academic titles and address

American reader Lance wrote yesterday to ask about how academics are addressed in BrE. I know, this must be a record for me, responding to a query via blog in less than 24 hours, but I have to stay up until some boiled water what the heck. (Ah, parenthood--or at least parenthood in the UK, where less chlorination of the water means sterili{s/z}ing any water that comes near your baby until the child's first birthday. In the US, you can get away without sterili{s/z}ing at all, apparently. But I'm sure that most British folk will argue that less chlorination is better. No fluoride in the water here either.)

So, seeing as time is limited, I'm going to let Lance do a lot of the talking:
In your 27 June 07 blog entry, you discussed the differences in British and American university positions.

What you didn't mention -- and I need to figure out, for reasons too lengthy to burden you with -- is how university-level academics are addressed.

I'm aware, for instance, of the reverse snobbery among British doctors that leads to GPs being addressed "doctor" while specialists are addressed as "Mr/Mrs" (you also wrote about this). Is there something similar at work among academics?

He then goes on to list his questions, which I'll answer one by one. But before I start, I must stress that I've only worked at one university in the UK--and one that prides itself on its 'radical' history. So, I expect that people from other (BrE, informal) unis will have other experiences to report in the comments.
1) Do British academics with Ph.Ds go by "Doctor"? I ask because I ran across this web page. A corresponding US university web page would refer to all these people as "Dr. XYZ" instead of "Professor XYZ." Part of this is, of course, because every lecturer at a US school is a professor, but it's also because Ph.Ds here seem to jealously guard the privilege of being called "Doctor."
Me at Sussex graduation.
For some reason, our UK academic-gown
(BrE) hire company thinks US doctorates
wear tams instead of mortarboards
In the US, just about all (AmE) tenure-track academic positions have Professor in their titles (Assistant, Professor, Associate Professor, (full) Professor). All of those people can be called Professor [Name]. In the UK,  Professor is only the highest level. It's not a level that everyone expects to reach when they start their careers, and I can think of UK academics who I would consider to be top in their (narrowly defined) fields who made it all the way to retirement without making it past Senior Lecturer (roughly, Associate Professor in US terms). So, it's the reverse of the situation in the US, where any academic might be called professor, but where not every professor has a doctorate. (In particular in the creative arts, a Master of Fine Arts is considered to be a suitable qualification for a professorship. In most other fields at most universities, a doctorate is de rigueur.) So, in the US, it's 'special' to have a doctorate. But in the UK, there are far more academics with doctorates than there are professors, so it's 'special' to be professor. In both cases, it's the higher status term or address that's used—so it's unlike the reverse snobbery of surgeons.

The University of Southampton web page that Lance cites lists the members of the University Executive Group (i.e. the top committee at the university). All of the academics listed there are 'Professor' because usually only professors are considered for top posts like Vice Chancellor or Dean. The 'Misters' on the list are presumably not academics (e.g. the Director of Finance). It was rather depressing to read that only one out of the 10 top people at Southampton is a woman—but then, it's no different at my own university.
2) If the answer to #1 is "no" or "it depends," what are the rules?
Well, the answer wasn't 'no', so I feel a little silly including this question. But I need it in order to have a 2 between 1 and 3.
3) If graduate students at a UK school are called "post-grads," what are graduate teaching assistants called?
Their positions are called Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs) at my university, but this term is limited to positions that are part of a means to recruit students to a (post-)graduate program(me). In other words, you're a GTA if you're getting some kind of (AmE) tuition/(BrE) fee remission. Otherwise, you're a part-time tutor like other part-time tutors, and at my university, as of a few years ago, the title of that position is Associate Tutor. Such people would be called Dr(.)* So-and-so if they have a doctorate and Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss So-and-so if they don't.

Actually, they'll only be called by those titles in print. At our university, with the exception of some foreign students (including, when they first get here, some Americans) who are uncomfortable with such informality, students and faculty† are on first-name terms. I wonder whether this might be different at other UK universities. (Is it?)

