"Dr." who?

| Comments (7) |
Eszter Hargittai writes:
On occasion, I get emails in which people address me as Mrs. Hargittai. I'm not suggesting that people need know my personal history or preferences. However, if you are going to contact someone in a professional context and they have a Ph.D. and they teach at a university (both of which are very clear on their homepage where you probably got their email address in the first place), wouldn't you opt for Dr. or Professor?

Most of the time when someone contacts me and says "Dear Dr. Hargittai" or "Dear Professor Hargittai" the first line of my response is: "Dear X, please call me Eszter." So the status marker that comes with these is not what's of interest to me. Rather, I'm intrigued by how gender ties into all this and would love to hear how male junior faculty get addressed in such situations.

...

When in doubt and you don't have the necessary information, how about just writing/mentioning both first and last names and skipping the rest?

Two thoughts here. I don't have a Ph.D. but I do enough academic-type work that I get a modest amount of correspondence. Not infrequently, people refer to me as "Dr. Rescorla" and I always end up correcting them, which feels pedantic, but I figure that anyone who slaved away in the academic salt mines long enough to get their doctorate deserves to get to keep it exclusive.

A related question is communicating with academics I don't know at all. Ordinarily, when it's someone you don't know you can use "Mr." or "Ms." but somehow calling someone "Dr." or "Professor" feels too heavy, even in an e-mail. I suspect that "full name" is right, but somehow "Dear John Smith" doesn't flow right. Usually I just dispense with the greating altogether or use something generic like "Hi".

Finally, there's the question of how you refer to third parties. I don't know Eszter Hargittai, so should I use her full name, first name, last name, or what?

7 Comments

I get the same effect--I don't have an advanced degree, but do enough research that I'm commonly addressed in e-mail as "Dr Kelsey," and at least once, I was introduced this way for a conference talk. I correct people when it seems relevant, for the same sort of reasons you do.

Maybe I've been living in Silicon Valley for too long, where things are too informal, but I always just use "Dear Firstname", or "Hi Firstname". I do that with cold contacts of people on the net, as well as with customers whom I don't know, potential vendors, etc. If they don't want me to use their first name, then they shouldn't have let me know what it is.

...of course the tricky part is figuring out sometimes if the person's given name comes first or last. I try to use "Dear givenname" rather than "Dear firstname", technically.

I'm with Craig. Even cold contacts get the first/given name. Sometimes I make an exception if the person is over 50, extremely well known in the industry, and I deem them likely to expect some formality.

Eric, pedantic?

Who would have thunk?

Well, the tradition in math & physics is to use the last name, by itself, for third parties. When I wrote my senior paper, I was criticized for using "Dr".

I agree with Dr Hargittai that there's a serious gender bias here, and it bothers me too. Here's a nice example: I know, through square dancing, a woman called Darla. A few years ago I asked some of the other square dancers what Darla does for a living, and was told that she's an emergency room nurse. It turns out (you can see where this is going) that she's an ER physician, not a nurse.


Then, of course, there's the old story about the man who has his son in the car, and who's involved in a terrible crash. The man is killed, and the son is rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. At the hospital, the doctor takes one look at the boy and says, "I can't operate on this boy: he's my son." Explain.


Many people will decide that the boy has two fathers, or even that he's a space alien, before they will make the surgeon his mother.

Leave a comment