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I am from the Netherlands.

I have seen quite a few threads which address the question of whether or not it is acceptable to address a professor by their first name. However, none of them seem to address the point of whether it is still permissible to refer to them as Mr/Mrs X?

For example, if you know that someone's full title is "Prof. Dr. X" is it acceptable to write them an email starting with "Dear Mr/Mrs X"?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal May 15 '17 at 15:43

12 Answers 12

60

This will depend on the norm within your country to some extent, but I'm inclined to say that at least in the US, calling a professor 'Mr.' is insulting, provided you are in an academic context.

My neighbors, many friends, and the cashier at the cafe know me as Mr. X. But on campus, I'm Dr. X...and you know I'm a professor. Using 'Mr.' seems strangely intentional in a way to diminish ones accomplishments.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal May 15 '17 at 15:43
28

The Netherlands has a democratic but also a meritocratic culture. Many people do not use their title. Sweden is similar (but I believe Germany is not). I am from The Netherlands (but I live in the UK). Although I have a PhD, I find that it feels strange to be referred to as Dr. Holl. I don't think my title makes me any better than anybody else, and certainly I don't feel insulted if someone refers to be as Mr. Holl. In all likelihood I will not even notice. Many people in The Netherlands will feel the same.

However, academia is very international. There are certainly people working at universities in The Netherlands who would expect to be addressed to with their titles. Mr.¹ Dr. Ir. X. So, although chances are it will be no problem to address someone as Mr. X, if you don't know the person, you might make a faux pas. Many people don't care; some do. Better safe than sorry; better to be too formal than too informal. Therefore, even in The Netherlands, I would avoid Mr. X.


¹Incidentally, in Dutch, Mr. is the title for Master of Laws.

  • 1
    In think this is a very good description of the specific situation in the Netherlands. – Vincent May 12 '17 at 14:48
  • This indeed, in the Netherlands you only use a title if and only if it's directly relevant. And even there it's not obligatory. – David Mulder May 12 '17 at 17:49
  • Agreed. Since getting my PhD I've lived in Spain, France and Greece and have never been addressed as "Doctor". I would even say that it feels pretentious and fake to me. Then again, the aforementioned countries all use "Doctor" as a form of address almost exclusively for medical doctors and not PhDs. Even in English though, I would only expect to be addressed as Doctor in the most formal of situations. – terdon May 12 '17 at 18:57
  • @gerrit I agree with you. You're a human like the rest of us and as I said in my other comment I agree using it to prove your credibility in some cases. If I acknowledge you as a Ph.D. it can only make you feel better about yourself it's not going to help me let's say study better because I won't feel you're that smart transferring knowledge to me telepathically. Therefore there is no point at least I feel that way. – Yono May 13 '17 at 18:27
23

No. For professional correspondence, Dr. Smith is correct, Ms./Mr. Smith is incorrect. Miss and Mrs. should be avoided in all correspondence.

If you know the person well, or the person has asked for you to do so, first names might be appropriate. Of course, all of this is contingent on regional (even institutional) culture.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal May 12 '17 at 15:03
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    In The Netherlands this is not completely correct for formal correspondence. The official title of a full professor is Prof. dr. while for anyone with a PhD it is Dr.. – Jaap Eldering May 13 '17 at 10:01
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    I have to say that the claim that "Miss and Mrs. should be avoided in all correspondence" is a little bit of an oversimplification. In the event that someone had emailed me and signed "Mrs Smith", I would address my reply to "Mrs Smith" -- it would seem odd (and rude) to go out of one's way to ignore an (implied) statement on how someone would prefer to be addressed. – owjburnham May 15 '17 at 14:19
9

Short and sweet: Use "professor" or "doctor" unless/until the addressee faculty member allows you to talk to them on a first-name basis. My experience is that, most faculty members don't care about how they are addressed. The latter is mostly true within the departmental boundaries.

