On Campus

Nice to meet you, uh, professor is it?

How to navigate the professor name game

Professor courtesy of Sleeping Sun on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Sleeping Sun on Flickr

Though there are probably a dozen more important things to worry about in the stress-filled world that is university life,  how to address your instructor can still be a source of anxiety. As trivial as it may be, it can sometimes be difficult to walk the line between being polite and pretentious, respectful and presumptuous.

For those looking to make a good impression on their instructors, Inside Higher Education’s Nate Kreuter had a few tips for traversing the professor name game:

  • When erring on the side of caution, like with a faculty member you’re meeting for the first time, it’s always best to address him or her as “professor.” Though some prefer “doctor”, or that you simply call them by their first name, ” ‘professor’ is a safe, happy medium that you can generally rely upon, until or unless individuals indicate that they would prefer to be addressed in a different way,” says Kreuter.
  • This rule also applies when writing to a professor you’re not acquainted with. Once they reply, you may be able to gauge their preferred title from their signature.
  • Never address a faculty member as ‘assistant professor’ or ‘associate professor’, as it could be seen as denoting someone’s status in an inappropriate way, as well as sounding extremely awkward.
  • Be careful with hyphenated last names. “Professor Smith-Baker probably prefers to be addressed as “Professor Smith-Baker,” and not “Professor Baker.” The hyphen is in there for a reason, so take note of it,” Kreuter writes.
  • If you’re not sure how to pronounce a difficult last name, politely ask them, rather than try to guess. You never know if someone could be sensitive about having their name mispronounced.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.