I just finished my PhD and am starting an adjunct position at a local community college. I was responding to my first email from a student when I came across a problem I've never had before: I don't know how to sign my email.

Some options I've considered are:

  • First Name: this is how I've signed every academic email my whole life.
  • First Name Last Name: I have signed business, legal, or other official letters like this, and I suppose since this is my first job I could sign it the same way?
  • Professor Last Name: this makes the most sense because that's what I want to be addressed in the classroom, but I have never seen a professor write their title out like this.
  • Initials: I always thought professors signed their emails like this to shave precious seconds from their inbox time, but I'm now suspecting it has more to do with avoiding making the decision of how to sign.

I'm sure the best answer isn't going to be one of the above suggestions. No matter what I pick, I want to be consistent, so there's no confusion as to how I should be addressed.

Edit: this is in the US.

  • 13
    Any of the above is fine. Really.
    – ff524
    Sep 12, 2016 at 19:39
  • 3
    I almost concur with @ff524: Any of the above but the third are fine ;-) Sep 12, 2016 at 19:42
  • 12
    I sign with my first name, but also don't mind being called by my first name in person. Signing with your first name could be seen as inviting the recipient to refer to you by your first name, so you should probably avoid that if its not what you want.
    – Aaron
    Sep 12, 2016 at 19:44
  • 3
    You don't need to sign emails. The header says who you are. Sep 12, 2016 at 20:19
  • 3
    Have you formally been given the title of professor? Often times adjuncts are simply instructors. In that case, you should use "Dr. <your last name>" Sep 12, 2016 at 20:26

5 Answers 5


Sign as you wish to be addressed by the recipient. When I sign an email with my first name, I am giving the recipient permission to address me by my first name. I almost always sign off with my first name, but in the rare instances that I don't want them to address me that way and do want to retain more formality, I use "Dr Firstname Lastname" instead. If I'm really feeling ambivalent, I'll use "Firstname Lastname", which I feel leaves the decision up to them.

I usually also have my full name with title and contact details in the sig at the bottom of my email, separated from my sign-off by a line containing only "--". This is so my contact details are handy, but also for clarity -- even if I am giving them permission to use my first name, it is sometimes useful for them to know my position and qualifications.


I would recommend signing your emails in the way that you would like your students to address you.

In my own experience in the US, most of the professors that I interacted with were quite informal with their students, preferring to be on a first-name basis in class, and likewise signed their emails in that manner (or even more informally, e.g., "-P").

Not all were, however, and those who wanted to be called Prof. Lastname tended to sign their emails thus as well. A few signed as a full "Prof. Firstname Lastname", which I found frustrating as a student, because it gave no indication as how they actually wanted to be addressed.

Note that in other institutions or other countries, the general custom may vary greatly, but I think the principle remains the same: if you sign your emails how you'd like your students to address you, it will be a clear and unambiguous signal to them, which they will likely appreciate.

  • 6
    I'd read "Prof. Firstname Lastname" as meaning they want to be addressed as "Prof. Lastname". Sep 13, 2016 at 1:59
  • 5
    @Significance Usually, I find "Prof. Firstname Lastname" to be the first part of an automatic signature block, which just tells me that they aren't thinking about their relationship with the recipient.
    – jakebeal
    Sep 13, 2016 at 5:08

Do as your colleagues.

There might be a specific tradition in your department, and you should respect it (especially if you just arrived).

If you are in a Department where the professor are referred to as "Dr. Last Name", you would seem too familiar by allowing your students to call you "First Name". On the other hand, if everyone goes by "First Name", it would seem pedantic to go by "Pr. Last Name".

And, as all the answers pointed out, you want to sign the way you want to be addressed.


You could just not sign emails. The overwhelming majority of professional emails I send are unsigned.

Emails might end in something like "Thanks" or "Thanks!", or "I hope this helps." or "Let me know if this was unclear." That brings the email to enough of a conclusion.

I hope this helps.

  • I actually like this answer even though it's getting downvoted. It's more of a viable option than a non-answer, IMO. Sep 14, 2016 at 20:28
  • Do you mean that there is no signature in addition to the automatically inserted signature block, or that there is also no signature block at all? Sep 15, 2016 at 6:33

#2, Firstname Lastname

Students will automatically call you Professor Lastname (or more likely Dr Lastname, in a community college), unless you take the first move to call you Firstname, or more affectionately, Dr Firstname.

If a student calls you by your first name (it could happen!) but you are uncomfortable with this, there is a simple solution. (This is also a good preventative measure.) Address your emails to students as Dear Mr./Ms. Lastname. You will come across as old-fashioned and respectful.

I predict that with time it will become less important to you to be called Prof. Lastname. But for now, that's what you want, and it's not hard to achieve.

I suppose if you find yourself in an informal environment where students naturally want to call you by your first name, it might help you achieve your goal if you wear a suit and tie to class and office hours.

You could also post a formal photograph of yourself with the caption "Prof. Lastname" on your home page and your office door (or next to it). (You may allow yourself to smile for the photograph, if you wish.)

By the way, make yourself an automatic signature for your email, with your title, department name and contact information. But don't use "Professor" in your signature. You may certainly put ", PhD" after your name, though.

  • This is all context-dependent. In some parts of the world these days, students will not "automatically call you Professor Lastname", but will instead default to Firstname. In the US, I understand putting letters after your name is considered less formal than putting a title before your name. In Australia, the reverse is true and putting letters after the name can look pretentious. See what others are doing. Sep 14, 2016 at 3:39
  • @Significance - I think this Professor is in the U.S. because s/he said "community college" and "adjunct position". I will see if there's a U.S. tag I can add. Sep 14, 2016 at 3:41

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