In high school, you probably called your teachers Ms. Lastname or Mrs. Lastname or Mr. Lastname. In college, if you do that, you may accidentally insult your professors. 

Here is what we use instead:

Dr. Lastname (if the person has a doctoral degree)
Professor Lastname (if they do not have a doctoral degree)
First name or nickname (in some fields this may be the norm)

“Dr.” lastname is higher prestige and status than “Professor” lastname.

Explain what a doctoral degree is (1-4 years of coursework, doctoral exams and dissertation).  So if you call someone with a doctorate “Professor” you may be saying that you do not respect their doctoral work and the degree they earned.

A few points:

  1. There is a regional variation here.  In the northern US, Professor Lastname is the norm, and Dr. Lastname is more common in the Southern US.  Because we’re in the South, we follow the Dr. Lastname norm on campus.
  2. Generally, listen to how your professors introduce themselves on the first day of class, and follow their lead.  How did I introduce myself today?
  3. If you are not sure what to call a professor, start with “Dr. Lastname.”  People are never insulted if you offer them more status than what they have; they’ll just correct you.  But if you start with a lower status that what people have, you could be insulting them.

Created by Dr. Sandi Nenga, Professor of Sociology