’ve thrown the formal “you” form out the window – along with formality in general.
Depending on the teacher, I either called them by the first name, a surname (usually when it was uncommon or just sounded cooler), professor(a), or if I was feeling lazy, psÃ´r(a) or fessor(a). So far no one complained.
“I suppose another alternative at the bigger places is to insist on being called “Dr,” while addressing all your students as a nameless, faceless, tuition-paying mob.”
Hey! I teach in the first year writing program at one of those “bigger places.” I just tell my nameless, faceless, tuition-paying mob to call me something they wouldn’t be embarrassed to say in front of their mothers.
King Aardvark says
Find out what they want to call you (covertly of course). If they tend to call you “PZ” or “Dr. Paul” etc, then you’re golden, and should probably let them continue. If they call you simply “Dr. Myers” or “Professor Myers”, then that’s a healthy level of respect. If it’s just “Myers”, then they most certainly don’t like you.
Even when I was in grad school, I always called the profs “Dr. [name]”, except for a couple of young profs who had been grad students when I first got there. They were always called by their first (the guy we liked) and last (the guy we didn’t) names. We didn’t treat them like profs at all.
Steve LaBonne says
My Ph.D. advisor insisted on being addressed by his students as “Dr. So-and-so” until after the dissertation defense whereupon one was welcome to address him by his first name. Seemed a bit formal for a young guy as he was then, but he did go on to become an administrator… on the other hand my postdoctoral mentor, a decidedly more distinguished scientist, was universally addressed by his first name. (Typical of his personality- he’s a super-nice guy and quite laid back.)
When I taught at a small college I made students welcome to address me by first name, but some apparently felt more comfortable addressing me as “Professor LaBonne”. Go figure. (Behind my back, no doubt, it was “that #$%^&*$ LaBonne” since I had a reputation as a bit of a hard-ass.)
Jerry D. Harris says
I always tell my students “You can call me Dr. Harris; you can call me Professor Harris; you can call me Jerry; you can call me ‘Hey you — with the arms and the hair!’ — just don’t be afraid to call me!”
When I was in college, I was in a large lecture class which had too many students for the teacher to possibly learn everybody’s name, so he “named” them based on his observations. If you were chewing on your pencil, he’d call you “Mr. Tasty-Pencil”. If you had a green sweatshirt on, he’d call you “Mr. Greenie”. There was also Miss Red Binder and Mr. Backwards-Cap. A nice solution…it kept the formality but was funny at the same time.
“It is never correct to address someone as Professor (without name), any more than it is to say, “Hello, Mistuh” or “Hello, Missiz”. Same goes for Doctor and Reverend.”
Well, I think that’s a mistake. For instance, it is appropriate to call someone “Sir” or “Madam/Ma’am”, even though those are titles, too. And it is appropriate to call doctors “Doctor” and reverends “Reverend”, just as it’s appropriate to call a judge “Your Honor” or your senator “Senator.” It’s never inappropriate to call someone by their title, unless they’ve asked you not to do it.
While in school it was “Professor lastname”… unless they had some other instruction… what always threw me off was when I had been around the department awhile a prof would refer to another professors by their first name when speaking to me. It always took me a minute to figure out who the heck they were talking about.
Binky Rasmussen says
I’ve also heard them called/been called prof (profee, with the carioca twist) or profa. I had a colleague in Rio who tried to resurrect the practice, common right after the declaration of the Republic, of using multiple titles, including citizen. We called him Senhor Doutor Professor Cidadao (Name). Somehow, that never caught on.
The one thing I insist to my students is that they do not call me Mrs. I tell them that Mrs. (my last name) is my mother, and she knows nothing about the subject of the class except that her daughter majored in it.
“I am not the Dread Pirate Myers,” he said. “My name is Ryan. I inherited this ship from the previous Dread Pirate Myers, just as you will inherit it from me. The man I inherited it from was not the real Dread Pirate Myers, either. His name was Cummerbund. The real Myers has been retired fifteen years and living like a king in Patagonia.”
DAS, Ph.D. says
Of course this is kind of silly, and I’ve never met a lawyer who called herself Doctor, but it’s out there, for what it’s worth. My wife is to become an optometrist, and I’ve advised that it seems more appropriate for her to call herself Doctor, as it is in the health field, but I’ll just have to stick to lawyer, attorney, counselor, esquire, etc. – redstripe
My dad’s an optometrist: in professional settings he’s pretty insistant upon being called Dr. S., but outside of his workplace he’s pretty insistant on not being called Dr. S. In general, he’s quite big on formality (a kid should refer to adults as “Dr.”, “Mr.” or “Ms.” and never call their parents by their first names) but oddly (and I don’t know enough about French, German or even Spanish, though I took 4 years of Spanish in HS to know what the standard is), he (he took French in HS, some German in college and taught himself Spanish) insists on being referred to by us kids as “tu”/”du” rather than “vous”/”usted”/”sie” when we’re speaking in French, Spanish or German.
