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Given that I'm unmarried, I'll never understand why they'd reach for 'Mrs.'
November 12, 2012 9:16 AM   Subscribe

I am a professor. I have a Ph.D. I'm also a woman. How do I deal with students who call me Ms., Miss, or Mrs.?

I know this can be a touchy subject, so let me explain where I'm coming from. Out in the world, beyond the confines of my job, I do not make a big deal out of being a PhD. I'm perfectly happy being called Ms. Lastname. It's not something that I think matters.

But... In the classroom, it's a different story. I'm in a male-dominated field, and I've learned the hard way that I can't just expect students to respect me. One way I've learned to shield myself from disrespect is through my name: in a setting where I'm Dr. Lastname or Professor Lastname, it's easier for me to have command over my classroom. So, this matters to me. Honestly, I find it insulting to be called Ms or Mrs (even though I assume my students don't mean to insult me). I know plenty of other women in academia who feel similarly.

It's not too difficult for me to correct students who call me by my first name. I can just say, "I prefer to be called by my last name in the classroom -- thanks." I'm having a lot of trouble figuring out what to say when students call me Ms. or Mrs. Saying, "Actually, it's Dr. Lastname" just sound snooty and pretentious. Explaining my motivations for caring about being called Dr. would take too much time and be pretty inappropriate -- I don't want to give my students a lecture about gender norms, implicit bias, and the particular challenges of teaching every time a student makes a mistake. And I'm not sure what other options there are.

Ideally, I would like to say something that gets across this message: "Let me just point out that calling a female professor Ms or Mrs rather than Dr can actually be taken as an insult. I know you didn't mean it that way, but that's how I interpret it when a student calls me Ms or Mrs. So, please, in the future, use the title, Dr." Only... I'd like it to be more concise and kind.

Any suggestions? Or am I just always going to be stuck between The Rock Of Disrespectful Title and the Hard Place of Sounding Snooty?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (94 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can you ask for "Professor"? That gives you the title/rank/role without the maybe snootiness of "Dr." In any event, can you just say, "It's Professor Smith, thank you." "It's Dr. Smith, thank you." Keep it short. You don't need to explain yourself. In the scheme of things, the message you want to send gets sent.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:20 AM on November 12, 2012 [16 favorites]


"I prefer Dr Smith in my workplace, thanks."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:22 AM on November 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


When I was in college (more than a decade ago at this point), I always appreciated it when professors told us what to call them at the beginning of the term. Some preferred Dr. Something or Professor Something, others liked to go by first name. Knowing explicitly what my prof preferred helped me overcome the "avoid calling this person anything" problem during one-on-one talk.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:22 AM on November 12, 2012 [64 favorites]


Quick, matter-of-fact, consistent, pleasant:
"Ms. Lastname, can I ask you about the exam?"
"Dr. Lastname. Sure, Susie. Office hours are 2-4."

Also, use Dr. Lastname on your class website, syllabi, and other class materials.
posted by purpleclover at 9:23 AM on November 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


"It's Dr. Smith, thanks." If you use the informal "thanks" instead of "thank you" and if you SMILE when you say it (at least a little; not a great big grin), it comes across less snooty and more just that's the way it is.
posted by CathyG at 9:23 AM on November 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


When you start your first class, how about going up to the blackboard like an elementary school teacher would and write Professor FirstInitial Lastname.

It probably will help if you call your students Mr. and Ms. If you give your students the honorific, they sort of have to reciprocate.
posted by musofire at 9:23 AM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Regardless of gender, every time I made this mistake in school, it went like this:

"Excuse me Mr./Ms. Smith can you..."
"Doctor Smith."
"Sorry! Doctor Smith can you take a look at this."
posted by griphus at 9:23 AM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


The more time you spend talking about it the more room you give for misinterpretation/inaccuracies/etc about a totally reasonable request. For instance, in your generalization you request the title Dr. for ALL female professors, some of whom definitely don't have a Ph.D. (The terminal degree in my field, art, is an MFA.) I also think the passive in the generalization doesn't help the tone of how it will be perceived.

"Ms. Anonymous -"
"I prefer Dr. Anonymous, thanks."


Short and to the point. Unless they ask for more explanation, I'd just consider it implicit in the request and move the conversation on.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:24 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


What does it say on your Syllabus? I'd definitely include "Dr. Anonymous". How do you introduce yourself on the first class session? Again, a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor with "Dr. Anonymous", hell, even write it on the whiteboard.

What is your doctorate in? You could even talk a little about your background, how you arrived at that degree in that subject, etc. during the beginning of a class session, you know - anecdota. This could generate interest in you, your subject and give students something human to connect the "Dr." to, as well as making you approachable as a professor.
posted by floweredfish at 9:24 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it possible that you actually include something in the syllabus about this? Not just regarding your title but also about the gender inequalities in your field? It would allow you to easily say "Regarding
'Mrs. So and So', please reference the syllabus" to your students as needed while also clueing them into your motivations for doing so which *are* important to the students who just aren't getting the hint and are probably doing this to other female faculty members as well.
posted by Loto at 9:24 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


You might try to get things off on the right foot by introducing yourself as Professor Lastname at the beginning of each new class. Write it on the blackboard. Most of your students will get the message from that alone.
posted by orange swan at 9:25 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


One idea: Are you not a professor? Because if so, you could do what one of my instructors did, and take part of the first class to emphasize that you are not a professor and it's totally incorrect to give you that title, and then oh by the way it's also equally inappropriate to call you anything short of Doctor, like "just Mrs." The emphasis was on "not a full professor," but it also made it clear that we were not to settle for just "Mr. Instructor."
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:25 AM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Can you put it on the syllabus or the board the first day so it's clear?

Otherwise it's perfectly fine to just correct them and say "Actually, it is Dr." It's not snooty, I would correct someone if they said my name wrong and I think this is a similar circumstance.
posted by raccoon409 at 9:26 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, a simple correction and a smile to soften it a bit.

If they act surprised or comment on it, that's when you explain that you find it insulting to be assumed a Mrs.
posted by Specklet at 9:27 AM on November 12, 2012


At the beginning of the year, saying "please call me Dr. or Prof. Smith instead of Ms. Smith because when I hear Ms. Smith I always think you're talking about my mother!" is a way of doing that doesn't come across as arrogant.

The arrogance factor is a real risk, so be careful. I am in academia too and have a colleague who insists on being called "Dr. Smith" by their students (rather than even Prof. Smith), and is the subject of much derision and mockery for it, both by the rest of the faculty and the students. Tread carefully.
posted by modernnomad at 9:27 AM on November 12, 2012 [26 favorites]


Also, remember in 1:1 interactions when a student approaches you, they want something. So if you correct them, it is a lot easier for them to accept it and keep going than to derail the conversation for an argument about your credentials.
posted by griphus at 9:27 AM on November 12, 2012


Is there a cultural imperative for academics to use last names where you live? If so then fine but if not (and if your male colleagues all use first name) then you might want to question whether just using your first name might put you on the same level in terms of respect, bascially I am concerned that however you put your title and last name then you will seem snooty as your colleagues are not similarly formal. But this is reflecting my UK academic institution where everyone short of the big boss gets their first name.
posted by biffa at 9:29 AM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it is normal and not a bit snooty to correct students and request to be addressed as Dr. or Professor. And introduce yourself as such early and often.