American colleges/universities differ among themselves with respect to terms of address for faculty members when used by students. At the large, research-led, state universities where I studied, everyone addressed each other by their given names. But when I and my friends ended up teaching at smaller, private colleges, we found ourselves being addressed as Professor or Doctor. (My former employer encouraged Professor rather than Doctor, so as not to create a noticeable division between the doctors and non-doctors.)
4) Are post-grads going for their doctorates addressed differently than post-grads studying for their masters?
Everyone's just addressed by their names. If we needed to put their titles in something in print, it would be their regular non-academic titles (Miss, Mr, etc.). In the UK we do make a distinction between research degrees and taught degrees, though not in the terms of address. Most masters students are on taught degrees, which like bachelor's degrees, involve taking courses and possibly writing a (BrE) dissertation/(AmE) thesis at the end. A research degree is one that doesn't involve taking courses--just researching toward(s) a (BrE) thesis/(AmE) dissertation. Many British universities are now heading away from the tradition of research-only doctorates and looking toward(s) American universities for models for partly-taught doctoral program(me)s. I must say, I think this is a good thing. Graduates of North American doctoral program(me)s (orig. AmE) have a big jump on many British graduates in the job market, because we were forced to study much more than the narrow area that we wrote our dissertations/theses on. So, even though I'm a semanticist/pragmaticist, I had to take doctoral-level courses in all areas of linguistics, and it's allowed me to confidently say in interviews "oh yes, I could teach that, if you needed me to" (and to even have some ideas about how to teach it). But the doctoral program(me) that I entered took me five years to complete, which is a normal amount of time in the US. In the UK, research-only doctoral program(me)s are three years, and most of the newfangled teaching+research doctorates that I've seen are four years.

* BrE usually writes abbreviated titles like Dr and Mrs without (BrE) full stops/(AmE) periods, whereas this would be considered an error in AmE. But it's too messy to type (.) at the end of every title here, so I haven't.

† Postscript (later in the day): I should have mentioned that the use of faculty to mean 'members of teaching staff' is originally and chiefly AmE, though it's heard more and more in BrE.


  1. Surgeons who have the additional FRCS qualification are addressed as 'Mr/Miss'. All grades of physician, including Consultants, and junior surgeons, are addressed as Doctor.

    I hope this helps somebody, somewhere.

  2. Since you've mentioned Oxbridge, the MA at Oxford and Cambridge (and Dublin apparently) is conferred by right on holders of the BA degree of the University. It is not available as a postgraduate qualification.

    Some say that this reflects the quality of the degrees at the institutions. Others say that paying £35 for an MA was just the forerunner of Internet qualifications.

    MA (Hons) Cantab.

  3. One of the many things I loved about starting a degree at UCL after being in the UK for a while (I am American) is that UCL was the first British institution I had encountered that seemed to have institutional support for the title Ms. I don't consider whether I'm married or not any more other people's business than it is for my male colleagues and friends, but Ms is much less used here than in the USA, and even when I tell people my title is Ms I often get things in the post addressed to Miss or Mrs.

    So far it hasn't been worth the trouble to get a doctorate and go by Doctor, though.

  4. When I was a whippersnapper working at Harvard University Library twenty years ago, I made the mistake of calling Dr. Charles Berlin, imperious head of the Judaica Department, "Mister Berlin". He screamed at me for a good ten minutes, and reported me to my boss, who laughed.

  5. What has changed during my academic career in the UK is that now one would be thought odd (hypersensitive, insecure, whatever) to insist on being addressed by the "correct" academic title, whether orally or in print. The other side of that is that it is not now considered "bad manners" to fail to use an academic title, or to use the wrong one.

  6. When I was at Cambridge (not that long ago), we all addressed our lecturers and supervisors as ‘Dr’ or ‘Professor’. Definitely no first names! As freshers, we were warned by the year above us NEVER to forget ourselves and even begin an email to our Director of Studies with ‘Hi, Dr Smith’ rather than ‘Dear Dr Smith’. A guy had done that once and received a blistering reply back…

  7. What Max Wheeler said, apart from the academic career bit. I addressed most of my tutors at Oxford by their first name - only the older ones would have thought it inappropriate.

