37

I accidentally addressed my lecturer as Mrs instead of Ms in an email.

Should I send a follow-up email explaining it was a typo or should I leave it be?


Since requested multiple times in comments: The lecturer does not hold a doctorate or any other academic titles. She also did not specify how she prefers to be addressed before.

  • 195
    I once adressed an important person as "Dead Mr. X" rather "Dear Mr. X"... – peterh says reinstate Monica Dec 5 '17 at 12:43
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    Yes, I wrote a mail on the spot. "Sorry I wanted to write DeaR!". I had luck, he laughed. – peterh says reinstate Monica Dec 5 '17 at 12:52
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    I've accidentally called teachers and professors mum/dad on various occasions. Although slightly different it only ended with some embarrassment my side and a laugh between both of us. – TheLethalCoder Dec 5 '17 at 15:41
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    @TheLethalCoder I used "granma" several times. The look of astonishment on the teacher face was priceless, even tho I was too embarrassed to enjoy it :) – Fábio Dias Dec 5 '17 at 16:43
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    There are worse typos you could make. Ever signed off an email with "kind retards"? – Dawood says reinstate Monica Dec 6 '17 at 4:09
149

I have heard from women (in mathematics departments, in the US) that they prefer not to be addressed as Ms or Mrs.

The issue is that some students address their male professors as "Dr." or "Professor" but their female professors as "Ms." or "Mrs." Perhaps you don't do this, but I would still recommend "Dr." or "Professor" unless your professor encourages otherwise.

Indeed, I know of one female professor who tells students that she is happy to be called "Dr. X" or "Professor X", and happier still to be addressed by her first name, but requests that her students avoid "Ms" or "Mrs".

It should also be added that this in the US, and cultural practices may be different elsewhere.

I don't think it's necessary to send a follow-up e-mail, but since you are worried about it, I think it would be perfectly polite to write something very brief like "p.s. How do you prefer to be addressed? Is Dr. X better?"

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Dec 8 '17 at 19:31
78

Leave it be; just be certain to be exactly correct in future messages. If she has a doctorate, she's "Dr. Familyname" in the U.S. and many other places. If she has academic rank, she's "Professor Familyname."

In most universities in the U.S., the title "Professor" is acceptable even for those without doctorate or academic rank.

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    This. Also, if you have a habit of writing Mrs., add an auto-correct to fix it. It's antiquated and while there are some people who might be mildly offended by your omitting it or using something non-specific (e.g. Ms) in its place, the reverse mistake you made is a lot more offensive. – R.. Dec 5 '17 at 13:51
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    Regarding Mrs., please see my comment above. (For whatever it's worth: I have never met a female academic who is offended, however mildly, at being called Ms. rather than Mrs.) – Pete L. Clark Dec 5 '17 at 13:55
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    Agreed. In fact, the question is probably mistitled; it should read: Accidentally addressed professor as Mrs instead of Dr – especially on this Exchange. – J.R. Dec 5 '17 at 16:17
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    @Mehrdad Probably not. I think you can be excused for not checking somebody's exact academic position, whereas you normally assume people have a doctorate. Moreover, in the States, people use 'professor' even for people without doctorates, so you might argue that using this fails to recognise a doctorate. Students used 'professor' to me when I was - and they knew I was - a graduate student. So did one copy shop after I told them not to use 'Dr' on the course reader because I wasn't - they used 'Professor' instead. Which wasn't what I'd had in mind. – cfr Dec 7 '17 at 2:39
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    @J.R. Many professors and lecturers do not hold a PhD and should not be addressed as Dr. They don't like it. – user45501 Dec 8 '17 at 10:02
16

Leave it be. Don't overthink it. Chances are that she didn't even notice. And if she did, it's highly unlikely that she'll hold a grudge if you correctly address her in future communication.

As others have pointed out, there is no consensus on what is the best way to address someone in professional communication. While many people prefer something as informal as "Hi {firstname}" (this includes people with a PhD or other academic title), others may be a lot more oldfashioned and consider that impolite. If you really feel insecure about how to address a person, it's therefore always better to ask him or her in person before you send your first mail.

Still, in my experience, there's a big discrepancy between how we're taught to communicate when we're young and how we end up communicating professionally once we're actually out there working 40+ hours a week in a real job that requires us to communicate with multiple people on different continents throughout the day. In the real world, people tend to be much less formal (and more focused on getting things done) than we're taught to be as youngsters. This includes professors and other academic staff. So as I said in the beginning : don't overthink it.

This cartoon captures it pretty well :

enter image description here

13

I have been seen academia in two countries: India and Netherlands.

In Netherlands, most professors are super busy and they really know that such a mistake was typo. In such cases, if you send an additional mail it just is one more mail for them to read. (They will still not be angry at you for doing so) Thus, you don't have to explain such a typo and correct yourself next time.

In India, almost most professors are busy. Above solution applies. But there are a few professors who take it personally and get offended if you do not address them 'Dr.'