(I assume you are a college prof. Most college kids are going to be used to years of instructors who went by "Mrs." I had a handful of "Ms." and "Mr." but definitely no "Dr.". I wouldn't take it too personally. Though, of course, it is perfectly appropriate to correct them!)
posted by murfed13 at 9:30 AM on November 12, 2012


I'd put it in you're first day of class spiel --- the whole point of that is to establish your authority, so it's the perfect time to start off with "My name is Dr. Firstname Lastname, but you may call me Dr. Lastname." Or maybe "My name is Firstname Q. Lastname, PhD, DDS, S.J., but you may call me Dr. Lastname."

If they fuck it up in conversation, I don't think there's any real way around just saying, "By the way, I prefer to be called Dr. Lastname."

If they think it's snooty, well, that's a risk you're going to have to run, if you want to draw that line. That's your boundary, and you shouldn't shrink from maintaining it Presumably your other interactions with them will demonstrate your warmth, generosity and helpfulness.
posted by Diablevert at 9:31 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't worry about sounding snooty. You've earned the right.

Correct your students, and expect them to stay corrected.

When I taught high school it was common for kids to just say "Miss!" Like my name didn't matter. Then they came up with Miss Mango (an incredibly bastardized version of my last name.) After a while, I rolled with it.

But those kids were idiots. These kids presumably aren't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:32 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It also sounds like you're teaching some of the freshman/junior students who aren't aware. They're not doing it to insult you. That's also probably why they're reaching for the Mrs. - their teachers in high school were probably Mrs. X. So don't feel bad about correcting them - with a smile, of course.

"Oh, please address me as Professor or Doctor X, thanks!"
posted by lizbunny at 9:34 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Simply tell them that you prefer to be called Dr lastname while in class. On campus, you are Dr Lastname and it is neither snooty nor pretentious to ask to be addressed in that way.

Asking people to address you as Dr in an informal public setting may come off a bit snooty but you aren't talking about that.
posted by 2manyusernames at 9:38 AM on November 12, 2012


In the first class, state "You can call me Dr. Lastname or Prof. Lastname" as part of the introductory blurb.

I have had profs include a little note in the syllabus or course website about how to address professors. It's written as a helpful "This is a common mistake that lots of students don't even know they're making!" instructional, and the tone of the document is casual and friendly. (It works, btw. The quality of student emails go up when this note is included.) The gist goes:


---------------------------------------------
- Many students write emails to / address professors inappropriately, but only because they've never been taught how to do it.

- Here are some examples of how NOT to do it:
(incl. examples "Hey Ms. Lastname", "Yo, Firstname", "Hey.", [no greeting at all]) [Use your own last name here to drive home the point]

- Here are some examples of how to correctly address an email / talk to your prof:
(include example emails here, e.g., "Dear Prof. Lastname", "Hi Dr. Lastname")

- Make sure to use complete words and sentences in your correspondence. (No "text" speak or abbreviations!) This is true for any professional writing / email you might encounter.

- When talking to someone in person, in a professional setting, always defer to their professional title (e.g., "Dr", "Prof", "Nurse", "Bishop") unless they tell you otherwise.
---------------------------------------------

Sign your emails with Prof./Dr. Lastname. Or if that feels too much, use your full name, but include "PhD" in your email signature block.

And if they STILL don't get it, just go "I actually prefer Dr. Lastname, thanks [warm smile]". Think of it as teaching them a useful lesson about professional ettiquette, not being pretentious.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 9:39 AM on November 12, 2012 [37 favorites]


A colleague of mine doesn't like being called "mrs" so when students use Mrs. So-and-so she says, oh that's my mother, I'm Ms. So-and-so. Maybe a little humour would work for you and not feel so snooty.

Otherwise I agree with most of the comments, just politely correct the students and don't worry if they think you are snooty.
posted by sadtomato at 9:39 AM on November 12, 2012


You're not being snooty in the least. The students are being inappropriate, even if it's unintentional. You don't need to make a federal case out of it - just correct them as it happens.

"Excuse me, Ms. So-and-So..."
"Professor/Dr. So-and-So will be fine, thank you."

After all, it's not as if one calls male professors Mr. So-and-So.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:39 AM on November 12, 2012


Perhaps you could soften it with "I know you don't mean offense, but I prefer to be called Dr. Lastname". But I don't think it's snooty to correct them with the simpler "Please call me Dr. Lastname".
posted by agentmitten at 9:39 AM on November 12, 2012


I definitely agree with the comment above about liking it when professors came out and said I'd like to be called X. For students, definitely go that rout.
posted by Carillon at 9:41 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you at a two- or four-year college? Community college instructors often aren't Ph.D.s, so they may be uncertain whether "Dr. Lastname" is appropriate - although they should at least default to "Prof. Lastname". Four-year college/university students should know better.

Regardless, you earned the title, ask for it. It's not snooty, it's about respect.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:41 AM on November 12, 2012


I expect the right answer can only be to talk to other women in your department or, if there aren't any, in your school about what's worked for them given the student population you have. I mean, I'd think different tactics would work at a SLAC than at a flagship Big State U than at a third-tier Directional State U, because students' implicit preparation for college will be very different.

But I expect -- as a man, so I only see these things from the outside -- that you are going to always face a bit of a lose/lose here. If you don't insist on your authority and on a social separation, your students are more likely to try to walk all over you and expect you to be all "nurturey," and if you do insist on them then you're a nasty bitch. I expect that will be the case at least until you are significantly grey-haired, and that the best you may be able to do is ensure that your colleagues and people evaluating you in the future understand these dilemmas.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:42 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, just be firm and clear and correct people immediately and publicly. But since sexism exists, the problem will probably never go away completely.
posted by latkes at 9:42 AM on November 12, 2012


"Saying, "Actually, it's Dr. Lastname" just sound snooty and pretentious. " ... perhaps because it is.

Your stated issue is respect in the classroom ... perhaps you should try address the actual issue ... You're the lecturer? if the kids are disrespectful warn them and then take a point off their grade.

Otherwise my answer would be yes to your question of "Or am I just always going to be stuck between The Rock Of Disrespectful Title and the Hard Place of Sounding Snooty?"

(Seriously though ... I've done two degrees on two continents, and every single lecturer was on a first name basis with the entire class ... always ... )
posted by jannw at 9:42 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not sure if you'd be comfortable with this, but it occurs to me that it might be worthwhile to explain the why of this to the students. This is an important thing for them to think about that will go beyond your classroom. Something like,

"Hello, welcome to my class. I'm Dr. Anonymous. Please feel free to address me as either Dr. or Professor Anonymous. I've noticed that some students refer to female PhDs as Ms. instead of Dr. Please provide me with the same respect you show to male PhD professors. And now on to the syllabus..."
posted by latkes at 9:48 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


After all, it's not as if one calls male professors Mr. So-and-So.

I get that a lot, actually. I assume it's just a hangover from high school.