My gf is a lawyer and in her professional communications, she always signs herself as D.W., esq. When I get referred to as Dr. S., though, she feels this need to point out that she could fairly be called Dr. W.
Pirate Ballads — they mutilated it on iTunes — is dead to me!
Steve LaBonne says
Tell her that when a “J.D.” takes as many years to complete as a Ph.D. and requires original scholarship, then lawyers will really be entitled to be addressed as “Dr.” (Though maybe you shouldn’t say that as long as you want her to continue being your girlfriend…)
I originally called my advisors in college “Dr. Jansen” and “Dr. Polecritti” …which ended when I realized they both signed all their e-mails to me “Virginia” or “Cindy.”
And as a side note: my children (7 and 5) refer to our friends as “Miss [Firstname]” or “Mr. [usually Firstname, sometimes Lastname].” It’s old-fashioned and Southernish, but kinda cute at the same time. Our friends, most of whom are childless, seem utterly to dig it.
frank schmidt says
When I started teaching, I called the students “Mr.” and “Ms.” since they called me Dr. I was heavily dinged on my evaluations for being unfriendly. So I now call undergrads by their first name and they call me Dr. They think it’s friendlier.
I have always told grad students to call me by my first name.
Great White Wonder says
My gf is a lawyer and in her professional communications, she always signs herself as D.W., esq.
That’s archaic and somewhat improper in the 21st century (smells a tad arrogant). None of the lawyers I know sign their own name “Esq.”
According to legal usage expert Bryan Garner (A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, 2d ed.), “Esq.” is to be placed after an attorney’s name by another person, but never to be appended by the attorney himself or herself. Thus, one attorney writing to another would address the letter’s recipient as “Jane Brown, Esq.” but would sign himself as “John Smith.”
I agree that the Spanish tu/usted distinction is a lot less important than the French tu/vous distinction. I have never tutoyÃ©d a French professor even if he/she chose to tutoyer his/her students, but my Spanish professors were always more relaxed about it. I’m not sure whether that’s just my experience or whether the formal/informal pronoun usage really is different in the two languages.
In Chinese, one always addresses others by their titles as a form of respect. Chinese teachers are addressed as “(Familyname) Teacher.” Professors are “(Familyname) Professor.” Children address adults unrelated to them as “(Familyname) Aunt” and “(Familyname) Uncle.”
Well, there’s a ton of scholarship and/or half-baked screeds out there on this topic, but it gives me tiredhead to read through it. When I first got my JD, I was interested in it, and that was when I found the ethics opinion discussing whether a lawyer could ethically call himself or herself “doctor.” As I recall, the opinion (which I can’t find now) compared the rigor of various educational programs, dissected the history of the LL.B, JD, Ph.D, LL.M (etc.) degrees, and considered contemporary social norms to conclude that, as I said above, lawyers may call themselves “doctor” only where it is not confusing to the public.
Now, that was an ABA model opinion, I think, and each state will have its own ethics opinions or AG opinions. I think in Texas we can never be called “doctor.” All that aside, though, in practice I’ve never heard anyone call themselves, or any other lawyer, a “doctor.” I figure it’s because 1) it sounds mucho pretentious, and 2) we have enough cool names to call ourselves.
As for the “esquire” thing, Wiki is right in my experience. The only situation where I considered calling myself “esquire” was on my wedding invitations, because it is the formal title (replacing “Mister”). Even then, though, I decided against it because it just didn’t feel right. I do know some lawyers (mostly younger ones) that put the “esq.” after their names, but just like younger Ph.Ds or MDs, etc., that urge will probably fade with age.
All that being said (sorry to hijack the thread), have we considered that if Kent Hovind can call himself doctor…aren’t we all doctors?
Alon Levy says
Stogoe, I’m positive Westley doesn’t say “As you will inherit it from me.”
In Singapore, I’d always refer call my professors by their titles: my advisor was Professor Tan. A few students shortened it to Prof., and one student referred to one specific professor, who he’d known before he joined the faculty, by his first name. But when talking to other students, we’d always refer to our professors by their full names: Tan Kai Meng, Tan Ser Peow, etc., probably because many family names were double-booked or more (Tan was sextuple-booked, if I’m not mistaken).
Alon, that’s Westley recalling what Ryan told him.
You see, no one would surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley.