5

If in doubt I'd go with "Dr Surname". This is appropriate for most academics as all Professors are also Doctors. However use Prof (or their full academic title, they're often not hard to find online or in their emails) if you know it. Mr or Mrs is no less formal in English and academic titles are also gender neutral which is more professional in my opinion.

In my experience, Professors won't mind being mistaken for Dr as much as Mr/Mrs. Once we know each other, they often go to first name terms. This is especially common in my country (New Zealand) where formal titles are seldom used.

Of course this all depends on your cultural context. For instance, Japanese academics will often use "Family-name San (Mr/Mrs)" with each other but this is because they use honorifics in contexts Westerners would use first names. They still expect to be addressed by their academic rank by their students and people meeting for the first time. Even in a formal culture like this the English titles are ok.

Although most academics are fairly relaxed about it, I would encourage you to learn about the culture they're from (not yours--international research teams are common) and how they prefer to be addressed. I cannot speak for academic environments in Europe but "Dr" is the most commonly used in academia, although there are exceptions.

  • I will preface this with my country being a place where it is common to use first names or even hypocorism in the workplace. These may be considered very informal but I go by "Tom" in all contexts and address my supervisor as "Mik", even though historically these are nicknames. I even met a senior member of government (now our PM) who introduced himself as "Bill". I still encourage use of formal titles with someone you don't know that well, especially more senior faculty until they drop formalities with you. – Tom Kelly May 11 '17 at 0:43
  • I would never use the full academic title in addressing a professor in a day-to-day basis, e.g. an e-mail. "Dear Prof. Dr. Dr. Ing habil. X" does not sound good. For any official documents, sure, but not in communication. Still, I like this answer the most, as it addresses the cultural differences, +1. – Ian May 11 '17 at 10:25
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    Sorry for the ambiguity, by full title I mean their highest title and family name (e.g., Professor Spencer or Lord Winston) rather than abbreviated titles or "Professor" without a name (this isn't Hogwarts). These formalities are more typical in email correspondence whereas in person you get a more immediate response to guage how formal they wish to be (e.g., Kiwis introducing themselves using firstnames or the Japanese exchanging bows and namecards). I've advised mainly for a meeting for the first time. For everyday interactions that is highly depending on working environment and culture. – Tom Kelly May 11 '17 at 12:41
  • For instance, Japanese academics will often use "Family-name San (Mr/Mrs)" with each other but this is because they use honorifics in contexts Westerners would use first names. misunderstands what Japanese people are doing. Japanese people call university professors surname-sensei, but they realize "teacher surname" is wrong. They then mistakenly believe "mr surname" is the polite equivalent. – virmaior May 12 '17 at 0:49
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    Not all professors are doctors. – lvella May 13 '17 at 17:07
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No I would not do that unless you only know them only as a friend outside of the University environment. I only refer to professors as "Professor". In my field (chemistry) all professors are doctors so it is a given. Plus there are plenty of people (PostDocs, teaching staff, research staff) around who are PhDs but aren't professors. I therefore consider "Professor" to be a higher level of respect in the University environment.

2

Mr. and Mrs. are already as formal as Dr.. Moreover, if you are close enough with a faculty member - and they are okay with you calling them by their first name - then you have already crossed the bridge from formal to informal.

To be on the safe side, I would refer to those with doctorates or professorships as Dr. or Professor (at least in the US these titles are interchangeable) in professional correspondence (email for example). It would seem disrespectful to call a Dr. a Mr./Mrs. because it is as if you are dismissing their hard work to achieve a doctoral degree. Anyone who holds a PhD should be called Dr. (or professor if in a teaching capacity), and Mr./Mrs. if they hold a Master's degree or less.

2

At the mathematics faculty of UU, I rarely even use surnames for my professors. What is applicable for you depends heavily on your professors and the way they communicate to you. However: if you feel it needed to write formally; then go through the effort of using the proper pronouns of Prof.

  • I'm not sure what he means by UU, but if its Utrecht University (uu.nl/en) then it is in the Netherlands. – virmaior May 13 '17 at 1:44
  • Yup, Utrecht university – Mitchell Faas May 13 '17 at 6:54
2

My answer assumes that you are having a lower academic rank.