The difference is that for me -- a largish dude with salt-and-pepper hair, a mostly grey evil-Spock goatee, and a default expression that's close to "What the fuck is wrong with you?," it doesn't go any further. Because I'm who I am, I don't have to work to maintain authority in the classroom nearly as much, and I don't have to worry about being thought a bitch if I insist on something because nobody looks at me and expects any nurturing at all.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:49 AM on November 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


Correcting someone who calls you the wrong honorrific, in a US classroom setting, seems pretty common to me. We had an adjunct professor who wanted to be called "Professor" and not "Dr.", so we did. We had a chemistry teacher who wanted to be called, "Dr. D", so we did.

Just state your preferred honorrific on the first day of class ("Hello, I'm Dr. Elizabeth Banks"), and correct people after that. I don't think it's necessary to convey that it is insulting unless a student is repeatedly doing it after correction.
posted by muddgirl at 9:50 AM on November 12, 2012


(note: none of these apply if you are teaching at UVa, where you should expect students to call their instructors Mr or Ms as a matter of course)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:51 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Seriously though ... I've done two degrees on two continents, and every single lecturer was on a first name basis with the entire class ... always ... )

Perhaps neither of these continents is the one our asker is on. I know that in my context it's normal to call the prof "Dr." and would be completely abnormal to call them "Steve" or "Susan". Perhaps the asker's context is much the same.
posted by ftm at 9:52 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm a professor, I'm a PhD, I'm a man. It doesn't register with me when students use my first name or call me Dr or Professor lastname. But man, every time I'm addressed by a student as Mr. Lastname, I have to suppress the urge to yell, "I'm not your high school teacher!"

This is probably not the right thing to say.
posted by u2604ab at 9:52 AM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe you can inform the whole class and make it about clearing up their confusion. As others have already suggested, do it on the first day of class as a matter of course, just like you discuss the syllabus and schedule: "...and assignments are due at the start of class on the day they're due. Oh, I get this question at the start of each semester, so in case any of you were wondering: I usually go by Dr. Lastname in class. Now let's take a look at the syllabus..." Then just move on to the next detail the students need to know. It gets the point across, and it won't seem snooty if it's just another announcement.

Putting "This is what you should call me" on the syllabus seems a bit over-the-top, though that's up to you. Maybe a middle ground there is to write a brief introduction to each course on the syllabus, which can be finished (letter-style) with "Dr. Lastname."

Also, as miss_kitty_fantastico mentioned, be sure to sign your emails as you would like to be called in public. If I'm unsure of what to call a professor, I go with their email signoff (unless it's their full name). So when Dr. Curie signs her email "Dr. Curie," I know to call her Dr. Curie. When Dr. Jones just signs off with "Indy," I assume he wants me to call him that. I'm in grad school and one of my professors signs all of his emails "Jerry." So even though that feels too familiar to me, I will be calling him "Jerry" for the rest of the quarter.
posted by Tehhund at 9:52 AM on November 12, 2012


(Seriously though ... I've done two degrees on two continents, and every single lecturer was on a first name basis with the entire class ... always ... )

Anecdata: I went to art school for undergrad and law school for...well, law school.

Not even at art school was every lecturer on a first name basis with the class. On the first day of class, every professor would introduce themselves, indicating their preference as to how they'd like to be addressed. I don't remember anyone addressing the professors incorrectly after that. I don't remember any professor having to explain themselves for having a preference one way or another, although of course if you have to do that, you have to do that.

As pointed out above, calling a professor Mr./Ms. So-and-So seems like a freshman error, or maybe an ESL issue. I've never been in a class past high school where a professor was addressed like that.

By law school, everyone was smart enough to know that their professors were either Professor So-and-So or, if a professor was a judge, Your Honor. Nobody had to explain nothin'. One or two were on a first name basis with the class, but those educators were in the clinics, which is a different setting.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:52 AM on November 12, 2012


In the first class of the quarter/semester, you could write your name and the name of the class on the board and start off with "I am Professor/Doctor Lastname and this is Engineering 101. If you are not expecting to be in Engineering 101 or Prof./Dr. Lastname is not the instructor of the class you're enrolled in, you are in the wrong place!"

You can even deliver it with some humor, but you get to state your preferred form of address twice and write it down for them.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:53 AM on November 12, 2012


I grew up around academics and Ph.D. types affiliated with major research universities. This is where both my parents have made their livings, and so when I was growing up it was somewhat unusual for me to know an adult friend of the family who wasn't a professor with a Ph.D.

My experience is that none of them goes by "Doctor. So-and-So" and that it is considered a pretentious affectation for anyone other than a physician to go by "Doctor." I've met some of the most notable figures in physics and chemistry, and I don't think any of them calls himself "Doctor." I think this goes hand in hand with the assumption that "of course you have a Ph.D."

In a classroom setting, I would think that it would be pretty easy to go by "Professor So-and-So" by simply introducing yourself that way in the syllabus and other course materials, etc. But I wouldn't necessarily think you are being slighted if someone were to call you "Ms. Anonymous." People coming into undergraduate school are used to calling the teachers "Mr." and "Ms." Another thing I would do is make sure that you are scrupulous about calling your students by their last names. If you call the students "Mr." and "Ms." So-and-So, it's a lot more likely that they're going to pick up on this and call you Prof. Anonymous. Plus, it's disrespectful to call someone by their first name and expect to be called by your last name. This is something you might explain to the students when you introduce yourself at the first class: "My name is Professor Anonymous. Since this is a classroom setting, I will call you Mr. and Ms. by your last names and I would appreciate it if you would do me the courtesy of addressing me as Professor Anonymous. Now, moving on to..."


In things like graduate research groups, it seems more common for people to simply call one another by their first names.
posted by slkinsey at 9:55 AM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Make it clear right off the bat what you prefer to go by. "Hi, I'm Professor Anonymous" or "Dr. Anonymous" or whatever. Sign your emails with your preferred title.

When I was a student, I always defaulted to Professor Lastname. This was only an issue a few times--either when someone preferred to go by their first name (and told me as much) or when the person wasn't yet a professor and would freak out that you were going to jinx them by calling them such.


So, go ahead and correct people, but try not to let it bother you too much. Some people are just uncorrectable morons. (My first name is Jen and I sign all of my emails Jen and I still have people email me and call me "Mr. Lastname", which is especially funny given all these boobs I have.)
posted by phunniemee at 9:57 AM on November 12, 2012


What does it say on your Syllabus? I'd definitely include "Dr. Anonymous". How do you introduce yourself on the first class session? Again, a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor with "Dr. Anonymous", hell, even write it on the whiteboard.

One of my favorite professors took it one step further: when she passed out the syllabus, she included a handout to be filled out and returned. It detailed her full name & title [Prof. I. LastName, Ph.D.] and her preferred terms of address [Prof. LastName, Dr. LastName] and then asked the student to supply their full name (in case the class roll as provided by the university system was incorrect) and their preferred term of address in class, with a list of suggestions: full first name, nickname, LastName with chosen honorific.*

I loved this, because I got to specify that I am addressed either by my full first name (no shortening! no nicknamification!) or by my preferred honorific, Ms. LastName, for mailings and more formal events.

This established her preferred title right away, so when a student slipped and said "Miss LastName," she could briefly correct them and move on. (I also admired her coolness: when someone hailed her by first name, she simply appeared not to hear it at all. Very effective.)

More than that, it established that the Prof was not just insisting upon being addressed properly, but also cared about addressing students properly. I wish every professor offered such a sign of mutual courtesy.

I always wondered how often some smart-ass 18-year-old wrote in "Brigadier LastName" and what she did in that case. She was a pretty cool customer; I suspect in that hypothetical situation, she would approach the student after class and inquire so graciously and eagerly and relentlessly about their years of service that the joker would demur.
posted by Elsa at 9:59 AM on November 12, 2012 [26 favorites]


Also, are any of these students born in a foreign country? I work at a college with a large percentage of international students and I get emails addressed to Ms., Mrs., To Whom It May Concern, and Dear (My Department) Officer. I also know it was really hard to break the Professor X habit when doing grad work in England, where that isn't the usual way of addressing people at the uni I went to. So yes, I think just emphasize it in all of your materials.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:05 AM on November 12, 2012


I usually just went with "Professor LastName" but I often hesitated because I wasn't sure if that honorific was reserved for only tenured professors or just any university instructor. I could see defaulting to Ms/Mr instead. Anyway, I always appreciated it when the instructor just told us what to use.
posted by mullacc at 10:10 AM on November 12, 2012


Kruger5, if you read the words the OP uses in her question, you'll see that she briefly addresses the underlying concern:

Explaining my motivations for caring about being called Dr. would take too much time and be pretty inappropriate -- I don't want to give my students a lecture about gender norms, implicit bias, and the particular challenges of teaching every time a student makes a mistake. And I'm not sure what other options there are.

Or you could trust that she also doesn't want to get bogged down in that discussion here, but instead prefers useful, to-the-point answers, which is --- after all --- what AskMe is all about.

As an academic who's seen plenty of real-world interactions and read a great deal on gender and perceived status, I assure you that the OP's concerns are very reasonable. The "Doctor"-ing or "Professor"-ing of male profs vs. the "Miss"-ing and "Missus"-ing of female profs is quite striking in some schools. If it's not a problem where you are, then wonderful. It is a concern for the OP.
posted by Elsa at 10:16 AM on November 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


This is going to be an issue of preference for individual instructors (professor vs. first name vs. doctor). Because people feel differently about it, I always make sure during the first class that my students know as a courtesy to them what I prefer -- which changes the dynamic of the question a bit, actually. Instead of it being about me (although it is in part), I present it in such a way that it allows students to not feel uncomfortable about knowing how to address me. So instead of coming across as pretentious, I'm fairly certain that most students are appreciative in knowing how to bridge this gap of social ambiguity so as not to feel uncomfortable in future interactions. They have no problem calling someone Dr., they just don't always know if they should. Which may be why, actually, some students defer to Mr. or Ms. Although in my experience, if a student doesn't know, they more often defer to professor, which I find to be a pretty respectful and neutral title.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:17 AM on November 12, 2012


Plus, it's disrespectful to call someone by their first name and expect to be called by your last name.

That's gotta be really culturally specific, because at the extremely tradition-bound college I went to, the norm was that students called the person teaching the class the thing the person teaching the class wanted to be called (usually Professor SoandSo; less usually Dr. SoandSo, but that happened as well), and the students were called by their first names. There's an acknowledged hierarchy, and recognizing it is not a sign of disrespect.

People who taught my classes usually handled this on the first couple days of class by announcing how they preferred to be addressed and following up with quick, gentle corrections where needed. Some professors who participated in more informal ways with students (as club advisers, for instance) had a "First name outside the classroom is fine, Professor SoandSo inside the classroom, please" policy.
posted by rtha at 10:18 AM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


I stop my students if they call me Ms., Mrs. or (*grrrrrr*) Miss and tell them, "You have three choices: Dr. [Lastname], Professor [Lastname], or [Firstname]."

Our institution tends strongly toward first names only, and I consider it part of my job to educate them on how to address a professor, so that they don't embarrass themselves when they interact with professors from another campus.
posted by BrashTech at 10:18 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Snooty or pretentious? I don't think so. To n-th what people are saying, when my students say "Mr. Bee, can you..." I simply interject with "Dr. Bee."

Now, I'm male, and in a male-dominated field, so the story is obviously different. I really don't think it is pretentious to insist to be called by the title you earned. Simply interject. I don't think students are necessarily trying to be rude, sometimes it's just that they're so used to calling the female authority figure "Mrs." or "Miss."
posted by King Bee at 10:20 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Actually, I prefer 'Dr. Smith'" to students who address you otherwise isn't snooty, because you are reinforcing a real hierarchy that exists in the context of the university.

Asking, say, your auto mechanic to call you "Dr. Smith" --- now, that would be snooty, because you and she aren't interacting in the context of a mutually agreed upon hierarchy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:31 AM on November 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


> After all, it's not as if one calls male professors Mr. So-and-So.

That was how professors were addressed at Yale (where I did grad work in linguistics); to use "Professor" was considered gauche, and "Dr." practically an insult (the PhD was supposed to be taken for granted). I'm not saying the poster is wrong to want to be called by her title—every situation is different, and obviously it's different for women—just pointing out that the generalization I quoted above is not valid.

And I would suggest that people refrain from telling the poster to stop worrying about how she's addressed and deal with the question as asked, which is both sensible and answerable.
posted by languagehat at 10:36 AM on November 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


As people have pointed out it's not the lack of formality that's galling. All of Ms., Miss, Mrs. and Dr. are formal titles, it's just that first three are inappropriate for the OP particularly in that setting. I think of this as completely different from using a first name for a professor. That's just being informal, not inappropriate. I routinely call the professors I interact with in graduate school by their first names (thought this is less common for undergrads), but would never dream of calling them Mr. or Ms. and would rightly get chewed out for doing so.
posted by peacheater at 10:37 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Any college I've been at, there was a form of address most teachers used. At one heavily undergraduate place it was Mr./Ms., at another it was Professor. A few people at both kinds of places preferred the other one for various reasons and got people to use it, more or less successfully.

My experience with "Doctor" accords with slkinsey's. In a place where most people have advanced degrees, it's considered pretentious, even downmarket. I guess the problem would be in teaching at a place where you are specifically not accorded the title of "Professor" and you don't want to be "Ms." Although I have to say, moving from an institution with Mr./Ms to one with "Professor," I found "Professor" kind of hokey. A lot of this has to do with your background. I lived in Italy and never figured out the ins and outs of "Professoressa" and "Dottoressa" which people called me just because they had some idea I was a teacher.
posted by BibiRose at 10:39 AM on November 12, 2012


One of the many things I loved about St. John's College was that teachers addressed the students as Mr./Ms. I liked that so much, I tried it myself when teaching college classes. This made me the subject of derision at my workplace.
posted by BibiRose at 10:47 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think griphus has it: When students say "Ms. Smith", just correct them with "Dr. Smith." and move on. Don't sound angry, but be firm and don't say "please": You're not asking for a favor, you're telling them how it is because you're running the show. You can launch into the gender roles speech if a student fails to self-correct, but I'm betting that won't happen too often.

Some of it may also be cultural, if you've got international students. I've had students address me (a TA!) as "Dear Esteemed Sir".
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:49 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've done both the "Dr Lastname, thanks" interruption and the "hey, Mrs Lastname is my mother!" thing, and both seem to work okay. Just do it in the same tone you'd use for correcting them if they mispronounced a technical term - not a big thing, certainly not something you need to excuse yourself for, correct and move on with whatever they were saying. It isn't quite pointing out the problem with Mrs/Miss/Ms, and like you I wish there was a good way to do that, but briefly correcting them is at least establishing to the students that 'Dr' is the appropriate title for you.

(Seriously though ... I've done two degrees on two continents, and every single lecturer was on a first name basis with the entire class ... always ... )

My students usually call me by my first name, which is fine, and sometimes by Dr Lastname, which is also fine, but I will still correct them if they call me 'Miss Lastname'. It's not my title, any more than Wing Commander Lastname is. I wouldn't tell my hairdresser to call me Dr Lastname, because it's not relevant there, but it's absolutely relevant when you're addressing a class of students in a university setting - especially when you're a female academic. OP isn't being pretentious to care about this.
posted by Catseye at 10:53 AM on November 12, 2012


I'd like to follow up by pointing out that the approach I detailed here not only gave the professor a chance to clarify her preferred honorific and to confirm students' correct names, but also allowed the student a chance to address any unexpected disagreement between the legal name on the roll and the student's preference.

For example, a class member who was officially enrolled as "Jennifer LastName"* preferred to be addressed in class as "Ben"* or "Mr. LastName." The form my professor had us fill out sidestepped all confusion neatly: just fill out your official name as it appears in the rolls, then fill out your preferred term of address. So simple, so respectful, and private between the professor and student. (I only know Ben was officially listed as "Jennifer" because he told me while complaining about the legal and bureaucratic hassles of identifying as male while being identified bureaucratically as female. Like me --- and like a fellow student who had changed her legal name at marriage but not yet changed her name in the school rolls --- Ben thought Prof LastName's approach was very handy.)

*As with my professor's name, my name, and all example names I give on AskMe, this one is transparently fictionalized.
posted by Elsa at 11:04 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had a professor in university who, on the first day of class, said the following: "My name is Dr. Diane A...-B.... You can call me Dr. A-B, Dr. A..., Dr. B..., Professor A-B, Professor A..., or Professor B... Do not call me Ms./Mrs A-B, or Diane." She said it with a smile.

I thought it was a nice way of communicating her preferences clearly at the beginning. After all, I also had many professors who preferred to be called by their first names. So it just set the ground rules for everyone, so we knew how she preferred to be addressed. She was also a fantastic professor that I have a lot of respect for. She didn't seem to have a problem during the semester with students calling her anything but Dr or Professor.
posted by barnoley at 11:11 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find it inappropriate for the students not to call their instructor "Dr. OP" or "Prof. OP". The only thing I can think of that might excuse the behavior is that this is a class for first-year students who aren't accustomed to having such credentialed instructors. Not every perceived slight is necessarily about gender norms and implicit bias. It could simply be about unfamiliarity with a Ph.D.'s instruction or the general decline of formality in society.

As the OP recognizes, this situation is difficult because the titles in question are honorifics, and to insist upon their use is to demand honor. On the other hand, the students are wrong not to use them. At this point, there are only a few weeks left in the semester and I would advise a small "forms of proper address" section in the syllabus for the next semester. Such a thing should not be necessarily but it is apparent that it is required.

For the present, I think if a student calls the OP "Ms./Mrs. OP", I would first answer the student's question and then add "btw, I prefer Dr./Prof. OP in the classroom" at the end of the exchange. That way, OP has corrected the student but it appears almost as an afterthought so there is less chance of appearing snooty or insecure about one's credentials. One could even be jokey about it and say, "You can call me Prof. OP or by my first name, Professor."
posted by Tanizaki at 11:13 AM on November 12, 2012


I don't know about your field, but in mine "Professor" is the title of address, not "Doctor." Anyone who insisted on "Doctor" as a form of address would be marked as clueless or pretentious (or more likely, as unemployed.) I recognize this might be different in other fields, however.

Privileged white middle-aged male solution (YMMV): I insist that *everyone* with whom I have a personal relationship call me by my first name. I invite students to do so on the first day of class, and sign all my written correspondence (and my comments on papers) with "Firstname" only. Of course I have never had much problem maintaining respect in the classroom, and having advised a dozen women PhDs who are now professors, I am very aware of the gendered aspects of this. But honestly, I do think the worst possible thing you can do is signal insecurity about your authority to students, and actually the first name thing does the opposite -- it says "I am so comfortable in this role and sure of my ability and stature in my field that I don't need you to address me by title." (There are definite cultural dimensions, however -- East Asian students often can't bring themselves to do it and that's fine with me too. I had a PhD advisee who, despite the fact that I am on a first-name basis with all my graduate students, could not bring himself to call me anything other than "Professor X" until he earned tenure and we were status equals in his view.)

Mostly, I really don't believe titles of address confer respect or even signal it anymore in the academic setting.
posted by spitbull at 11:13 AM on November 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also seconding that students are often clueless. A lot of our undergrads take core courses taught by grad instructors without PhDs and still call all of them "Professor X." They mostly have no real idea of the academic hierarchy and its associated anachronistic conventions.
posted by spitbull at 11:16 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Folks, cut it out with the side arguments.]
posted by cortex at 11:25 AM on November 12, 2012


During my undergrad, I had a prof who introduced himself thusly:

"Hi, I'm Dr. Firstname Lastname. Please call me Firstname or Herr Doctor."

Any time anyone would even TRY to call him Dr. Lastname, he would be like "Firstname or Herr Doctor. Those are your only two choices." Even in email.

So while it's sort of the opposite issue that you have, he was amusingly adamant about his choice of address and that stuck with the class. After the second week, no one even tried "Dr. Lastname". Or Herr Doctor, for that matter.

So something amusing, if the original introduction doesn't stick, might help out.
posted by juliebug at 11:34 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with the prevailing consensus that it isn't rude to correct your students in this matter. In fact, you would be doing them a service in guiding them toward proper etiquette - particularly as they do not know if any given woman prefers Ms., Miss. or Mrs. anyway.

However, I also agree with others who say that first names are what I hear most often on campus. I for one can't wait to have my degree so I can introduce a module with 'Hello, I'm Dr [Firstname] [Lastname], but please call me [shortened Firstname].' In my experience of 3 institutions (all UK, all arts & humanities departments) I've never come across a single academic who did not go by their first name when teaching.

I don't know about your field, but in mine "Professor" is the title of address, not "Doctor." Anyone who insisted on "Doctor" as a form of address would be marked as clueless or pretentious (or more likely, as unemployed.) I recognize this might be different in other fields, however.

The way I understand it, 'Professor' is only appropriate if your job title is that of 'Professor'. In the case that you have a non-prof academic job and a doctorate I think it's perfectly appropriate to use the title of Dr. - after all, you earned the qualification. I personally wouldn't use it when conversing with students or colleagues, though.
posted by dumdidumdum at 11:46 AM on November 12, 2012


Your stated issue is respect in the classroom ... perhaps you should try address the actual issue ... You're the lecturer? if the kids are disrespectful warn them and then take a point off their grade.

What? No. That might fly at Hogwarts but it's not how university grading in the US works at all.

Anonymous, I don't know the best solution but I wanted to thank you for asking this question. I have the same problem and this thread has given me some good ideas.

I actually like the idea of including this as part of a syllabus section on email communication. Perhaps it would cut down the number of illiterate emails I receive.
posted by medusa at 11:46 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was an undergrad, I really appreciated it when an instructor had told our class specifically how to address him or her. Otherwise, I was prone to lots of agonizing about what title to use. I'm kind of weird that way though - I doubt many of my classmates were like, "OH MY GOD I CAN'T ADDRESS THIS EMAIL TO PROFESSOR X BECAUSE HE'S ACTUALLY A VISITING ADJUNCT AND WHAT IF I CALL HIM DOCTOR AND THEN HE THINKS THAT I THINK HE'S SNOOTY FOR WANTING TO BE CALLED DOCTOR WHEN HE DOESN'T EVEN WANT TO BE CALLED DOCTOR?!"

Saying, "I prefer Dr. X" doesn't make you sound like a jerk at all, and presumably most of your students will be relieved to be corrected in an informal and pleasant way. I think this is one of those things where women feel like they're being bitches by asking for something totally reasonable, while a man making the same request would simply be seen as demanding the respect he's due.

(As an aside, I have a friend who is a graduate instructor at an Ivy League institution. Amusingly, his undergrad students, mostly first- and second-years, persist in calling him "Teacher," as in "Teacher! Teacher! Will this be on the exam?" So yeah, I think they're just kind of adorably clueless, not malicious.)
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:49 AM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I agree that you need to tell them how you want to be addressed, ideally at the beginning of the semester, and I really like the idea of asking students how they prefer to be addressed at the same time. I also like the idea of addressing students as Ms. and Mr. Lastname, but I recognize not everyone can pull this off*.

I don't know if it makes you feel any better to know that other women, elsewhere, are inappropriately being addressed with the courtesy titles that are rightfully yours. I am not a professor, nor do I hold a doctorate, but I do teach college students and they address me indiscriminately as "Ms. Lastname" (my preference), "Mrs. Lastname" (ugh), "Doctor Lastname," "Professor Lastname," "Miss Lastname," and "Kyle." I only very rarely correct anyone - personally, I don't much care. (I have considered trying to get them to call me Magistra but I just don't dare. Also I don't know whether it has a hard or a soft G.)


* My ecology professor addressed us by our last names, and I was Ms. Lastname until one day I was showing off my newly printed-out online ordination certificate from the Universal Life Church to a friend before class. The professor expressed interest, but he didn't like the form of address on the certificate: Reverend Kyle Lastname. He said it should be The Reverend Ms. Kyle Lastname. Ultimately we agreed that he could call me "Sister Lastname," after the fashion of his childhood church, and so he did for the rest of the time I knew him.
posted by mskyle at 11:52 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Following up on what croutonsupafreak said:

"When I was in college (more than a decade ago at this point), I always appreciated it when professors told us what to call them at the beginning of the term."

At the very beginning of each class on day ONE of each semester, write your name as you prefer to be called on the blackboard. Make sure it is also on any relevant materials, of course.

I had a professor who liked being called Doctor D. At the beginning of the term, he wrote his full name on the board, then crossed it out and wrote "I'm Doctor D. Who the hell are YOU?"

It really helps to come right out and tell them point-blank what you prefer to be called. In Writing. It helps you. It helps them.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:18 PM on November 12, 2012


One of my undergrad professors started off the semester with "my name is Professor Blah, you may call me Professor Blah or Professor Blah." It got a surprised laugh, it was weird enough that people remembered it, and it was clear.

Also, it's well and good that first names and Ms. So-and-So are in use elsewhere, but the OP has made it clear how she wants to be addressed. I'm surprised that Ms. So-and-So is used in the US, but I've been plenty surprised before, and I will be again....
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:35 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


My suggestion would be to let them call you by your first name or last name without any title attached (Ms Smith - you can just call me Smith) and then ensure that everything you give them that has Doctor written on it. That's the best I can think of if you want to remove Ms, Miss, and Mrs - it's removing the ability to say those specific titles and then reinforcing your actual title in the written word. I think if you continually make a point in speech of correcting them with Doctor, you run the risk of losing their respect. Just remove the offending titles when they happen and let usage of your first name slide.
posted by heyjude at 12:56 PM on November 12, 2012


As with other folks, I mention on the first day of class what I'd like them to call me.

"Hi. I'm FirstName MaidenName. You may call me FirstName, or you may call me Dr. MaidenName, or you may call me Professor MaidenName. Please don't call me Mrs. MaidenName; it's way too high-school."

(And, it bugs me, because as it turns out, while I teach/write under my maiden name, the rest of the time I have a different last name, for my kids' school and stuff, where it would be appropriate to call me Mrs. LastName. But neither Mrs. MaidenName nor Dr. LastName is accurate!)


I'm on the west coast of the USA, so basically everyone calls everyone by their first name (and wears jeans to teach in. All the time. 'Cause it's cold here.)

Bald "Teacher" or "Professor" as in "Teacher, do we need to know that for the exam", kinda bugs me too.

posted by leahwrenn at 1:00 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


All the comments about professors going by first names in other places are irrelevant. (And I say this as someone who is perfectly content to have students call me by my first name--because that is how EVERYONE is addressed where I teach.) If the culture where YOU teach is that professors are called Dr. X, then it's important that you, as a professor, are also called Dr. X. If all the male profs are called Dr. X and you are called Ms. Y/Mrs. Y, or by your first name, then unconsciously your students are going to put you in a different category than your male colleagues. Not helpful when you are trying to work on an even playing field--if this happens, you won't even BE on the field, you'll be stuck in the bleachers, so to speak.

The best way to do this is to present it on the first day of class as information on the cultural norms of address at your school. This depersonalizes it and means you don't need to explain all that stuff (still true!) about gender bias in the academy, etc. You can also incorporate it into a general talk about expectations (e.g. campus behaviour, classroom behaviour). For example:

"Some of you may be new here, or new to post-secondary education altogether. There are a lot of expectations you might not know about, or that you might find confusing, so I find it helpful to explain some of them right away. I know it can take time to adapt to a new culture, so I'm happy to clarify and provide reminders throughout the semester.

One issue that can be confusing is how you're supposed to address your professors. In high school, students call their teachers Mr. or Ms.; at some colleges, instructors are called by their first names. But here, professors are called Dr. + their last name. So, my students address me as Dr. Anonymous. This is how you should address all your professors here, whether you're talking to us in person, or writing us an e-mail. I've put a note on the syllabus as a reminder, and, again, I'm happy to provide you with clarifications or reminders throughout the semester.

Now, another norm that might be different here is...."

Etc.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:24 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I see nothing wrong with "actually it's Dr. Anon" and moving on from there. You worked hard to be Dr. Anon.
posted by Silvertree at 1:34 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Saying, "Actually, it's Dr. Lastname" just sound snooty and pretentious.

Yes, insisting that people call you Dr. is pretentious, even in an academic setting. It comes across as insecure. But I don't think it's pretentious to ask people to address you with professional respect and courtesy. It's an expectation that you should explicitly set at the beginning of every term: "May name is Jane Doe. You can call me Dr. Doe or Professor Doe, whichever you prefer." If someone calls you Ms. Doe again, I would say something like, "Thanks for your insightful comment/interesting question, John. And just as a reminder, it's Professor Doe or Dr. Doe." I can't imagine someone calling a male professor "Mr. Smith," and I can see why it would bug you.
posted by Dasein at 1:43 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine someone calling a male professor "Mr. Smith," and I can see why it would bug you.

Well, okay, I should clarify that I often called professors by their first names, but I went to a school where that was cool and explictly invited. In other contexts I would never do that.
posted by Dasein at 1:44 PM on November 12, 2012


> Yes, insisting that people call you Dr. is pretentious, even in an academic setting. It comes across as insecure.

Well, no, it is not, not universally. It's not pretentious nor a sign of insecurity when it's the default convention at that school. And it is typical at many colleges to address professors as Dr. Lastname, as noted upthread.
posted by desuetude at 2:14 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why the hell are people telling you to say it with a smile or a please? There's no need for that. Just say "Dr. Anon." and move on. You can be firm and not be a bitch. Geez.
posted by two lights above the sea at 2:25 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The world is big and diverse. I'm struggling with how to get my (Asian) students to relax and call me my first name, which is the custom here. However, for some it is confusing that they still need to respect my authority. I remedy that by giving a talk at the beginning of each course reminding them in five or six different ways that whatever they may feel about me or the institution's hippie style, I am the one giving the grades, and there will be no way to repeal those grades (my superiors have never let me down on this). I also give a very transparent explanation of how to get the good grades, and stick to the rules once I've set them up. It seems to work. You could combine the two issues? But to be honest, I think you are better off finding authority through results. It won't happen the first couple of years, but in my experience, fairness and consistency wins over students over time. They gossip, and when they discover that the people who listen to you are successful, more will follow.
posted by mumimor at 2:32 PM on November 12, 2012


That is totally the key point: what is the culture of your institution and your discipline? If it's the culture to address faculty as "Dr." or "Professor" or "Mr./Ms." (the latter is the custom at many elite schools, in fact) then the real problem is the fact that the students are treating you differently as a woman than they treat male faculty. That's what's wrong here, if you are sure about the empirical truth of that claim, and *especially* if you can get a few women faculty members together to consult about it, you should go to your department chairperson (I was one for quite a while, so I know whereof I speak here) first, and allow her/him to make a departmental intervention. Because that expectation can be communicated most effectively as a matter of program culture, not as a response to one woman faculty member's complaint, but as a standard by which students are expected to treat each and every faculty member. You don't have to do this on your syllabus. It should be codified somewhere and reinforced by your colleagues in other classes.

So don't solve this alone. Go to your chair. If your chair is non-responsive, then you have a problem, but no decent chair is going to see this as a small matter if it's happening to all of a department's women faculty, especially, and any chair worth a shit would consult with a junior faculty member about how to change the situation creatively and with her/his backing. If you seriously are concerned about appearing petty or inviting retaliation, you are in a hostile work environment where the problems go beyond how people are addressed by students.

If it's just you, and not a general problem for women faculty, then talk to your senior women colleagues about it (or a sympathetic male senior colleague -- I would be happy to discuss and engage on this if a well liked junior woman colleague came to me about it). Find out how they dealt with it if it happened to them, or enlist them in a campaign to bring up the level of student etiquette generally. Depending on the academic environment that will be more or less difficult, but it's especially possible, usually, to start at the level of your undergraduate major population who have to take a bunch of classes with the same few faculty members in most fields and departments. So you grab them as young students and say "this is our department's code of etiquette," and point ot a written policy on the web that includes "How should I address my instructor?"
posted by spitbull at 2:33 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm a faculty member at a college. Many students simply don't know what to call professors. On the first day, when I introduce myself, I tell them directly how they should address me.

I remember from my undergrad days one student calling a professor "Ms. X." She simply interjected directly but gently, "Dr. X." That settled it.
posted by John Farrier at 2:42 PM on November 12, 2012


I'm an almost-40 year old undergrad in California, and I default to Professor regardless of whether or not they have a PhD because, well, they ARE MY PROFESSOR. I have never thought someone who preferred Dr. to Professor was pretentious for doing so - they earned the right to the title.
Similarly, I am uncomfortable calling professors by their first name, but that's just how I was brought up.
Lastly, I love it when my professors consistently refer to themselves, in lecture, email and on the syllabus as how they prefer to be called. Makes like so much easier.
posted by ApathyGirl at 3:31 PM on November 12, 2012


So, I think we've amply established from copious anecdata that norms of address vary widely between countries, academic institutions, areas, groups, and individuals. I don't think it's very pertinent to the question, though.

In an attempt at something more constructive: I remember that Talking from 9 to 5 by Deborah Tannen had some discussion of this problem. I don't recall what, if any, specific remedies she advised, but her data and discussion might be of use when formulating your own strategy.
posted by pont at 3:38 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is indeed pertinent to the question if your class is diverse in any way. As a professor, one is responsible for teaching. This includes introducing the students to the culture of ones institution and/or course. There is no way they can learn this if one doesn't tell them. I discuss this a lot with my (mostly male) colleagues, who seem to think the culturally different students are just stupid.
As a consequence, I agree with the many who are saying the OP should just say straight out what she wants. However, I do not agree that this has anything to do with authority. If there is a gender issue, as spitbull says: it is not a class-room issue but a department issue, which needs to be addressed by the chair, not the individual prof.
Fight your feminist battles with your peers, not your students.
posted by mumimor at 4:15 PM on November 12, 2012


From the OP:
Thank you everyone for your advice! What I've taken from this is that the best solution is the pro-active one: make it clear on the first day of classes what I'd prefer to be called, and the problem will mostly solve itself. This lesson can really be generalized to advice that's helpful for anyone who teaches: whatever problems one faces in the classroom, they can almost always be squashed through addressing them somehow on the first day.

I am also very grateful to learn that, for many of you, there is a difference between being called 'Dr.' and being called 'Prof,' such that 'Dr.' is the more snooty option. This isn't the case for me! In fact, it's a bit counter-intuitive for me. I'll be taking this into consideration. From now on, I'll have a bit on the first day where I talk about etiquette. And I'll say that I'm fine with Dr. Lastname, Prof. Lastname, or simply Lastname, just not Ms. Lastname or Firstname.

A lot of your comments have gotten me to see that this really does come down to embarrassment for me. I am in fact embarrassed by the fact that I cannot guarantee I'll be taken as an authority figure in the classroom while also being laid back and cool. This is something I have been trying to come to grips with more generally. (I'll note, at my institution, there isn't any set conventions about what professors are called. This complicates things. In my specific department, most of my colleagues go by their first names... But since most of them are men, in their 40s or 50s, and, on average, over 6'2'' tall, they don't have to face the same issues as I do, as a short, squat woman in her late 20s.) In short, I appreciate a secondary message that many of you have given me: that I shouldn't be embarrassed about this. Thanks!
posted by jessamyn at 5:18 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't tell if you're being sarcastic in the first paragraph, but yes, setting up clear expectations on the first day of anything is a good idea. It's not that it won't be a problem at all later, but it's no longer your problem in a bureaucratic sense. It's the same reason professors hand out syllabuses on the first day.