  8. fnarf,

    Your Harvard story is illustrative of traditional differences. At Mr Jefferson's University (Virginia) the use of Doctor is reserved to physicians...everyone else is simply Mister, or today, Ms.

  9. "sites" s/b "cites" in your sentence that begins "The University of Southampton..."

    Sorry for the drive-by copyedit...just a particular peeve.

  10. At my undergrad institution (MIT) and graduate university (UC Davis), students called professors "professor". Graduate students were typically on a first name basis with professors. But at my husband's current institution (a California State University), where he is a professor, the students call all professors (including lecturers), "Doctor". They called me "Doctor" even though it was inappropriate when I was a lecturer there; I was told not to correct them since it would cause problems if they thought I wasn't competant. I don't know if this is a difference in class between undergrad-only institutions and research/Ph.D. granting or not, but it was an adjustment to make.

  11. Thanks, skwid. I had written 'web sites' instead of 'web pages', then changed that, so I think that's why I had 'sites' on the brain... I've corrected it now.

  12. You wrote:
    "BrE usually writes abbreviated titles like Dr and Mrs without (BrE) full stops/(AmE) periods, whereas this would be considered an error in AmE."

    I don't believe this is just laxity; I think BrE distinguishes between abbreviations and contractions. An abbreviation, where a word is cut short by removal of its ending, (such as "abbrev." for "abbreviation") should be terminated with a full stop. A contraction, such as "Dr" for "doctor" or "Mrs" for "mistress", should not.

    I doubt this helps anybody, anywhere :)

    "Englishman in New York" Andy.

  13. Everyone did seem pretty chilled out that I met, and just called each other by their first names.

    I should also mention, that by my understanding, the british BSc is very different to the american BSc as the degree is about 90% on the subject that your degree is in, the american version seems to involve a lot of other stuff, more like a baccaloriate (sp?) in france. The americans appeared to need lots more teaching just to catch up, which is why a Phd is taught takes around 5 years instead of 3. Thats just my experience in chemistry though

  14. Andy, I never said it was laxity! I was just pointing out the difference.

    Jennywenny,both BAs and BScs (or BSs as they can be called in the US) are almost all the 'major' subject in UK universities. At my university, it's 75% major in the BA for the first two years, 100% in the final year. Students doing 'joint' degrees--e.g. Linguistics & Philosophy--take no electives at all.

    The degree is three years as opposed to four supposedly because students do at A-level (see this post for explanation) what they'd do in the 'liberal arts' aspect of US degrees. But that's really not the case these days, as far as I am concerned. Students at A-level seem to learn how to take exams and not much more. There's rarely any formal teaching about how to write an academic essay, there are no particular requirements that make sure that students get a 'rounded' education at A-level (e.g. by taking both Arts and Science courses, as most US universities require).

    As far as preparation for (post)graduate degrees, although undergraduate students take most of their degree in their major subject, I would not say that they have a lot more of their major subject under their belt when they graduate than American students do. There are two reasons for this: (1) as you say, the degree is shorter, (2) the teaching year is shorter (typically 30 weeks in US, in practice 23-25 weeks at my university--since exams take the last 5 weeks of term), (3) the contact hours are fewer (my students are in class an average of 8 hours/week--typically one lecture and one seminar for each course)--American students typically have 12-15, (4) in some places, at least, they take fewer courses, so get more depth and less breadth of knowledge (until 2003, students on BAs at my university were only ever taking 2 courses at a time, only one of them in their major for the first two years--this has changed to a more American-type system with four courses, but they're taught with fewer contact hours than in the US).

  15. There was a time when it was considered bad form to address as Dr the holder of a mere Ph.D.: Dr was reserved for those who held one of the ancient doctorates (D.D., D.Mus, etc.).

  16. @paul: yes, in Dublin University (or Trinity College as it's always called in Ireland: the University has just the one College) the MA is acquired by purchase. The MLitt is taught, and the MPhil is research. At least Trinity BA courses take 4 years, rather than a mere 3 as in Oxbridge. The ancient Scottish Universities with 4 year undergraduate courses give out MAs right off the bat, bypassing the BA altogether.

