I find then when giving a talk it feels weird / too formal / easy to stumble with my words when having to refer to a professor in the audience as "Professor Last Name", especially when their last name consists of multiple syllables.

As a student, is it acceptable to address professors by their first names, when giving a talk about my research?

  • 5
    I'm not sure why you would be addressing professors in the audience while giving a talk. But if the need arises, could you just look pointedly at the appropriate person, and call him or her "Professor" -- just that? Without articulating the name? Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 1:24
  • 1
    @aparente001, I have found that I need to bring up past work done by Professor Last Name, past collaborations between me and another Professor Last Name, or recent discussions with yet another Professor Last Name. It seems weird and just feels easier to say, "based on recent work that Paul did with topic X..."
    – user78007
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 2:46
  • Helpful. I've edited your question to "refer to a professor" instead of "address a professor." Do you see the difference? // In a small department seminar "Paul" would probably be fine, but if you have a fair number of undergrads in the audience, or it's a more formal event, then be more formal, and practice plenty first. Also, since this varies so much from one place to another, why not get someone's opinion locally, e.g. your advisor's? Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 2:50
  • 8
    It also depends on your audience. Do they know who you mean when you say "Bob"? Sometimes I see it at conference where the insiders refer to eachother by first names only, but it makes it harder for me to follow who's who.
    – Jasper
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 6:25
  • 5
    I have the reverse problem sometimes: how to refer to colleagues who I would usually call by their first name when talking to students who probably aren't on first name basis with them. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 18:44

9 Answers 9


Some professors are comfortable having students call them by their first names. You should wait until individual professors let you know that this is acceptable to them before you do so.

However, others are not comfortable with this. So, to be on the safe side, I believe that it is best to refer to them by their formal title and last name during a public talk. Many professors do this with their peers during public talks, even if members of the audience are their good colleagues. Plus, you won't run the risk of mistakenly refer to some professors by their first name and others by their formal name, which could be viewed as disrespectful.

I also caution to graduate students that even when they feel comfortable calling individual professors by their first name, they should refer to the same professor by their formal name when talking to others. It's usually best to err on the side of greater professionalism.

  • 2
    I can't speak for other disciplines, but in Computer Science, it is highly uncommon to refer to other researchers by title during a talk or in a publication. (Very rarely, there are students giving a talk who refer to their own advisor as "Prof. Smith" but to other researchers as "Miller and Jones". I find this quite awkward.)
    – Uwe
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 11:20
  • My assumption from the question is that the person wants to know the etiquette of referring directly to professors who are attending the talk. If I were a graduate student and my adivsor was in the audience and asked a question, I wouldn't have said, "Do you have a question, Mike?" I would have said, "Dr. Smith, you have a question." If referring to researchers that one cited during a talk, yes, just the last names are fine. Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 17:12
  • For the situation in your comment, I don't think "Dr. Smith, you have a question" sounds right or natural. Are you saying the name to indicate whose question you are taking, or to inform the rest of the audience who the person is? Either way, if you are on first-name terms with the advisor in private, I would say "Yes, Firstname ..." to the advisor, then "(This is my advisor, Firstname Lastname)" to the rest of the audience, then "You have a question ..." to the advisor. The punctuation is meant to indicate the way of speaking.
    – user72102
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 14:39

If you are referring to them rather than addressing them, I think you should say Firstname Lastname i.e. omit the title and say both names.

That is more natural than the alternatives, politer to the professor than just Firstname, and politer to the audience as it makes it very clear who you are referring to. It is polite whether or not you know the professor, and whether or not they are comfortable with being addressed by their first name.

Occasionally speakers refer to other researchers by nicknames such as Bob or Sasha, which don't even start with the same letters as the full first name. That makes it especially difficult for the audience to work out who they are talking about. Most people don't know all the standard nicknames in the world.

  • 4
    I used to have an introductory class where the professor would constantly refer to other prominent professors in the field by their first names, I guess because they were acquainted, and I never had any idea who he was talking about. So I'm with you.
    – Casey
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 15:23
  • +1 don't make it difficult for audience to work out who is being referenced during a talk - - at least say both name like First Lastname (if you feel uncomfortable saying Professor Lastname).
    – Carol
    Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 3:39

Here is what I believe to be the standard conventions in math in the US when referring to another researcher in a talk:

  1. You write their full last name on the board (unless they're a collaborator and you've already written their name out and then an initial only may be fine).

  2. If the person is not in the audience, then you say their last name only with no title. Or firstname lastname if they're on the job market.

