STORY BY JESSICA LYNX
A question that confuses students from the day they walk on campus is “what do I call my professor?” The gray area for this task causes anxiety and embarrassment for students.
“It can be awkward because students do not generally want to offend professors by using the wrong name or title,” said assistant professor of sociology Michael Haedicke. “For their part, professors don’t want to confuse students with too many different modes of address.”
When a preferred name is not said directly, students can become uncomfortable.
“Mostly all my professors say that you can call them by your own preference, like first name, last name or professor,” said first-year magazine major Rachel Wermager. “I still find it awkward because you don’t know what to call them.”
Some professors are comfortable with first names in any case.
“I am happy with students using my first name in class, out of class and in emails. However, this is not necessarily the norm and students should not assume this with their professors,” said adjunct instructor of psychology Sonja Crain.
Others believe that a respect needs to be maintained between students and professors.
“I prefer to be addressed by my title, Dr. or Prof. or Mr. Patrick in and out of class and by email,” said professor of religion Dale Patrick.
Patrick agreed that the concept may be uncomfortable for students.
“Both students and faculty often feel uncomfortable acknowledging ‘hierarchy,” Patrick said. “ However, it is better to maintain a certain distance and even hierarchical order. I could never address my most honored professors by their first names,” Patrick said.
This hierarchy issue can change for labs, when most students call their instructor by their first name.
“My lab instructors say to call them by their first name because they don’t actually have a Ph.D, but they won’t correct me if I call them professor,” said first-year pre-pharmacy major Jenna Green. “I feel more comfortable when I call them by their first name.”
Another issue comes with emails.
“The assumption of formality should definitely be made in emails,” Crain said. “Due to our highly electronic culture-paired with a feeling of informality, students often address, and or speak to their professors in a non-formal manner in emails — as if they are sending a text or a Snapchat. Though some professors may be fine with that, others will not be appreciative of such.”
Some students just avoid the whole thing together.
“I avoid emailing my professors and just talk to them in person because I am not sure how to address them in email,” said first-year neuroscience major Kelsey Panfil.
Although it can be awkward, using “professor” is always safe.
“Unless professors specifically tell their students to use their first names, students should always address their professors as ‘Dr.’ or ‘Professor’ in all situations,” Crain said.