I'm in charge of putting together an event program, for a non-academic (business) event. We have several academics presenting, from mainland Europe and the UK.

In the agenda is it appropriate to write, for example,

  1. Topic Title - Dr. Firstname Lastname, Professor of xyz at XYZ University
  2. Topic Title - Prof. Firstname Lastname, Professor of xyz at XYZ University
  3. Topic Title - Prof. Dr. Firstname Lastname, Professor of xyz at XYZ University
  4. Topic Title - Whatever is in their linkedin profile...

(as seems to be typical on the continent)

I ask because I would like to use appropriate titles without sounding too academic and without insulting anyone. All are full professors, one emeritus. I'd like to use the same for all if possible, for consistency.

And, I am assuming that I should use at minimum a Dr. before the name even though the job title will be listed after the name, even though speakers with MBAs etc. will not have their titles listed, and will just be Firstname Lastname... not Ms. Firstname Lastname, MBA.

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    It looks to me like here you are possibly using two slightly different meanings of professor together - the UK one and the US one.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 10:10
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    The academic presenters probably care less than the people attending this event. I would use "Prof. Dr. Firstname Lastname, Department / Chair of ... XYZ University". And as you suggest I would not include an MBA. I don't think you can be too formal in the agenda. The tone during of the actual event will likely be more informal anyway.
    – user9482
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 11:05
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    note that in the UK academic titles may be the LEAST of your worries: debretts.com/forms-address/titles just the widow of a marquess has 7 different styles!
    – MD-Tech
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 14:26
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    I would stick to the conventions appropriate to the speakers in their home institutions. British speakers would be "Prof.", if they are full professors, Germans would be "Prof. Dr." (or "Prof. DDr.", or "Prof. Dr. Ir.", etc...whatever applies), Americans you could call just "Dr.", etc.
    – J...
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 18:37
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    You could avoid honorifics and simply use 'Firstname Lastname', particularly if you have non-academics who may regard themselves as equals. Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 19:00

5 Answers 5


For most people, insult and offense comes more from lack of care and respect than from mistakes. I would thus recommend the following procedure:

  1. Prepare a draft, making your best guess for each speaker based on their web presence.
  2. Send out the draft agenda to all speakers, saying that this is the draft and you'd like corrections in case you have made mistakes in how anybody is listed. (You probably want to run the schedule by them anyway for other purposes as well.)
  3. Make any corrections requested by the speakers.

This way, if you get anything wrong, you're doing it in private, acknowledging possible errors, and giving them a chance to correct you in private as well. It will be a rarely sensitive person or an unusually significant mistake that will cause offense in this way.

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    Note: take care to send the mails in such a way that an accidental reply-all doesn't bother the other people on the mailing list.
    – Nzall
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 14:01
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    @Nzall If only I could bounty comments... seriously, BCC has so few legitimate and ethical uses in modern culture, but this is totally one of them!!
    – corsiKa
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 19:26
  • So are you suggesting to use different conventions for different speakers? Not that I have been part of such an event, but I would think using the standard convention of the event's locale would make more sense. I could imagine the end result of your suggestion ends up making those who care less about titles less distinguished.
    – Kimball
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 23:35
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    @Kimball I would say, let the person have the title that they believe is most appropriate. I have no need to strip a German of their extra prefix or to upgrade a British lecturer to "Prof." just because they're roughly equivalent to an Assistant Professor in the US.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 0:57
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    I'll add that this strategy also protects you against the opposite mistake: as an accomplished researcher in an academic setting without a degree, I am frustrated by how often my name is listed with "Dr." or "PhD". I think that 99% of the time, this is just laziness; the person writing has only seen researchers like me with degrees, so they assume I have one, too, instead of looking. However, especially in situations where I'm trying to bring an applied or operational perspective to something that's suffered for being in the ivory tower too long, it begins to feel political.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 14:59

This strikes me as more an English usage question than an academia question.

In American English, "Doctor" is a personal honorific, whereas "Professor" is merely the name of a job. "Dr. Firstname Lastname" is the correct formal introduction in AmEng for anyone possessing a doctorate-level degree (PhD, MD, etc); the academic position they hold (if any) is irrelevant. As a native speaker of this form of English, "Prof. Firstname Lastname" sounds stilted to me and "Prof. Firstname Lastname, Professor of ..." sounds redundant.

However, as pointed out in the comments, in British English, "Professor" is considered a personal honorific, so some of your speakers may prefer to be introduced as "Prof. Firstname Lastname". The only way to be sure you don't irritate anyone is, as jakebeal suggests, to draft the program and then run it by everyone and ask for corrections.

In all forms of English (that I know of), honorifics are never stacked. "Prof. Dr." will read as a non-native speaker error. (Multiple postnominals - "Dr. Snooty McSnootface, M.D., Ph.D." - are not unheard of, but they read as egotistical. I would not put any postnominals on anyone's name in this context unless they themselves insisted on it.)

