I have enrolled as a PhD student in one of the UK's universities. I have been received an email containing a list of different professors and secretaries in the department. I am a little worried since I don't know how to greet them and I don't know what to say. Could anyone please help me?

  • 12
    Be very nice to the secretaries - it will pay off over time.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 3, 2019 at 12:31
  • 3
    @JonCuster,yes, moreover be nice to anyone who does the real work.
    – Buffy
    Oct 3, 2019 at 12:56
  • 4
    @Buffy - fair enough. Too many times, both in universities and companies, I've seen that some folks ignore the secretaries, assistants, janitors, etc. Not only are they actual people, but they are often quite interesting and have quite a good grasp of how things really happen. (Being friendly with a janitor got us informed that facilities intended to take over a large chunk of our lab to run new utilities up to the next floor. Getting the news 'early' meant we could fight it and reduce the grab to a minimum, preserving our equipment.)
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 3, 2019 at 13:01
  • Have a read of Interpersonal SE as well - interpersonal.stackexchange.com
    – Poidah
    Oct 3, 2019 at 13:44

2 Answers 2


I disagree slightly with SolarMike's answer. The academic hierarchy in the UK is very informal. It is fine to use first names for everyone, be they professor, admin staff or cleaner. A simple "Hi Bob" is fine in emails or in person.

I would argue that it would actually be a bit strange to address someone by their title and last name. If you did so, I expect they would quickly tell you it's fine to address them by first name.


Good morning Dr Jones or Good afternoon Professor Smith usually works fine.

And, based on comments, Mr/Mrs Smith or the first names as applicable (and that can be the faculty/professors as well). However, making the effort to talk to those who look after the infrastructure at any level does pay dividends...

Even when equipment is being got rid of by another department you can get to hear of it first and "appropriate" it... :)

  • 2
    Yes. K.I.S.S. Keep it Simple, Student.
    – Buffy
    Oct 3, 2019 at 12:55
  • 3
    Admin staff is usually on a first name or Mr/Ms Smith
    – Spark
    Oct 3, 2019 at 14:35

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