  3. If the person is in the audience you may instead refer to them as you would ordinarily (typically this means by first name or nickname, but in some situations this could mean using a title) and you look at them as you do so. You still write the last name on the board.


This very much depends on the circumstances: the audience and the cultural setting, but simple rules are

  • Use the title (Professor) only when predominantly addressing those who know that person only with that title (undergraduate students), but not at a scientific conference.
  • At a scientific conference, use the first name if this is customary among academics in that setting (usually in small communities, such as astrophysics), otherwise use the surname (and optionally also the first name).

I like to close with an anecdote. As PhD student (looong ago), I attended an international conference in Elba (Italy), where all Italian PhD students referred to their supervisors as Professore XXX, while nobody else used titles (nobody would ever think of mentioning Professor Einstein). I found this very funny at the time, but those poor Italian students must have gone through a mighty cultural conflict.

  • Totally wrong. At least on premise. 1) Italian students are not much poorer to call professor xxx than american ones to call Jim or Kate. Do you really think of cultural conflict? The fact that english might be the official language of a conference, does not make that the culture of attendants from the rest of the world must change as well.
    – Alchimista
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 14:12
  • 3
    @Alchimista - I don't think Walter is saying that Italian students were "much poorer" to call a professor by a more formal name; I think he's merely saying that, when you customarily do something in a different way as everyone else around you, it can potentially create feelings of awkwardness. (The word "poor" here is indicates sympathy for a predicament.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 20:32
  • @J.R. Again, I do not think that italian students were the only ones to refer to their supervisor in that way. Unless there were only italians and americans at that conference. Second point : Might be sound funny that a young Italian student can say "il mio professore" but not more than earing "my chef or" my boss". I actually think that my professor sounds even better, but this is realm of uses and opinions.
    – Alchimista
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 20:43
  • @Alchimista If you don't trust my factual statements about that conference, than you are one of those preferring alternative facts. But then you should perhaps better tweet them. BTW at said conference were Dutch, Belgian, German, Mexican, English, American and potentially other students.
    – Walter
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 6:15
  • 1
    @Walter. No, let us say that italians were the only ones. Then they were almost the only ones to keep their register instead of switching to an unusual one. Never saw a single german student that does not address his/her supervisor by "Her Professor" literally "Sir Professor" in their group or for private reasons. Shall be the supervisor a lady, than I do not know. In spite of years, I still have to meet one (in chemistry and physics).
    – Alchimista
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 11:11

Sometimes. (Anyone who says 'no, never' doesn't understand context.)

Things you need to consider:

  • What does your professor prefer? -- this is probably the ultimate consideration. All things considered it is your obligation not to offend. If your professor doesn't want you call him 'Jack', then don't do it. If they are fine about it then it may be okay, depending on other factors.
  • What would the audience prefer?
  • Age/level difference between you and the 'professor' -- are you a undergraduate researcher? If you're a postdoc it would be very strange to call them 'professor X' among colleagues for a seminar (again, in the US and not for bigger talks)
  • Relationship with 'professor' -- are you his/her graduate student? It would be strange for a student to use 'Professor X' with their adviser in the States (in a formal talk with many 'outside' individuals it would be more common.)
  • Your country's academic and social norms -- many parts of the world a student would never do this, but in the U.S it is quite common especially if your professor is a Gen-Exer or Millennial that care less about the ego-trips that are often associated with titles.

Best to ask them and consider the rest of the context.

  • 1
    Another consideration arises if you need to refer to two or more people, one of whom you'd ordinarily refer to formally, and the other informally. It would sound strange (to me) if you said "This topic was studied by Professor X and by Charlie." In that situation, you should probably say "Professors X and Y," even if in other contexts you'd refer to Professor Y as Charlie. In other words, when referring to several people, lift the references up to the same level of formality. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 22:12
  • Also, it is rarely "Professor X' (even if the person has a chair) in an academic talk. It is safe to say Dr. X, or Dr. Y X (or without a doctorate Ms. X, Mr. X), although in the US you can informally refer to academics by their job title. In the US, associate professors and assistant professors are informally 'Professor X'.
    – Qsigma
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 12:18

Yes in the US and no in continental Europe, but that should not be your main concern.

You main concern should be that your talk remains intelligible. So, you want to say "Jane Smith" instead of "Jane" or "Ms. Smith" or "Professor Smith" simply to be as clear as possible to the vast audience. Different people in the audience might simply mishear you. Or they might know the person only as Jane or only as Ms. Smith.


No, never.

The whole point of addressing people respectfully is to demonstrate your effort to learn and memorize their tittles and names. Otherwise, you're sending the message "I can't be bothered to spell your names right". Yes, it is easy to stumble, that's the point. You prove yourself by not stumbling.