  17. I mean, the MPhil is research, the MLitt is taught. Carry on.

  18. Concerning Mr and Mr. ......

    I suspect that part of the reason that the full stop has disappeared from Mr (and all those other titles) in BrE has to do with the way that Word Processing has been taught over the last few years.

    About 20 - 25 years ago we started teaching Block Format as the appropriate way to lay out a business letter, as well as a number of other documents.

    The approved style of Block Format for RSA courses (RSA were the primary qualifications board for secretarial qualifications) insisted that every line start flush with the left margin, left a one line blank space between paragraphs and removed all the extra punctuation from the 'standard' parts of the letter, which included the full stop at the end of titles.

    When we taught other layouts at the time, we still taught students to put the full stop after the title - as well as all the other punctuation, like commas at the end of each address line.

    One of the main reasons we taught this style was that it is significantly faster and easier to use block format style when word processing a document. There for WP operators were able to produce presentable documents more quickly, and thus get more work done in a day.

    I say - Blame the RSA.

  19. For fnarf--

    Forty years ago at Harvard College (including the library, where I also worked--and I emphasize that this was undergraduate/Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, I can't speak for the other professional schools) faculty members were addressed as Mr. The few women on the faculty at the time would have been called Miss or Mrs.

    A sort of reverse snobbery, possibly, since we all--students and faculty--assumed that by our very presence we were qualified.

    Arrogant twits that we all were!

  20. Maybe it's a chemistry thing, but I'm closer in opinion to jennywenny than to lynneguist on the US vs English university education question, though it may also be my age.
    I got my BA in England almost 20 years ago, and went from there to graduate school in the US.
    I had to take classes in my first year of graduate school, but they all covered material that I had already learned as an undergrad. This material did not seem new to many of the non-US students, but was so to most of the US ones.
    Incidentally, my first year of undergraduate study also reiterated a lot of material that I'd learned at A-level.
    It was true that I specialized very early, I haven't had to take a non-science course since I was 16, but I'm not convinced that that is necessarily a bad thing.
    Back to length of PhDs - the situation in the US seems to be more related to how vindictive your adviser is, rather than any need for them to take longer to complete (at least in chemistry).

  21. The length of the PhD in the US starts at 4 years because the first two years may be courses. I had to do two years of courses, followed by 'Qualifying Exams' (we had to do two major areas of Linguistics--Syntax and Phonology plus two more subjects), followed by a year in preparation for the 'Preliminary Exam' (on the topic of one's thesis), then the rest of the research (including whatever fieldwork/experimentation you were going to do) and the writing up, followed by the (AmE)defense (which is almost equivalent to the British viva [voce exam]. My degree also required that I pass an exam in a 'reading language' (French or German--maybe one other), plus taking four semesters of a non-Indo-European language. (The non-IE language was just because it was a linguistics degree--the reading language was required by some other disciplines as well.) So, it really takes five years (though the first two years can be counted as a master's, if one bothers to fill out the paperwork). There was one South African student who came with funding for three years, and they had to make exceptions to rules to get him through in time, if I remember correctly. In my experience, it's rarely the case that people who are there longer have vindictive supervisors (absentee supervisors--off doing their own research--are more common in both countries). The people I knew who took a dozen years were either perfectionists who couldn't let the project go, or people who couldn't quite cope with the idea of no longer being a student.

    I suppose my feeling that my students aren't as well prepared for postgraduate work as American students is due in large part to the narrowness of my students' university education. I went to my doctoral program in Linguistics from a BA in Linguistics and Philosophy in which I took a course (for my hard science requirement) on the physics of speech and hearing, two language-related anthropology courses, cognitive psychology, a classics course on Greek and Latin influences on English, an interdisciplinary course on metaphor, French (for my language requirement), Chinese and American Sign Language, plus (in my majors) courses up through the Master's level in Semantics, Logic and Metaphysics as well as every course offered in Linguistics at the UG level. The 'liberal arts and sciences' element of the degree made me a well-rounded linguist. Meanwhile, many of students I teach now have never taken a language (and can't fit one into their linguistics degree) and miss out on skills (like the ability to read logical and mathematical formulae and basic statistics) that would serve them well in postgraduate linguistic studies.

