In the United States, what is the common way junior faculty address senior faculty in the same department or different department?

  1. Hi First or Last name
  2. Hi Dr ___
  3. Dear Dr __
  4. Dear Doctor ___
  5. Dear Prof. ___
  6. Dear Professor ___
  7. No greetings, start the topic directly.
  • 3
    Varies from place to place, surely. Around here you would not say Dear Lastname. But you might say Dear Firstname.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 0:42
  • Another option is to use neither 'Hi' nor 'Dear', but start with a name.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 9:40

4 Answers 4


In my experience in the United States, most professors invite even their graduate students to call them by their given (first) name. Junior faculty would be no less invited to familiar address. Whether you say "Hi, Name" or just dive into communication is often a matter of personal style and communication medium---for example, emailing from one's phone often has much terser communication, and this is generally understood and not taken amiss.

Just because you are addressing somebody by their given name, however, doesn't mean you are actually an intimate or a peer. Many senior faculty in the United States will still expect deference by junior faculty; they will just expect it to be shown by the tone and actions of interaction, rather than merely the formality of address.

  • 6
    Just don't do this outside the USA without understanding that different cultures may approach this very differently.
    – enderland
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 14:59
  • 2
    No kidding! I wrote an collegial email in response to a concern that a senior professor in the UK brought up in an email to me (at the time I was an assistant professor in the US), and began it with "Dear First Name," and he got seriously huffy with me!!!
    – Alexis
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 18:25
  • 2
    @Alexis - That seems really odd to me as even when I was a student at Lancaster everyone was addressed on first name terms right up the chain.
    – ridecar2
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 22:10
  • 1
    At some institutions, the University of Chicago, for example, that is actually a rule. The are more formal options, like calling everyone Mr/s. But many times the idea is to treat everyone as equal scholars. Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 13:27

An advice and manners column I once read suggested you start (as in, you have no real history with this person, and you've had little communication before this point) written communications off formally—the Professor title is superior to, and trumps, the doctor title, for the record— and then from there address them in accordance to how they sign their responses. If you write to "Professor Jerrys" and he signs his response "Ben", then he has given you implicit permission to address him as Ben, and it would be appropriate for you to do so in the future. The nature of how they write their message will also give you indicators: if they're saying "howdy" to you then they're not looking to be on formal terms with you, and things like that.

When in doubt: ask them directly. Everyone's familiar with this problem and has gone through it themselves.

In my experience, in the US once you have your doctorate you can be on a first-name basis with your university's faculty by default: at that point you are officially their colleague. For some professors this extends down to their doctoral students, others to all graduate students, and to yet others it applies to everyone. The state you're in can even affect the level of formality a typical faculty member expects from any given person, due to slight cultural differences between states.

Note that this will change wildly from culture to culture. In France, for example, it's a flat hierarchy with essentially no titular addresses. Students invariably address their (male) professors as "Monsieur", and a famous professor could be teaching problem sessions to a lecture run by an unproven fresh hire. Which is not to say there's no social hierarchy at all (the famous guy will most certainly be treated more nicely than the new guy and given more deference), it's just that an institutionalized hierarchy is nearly non-existent. Japan, on the other hand, is very formal (in some ways the language is really two languages: one formal, the other informal) and a first-name basis is generally reserved only for very close acquaintances, like family members and lovers (even friends may still address each other in a formal way).

On that note, I just remembered a story a colleague once told me about the time he spent in Britain. There, he said, the extremely important and powerful guys that had a dozen titles (doctorate, professor, head of multiple societies, etc., for example) were always addressed as "Mr.". So if you were at a university, you'd know that those called "Dr." and "Professor" were pretty normal and weren't going to be the top dogs, but as soon as you were introduced to a "Mr." you knew you were in the presence of a very powerful and amazing man that you needed to show great respect to.


You would have to clarify what types of addressing you're talking about: conversational (casual and official), written (casual and official) or both. This is, because I believe that there are significant differences in addressing, based on this factor. There are most likely other potential factors, including geographical and cultural academic traditions, particular academic institution's or department's collegial or other atmosphere, professional personal relationships and more.

UPDATE (per OP's clarification):

For the written casual addressing, I would use the same type of addressing you're using (or would use) with that person in a conversation. On the other hand, for the written formal type of addressing, I would consider a "Dear Dr. -Last Name-" or "Dear Professor -Last Name-" to be the safest option. However, keep in mind that some professors insist on addressing them by first name, so, in that case, "Dear -First Name-" is appropriate.

  • written - email
    – Thomas Lee
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 0:36
  • 1
    @ThomasLee: Please see my update above. Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 0:52

If I'm asking the Chair what she's bringing to the department potluck, it's "Dear Jane" but if I'm asking for additional research funds or trying to get out of committee duty, it's "Dear Prof. Doe" or "Dear Chair Doe" depending on how much I'm trying to suck up.

The more interesting question is how you address the provost or deans.

  • 1
    Does seniority play a role, or do you address faculty more junior than you by title for work related things?
    – StrongBad
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 15:40
  • 1
    At my university, we tend to eschew titles as a whole. Graf students call faculty by their first name so it'd be unusual if junior faculty acted differently.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 15:50
  • 2
    You should ask the question about how to address a Provost and Dean.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 16:01

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