When I was a sessional, I told my students I was Dr. Lastname, not Professor Lastname, since Dr. is a professional qualification and Professor is a job title. At Big Honkin’ Northeastern Research Institute, where I started out, the sessionals were Dr., the tenured faculty Professor. (everyone had a Ph.D)
The place I’m at now (tenure-track) has a different attitude: the students call anyone teaching ‘Professor’, no matter what their qualifications, provided that person is a man.
If you are a woman,you are Miss or Mrs, no matter what your age, qualification or publication record. If you’re young, it’s first name. So I get called by my first name, no matter what I tell them to call me, and no matter how formal I am. I dislike it, but the contempt goes with the place, which is conservative –if I wanted to be respected, I should have been born male.
TorbjÃ¶rn Larsson says
“whether the formal/informal pronoun usage really is different in the two languages”.
It could well differ, since it seem to differ across Europe.
Here in Sweden the next-to-last couple of generations used firstname or informal you (“du” – the ‘u’ is alike the one in “church”). Very convenient.
The last years especially the young has started to use formal you (“ni”) more, no doubt influenced by international culture, with some confusion following. (Especially since it also signify plural.)
“In Chinese… Children address adults unrelated to them as “(Familyname) Aunt” and “(Familyname) Uncle.””
Same here, but of course the reverseordered Aunt or Uncle (Familyname).
TorbjÃ¶rn Larsson says
“Same here, but of course the reverseordered Aunt or Uncle (Familyname).”
Or more usual when familiar, Aunt or Uncle (Firstname).
The requirements for a PhD vary a great deal. I have a friend from high school who actually said “I scored less than 900 on the SAT, what can I do but teach?” And that’s what he did. Taught English, became the principal of an elementary school, then progressed up the ladder to asst. superintendent of a large school district. Along the way he picked up a PhD in education from a Big-Ten U. I read his disertation and have some sense of the time he spent on it. Now I understand why people chuckle a bit at PhD’s in education. Seems a lot like how football players get a free pass through many courses and may explain a bit about the state of the public educational system.
I should add, it is also an insult to those people who really do earn a PhD in education for all the right reasons (beyond ‘I will be paid more’) and with the equivalent contribution other PhD students make in other fields.
Around here people don’t use titles much, they just call each other “Bruce”.
Not a doctor of either type; I find it’s hard enough to keep students from calling me “Mrs.” The school coaches are always just Coach [lastname] or hey [lastname], especially if they’re popular.
Though Dr. [mylastname] would be just so cool, you know? But I’d do it in physics, not education, given the opportunity.
Zarquon: I take it you’re in the Australian outback with a bunch of Brits, then? :)
Jonathan Badger says
Audio Lunchbox has it complete (w/Bono) for the same price as iTunes ($9.99 for each disc) and as plain, un-DRMed MP3’s to boot.
J. J. Ramsey says
“If you insist on being called “Dr”, I think you should be expected to address all your students as “Mr” or “Ms.” We can set the level of formality to whatever we want, but it has to be reciprocal.”
I don’t agree with this. The professor-student relationship is asymmetric, and the professor outranks the student. To have the professor call the student by the first name while being called Dr. So-and-so reflects this asymmetry.
“In French, one would never refer to a professor (regardless of age) with the “tu” form.”
I knew professors who didn’t mind it.
Rosie Redfield says
As long as they don’t call me “Mrs. Redfield” (which I’m afraid they sometimes do).
Steve Watson asks how Canadian students are supposed to pronounce “PZ”. As a Canadian I’ve always read it as “Pee Zed”, but now realize that of course Dr. Myers thinks of himself as “Pee Zee”. This forces a complete change of image in my mind: “Pee Zed” is someone at once distinguished and slightly eccentric, whereas “Pee Zee” is just one of the guys, drinking beer and watching the football game.
Pee Zee always makes me think of easy peasy, which is probably a Cockney slang. So it makes me think of a regular bloke.
I answer to either first name or last, and I never correct anybody for using one or the other. I tend to be more comfortable with first names, but I’ve noticed that some students seem uncomfortable with using first names for a teacher or supervisor. I think that asking somebody to use your first name when they are not really comfortable with it is as much of an imposition as insisting that everybody call you “Dr”
At one school, the department chairman always referred to us grad students as “Mr. ___”(or “Miss or Mrs., as appropriate). Most of us were not used to this, and jokingly called each other “Mr. __”–which led some friends from outside the department to think we were incredibly formal students.
I know of one instituition where we were actually forbidden (by departmental policy) to put any titles (Dr. etc) on our business cards: just
New faculty memeber (to Head of Department): “Hey, I worked (mumble) years for that PhD!”