When you're giving a talk, it's giving a talk. It's not relaxed chitchat. Giving a talk is formal, so your feeling that something seems "too formal" misguides you. It's better to come out as too formal rather than as fraternizing.

Besides, there is a simple matter that you don't have control over the audience. Some may not know who "Paul" is. Someone may record it and then watch 5 years later on another university. "Professor X Y" leaves no room for mistake.

  • Are you German? It's completely common and fine in talks in english to refer to others without their titles, and if you make clear who you are talking about and you know that person then first name might be fine too. Satements like "Daniel Somename from University of Whatever and his group discovered this first in 2009..." or "We worked together with Peter Anothername on this. Peter is an expert in...." are completely normal.
    – user64845
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 21:04
  • @DSVA 1) Just because it happens doesn't mean it's fine. 2) If OP's peers were referring to professors on first name basis, OP wouldn't have doubts, would he? So, I conclude that in his environment it's uncommon to use first names. 3) I'm referring to the reasoning behind general concept of name decorators, be it company structure, academia or nobility title. How it shows your respect. 4) "Peter is an expert in..." is informal. Also, it implies you are on the first name basis with him. OP is a student, so it's unlikely. 5) I'm Polish, but points #2 and #3 are not relative to locale.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 8:51
  • 1) It's not that "it happens", in my experience it's the norm and I've never heard anyone complaining. If basically everyone is doing it then you can usually assume that it's fine to do it too, especially in such a case. 2) Yes he could have doubts. It's definitely a different thing to call your professor by first name while working in his group or during a talk in front of other people. 3) In research you (should) respect people because of their work and not their title. This is why titles are less and less used. For example I only know one journal still using titles in author lists...
    – user64845
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 21:55
  • 4) I was a student and I would call some of our cooperation partners by first name, even the professors. And who says that scientific talks have to be deadly serious and completely formal? 5) point 3 is definitely something which is different in different countries, that's why I came up with germany. I'm from austria, very similar culture and people love their titles. It's pathetic but some get upset if you don't use them (right). I've never seen something like that during my time in the US.
    – user64845
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 21:58

It really depends on circumstances and audience. However contrary to some statements in the previous answer, in international conferences is normal to refer to scientists by

  • name surname

  • professor surname

  • surname, via their group, like in "research done in the group of xxx"; xxx is surname, but you can add name or title.

Shall I give you examples?

Me, speaking to a relatively small and "friendly" audience about my supervisor : "as name told us, recently a new..."

Me, speaking in a big session: "as professor yyy told us....."

If that professor did not tell us anything, because physically absent, but I really have to use his/her work in a technical way, of course I will say "surname showed that equation x has a solution...... " (although it is much better to show a useful reference without mentioning it, but I think this is another issue).

Referring to someone that is not a professor, is less common to ear of doctor, but possible. I would say "as name told us" or "as *name surname * told us..." in the two distinct audiences as above.

Imagine a student... If he and the supervisor are known, it is easy to say "my supervisor....".

A lot of registers are possible, those above are just indication.

If two bigs refer to each other, they will call each other by names. It can happen they are sharing the stage.

It is also related to the age difference between speaker - audience - spoken name , which again is subjective and cultural.

So be flexible.

But I would say that calling someone Professor is almost the norm.

To give a ground to my answer, I have attended hundreds of conferences and meetings worldwide.

Ps: I never noticed it in real conferences, but often the impression is that US Americans think that their way is the standard, but it is not. The fact that international conferences are hold in English has nothing, or little to be precise, to do with the manners within the conference, and even less with the cultural background of the participants.

Coincise: you can easily imagine a summer school, a session of a conference, or even a conference, all having English as official language but no American participants. I think this render the idea of what we are discussing about.

  • 3
    I disagree that calling someone professor when referring to them in a talk is the norm. This might be field specific, but in math it would sound very odd to hear of the result proved by professor X rather than simply those proved by X or maybe firstname X. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 17:33
  • @Tobias Kildetodft. No your are right. I meant referring to somebody that is present, just gave a talk before, he/she present or felt as present to the audience. A merely technical citation is like in a paper, just simple. Perhaps I should edit my answer.
    – Alchimista
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 17:41
  • It is even not very common to refer to a person in a talk, except for the case in which the author name became the name of the rule theorem reaction scheme etc....
    – Alchimista
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 17:44

Its OK to take the first name .culture to culture the practice varies .one must observe the protocol and environment of the college, university or university .please note that person to person it varies as well.try to analysis the liknkng disliking of teacher .regards

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