I'm currently working closely with a professor on a research project as an undergrad student. I always address her by her last name: Dr.xx. However, this makes me feel distant from her.. I am wondering by which point I could call her by first name?

Here is some background info: I got to know her in person by taking a class taught by her and then started working together on this project at the end of last term. We had meetings together for a few times and exchanged a few emails back and forth. She always addressed herself by her first name in the email but I insisted called her Dr.xx to show my respect. However, some of her grad students in the lab are calling her by first name...


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    She always addressed herself by her first name in the email -- This is standard regardless of how she wants to be addressed (if she even cares). I would never sign off a email with Dr. xxx. For a more formal email where the recepient may not know me, I would just write my full name at the end (possibily with my affiliation and position).
    – Kimball
    May 13, 2015 at 3:20
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    #profsarejustpeople May 13, 2015 at 8:40
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    @DavidRicherby I don't really understand these dismissive responses. It's true - but so is #MonarchsAreJustPeople. Yet most wouldn't address HM by first name! I don't see that there's anything wrong with being concerned about paying the proper respect.
    – OJFord
    May 13, 2015 at 10:16
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    Since you are an undergraduate, I would not call her by the first name. Graduate students are a different case.
    – Alexandros
    May 13, 2015 at 10:20
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    @DavidRicherby I realise the stream must be annoying, I suppose I just come down on a different side - I wouldn't ask a question on it here because to me, the answer is easy: "Dr Jones" is polite and natural in an email, just as I would address a non-academic "Mr Smith" if we were not acquainted. Maybe it's just me, but I'd feel uncomfortable using anything else. But people (on both ends of the email) clearly feel differently; ultimately nothing bad can really happen - "please, no Dr Jones, just call me Bob" is hardly going to ruin any relationships.
    – OJFord
    May 13, 2015 at 10:38

2 Answers 2


Ask her!

Forget about figuring out when you can address her by her first name. Be up front, and ask politely if you can address her by her first name.

Do not be offended if she declines.

Naturally, if in conversation she invites you to call her by her first name, then that's pretty clear.

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    This could be very country-dependent. I've never met an academic in the UK who required anyone to call them "Dr/Prof. Surname" so actually I would be offended if somebody who was part of that culture insisted on that. May 13, 2015 at 8:39
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    This is indeed very country-dependent. You might well be forgiven such mishaps if it's clear you've grown up in another culture, but in some cultures, asking a superior whether you may call them by their first name would be severely inappropriate. May 13, 2015 at 9:16
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    I'm uncomfortable with the whole "superior" or "equal" thing. Yes, they are higher up on the ladder than you. Yes, they know a lot more than you. Yes, you should respect them. But the idea that by addressing them as a normal human being you are disregarding these things is simply preposterous. There are other (much better!) ways to show your respect: ask intelligent questions (ideally ones where the answer isn't in the syllabus), value their opinion, and thank them for their time.
    – Moriarty
    May 13, 2015 at 12:14
  • @O.R.Mapper you can phrase it as "how should I address you". That covers prof/dr, first/last name and doesn't make any assumptions.
    – Davidmh
    May 13, 2015 at 16:30
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    @Moriarty: That was kind of my point: It depends strongly on the culture on whether it is polite to ask "normal human beings" whether you may address them by their first name. That's why, as a general answer, I think Davidmh's suggestion is much safer in comparison to the one implied by the answer. May 13, 2015 at 16:43

In Germany; when he/she tells you to do it.

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    I really start to like answers beginning with 'In Germany,...'
    – Pavel
    May 13, 2015 at 8:54
  • ^ I think memes need to explained/ there should be pointers. Not everyone gets them at once.
    – 299792458
    May 14, 2015 at 6:47

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