I am corresponding via email with an industry researcher regarding an internship. He always signs off his emails with his first name, Bill. Still, I have addressed him as "Dr. X" for several emails now. I realize that if I am offered this internship I wouldn't want to keep calling him this and would prefer to be on more casual terms. Should I just abruptly switch to his first name, or wait for him to actually tell me to use his first name?

  • 4
    Third option, ask him! Jan 23, 2015 at 20:43
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    If a professor that I am regularly corresponding with consistently signs off their emails with their first name, I'll usually switch to calling them by that after a while. That may be a liberal opinion though. On the other hand, in your case I would continue addressing him formally as long as you are not yet hired.
    – Roger Fan
    Jan 23, 2015 at 21:16
  • @RogerFan How do you know that his first name isn't automatically attached to the end of every email? Jan 23, 2015 at 23:52
  • @AustinHenley I don't. But I assume that any professor whose automatic signature is just his first name isn't going to care. As I said, this is maybe a bit more liberal than many people are comfortable with, but I've never had issues with it.
    – Roger Fan
    Jan 24, 2015 at 23:05

2 Answers 2


Since he is academically your superior and you are trying to get a research position, I'd continue addressing him as Dr. X. I'd continue doing this until he directs you otherwise.

Now, if you get the internship I would continue addressing him as Dr. In person, at least initially. Eventually you may notice other people who work under him that call him by Bill. That would be a good time to say "I notice everyone else addresses you as Bill, would you prefer I address you as Bill or Dr. X.?"

Either way, don't get in a hurry to be on a first name basis.


Easiest solution, ask him.

Dear Dr. X,

[Rest of the email]

P.S.: do you prefer me to call you Dr X, or Bill?

No mistake possible.

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    I don't like this approach at all. By doing this you force Dr. X to choose between between friendly/polite to you or professional. In such a position some people opt for polite even though they prefer professional and will resent you for putting them in that position. If you want to be on a first name basis with Dr. X, give him/her the opportunity to invite you to call them by their given name. When and if this particular olive branch is extended you'll know it's a genuine gesture. Dr. X will appreciate it.
    – par
    Jan 24, 2015 at 5:21
  • @par if you have to start second guessing a direct answer... What if he feels compelled to invite you to call you Bill? Or what if he thinks you will prefer to call him Dr X, even though he would rather be called Bill?
    – Davidmh
    Jan 24, 2015 at 9:36
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    @par In other words, what kind of professional relationship is one where you cannot trust a direct answer to a simple question?
    – Davidmh
    Jan 24, 2015 at 10:16
  • My point is that it's more polite, and in my opinion better, to be professional (i.e. formal) with someone you have a professional relationship with until they invite you to do otherwise. I'm not suggesting you can't trust the answer to the question, rather that the question is inappropriate at such an early stage.
    – par
    Jan 25, 2015 at 20:01
  • Consider the negative response: "Do you mind if I call you Bill?" "Actually, yes I do mind." Now what? Is Dr. X arrogant? Does Dr. X think you've overstepped your bounds? Will you feel resentment towards other students that call him Bill? Have you made it easier or harder to build a friendly relationship with Dr. X, who has just had to "put you in your place?" This can be avoided entirely by simply respecting the unwritten rules of professionalism to begin with and referring to Dr. X as "Dr. X."
    – par
    Jan 25, 2015 at 20:09

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