I returned to school a few years ago to earn the grades I needed to get into medical school; consequently, I'm the same age as some new professors. One of my acquaintances from a sports club I belong to is approximately my age and is a professor who researches something of interest to both of us. A conversation about his research lead to me volunteering as an RA for his lab.

Given that we were friends first, I worry that addressing him as as 'Dr.x' might feel weird for both of us. Moreover, it seems that few professors are comfortable asking to be called 'Dr.x' when someone asks them what they want to be called (even if they would prefer it), so I don't think asking him will be of much help.

Lastly, I don't worry about calling young professors 'doctor'; I wouldn't have much of an issue calling someone older, or even younger, than me 'doctor' even if we met outside of academics, It's the fact that we're the same age and that we were introduced outside of academics that makes it, for some reason, weird.

That said, using his first name doesn't feel right either.

I'm considering using his first name in private conversations and 'Dr.x' in public ones.

How should I address this person?

  • 9
    If this is in the US, first name is usually the norm for a lab member addressing the professor. But you can just ask him.
    – Bitwise
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 20:13
  • 1
    Where in the world are you? In the UK, I've never addressed anyone as "Doctor" or "Professor", even back when I was an undergrad. This is completely normal; some undergrads call me "Dr Richerby" when I'm teaching them but I always tell them that "David" is fine. I can't think of any occasion on which I've heard PhD students or postdocs address staff as "Doctor" or "Professor". Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 9:25
  • The fact you are stating you wouldn't have an issue calling someone "even younger" than you a doctor, is a bit strange to me, as if your age is an indication of the appropriate title for someone based on their degree. If you are friends as you think, you ask the person. If you are not friends, you follow cultural norms. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 12:04
  • @user1938107 In a context like the one I described, I'd want to use a title for a younger person so that he wouldn't wonder whether, on account of my age, I didn't appreciate the fact that he's the boss (so to speak). With the person I described, who's my age, and who's professionally senior to me, there's no reason for him to believe that I might be mistaken about who the boss is in that context. So the question becomes, might it feel uncomfortable for him if a friend of his were to begin expressing his subordination.
    – Hal
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 16:11

3 Answers 3


How should I address this person?

You should ask him how he would prefer to be addressed, and then follow that.


Listen to what other people say. How do the other people in the lab address him? We cannot answer without this crucial bit of information. There are three possibilities:

  1. First names, everyone. No problem in this case!
  2. Everyone calls him Dr Whatshisname. Then you'd better stick with the unwritten lab rule and address him formally in a work context.
  3. Generally Dr Whatshisname, but some of the more senior colleagues are 'allowed' to use his first name. In this case, I'd suggest using the first name, too. The fact that you are his age will make this look more natural.

Every research group I have been to used either 1 or 3 (but I can imagine 2 being used in other fields and cultures).


As mentioned in the other answer, it is always the best to ask the person how he prefers to be addressed.

In my opinion, first look at the etiquette in your country and university. In some cultures in the universities and companies, people call their workmates, professors, colleagues, etc. by their first name, regardless to their level of education or their place in the system. In this case, calling that professor with his first name may not be that much trouble and will be considered a polite manner.

If it is an etiquette to formally call people in your university, for instance Professor Enthusiastic Student; it may be a good idea to call your friend Professor Enthusiastic Student when you are in a group of students and other researcher, in the classes or in the lab meetings; and call him by his first name when you are alone and you have private meetings in which only you two are talking to each other.

I have the impression that this is the right way to address that person, because in the academic environment he is not considered your friend, he is your professor and you are his student, so calling him in a friendly manner may be considered impoliteness; also in your private meetings and sports club, you are fiends and he does not have any teaching or research role in this occasion, so calling him with professor title is probably considered inappropriate and unfriendly.

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