73

I emailed Professor X regarding typos in, and questions on, his book. I've never met and contacted him. My email commenced with this salutation:

Dear Prof. X

He replied

It is customary to address professors by their title in full, just as most people would not abbreviate the full names of people whom they do not know well.

His unpleasantness startled me. Is he correct though? If he is, wouldn't we have to write Mr. in full as Mister or even Master?

My response to comments:

I'd rather not impart more particulars on Prof. X, in case he persecutes me! I'll just say that he's Caucasian, and in Australasia, North America or UK. English is definitely his native language.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Mar 29 at 20:49

10 Answers 10

15

One possibility is that Prof. Mill is attempting make a general point to you about communication.

Perhaps he found your message trivial, petty, or condescending. (Whether or not that is justified, I have no idea, since you don't include your message; but regardless, it's possible he took it that way.) He may have felt that "showing" you how that comes across was the best way to respond. (Again, I don't endorse that, but I think it's a possibility.)

So, he may have just taken the first "petty" response that came to mind, and settled on that, intending to demonstrate to you that your own tone was not particularly effective at gaining a sympathetic response.

I agree with the (downvoted) answer from @Artoo. Unless you have reason to cultivate a relationship with this person, I think you'd do well to avoid worrying too much about what he thinks of you. If you do have an interest in cultivating a relationship, you'd do well to develop a full understanding of why he said what he did, rather than trying to evaluate its accuracy.

  • I concur. It's a pity that a college-educated adult, never mind a professor, conflates the procedural with the substantive. However, as you point out, this could be a learning experience for the OP. – John Rabson Jr Mar 29 at 8:11
  • While this is certainly possible (I mentioned it also in my answer), we should perhaps avoid deifying professors and assuming that every syllable is intended to make an important point that students should learn from. I think it's more likely that he's just a jerk :-) – cag51 Apr 8 at 5:16
  • There's a reasonably big gulf between "I don't endorse that" and deification ;) – Pete Forsyth Apr 8 at 21:49
163

What a jerk! No, writing "Prof." is perfectly fine; his reaction is both incorrect and completely inappropriate. I cannot imagine any professor I know (even the ones I don't like) writing such a thing.

What country is this guy in? Some countries (e.g., Germany) have stricter rules for such things, but I'm still shocked he would respond like this.

regarding typos in ... his book

Ah. Is it possible he's being snarky about your abbreviation since you criticized his typos? If your e-mail had a condescending tone, maybe he is trying to "bite back." That's the only thing I can think of.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Mar 29 at 20:50
34

As others have mentioned, this of course depends on context, some societies may be more righteous than others about this issue.

Also, I'll be assuming that the issue was about "Prof." and not about including degrees/other titles. If the issue is the latter, I assume it is really standard and that the prof has them clearly displayed somewhere for you to see?

Regarding "Prof.", I did a search over my emails looking for the exact string "Prof.". What I found: I have been addressed as "Prof. Argerami" in emails a bit more than a thousand times. There were emails from (many of each)

  • Scientific Organizations (including the International Mathematical Union and the American Mathematical Society, for instance)

  • Conference Organizers

  • Journal Editors/Editorial Systems

  • Students

  • Other professors and researchers

  • University staff

In summary, in my experience "Prof." seems to be extremely common.

  • 7
    +1 for data! Just out of curiosity, would you have numbers for how often you've been referred to as "Professor Argerami", "Prof Argerami", "Dr. Argerami", etc.? I mean, even if you've been called "Professor" far more often than "Prof.", it wouldn't invalidate your point that "Prof." has been common; just curious. – Nat Mar 29 at 3:06
  • 11
    Indeed, I checked that briefly. In my emails from the last 17 years, I found "Prof. Argerami" 1095 times, and "Professor Argerami" 754 times. – Martin Argerami Mar 29 at 4:38
20

Surely 'Prof.' is as valid as 'Mr.' or 'Dr.'?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Mar 29 at 20:50
15

I disagree with the vehemence of other answers. My experience has been that some students understand very little of the very tiny amounts of protocol we tend to follow in academia. As a result, the way that they address faculty, both in writing and in person, varies between rather informal and somewhat insulting. I think it is perfectly reasonable to try to address this problem right from the start, to avoid future issues. It is nice that some professors are perfectly fine with informality. But that does not mean that their view is the correct one and if some colleagues disagree they are then jerks or anything of the sort. You sort of have to learn to navigate between different levels of comfort.