Start by using the full and correct academic title, whichever it is. Example: "Dear Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Smith: ..."

Next, it is up to them to suggest a shorter form. Some don't say anything, some say "Prof. is enough", some say "Ms. Smith is enough", and still others may say "You can call me Hannah."

1

Norms regarding the use of titles vary widely. Here is my understanding of norms in the Australian context.

Typically, the norm in Australia is to address academics by their first name. This applies to many contexts:

  • When a student greets an academic. "Hi John"
  • When a student writes an email to an academic. "Dear Jenny"

However, if you are going to use a title in an academic context (i.e., Mr, Ms, Dr, Prof, A/Prof, etc.), then try to use the correct title. In an academic context, it is generally better to leave out titles entirely than to assign someone a lower title. E.g., John Smith is better than Mr John Smith (John has a PhD). Titles are particularly relevant for more official forms of correspondence, particularly where the academic status of the academic is of some relevance.

Some examples of relevant contexts include:

  • Official forms: Ethics, grant, PhD admission applications, etc.
  • Official correspondence with research participants: e.g., A plain language statement given to participants
  • Correspondence with the media and press releases
  • Author descriptions in some journal articles

Rules for what title to use:

  • If someone has the academic rank of professor, then use "Prof ..."
  • If someone has the academic rank of Associate Professor (roughly equivalent to North American "professor"), then use "A/Prof"
  • If someone has a PhD and is not a professor or associate professor (e.g., they are an associate lecturer, lecturer, senior lecturer, various research roles, etc.), then use "Dr"
  • If you are unsure whether an academic has a PhD or doctorate, then probably err on the side of using "Dr"
  • If they do not have a PhD or doctorate, then use "Mr" or "Ms" (do not use Mrs or Miss unless you know that the academic has a preference for this)
  • 1
    @Leon. The question title is "Is it okay to address “Prof. X” as “Mr. X”?" The purpose of the site is to provide useful resources for people searching for answers on the internet. Thus, others can address the Netherlands specific issue, but the answers will be more useful for others if general answers are provided to the question that transcend different regional conventions or at least address a range of conventions. – Jeromy Anglim May 14 '17 at 23:41
  • Furthermore, the top answer discusses the United States, which is not the Netherlands. – Jeromy Anglim May 14 '17 at 23:44
0

Always stick with the context--your position, their position, the topic under discussion, the location/medium of the discussion. What would you expect someone else in your position to do in that context, if you didn't have any other knowledge of the two people involved? Even if the other person doesn't care what you call them, it's also useful to avoid confusing or offending anyone else around you.

Examples:

I grew up next door to a university professor and ended up attending the same school--in the same department, even. (Undergraduate level, which does make some difference.) He is older than my parents, but younger than my grandparents. My grandparents address him as Firstname, my parents address him as Mr. Lastname, and I address him as Mr. Lastname at home and as Professor Lastname or Dr. Lastname at school. If I used Mr. Lastname to a student, it would probably take them a minute to figure out who I meant. If I used Firstname in any of those contexts, there probably would be someone listening who would clutch at their pearls (be offended), even though my neighbor himself does not care.

I also work with my significant other's dad, in a workplace where first names are generally used. At work I call him Firstname, at home I switch between Firstname, Mr. Lastname, and "SO's Dad" depending on who I'm talking to. If I used Mr. Lastname at work, it would definitely take people a bit to figure out who I was talking about!

0

In the United States, Doctor or Professor are the appropriate terms of address. One exception is the University of Virginia, where professors are referred to as Mr. or Ms. (except for MDs, who are called "Doctor.") In most institutions in the United States, calling a faculty member "Professor" is somewhat safer than "Doctor," since some faculty who hold non-doctoral terminal degrees, such as an MFA, still have faculty appointments. But Mr. or Ms. is generally seen as a no-no.

Of course, universities in other parts of the world will be different.

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