Early in my (academic) life, I was told that it is appropriate to address a faculty as Professor only when he/she possesses the full Professorial rank and I would be better off addressing Assistant and Associate Professors as Dr.X, especially in written communication. However, recently I have been corrected that it is appropriate to address as Professor, faculty of all three ranks irrespective of them possessing a doctorate. So, my first question is, whether it is okay to address an assistant (or associate) Professor as Prof.X with regard to American universities.

Second, I have been told that these professorial ranks are often a source of ego and resentment. In previous letters, I have unfortunately written something along the lines of "I am interested in the research work of Prof. X and Dr.Y". I wish to know whether addressing them as such, with the obvious distinction would lead to ego issues, or any problems in general.

Perhaps the second question does not belong on this forum. Still, I would appreciate if someone from academia or otherwise could clear them for me.

  • 3
    Not really an answer, but you may like to know that in British universities, the title 'Professor' is given only to heads of academic departments. It's a very senior position. Dec 11, 2011 at 21:36
  • 2
    Not so Barrie, at my university there are quite a few Professors, and not all of them are heads of the department. Dec 11, 2011 at 21:48
  • Theta30, I have. Unfortunately, I feel it does answer my specific questions and deals with the issue in a much broader light.
    – Shreyas
    Dec 11, 2011 at 21:53
  • 1
    It is perfectly fine to either address a professor as "Dr." or an assistant professor as "Prof." in the U.S. I would strongly advise against using "Prof. X and Dr. Y". If one of them is not an actual professor (for example, one is not in academia), I would call both of them "Dr." Dec 11, 2011 at 22:45

2 Answers 2


Perhaps this specific point wasn't terribly clear in my answer to the question Theta30 linked, but to answer your specific questions:

  • Yes, you may address a professor of any rank (associate/adjunct/assistant) as Prof. X in most universities/depts in the US. In fact, despite not being strictly accurate, faculty who hold lower ranks (instructors, lecturers) are also referred to as Prof. X by students in some institutions.

  • I can't really give a straightforward answer to your second question as whether it would hurt someone's ego is mostly dependent on the person. I've known some professors who have a preferred title and take offense when anything else is used, and I've known some who are fine being called by their first name by complete strangers. In general if you want to be safe, you might try using the same title if one is applicable to both parties. E.g. if they both hold doctorates, something like "the research of Drs. Smith and Jones" or if they're both faculty members "the research of Profs. Smith and Jones".

  • Interesting point about lecturers and instructors. Thanks.
    – Shreyas
    Dec 11, 2011 at 23:18

The rule that I believe now prevails at my own institution (Binghamton University, one of the four doctoral campuses in the State University of New York) is that anyone with "professor" in their title (whatever qualifier--assistant, associate, emeritus, research, visiting, adjunct--may also appear) is accepted as "professor" (as a term of address and of reference) by faculty, staff, and students. First-naming of these individuals is permitted for faculty and staff only when speaking with others of their ilk in informal contexts. Similarly, associate and assistant deans can all be called "dean" (but this does not hold for the underlings of provosts or presidents), but will also be called "professor" or "doctor" as their credentials allow (ditto for others at higher administrative levels). Beyond that, "Mr" or "Ms" seems to be the norm for teaching assistants and professional staff in formal contexts. Students and non-professional staff, however, address each other almost exclusively in the first person, regardless of the level of formality, and are referred to either in the same way or by their full name depending on their (actual or presumed) level of familiarly among interlocutors.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.