(P.S: In both of the above countries, there is high probability that you might get to work with a professor whom you can address "Dear First_name,")

  • first name??? not last name? – SSimon Dec 6 '17 at 5:41
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    Yes. My professor addresses me "Dear Ram" and address my email back as "Dear First name" and after a while emails become just chats without formal texts in it. – Ramanathan Varadharajan Dec 6 '17 at 9:32
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    I can confirm that as a Dutch academic, I would be very confused if someone were to say Dear Jansen (as that combines informal and formal) as opposed to Dear Bas. – Bas Jansen Dec 6 '17 at 15:54
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    "You" in Dutch can be "je/jij" for peers, or "u" for parents/teachers/elderly/your boss/etc. My supervisor in university stressed on being called "je" in stead of "u", because the second made him feel old. And of course use first name, not last name. – Hans Janssen Dec 6 '17 at 16:15
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    @SSimon Not all of the EU, but some parts. Working in Scandinavian academia, I would also never dream of addressing a professor I know by their title and last name—they would think I was angry at them or something. Meanwhile, just south of the border in Germany, I’ve known students who would go out to a bar with their teachers and have beers with them and still call them “Dr. Last_name”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 8 '17 at 22:13
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Don't worry about it. Most professors are both hardened in many senses by the stress in their everyday job and also have lots of duties so they can't let such silly things bother them. There is a fair chance he has not even seen your email if it did not have a course name in the subject line.

4

In Academia a professional title should be used as the primary form of address. Perhaps I am in the minority of people that had instructors without PhD. If your professor has PhD, then the mistake (according to etiquette of the majority) was not calling her "Doctor" or "Professor". For that, I personally would correct and apologize as it really can be received by the Professor as a significant lack of respect, and since that was not your intent then an apology is appropriate.

Likewise, non-PhD instructors should not be called "Professor" because that is a title one earns through their PhD completion and then progressing up the academic ranks, so is disrespecting of the Professors that have earned that title and rank.

Here is a list of academic ranks by country: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_academic_ranks

This has good info for addressing non-PhD instructors: How to address an academic without a PhD

For non-PhD instructors, I'd follow general business etiquette such as this: https://www.thebalance.com/when-to-use-miss-mrs-or-ms-3514830

Unless of course the instructor has instructed or voiced another preference.

If a Professor has said it is acceptable to call by first name, I would only do that in private one-on-one. If the Professor has said it is permitted in a class setting, I would do so as long as there are no peers or superiors of the Professor present.

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    I think a professor is a professor and can be addressed as such regardless of whether they have a PhD. The title one earns through a PhD is Doctor. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 5 '17 at 17:32
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    non-PhD instructors should not be called "Professor" — This obviously varies by country and/or field. In the US, it is definitely appropriate to address instructors as "professor", regardless of their formal academic rank or academic history. – JeffE Dec 5 '17 at 18:44
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    It does depend on the country and local customs. In Australia the primary form of address is more likely to be their first name, even if you haven't met them before. – curiousdannii Dec 5 '17 at 23:13
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    At a US community college there can definitely be professors and even department chairs without PhDs. – DavePhD Dec 6 '17 at 12:49
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    Further to @DavePhD's point, I sometimes volunteer with a community college robotics group. The professor in charge does not have a PhD, and will not answer to "Doctor X". He does answer to "Mr X", "Professor X" and his given name. Most students use "Professor X". As a community volunteer, I'm "Patricia" not "Dr. Shanahan". – Patricia Shanahan Dec 6 '17 at 14:25
2

Apologize briefly - next time.

Next time you have a reason to send her an email, add a sentence saying "I noticed that in my last email I mistyped 'Mr. X' instead of 'Mrs. X'; please accept my apology."

Also note that both honorifics may be wrong as @Anonymous suggests.

1

I cannot imagine she paid any attention to it, unless she should, by rights, be addressed as "Dr" or "Professor". I wouldn't bring it up. However, if it's really bothering you, or if she's already explicitly asked you (individually or as a group) to call her "Ms", you can briefly apologize the next time you see her. "Oh, by the way, I'm sorry I called you 'Mrs' in an email the other day. I know you prefer 'Ms' and I didn't realize until after I'd sent it."

Also, just as a data point, I prefer "Ms" even when using my husband's last name because I was raised according to some now-outdated social guidelines. One of those guidelines is that a woman is "Mrs [husband's first name] [husband's last name]", because "Mrs [woman's first name] [husband's last name]" is only used once he's dead.

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    As you say, referring to John Smith's wife Jane as "Mrs John Smith" rather than "Mrs Jane Smith" tends to come across as very old fashioned. Today, some women find it rather offensive and I wouldn't recommend people use it. – David Richerby Dec 5 '17 at 19:58
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    Interesting data point. I always use “Mrs” as I was once told that using “Ms” was pejorative as it implied the person was still a child. – user82688 Dec 6 '17 at 2:46
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    @ZeroTheHero "Ms" was a thing back in the 70s and 80s, taking the place of both "Miss" and "Mrs." It doesn't imply that the person is still a child, and is not pejorative; in fact, back in the 80s I was on more than one occasion aggressively corrected to "Ms" by women whom I had addressed as "Mrs." I don't know whether it's still being used much nowadays. But the issue it sought to correct I see as a valid one: there's no reason that women should be characterized as married or not married by their form of address, while the same doesn't hold for men. – BobRodes Dec 6 '17 at 3:14
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    @ZeroTheHero You are mistaken "Miss" (and technically "Master" for boys) is for children. That's what British Airways used to call them, when they still had their unaccompanied minors programme (until about 2 years ago). "Miss" for unmarried women is still in use the the UK, but NOT in academia. Just don't. – Marianne013 Dec 6 '17 at 12:31
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    One advantage of a doctorate is that it avoids the whole Miss/Mrs/Ms issue. – cfr Dec 7 '17 at 2:44

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