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    The UK is rather different. The title "Professor" (ie: Prof. First Last) is more prestigious than "Dr." since it indicates not only completion of a PhD, but that the individual holds a full professorship at a university. This usually follows the career chain of postdoc -> Lecturer-> (Senior Lecturer) -> Reader -> Professor. What you would call an "Associate Professor" in the US would be equivalent to "Senior Lecturer" in the UK; "Assistant Professor" would be a "Lecturer", etc. The title "Professor" is reserved only for the highest tier of professorship in the UK.
    – J...
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 18:23
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    @J... We have roughly the same hierarchy of faculty position prestige in the US, but none of the levels of professorship are used as personal honorifics the way "Doctor" is. "Dr. (Firstname) Lastname" is correct regardless of what position he or she holds. I guess this is another AmEng/BrEng difference.
    – zwol
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 18:36
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    @zwol Indeed it is such a difference. Calling a UK Senior Lecturer a "professor" would be a mild embarassment - similar to prefixing their name with "Sir", as though they had been knighted when, in fact, they were not. In a professional setting, introducing them as "Professor" would probably make them feel self-conscious - some would likely go so far as to correct the error: "Professor! Would that it were... but not entirely, as it should happen. Moving on, then..." ;)
    – J...
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 18:47
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    What you say makes sense, but, on the other hand, I have often seen the following convention beings used in North America: a speaker who holds a faculty position is listed as "Prof. First Last", while a speaker who has a doctorate but works, e.g., in a research lab, is listed as "Dr. First Last". Recent example: cs.columbia.edu/theory/s16.html Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 23:13
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    "In all forms of English (that I know of), honorifics are never stacked." But in German, they are stacked, and such things are considered important. Trying to abbreviate something "Herr Doktor Doktor X Y" in English may not be a good plan - and note that "Doktor Doktor" is not a typo.
    – alephzero
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 23:18

I would personally omit titles in such a place at all, and just list the profession, which shows clearly that they are professors:

Topic Title - John Doe, professor of nothing at University of Neverland.

If you do the same with everybody, you're fine: you can't insult people this way. I would say that the only people who really need a proper salutation always are Her Majesty and people of similar kind. With the others, it's just a matter of consistency.

Note that this may be field-dependent. As usually, in math and related field, people are more relaxed, in other field, this may be different.

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    You won't be popular in academia if you do this and in Germany it would trigger a riot if academics were separated from their Doktor title. Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 10:14
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    @TheMathemagician actually, in my experience people outside of academia care a lot more about a doctorate they might have. In academia few care, because it's ubiquitous anyway. In some academic circles addressing a college as Dr. can even be a bit passive-agressive, it makes a point of them being not a professor.
    – quid
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 10:32
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    @quid: This really depends on the country/culture you're in. I have to support TheMathemagician: from my experience also, German academics were very attached to their titles.
    – fgysin
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 12:41
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    @fgysin It also depends on the field. In my experience in Computer Science in Germany, students were on a first name and "Du" base with everyone up to doctors. Only with professors the title was used and even then, if you worked as an assistant first name wasn't unusual. In the humanities however... Don't dare to forget saying someone's Doktor.
    – toni
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 13:51
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    Most of the conferences I attended (in the field of chemistry), this was the notation in use. Peers tend to know their peers. And in Germany I made the experience that scientists don't really care about their title, at least in a collegial environment. Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 18:36

Specifically in the UK, "Prof. Dr. Firstname Lastname" is not used. Also, "Dr. Firstname Lastname" is only appropriate if you didn't know that person was a professor.

That being said, I think there are generally two ways to list names and affiliations:

  • (honorific) Firstname Lastname, Professor of xyz at XYZ University
  • Prof. Firstname Lastname, Professor of xyz at XYZ University
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    You could probably get away with just [Professor|Dr] XY, Z University. Don't think the subject is necessary unless you're wanting it to signify context. Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 16:53
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    I'm not aware of "Prof. Dr." being used anywhere outside the German-speaking countries. Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 23:52
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    @DavidRicherby I've seen it in Dutch, too (which is very close to German anyway) Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 12:26

Note: This answer was originally intended as a clarification to a comment I created on jakebeal's answer that was well-received, but I ended up expanding it significantly during the writing process to the point that it can mostly stand on its own.

As jakebeal mentioned in his answer, it is probably best to ask for feedback from the participants (hereafter referred to as authors) themselves so they can clarify how they want to be attributed. However, you need to ensure that communication between you and a certain author does not interfere with the other authors. In essence, this means there are several ways to go about this.

The first way is to send a mass mailing to all parties, with the addresses in BCC. This means that if one of the authors inadvertently presses "reply to all" on his mail client, his email does not reach the other authors. However, using BCC in this manner might mean that they don't reply. There are certain mail clients and mail servers that mark emails sent to a BCC mailing list as spam, and your authors might not notice it. Indeed, many companies send spam marketing mails in this way, but this isn't a marketing mail, but rather a transactional mail. You are asking for the person to take an action, not just inform them about the latest addition to your website.

In addition, such a mass mailing would have to be worded in very general terms and probably would appear obviously mass mailed. Some authors might not like that, which could have a negative effect on your relationship.

Because of this, a better alternative might be to send the emails individually. this allows you to make the email look slightly more personal and avoids most spam filters because you can put the party in the To field. It does take more time, though, so be prepared for that.

As jakebeal mentioned, a good starting point to help the authors save time clarifying their honorific and lecture is through their web presence: either their website, the website of their primary institute, or on the honor list of any award they might have won.

One final note: most academics are quite busy and some of them might not want to "waste" their time on clarifications like this. If the academic or their department has a secretary or a general administration, they might be able to help you with simple actions like their honorifics.

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