We've had discussions on this site about the German tradition of Prof. Dr., but I'm unclear on how it maps over to the North American academy.

My question, therefore, is whether a North American assistant professor (PhD holding, tenure-stream) would be considered a professor, a doctor, a professor doctor, or some other form when registering for an event there.

  • 1
    Is there anywhere other than Germany (and Austria?) that uses "Professor Doctor"? Nov 19, 2014 at 20:02

2 Answers 2


In North America, one would only mention an academic's rank (assistant professor, associate professor, full professor, etc) in formal contexts where it is important to describe their exact job title (in a CV, business card, news article, etc).

Otherwise, the word "professor" is used generically to refer to any tenure-stream university faculty members, and in some cases also non-tenure-stream. For example, "Susan Jones is a biology professor at Harvard." That would still be correct if her rank is assistant professor. Or: "The conference was attended by 300 professors from across the country." They need not all have been full professors.

It is also the word used to address any of these people. ("Professor Jones, I thought your paper was very interesting.")

"Doctor" is also used as a term of address, assuming the faculty member in question holds a doctoral degree. ("Doctor Jones, please tell me more about your experiment.") Whether "Professor" or "Doctor" is to be preferred is a matter of local custom which varies from one institution to the next. But "Doctor" is not used to refer to the job itself. You would not say "Susan Jones is a biology doctor at Harvard."

In North America, titles are never stacked. One does not say "Professor Doctor Jones".

  • 1
    So, if I address someone who is not a full professor, is using "Dear Dr. Smith" improper? Should I use "Dear Prof. Smith" instead?
    – yo'
    Nov 19, 2014 at 16:33
  • 4
    @tohecz: "Dear Dr. Smith", but any US professor with any exposure to international students or colleagues will have heard "Dear Professor Smith" and neither be offended by it nor hold it against you. Nov 19, 2014 at 16:38
  • 4
    In my experience professor is a more normal title than doctor. Local customs vary, but people are unlikely to be offended by either. (Just be sure to use dr/prof and not mr/mrs/miss/ms.) Nov 19, 2014 at 17:05
  • 8
    In my experience, at research universities (where there are lots of PhD's who are not professors) "Professor" is a higher title and shows more respect. At community colleges (where there may be professors who do not have PhD's and the only PhD's are professors and top administrators), "Doctor" is a higher title. It gets more complicated in medical fields, where there are lots of non research-trained MD "doctors." Nov 19, 2014 at 19:03
  • 3
    For me, Prof. versus Dr. in titles of address has to do with context. It's "Prof." if the interaction is related to the person's teaching, and "Dr." if it's to do with their research or other non-teaching context. For example, "Prof. Jones, what classes are you teaching this semester?" versus "Dr. Jones, please tell me more about your experiment." -- Of course, this is the US, so formal salutations disappear rather early on. So in anything but early contact or formal settings (which would include classes) it's most often: "Hi Susan, could I borrow that book you mentioned earlier?"
    – R.M.
    Nov 19, 2014 at 19:53

In North America, all professors at all levels seem to just use the salutation "doctor", and nothing more. Does this answer your question?

  • 8
    That certainly doesn't match my experience, which is that the salutation "Professor" is much more common. Nov 19, 2014 at 18:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .