I am a first year PhD student in France, born and raised in India. It is not customary in here where I am doing my PhD to call one's adviser boss but I do, partly due to my reluctance to call her by the first name, partly attributed to the culture in which I am brought up. As one comment suggested, "Dear professor" would have been an appropriate choice but she doesn't have any teaching duties and is a full time researcher. I would have used "Dear Madam" if I were in India but no one here use that. I think "Dear Dr. X" is too formal and no one here use that either. Many prefer "Hi X" but I think that is too informal. Now that I am writing an email, Is Dear Boss an appropriate salutation? If not, what would be an appropriate salutation in a formal email?

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    due to my reluctant to call her by the first name Would you explain a little bit why?
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 13:31
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    Unless your advisor is very strict about formalities, you might eventually reach a point where most emails sent to your supervisor will be informal in style. This does not mean that the content is however.
    – PatW
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 14:24
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    Do you want to mock him? Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 15:10
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    I would just say "Dr. X," as the salutation and continue the email from there. I don't usually put "Hello" or "Dear" in formal contexts. You are addressing them by their title this way and it doesn't carry any of the connotations of other modifying words.
    – syntonicC
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 16:22
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    Learn to call them by their first name. You are no longer in the culture in which you were raised and you need to respect the norms of where you are. Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 17:13

17 Answers 17


As others have noted, you should err on the side of formality. If your advisor has a doctorate, use "Dear Dr. X" (or the French equivalent).

If not, use "Dear Prof. X". While you said that she does not have teaching responsibilities, that does not preclude the title of professor. At least in the United States, there are research professors. Additionally, someone would be unlikely to be offended to be thought a professor.

As noted by @hoyland, women are often addressed as Ms. (or Miss or Mrs.) when a male colleague would be addressed as "Dr." or "Prof.", which understandably irks them.

As a professor, the way I signal to students that it's okay to use my first name is to sign emails from them with just my first name. If your advisor does that with you, you may safely address her by her first name. If she uses her initials or full name, stick with the formal form.

As noted by others, it would also be okay for you to ask how to address her. If I were you, I would remind her that I am from another culture. For example, you might say: "In India, I would address you 'Prof. X'. Is that correct in France too?" For someone not from a different culture, it can be awkward to answer their question by saying they should stick to the formal form. (Imagine the awkwardness if you asked someone if you could use their first name and they said no.)

  • My adviser always sign emails by her first name. Marking this as answer, I think this summed up main points in the answers with an additional read between the lines advise.
    – Sathyam
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 23:16
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    '"Dear Dr. X" (or the French equivalent)' There is no French equivalent as titles are usually just not used in this way (irrespective of gender), except for medical doctors. Moreover, it was explained in comments that this person just is no professor but something else, which is generally considered as somewhat better than the equivalent of a (full) professor. Would you propose to call a senior researcher working at, say, Microsoft research a professor? But, yes, the person is unlikely to take offense if it happens, still it's just an incorrect way to address them.
    – quid
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 13:10
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    @quid Thanks for providing the French perspective. My knowledge is limited to the United States, where there is such a thing as a research (non-teaching) professor, and PhDs use their titles professionally. Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 17:28

In my view, in academia, the word "Boss" carries a large amount of semantic baggage that you probably don't want to invoke. Although you mean it to be polite and respectful, it also has an ironic context which you may not have detected. By saying "Dear Boss" can also imply that in your opinion they are neither dear to you or deserve the respect as a superior. It is safest to avoid such salutations altogether in emails.

As others have indicated this is very culturally dependent and I think you are bringing too much of your south asian culture to a european environment. Do what the locals do and emulate other peers is the safest and wisest approach.

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    "Dear Boss" is almost as bad as "Hey Chief".
    – user37208
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 17:40
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    Dear Boss is awful. Dear Dr X, or Dear Professor X, or whatever. Reasons given for not using those make no sense (focusing on research rather than teaching: what's that have to do with it). Glad the OP asked!
    – neuronet
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 0:28
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    @user37208 I disagree! "Dear Boss" sounds worse to me. Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 1:05
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    The only time I can imagine "Dear Boss" not being weird is if it's aa very friendly relationship and you regularly use "Boss" in person in that playful and slightly ironic way.
    – Roger Fan
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 1:54
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    @user37208: Hey Chief sounds pretty playful to me; Dear Boss sounds almost passive-aggressive.
    – user541686
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 5:00

"Dear Professor X" is still probably still appropriate. Even if they are a full-time researcher and aren't teaching, their official position is probably some variant of "Professor." If their job title is not professor, then I would just go with "Dear Dr. X" and accept that it might be a little too formal.

At least in the US, I would pretty much never use "Dear Boss," even in an email sent to my actual boss in industry. It sounds awkward and weirdly removed. If you want something more formal than a first name, stick to "Ms./Mr./Dr. X."

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    Note that there is a difference between Europe and the US regarding who can be called "Professor": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professor#Description
    – user9482
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 15:39
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    As a side note to the "weirdly removed" part -- if you have a close relationship with your boss, and you actually call him "boss" in conversation, then salutations like "Dear Boss," would be fine for something informal like a get-well card, a quick status update, or invitation to a barbecue. In a formal context, probably not so much.
    – anon
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 18:21
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    'their official position is probably some variant of "Professor." ' No, in France there is a separate system for pure researchers.
    – quid
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 10:51
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    Avoid "Ms X". People have a tendency to write "Ms X" for a woman when they'd write "Dr X" for a man.
    – hoyland
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 13:23
  • @hoyland If they have a doctorate then obviously you should use "Dr." (something that is true for both women and men). But I was making a more general statement; for someone without a doctorate "Ms." is generally the best option.
    – Roger Fan
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 14:17

The first thing to do is to ask your supervisor what she wants to be called. Does she want to keep things formal? Does she want to be called by name? Whatever she tells you is the appropriate salutation to use with her. There is no need to second-guess yourself, nor to go spend too much time over-thinking this.

Now, I know that cultural differences are hard to combine. For this reason I'll give you some pointers based on personal experience. In general, the French culture is one of extreme politeness when it comes to communication. The way people go about this is to use formal pronouns and conjugations when talking to each other. In other words, you'd address your interlocutor as second person plural vous. This is all true until one of the two, usually the one's that higher up in the hierarchy/respect scale (your manager/your spouse's parents), actually tells you "on peut se/tu peux me tutoyer" which means "we/you can use the informal pronoun tu", as opposed to vouvoyer which is what you were initially doing. Tu is the second person singular.

When it comes to titles, the French don't really seem to be fussy about them. Indeed, the main titles used are Monsieur and Madame, i.e. Mr and Mrs (there is also Mademoiselle (Ms) for nubile women, although it's kind of deprecated since it's virtually impossible to safely gauge if one is married or not after they reach adulthood). Medical Doctors here are referred to as Monsieur/Madame, the Prime Minister is Monsieur Valls, the President de la République is Monsieur Hollande.

Therefore, regardless of whether your supervisor is or is not a professor, has or doesn't have teaching assignments, the formal way of addressing her would be "Madame Xyz". Which, in your email would become "Chère Madame Xyz," or "Dear Mrs. Xyz". If however, Madame Xyz explicitly told you to use her first name Asd then a "Bonjour Asd," or "Hello Asd," will do.

The title "Boss" is in no way appropriate nor more polite than Madame. I would not use it in this context, nor anywhere else in general.

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    +1 This is one of only two answers that actually addresses the specific situation of the OP beyond the -- admittedly useful -- response that "Hey boss" is usually inappropriate in academia. Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 13:29
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    "Dear Mrs. Xyz": I would advice against that, as "Mrs" (contrary to the French "Madame") is exclusively reserved for married women (and "Miss" is for unmarried women). Use the neutral "Ms" instead! Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 14:18
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    "you'd address your interlocutor as second person plural" like in English, where it is so common the singular got even forgotten ;-)
    – quid
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 15:19
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    @quid Verily, thou art most mistaken Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 15:24
  • +1. A few notes: if the mail is in French then "Madame" or "Bonjour" will be fine. "Bonjour" is less formal but good enough. I would not use "Chère Madame XYZ". "Boss" or any translation one may come with is never appropriate, except if someone is very, very familiar with his or her boss, and only on 1:1 emails.
    – WoJ
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 13:41

Personally I cannot think of any context where 'Dear Boss' is appropriate. You also note that it is not customary to refer to ones advisor as 'boss' at all. There's a good reason for that: generally they are not your boss. They are your advisor, mentor, teacher, collaborator, colleague... but for most PhD students they are not in a position of being employed with their advisor as line manager.


As a PhD student in France, I think using word "boss" would be probably taken as an inappropriate expression. If you speak in English with your professor, it is appropriate to say "Dear professor" as it is mentionned in other comments and answers.

If you speak in French, you could use "bonjour madame/monsieur" (which is equivalent to "hello sir" in English)

As there exists a formal and informal way to say "you" in French, if your advisor uses "tu" (informal you in french), you could also say him/her "tu" because otherwise, it can be considered as you would like to put a distance.

If your advisor says "vous" (formal you in french) when she/he speaks with you, you are also asked to use "vous" as it is a social norm in France.


The formality is not important, more important is the content of the letter/e-mail. However, some people tend to consider themselves as respectable, so using formal language Dear Professor X or Dear Dr. X is advisable.


Ask her how she would like to be addressed. Will not cause offence and shows a cultural sensitivity.


Welcome to doing a PhD in France! I think the main difficulty in your question comes from the fact that your boss is not actually your boss, she's firstly your colleague. (The closest thing you would get as a boss would be the university Dean.) She is an advisor, being senior means she has probably good advice to give and you should listen to it, but still this is really different from, say, a course where the professor is above his/her students.

This is the first point, the second is that in academia in France, all colleagues communicate informally among themselves (with one big exception in medicine). So you're expected to communicate informally with her. Not doing so is acceptable in the short term as you are foreign, and it is understandable that this type of communication is awkward to you, but in the long run it will sound bad. If you keep using formal tone, it will sound like "I agree to do what you tell me because you're the boss and I have no choice"

So definitely no "Dear Boss". Using "Greetings" or "Good afternoon" are a good compromise until you feel comfortable enough to write "Hi Firstname,".


When in Rome, do as a Romans do

Find some trusted native French phd students. Study some of their mails. Write the salutation the way they do.

I am an Indian living in India and I find hi/hello too informal when talking to my seniors. Calling them by their first name cannot be even thought of according to my culture!

I write the mails as follows:


I wish to inform you about ...

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    Are you Indian in India or Indian elsewhere? Formality depends on where you are, not who you are.
    – Gimelist
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 9:37
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    @TheIndependentAquarius don't agree with sentence "Calling them by their first name cannot be even thought of!". There are professors ask to their PhD students to call them by their first name. Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 13:22
  • @optimalcontrol I was talking about India. We do not call our seniors by name. Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 15:13

It's quite interesting to see all the advocates for starting an email with "Dear ...". I'm not sure if it's a cultural difference or not, but every formal and professional email I have sent to or received from a colleague/supervisor/associate over the last 10+ years has always started with "Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening" depending on the time it was written.

If the supervisor is the main recipient or only recipient, then there's no need to include their name in the greeting (likewise, if it's a group email) - the fact that they are receiving it means that they're the intended recipient.

Less formal emails are usually begun with a "Hi xxx".

I have only seen "Dear xxx" used when a formal, written letter is sent.


Both "Dear Madam" and "Dear Madam X" are appropriate, "Dear Boss" sounds bad to my ears. No need to use "Doctor" or "Professor", in France academic diplomas are usually not mentionned excepted in a resume.

Ho and by the way, I'm French ;)

  • "Dear Madam X" is wrong in English; whether or not one should address somebody as "Dr Foo" or "Prof. Foo" is very culture-dependent. Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 15:15
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    @DavidRicherby Sure, that's what he asks for so my answer is focused on french culture.
    – paradise
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 9:35

My first reaction is that "Dear Boss" is not ok (especially since she is female and that there is this word "bossy" with all the negative connotations, especially when applied to women and girls). I also would suggest a simple "Dear Ms. Lastname" or "Dear Firstname Lastname".

However, since you'll be communicating via email frequently you may also use the same salutation as you use when you meet her in person. If you greet her personally with "Hi Boss", and that's ok with you both, you may well use it in an email and it or "Dear Boss" should also be ok. But the advice in this last paragraph has to be taken with a grain of salt since I do not really know many detail about your relationship.

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    As a PhD advisor will almost always have a doctorate herself, I do not believe that "Ms Lastname" is appropriate. Either one is formal, and uses Dr Lastname, or informal and uses Firstname.
    – Arno
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 14:32
  • @arno I don't agree. Unless you would call her Dr Lastname in person, writing this in an email would sound strange to me.
    – Dirk
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 15:57
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    My comment is independent of the mode of communication: If a person has a doctorate, then Mr/Ms/Mrs should be replaced by Dr (unless they are a surgeon, afaik).
    – Arno
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 16:18
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    @Arno Different cultures have different levels of formality, both in range and number. At least in the German speaking sphere, there is definitely a distinct level of "Lieber Herr X" between "Sehr geehrter Herr Professor/Dr. X" (depending on the title) and "Hallo Y", which would be quite appropriate for (symmetric!) communication between advisor and advisee. Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 21:27
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    @Arno This approach is really uncommon in Germany. Only very few students in the first semester would call be "Dr Lorenz" (this basically never happens) and some more call me "Prof Lorenz" in person. In email, however, both is much more common, but "Herr Lorenz" is as common and also generally seen as polite. I do not think that I have any colleague who would view "Herr Lastname" as impolite.
    – Dirk
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 8:47