My advice would be to address faculty in a formal way in general. Many will quickly request that you 'relax' and address them differently. Others may not tell you directly but it will be clear from their interactions. Still others may appreciate the formality and welcome it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Mar 29 at 20:51
9

Are you sure they meant professor instead of Prof. It could be that this person is a "Mr. Prof. Dr. Eng. " and they expected you to use all, you can look at how they have signed the book.

Even in the latter case, Prof. is absolutely fine.

  • 3
    Even in countries that do us all these titles obsessively, it is enough to use just Prof. in most circumstances (certainly when addressing a person). – Vladimir F Mar 28 at 10:24
  • 1
    Correct, that is what I was trying to say. I edit my response to be more explicit. – U3.1415926 Mar 28 at 10:54
  • 6
    If you want to write in a gender-neutral way, you can use "they" instead of "s/he". Ie: "Are you sure they meant..." "... and they expected you to use all..." "... how they signed the book." – Aaron Mar 28 at 15:52
  • Thanks @Aaron, text edited! – U3.1415926 Mar 29 at 7:32
2

Looks like he's trying to pick you up on your grammar in retaliation. To me his response seems half serious, half ironic; so I would take it as such.

1

The ONLY way I can see someone getting ticked at this is if you said "Prof" without a period showing an abbreviation, and that wouldn't be justified.

"Dr. Octopus" is a perfectly formal address line. You would rarely see "Doctor Octopus". I think it borders on archaic use. "Dr Octopus" is just about the same as "Dr. Octopus", but someone has gotten just a tad casual about the period.

"Doc Octopus", however, is very informal, probably too informal for some situations.

Now, lets move to "Professor". "Prof." is a fine abbreviation, and maintains a level of formality. I'd say "Prof" is the same, with a slightly casual drop of a period, but suggest the person you're interacting with might be placing it in the "Doc" category.

Of course, such things will differ by background. Take a peek at https://academia.stackexchange.com/a/71086/20457 regarding the use of "Herr Professor Doktor" and the lack of formality of dropping "Herr"

All that said, perhaps this was just displaced annoyance, and the real issue was the letter pointing out typos in a book.

  • Thanks, @MontyHarder – Scott Seidman Mar 29 at 20:44
  • "Dr Octopus" is just about the same as "Dr. Octopus", but someone has gotten just a tad casual about the period": Note that in British English it's common to drop periods in abbreviations and initials (see e.g. Dr in the Oxford dictionary). – Massimo Ortolano Mar 29 at 22:41
0

Although I find it very unusual the professor doesn't approve of you using the Prof. abbreviation, he is able to state his preference for how you address him. Some people are VERY particular and some people are highly functional despite having psychological problems. I think the key takeaway is that the professor clearly has a preference for how to be addressed and directly communicated that desire. I would advise you not to use the Prof. abbreviation with this professor, but feel free to use it for others, since it is generally accepted.

As far as the reasoning the professor provided, it's complete BS. We abbreviate Mrs., Dr., Mr., PhD, etc. It's not customary to provide the full title.

-1
  1. His reply is a little pompous, but he is correct that you should not abbreviate professor (within a salutation). Don't abbreviate senator either when writing to one.

  2. I'm not sure that "chastise" is completely accurate. Maybe "correcting you" is kinder wording. Also, not sure why this is so important to you to come to Q&A site with wounds to show. It's not a big deal.

  3. Since you are trying to get some help from the person, I suggest to drop YOUR woundedness AND ignore HIS pompousness and just soldier on and discuss the content.

  • 3
    Not knowing proper etiquette and asking about it does make a good question. First and foremost because now I know if the situation ever arises for me. – CramerTV Mar 28 at 23:51
  • 6
    Could you provide a source for your first claim? I've been a professor for more than 20 years in the US and have never heard of a distinction between spelling out "Professor" and using the abbreviation "Prof." – Ellen Spertus Mar 29 at 2:30
  • 1
    (1) [citation needed]. (2) Who is wounded? Kinder wording would be that OP is probably wondering whether he should avoid using "Dear Prof. X" with other professors [and I see no reason why he should avoid the construction]. (3) Hard to say without the full context, but this snippet is so bizarre and hostile that I would carefully consider whether I wanted to pursue a relationship with this Prof. [sic] Millar further. This may be another reason why OP posted here. – cag51 Mar 29 at 3:23

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