My supervisor is the dean of an engineering department at my university. Should I address him as Dean Smith or Professor Smith? Personally, dean sounds a little clunky for me talking to my faculty supervisor but I’ve been using it so far, and he hasn’t really mentioned anything about it.

Is it normal to address someone as dean or should I start using professor instead?

Also, I don’t know if he’s the type to care about such things.

  • ask him, but keep in mind that it might change depending on the context/people around/"hat he is wearing". Jul 13, 2017 at 17:55
  • 11
    What's wrong with his first name? "Hi, Bob!" is a lot less clunky than "Hi, Dean Smith!" (unless of course his first name is Dean...)
    – astronat
    Jul 13, 2017 at 17:59
  • 2
    We're not close enough yet for me to use his first name.
    – msun
    Jul 13, 2017 at 17:59
  • 3
    What country is this in?
    – iayork
    Jul 13, 2017 at 19:21
  • 2
    If you are a grad student in the US you are close enough for first names.
    – StrongBad
    Jul 13, 2017 at 21:11

4 Answers 4


You use the title that is appropriate for your interaction:

  • Prof Smith - anything related to his or her role as an educator or researcher

  • Dean Smith (or Provost Smith, etc) - anything related to his or her role as an administrator

Many times when people become deans, deanlets, or provosts, they stop teaching and actively conducting research - which makes it easy to refer to them in their administrative role only.


If you don't want to ask him directly (the easy solution), you could always ask other students what they do. In general, I would stick to "Professor Smith." People don't have be called by their full titles (I would never want or expect to be called "Associate Professor Webster").


In my experience there is no context at all where you would address or refer to someone as Dean Smith because they are a dean. 'Dean' is a job-title (like 'accountant'), whereas 'Professor' is (also) a person-title (like Mr.).

Personally I'd say if you're not yet close enough to your supervisor to call them by their first name, it's time you got to know your supervisor better. After all, http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1296

  • 2
    This is wrong or at best institution and rank specific. As a professor, I do use formal titles when talking to senior administrators at my R1. Partly this is to remind them of their administrative responsibilities and to avoid false chumminess.
    – RoboKaren
    Jul 13, 2017 at 21:57
  • @RoboKaren I would refer to someone as 'the Dean'. Or potentially address them as 'Dean', but never as 'Dean Smith'.
    – Jessica B
    Jul 14, 2017 at 6:33
  • 1
    "Dear Dean Smith: I am writing as a the Chair of Widget Studies. I must protest your recent decision as our divisional dean to not allocate another FTE to our department. We must make more widgets. Signed, Robo Karen, Chair, Widget Studies; Professor of Widget Studies"
    – RoboKaren
    Jul 14, 2017 at 6:38
  • 1
    I will also when speaking at university-wide faculty meetings, use formal titles (Dean Smith; Provost Doe) especially and particularly when referring to (aka protesting) policies implemented by those individuals. So it's not just written correspondence but oral locution: "Fellow faculty, Dean Smith's regrettable decision to cut FTEs from the entire widget and gadget division has caused irreparable harm to our great university. Dean Smith, would you care to explain what your rationale was for this?"
    – RoboKaren
    Jul 14, 2017 at 6:41
  • 1
    Please note that I'm a professor (just not of widget studies, oh I wish I were though). As a graduate student, you'd only really interact with a Dean-as-Dean in very restricted cases (filing a grievance; protesting university-wide policy; escalation of a complaint; etc). If you modify your answer to clarify that you mean "[almost] no context ... as a student" then I think you're pretty close to accurate.
    – RoboKaren
    Jul 14, 2017 at 6:46

One of your comments on the question is vital:

I'm in [sic] undergrad. We've never met in person, which is why I'm thinking we're not on first name basis yet. (Emphasis mine)

I would refer to him as Professor Smith as I agree Dean Smith sounds clunky. Once you build a relationship with him, this nay change to a first name basis but you don't appear to be to that stage yet.

  • And when I say you're a "sick undergrad" I mean it in the colloquial "awesome" sense ;) Jul 15, 2017 at 15:14

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