I'm a second-year undergrad, and I've always been on a first-name basis with anyone in academia or in a research setting. I first worked in a laboratory in high school, and since everyone was on a first-name basis with everyone else there, I sort of just applied that logic to other labs and to my college professors.

But when I was talking to a researcher (my "supervisor", if that's relevant) at the lab I'm currently interning at this summer, one of my fellow interns told me afterwards she thought it was "odd" and "unprofessional" to call him by his first name. I understand where she's coming from, but if this were any other type of environment (say a business office), I think it would be awkward to call my boss anything but his first name (Mr. X seems a bit too formal for the boss-employee relationship).

For what it's worth, my boss doesn't seem put off by the way I address him, and I don't think my professors are, either. Maybe my perspective's a bit skewed because of how I was introduced to the scientific/academic culture. Am I out of line here? What did you call your professors/advisors/bosses as an undergrad?

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    Some want to be addressed as "Herr Doktor Professor Katzenellenbogen, sir"... and some just want to be called "Fred". ASK THEM. If their answer confuses the other interns... well, that's the other interns' problem, and their fault for not asking. (Common practice varies by country, by field, by school, by lab, by individual. Don't assume. ASK.)
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 19:55
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    As far as problems undergraduates may face are off topic, I suggest to make it more specific.
    – enthu
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 19:58
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    How would an intern (i.e., somebody who has almost no prior experience in the situation) have any idea what is or is not "professional"? Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 23:09
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    So many different variants of this question, and they all have the same two reasonable answers: "do what everyone else is doing" and "ask". Seriously, do you imagine that there is a secret Book of How to Address People that everyone is hiding from you? Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 16:51
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    This question seems not a duplicate of Should your PhD students call you by your first name? as this is about an undergraduate student and that question is about a Phd student. The way graduates and and undergraduates talk to their professors is completely different. Moreover this is asked in an undergraduate student's point of view and that is asking about a professor's point of view if he likes to be called by first name by his PhD student or not. Why that is a duplicate of this?
    – enthu
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 21:41

4 Answers 4


In all the years at the university, I only called the professors and lecturers by their last name and a doctor prefix. I also used to call them Professor + Last Name.

But never by their first names as far as they were older than me, they were professors and more important, it was not a custom in the universities I studied to call professors by their first names only (it was somehow impolite to call a professor by his first name only, even by other professors or colleagues).

It usually goes back to the custom. Sometimes the professors themselves prefer to be called by their first names. See how others call professors and see if it is polite or not. But my prefer is always Doctor + Last Name.


It depends on the institution and departmental/lab culture. At my current university, most undergraduates refer to faculty as Prof. Lastname.

I dislike formalities, but it had been very difficult to break the students of this habit. Furthermore, I wonder if I am doing them a disservice as most faculty are VERY adamant that undergrads use their titles, even the point of telling TAs to use title and last name when talking to or about them in front of students.

Doctoral students are generally on a first name basis with faculty. Master students seem to be split.


This question is very hard to answer in a general way because it heavily depends on the country, culture and specific persons involved. For example:

  • During my PhD and postdoc I was on the first name basis with my professor and supervisor.
  • A postdoc from Austria I worked with could use his professors first name, but only when no other staff members of their institute where present.

It is important to get a feel for the general atmosphere of your institute, do other people use first names for example. And you can simply ask your supervisor/professor.

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    Note that the OP is an undergraduate and is specifically asking about undergraduates.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 15:46

It is the intersection of the professor's preference and what you are comfortable with. My dissertation advisor asked me to call him by his first name long before I was comfortable with that. But he asked me to call him George, so I did. On the other hand, when one of my former students joined our faculty a couple of years ago, she kept referring to me as "Dr Clason". I told her, "I'm Dennis."

I'm comfortable with whatever my students are comfortable with. Like RoboKaren, I don't like to stand on formalities, and just like everyone else, I have preferences. I'm old enough now that my undergrad students (especially) are not my peers and are not usually trying to become a peer. I prefer that they use my surname, but I don't require it. One thing that does grate (on me, and I am not sure why) is students referring to me as "Mr Clason". I earned that doctorate, and in academia the title is relevant. In academia, if you are using the surname, please use the title. Truthfully, though, I cherish the title "Professor" more than "Doctor".

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    Yes, it's Prof. Evil, we didn't spend six years in Evil University to be called "mister," thank you very much. p.s. I hate being called "Miss/Ms. Lastname" -- what are we, in grade school? The only exception is if the speaker is a southerner.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 15:48
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    You went Zzyzx University, too? More seriously, I wish I understood why the "Mr" thing bugs me on campus. It doesn't bug me off campus: in fact, I prefer not to be identified as "Dr" off campus.
    – Dennis
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 19:47
  • At the liberal arts college that I started my career off at, our office doors had our names on them, but using "Mr." and "Mrs." -- so "Mr. Applebee" or "Ms. Friday." Very odd. Same thing at the faculty meetings when the Chair recognized people to speak. But otherwise on campus, the faculty went by Prof. Applebee and Prof. Friday.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 23:43