(Head of Department knows exactly how many years New Faculty Member took to get that PhD, as he had to approve each of the many extensions to the deadline)
Head of Department: “If we put our titles in, I’d include my FRS…”
New Faculty Member (seriously outranked): “Ok… you win”
In my experience, postgraduate students call faculty by first name (or nickname, if in common use…). Between a reasearch student and their supervisor, the level of formality is almost like it’s between family members. Undergraduates speaking to faculty might be more formal and use Dr.
Sorry, my previous post got a little bit mangled. The first paragraph should say:
I know of one instituition where we were actually forbidden (by departmental policy) to put any titles (Dr. etc) on our business cards: just first name last name
PZ Myers says
My own business cards list no title, but that isn’t by the dictate of my university — I didn’t even consider putting one on there!
The privilege of being privileged: I believe that Jonathan’s experience with Serge (Mr. Lang) is common across the Ivies.
I teach high school, and the kids call all the teachers Mr. or Ms. or Miss or Mrs. X, except for one guy who just earned his doctorate, who they call Dr. Y. Grates the ears.
I offer that they can call me Jonathan, and each year one brave soul tries it out for a day or two before becoming embarassed and switching back to Mr. X.
“Mister” without a name is frowned upon.
As a medical resident, I expect to be addressed by my patients as doctor. For addressing them, I have an age rule — if they are younger than me (28), I address them by first name, otherwise by Mr./Ms. I think as I get older I’ll probably start addressing anyone older than 30 as Mr./Ms.
Conventions definitely vary according to institutions. I used my first name with the students at a large, private univeristy but “Dr” at a small, formal historically black college (they required the formality). I’m now teaching high school, where I prefer “Dr” over “Ms”, but mainly because if I use “Ms”, students, teachers, parents, and administrators invariably start using “Miss” or “Mrs”, both of which I abhor. Frankly, no one needs to know my marital status, so I push the more formal title. It may be a bit snotty, but it keeps my blood pressure down!
I agree with PeeZee (or PeeZed) about the importance of symmetry of respect, at least in academics. I think it’s important to the ideal of colleagiality, where everyone is equal in the pursiut of knowledge. Your younger colleagues may become great scholars in just a few years, and then do you have to change how you adress them? That’s why I always call professors, undergrads and grads alike by their first names, whether distinguished or whippersnappers. Except for my friends without a PhD, who I’ll call Dr. for fun.
BTW, since we’re discussing various traditions, in Russia that was the difference between school and university – school teachers called you informally (“ty”) but professors would treat even first-years with colleagial respect and address them as “vy”. I think that’s still the case, but I left Russia too young to see for myself.
Keith Douglas says
mijnheer: I’m reminded of my time studying in the US and the first time in a logic class where I came to the thought I had to stop myself from saying “zed” to avoid confusing my colleagues. It felt very strange.
Grumphy Physicist says
I’ve had students ask me this, and I’ll give the same answer here:
when we’re in the classroom: Professor
when we’re in the hallway: Doctor
when we’re in the lab, call me by my first name, because we’re all equal in the face of the unknown.
Not that I get bent out of shape if someone calls me something else (if it’s insulting, I get to insult them back, and they won’t like the result. So this doesn’t happen very much)
At my college, the male professors were Mr or Professor and the female professors were Professor. None of them – Ph.D’s all – liked Dr. It was considered pretentious.
PS- calling people by their first names while you insist on being called by a title is more than simply rude. In our society only children must suffer being called by their first names by those that they must address by titles. So if you think of your students as children, and you want them to think of themselves that way, then by all means insist on being called Dr. while you call them Ryan and Katie.
At one school, the department chairman always referred to us grad students as “Mr. ___”(or “Miss or Mrs., as appropriate). – mark
A promenant Cog-Sci professor where I went for undergrad had a policy of referring to all Ph.D. candidates as “Pen-doctor” (i.e. “Pen[ultimate] Doctor”).
Oooh! I just might adopt “Maestro,” even though I’m not in a music department.
I’m still 10 days out from the Ph.D., and who knows how I’ll feel about titles then, but as a lecturer, I ask my students to call me Leslie or Ms. [Last Name]. Many call me “Professor,” and I’ve never bothered to correct them because I enjoy their naivete. :)
Alexey Merz says
Goood heavens. It amazes me that some here apparently think that I should want to reinforce the asymmetry between myself and the nearly 500 students in my courses each year. I’ll be blunt: if you are in this line of work to enjoy the status of the position, you should not be in this line of work. As faculty, we have two responsibilities: teaching ad research. The rest is window dressing (and often not particularly attractive window dressing at that). I really don’t care if my students see me as an authority — science should be about ideas and evidence, not big-A Authority.
Perhaps it’s different in other fields ;-) ?