I'm not a professor, but I'm a woman in a male-dominated field, and I strive to be respected first. Cool and laid back can follow after the "respect" part is so ingrained that it's not even questioned.
posted by muddgirl at 6:09 PM on November 12, 2012


mumimor: sorry, I expressed myself poorly. I agree that it's important to recognize that the students may not know what the expected mode of address is. I was just a little annoyed at the multiple answers along the lines of "well, at [place I'm familiar with], it would be considered shockingly gauche to call oneself Dr". Since OP knows her institution and none of us do, I feel we should assume in good faith that insisting on "Dr" is acceptable there.
posted by pont at 6:35 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


ClaudiaCenter: Can you ask for "Professor"? That gives you the title/rank/role without the maybe snootiness of "Dr." In any event, can you just say, "It's Professor Smith, thank you." "It's Dr. Smith, thank you." Keep it short. You don't need to explain yourself. In the scheme of things, the message you want to send gets sent.
"Professor" is often used to denote "College teacher who hasn't got a PhD"; therefore, unsuitable.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:03 PM on November 12, 2012


From now on, I'll have a bit on the first day where I talk about etiquette. And I'll say that I'm fine with Dr. Lastname, Prof. Lastname, or simply Lastname, just not Ms. Lastname or Firstname.

I'd advise leaving off that last bit about what you don't want to be called. To my ear, that's going to be really hard to deliver without sounding defensive, especially since you're already a little nervous. And besides, it's superfluous -- you just told them how to respect you, no need to instruct them directly on how to disrespect you!

Imagine if someone personally introduced themselves to you like this. "Hello, I'm Katherine Hepburn," she says, perhaps even adding "And I go by Katherine." But if she kept going on to say "But I do NOT like to be called Kathy, or Katie, or Kate," wouldn't you think it overkill or wonder why she even brought it up then?
posted by desuetude at 9:08 PM on November 12, 2012


As a daughter of a (non-physician) professor, and as a physician myself, I have some thoughts on the Dr. vs. Professor issue. My father is Professor Artdesk and I am Dr. Artdesk. I think that especially if you are not in a department with a strong convention (as you mentioned in your f/u via the mods), then I would recommend an early, strong preference for Professor and communicate it clearly to your students. The general academic convention in many places is that PhD's and other terminal doctorate teachers are Professors and Dr. is reserved for physicians with a few exceptions (Dentists etc).

As a woman, I find your question interesting because I am currently teaching students at the college level but not teaching medical students, who would naturally call me Dr. Artdesk. Men at the small college with a doctorate (PhD) want to be called Dr. and are called that. I am a physician but am called by my first name or as Ms. Artdesk. I believe the reason I do not go by the proper title is that I wasn't comfortable asserting myself AND was not clear on the first day what the students should call me. I am not that into the structure of hierarchy, but have realized that there is a gender component at work here that I didn't anticipate, and will do things differently in the future.
posted by artdesk at 10:56 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Adult spawn of two US professors here.

In my parent's generation, it was universally Dr this or that, male or female, but in my generation at school, I think most teachers did not request they be called Dr.

I suspect things have become more lax since.

I think whatever name you give at the beginning of the year will stick, but check around first that this is really the way teachers at your school are normally addressed, because if it is not and you lay into a student for addressing you the wrong way, it may make you look less secure than if you rolled with it.
posted by zippy at 11:17 PM on November 12, 2012


I am not your student but even after reading your post I interpret the question as having some deep underlying gender equality-related insecurity and arrogance, much like you interpret being called Ms/Mrs X as an insult. So regarding interpretations, its really the problem of the person who interprets, unless some one is being an obvious jerk.

Two things here-

When you start a class, you explicitly mention that you be called X or Y or Z. You can let the students know that they call you Emily or Dr. Williams; and this is really good option because if the students can call you by your first name they won't really think you are being arrogant. When they don't call you X or Y or Z, after you explicitly mention in class, then its okay to correct them: "Please address me as Emily or Dr. Williams, thanks."

A lot of women doctorates who stay in academia are incredibly insecure about their position and getting equal treatment as their male colleagues. I mean, incredibly. Maybe these are the ones who feel insulted? So you have a PhD. Get over it. You say yourself that you know one cannot demand respect, and asking to be addressed as Dr. X is treading borderline territory. If you are already an established teacher with a great reputation among the students, such that the senior students are recommending the newer students to take your class or such, you have commanded respect. In this case, the students will have enough respect for you to pay attention to how you want them to address you and if they don't a polite reminder wouldn't be taken as negatively. In other words, you command respect through your work and not demand it in words. Its okay to correct people once in a while but to insist on something from students is unlikely to get you anywhere. This becomes especially important when you are a woman.

Don't get me wrong- there are lots of slights and outright *discrimination* that women still undergo today, and that can frustrate, disappoint and really discourage you- and recent published research and articles in the media are testament to this fact. But, as a woman, you also want to win a war and pick your battles. You also want to save your arguments for when a student really, truly crosses a line big time, and that's a fine balance not many of us are taught. Tread carefully, Dr. X. :)


PS. For what its worth, I am in the same boat as you with respect to gender, level of education and being in a male-dominated field.
posted by xm at 5:30 AM on November 13, 2012


My previous answer was predicated on the assumption that in your school/department culture, all profs are addressed as Dr. X, and the issue was that you were being addressed differently.

On reading your update, I will revise:

Gender and age discrimination in higher ed definitely exist. You may even be experiencing some of it. However I have a strong suspicion that if you insist on being called Dr. Anonymous while everyone else in your department, male or female, is called by their first name, it will set you even further apart from your colleagues. It's important that your students treat you with as much respect as they would accord a male professor, but in the end that respect isn't going to come from calling you by a title that none of your colleagues use. So I'd say be firm in correcting students who call you Mrs. or Miss (your marital status is irrelevant to your job), but seriously consider going by your first name if that is your departmental culture. There's nothing wrong with going by "Dr." in a professional setting, but if your colleagues all go by their first names and you insist on being called "Dr.", I think it will backfire for you because it will make you look insecure.

I think you know this already, but the things I think will garner you the most lasting and real respect from students are

-(as you have already noted) stating your expectations clearly and right away
-being confident and firm in your statements
-not being afraid to tell a a student "no" and stick with it
-not being afraid to grant a student some leniency in an appropriate situation
-speaking to them respectfully and calling them on it when they don't return the respect
-being consistent and fair.

Good luck. It's not easy.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:23 AM on November 13, 2012


"Professor" is often used to denote "College teacher who hasn't got a PhD"; therefore, unsuitable.

Untrue. A college instructor who does not have a PhD is usually not appointed at the rank of assistant professor. They are instructors, not professors.

In fact, in Europe, a professor who has not reached the rank of full professor is addressed as Doctor, and Professor is the more prestigious title.
posted by BrashTech at 6:33 PM on November 15, 2012


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