A potential supervisor is greeting me with "Hi" followed by my first name. How should I greet him in return? If I say "Hi" followed by "Dr." and his last name, this will look awkward. If I say "Hello" followed by "Dr." and his last name, this will look more formal than his original greeting, and might look like a sign of my trying to distance myself. So how can I keep being formal yet not look awkward or "cold"?


5 Answers 5


Reply with "Hi" and his first name. If he's using this format to address you, that's a sign that you don't need to be so formal anymore.


The answer would depend on how well you know said potential supervisor.

If I have worked with somebody before, either through directly working for them or doing some sort of collaboration I will use their first names in an email.

If it is my first correspondence with them I will always use their proper title and their surname, at least for the first little while until I get to know them better.

Typically, supervisors are not against being referred to by their first names but there is nothing wrong with being formal in a professional environment.

  • We've had a conversation with several emails so far. In his signature he only uses his first name or just the first letter of his first name. So I'm not sure what way would be more appropriate to refer to him.
    – sequence
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 6:22
  • 2
    Then just go with a first name then.
    – Eppicurt
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 7:12

The answer to this question almost certainly varies with culture - by nation, region, institution, department, or even research group.

However, thankfully there's an easy and non-awkward way to indicate how you would prefer to be addressed in an email: The signature.

A typical academic email will look like

Hi John,

Some interesting and important body text.



in which case "Hi Jane" is fine, or

Hi John,

Some interesting and important body text.

Best wishes,

Jane Smith

in which case I'd err towards "Dr Smith".

In my experience, it is uncommon - or even vaguely inappropriate - to refer to a student as Mr/Ms Doe. This isn't the case everywhere, but the greeting isn't the best indication of the preferred level of formality.

Of course, it may be the case that they haven't bothered to type a sign-off themselves, instead relying on their automatic email signature (although there's usually at least an awkardly-placed lowercase initial for some reason). That's typically a sign of informality, but you can usually infer from context.

Ultimately, there are no hard and fast rules, and most academics are busy and relatively laid-back people who won't particularly care (if they even notice). And if they do care, you may have an interesting experience with them as your supervisor. If you're really not sure, err on the side of formality - they'll likely respond in a style that gives a clearer clue.

  • What would you say about referring to a potential supervisor who only uses the first letter of his first name in the email?
    – sequence
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 7:53
  • 2
    @sequence That's about as informal as academic emails get. The first name is almost certainly fine in that case. Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 7:54

I'm a wuss and avoid this question by starting my emails with just


about that thing...

I trust they will remember their name even if I don't use it every time.


I have the following experience with two different supervisors, one is my PhD supervisor and another was my Masters supervisor.

I used to write to my Masters supervisor like this from the beginning.

Dear Professor Jones

The topic that I am planning to discuss tomorrow is ...


I used the same approach with my PhD supervisor after my first meeting with him. But, he asked me to call him by his first name. So, now I write

Hi Jones

The method does not work with this problem...


So, if your professor is allowing you to be informal, that is okay. But I would recommend, stay formal from the beginning until (s)he asks you to be informal.

  • What would you say about referring to a potential supervisor who only uses the first letter of his first name in the email?
    – sequence
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 8:35
  • @sequence Does it matter. It is assumed that you know your supervisor's name. No? Even if he uses J for Jones. You should call Hi Jones.
    – Coder
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 9:58

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