This is a case specific question! Many would argue and say "NO", others will say it "depends" (on professor/country/institution). I'm with the latter. If she is "cool" with it, it should not be a problem. When I email my advisor (on stuff regarding my project, papers, courses), I use this "Dear Prof. N", N being the first letter of his last name. However, when I send emails to multiple recipients (including him), I use his full last name.

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    Just the first letter of the last name? Isn't it a bit strange?
    – Sathyam
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 14:17
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    I can see your point, but he is totally fine with it!
    – The Guy
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 14:19

May I suggest one of the following?

  • No salutation at all. That is, just get on with what you want to say. This is quite common in emails these days. Example:

    Regarding my thesis, I have a couple of questions. (blah blah)

    Regards, Sathyam

  • Just say "Hi,". Example:


    Regarding my thesis, I have a couple of questions. (blah blah)

    Regards, Sathyam

    Modify for the usual greeting in your language, eg. Bonjour

  • Use her surname. Example:

    Hi Ms. Chevalier,

    Regarding my thesis, I have a couple of questions. (blah blah)

    Regards, Sathyam

I answer quite a few questions on forums, effectively being a similar thing to answering questions about academic issues. I find too much formality irritating. In particular:

  • Dear Nick (would prefer just "Nick")
  • Dear Gammon (would prefer to be called "Nick")
  • Gammon (sounds like being told off by my teacher)
  • Sir Nick (sounds like I have just been knighted)
  • Mr. Nick (sounds wrong, it's Mr. Gammon, if we are going to use Mister at all)
  • -1. Emails with no salutation (except from one's closest friends or colleagues) are really annoying. To me they are a way of saying "I don't know how I should refer to you and don't have the courage to pick one out of the small number of available options, so I will signal my cluelessness by just not saying anything". Given that this is indeed precisely the situation here, and the OP is actively trying to NOT send such a signal of cluelessness, this is pretty much the worst advice you can offer him.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 16:52
  • I've checked some recent unsolicited personal messages (emails). About 80% just launch into what they want. A couple use "Hi Nick", one "Hi Mr. Gammon", one uses "Hello there", a couple use just "Nick", a couple "Hey Nick". I think there is a difference in being clueless about how to address someone face-to-face, and just keeping an email brief and to the point. Sometimes when I write to customer-service departments I use "Hi there", or "Hello there" myself, not knowing exactly the name of the person who will read it. Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 20:57

People who you meet frequently with won't like to be addressed in a formal way. Writing "Hi X, I am stuck with doing Y, I was going about it the way you told me to do in our last meeting yesterday, but this yields strange results", is preferable over "Dear Prof. Dr. X..... " because the way you need to communicate the issues you need to be talking about necessarily requires an informal way of communication and then starting with "Dear Prof. Dr. X" is rather unnatural.

To the advisor it is just like getting an email from a good friend who instead of saying "Hello, how are you doing?" as he or she would always do when speaking on the phone or meeting in person writes "Dear Prof X". So, this is totally unnatural after you know the person and have had some meetings with each other.

Now, all social guidelines will have exceptions e.g. this looks like an exceptional professor, but I think you're better off communicating in an informal way with your advisor.


In North America – British professors to the contrary notwithstanding – an email between two people in the same institution (physically or otherwise) is considered to be of the same format as an interoffice memo. [Please note that like an interoffice memo one can see to whom it is being sent without a salutation and one can see who it is from without a complementary close.]

Of course it is the nature of the French to make sure that they do not do anything as it is done in other countries. So, although the North American protocol seems logical to we Vulcans, the best I can say is viva la difference.

                                     Herr Professor Doctor Robert D. Jewell
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    I have no clue what you mean to say "Herr Professor Doctor Robert D. Jewell" as it would be very uncommon to use this construct in French and even in German too, though maybe less so.
    – quid
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 10:32
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    This doesn't seem to answer the question at all.The question asks about what salutation to use and you don't address that issue even slightly. Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 18:10

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