    Because Linguistics is such a broad subject with strong interdisciplinary ties and because it's not taught in schools, it may not be a good discipline to make educational generali{s/z}ations from. But it's what I've got!

  22. I went to St. John's College in the US, also known as The Great Books School, where the heart of the program is reading the classics and discussing them in small groups led by two tutors. The tutors often had Doctorates but would be addressed by their surname with the title Mr. or Ms. This was also how we addressed our fellow students during the seminars, though we dropped the formality out of class. This practice promoted both respect and equality, perhaps two necessary things for the promotion of a good discussion. It may be that it was meant to raise the esteem of the students, and so encourage them to participate, while humbling the tutors, to remind them that their role was to gently guide or facilitate the discussion, not to lecture.

    Seemed to work.

  23. This is only tangentially related to this topic, but I had an experience when I was in graduate school of meeting a British woman my age travelling in the US. I explained that I was going to school in an hour or so and it took her a while to understand because she found it so odd I would refer to it as "school" at the graduate level. Apparently, school for her only referred to very low levels of education. She said she would refer to "Going to uni" but never "Going to school."

  24. Robin, we already covered that topic here.

  25. If you teach 'abroad' in the Middle East you will find everybody addresses you as "Teacher, teacher', except for the Security Staff and taxi-drivers who call you 'Doctor', irrespective of your qualifications.

    When I interviewed for one job some years back the interviewer referred to the Oxbridge MA system as "Buy one, get one free". I thought the comment rather apposite, so when he started going on about how he had to work for his MA, I refrained from commenting that the results suggested he could have saved himslef the effort.

  26. In my Oxford college it happened that my tutor was also head of the college. The convention was that I would address him as 'Principal' during our personal tutorials and other formal occasions such as lectures of his that I attended, and those frightening experiences known as 'End-of-Term Collections' -- in other words, those formal occasions when academic gowns had to be worn. Otherwise he insisted that I, and all other members of the college, called him by his first name.

    He was also, incidentally, a doctor, and a Canon of Chichester Cathedral, for a brief period Vice Chancellor of the University, and later Pro-Vice-Chancellor. I imagine that when he was about formal University business he would have been addressed by whatever University title he was holding at the time. Likewise, if he was about Church business, he would have been addressed as 'Canon'. But the title he was most proud of was Principal. It is possible that this was also true of other heads of colleges -- after all, it was within college that they lived, mainly taught, and dined in fellowship. Thus there was always at the older collegiate English universities a distinction between the immediate, day-to-day college, and the more distant and abstract university, which is a confederation of the colleges. Perhaps an analogy might be that of the British Army: soldiers belong to it, but it is their regiment which is their family and the mainstay of their allegiance.

    Within the college it was the custom to call senior members (i.e., Fellows) with official college positions by the name of their office, e.g., Dean, Chaplain, Bursar etc. What we were forbidden to do was ever to call any 'don', 'Sir' or 'Madam'.

    It was also the custom in formal circumstances to call the heads of other colleges by their official designation, if ever you happened to be in their company. (These designations vary according to the college, and can be one of the following: Principal, Provost, Master, Rector, Warden, Dean [very confusingly!], and Regent.) During a part of my time at university I was sent to have tutorials with the Principal of St Hugh's: so during the formal setting of the tutorial I used to address her as 'Principal', even though she happened in fact to be a family friend.

    It is true that one can have an M.A. automatically from Oxford after gaining a B.A. without having to do any further work, and for a small fee. Being an M.A. of the University does give one certain lifelong privileges -- the right to vote in certain University elections for example. Corrupt? Possibly. A cheat? Certainly; but at Oxford the justification is that since the degree of M.A. was actually invented there, many many years before any other university existed in Britain, the University should be allowed the privilege of deciding how to grant it. My own college was founded in 1226, some 50 years before the earliest Cambridge college still in existence ( ;-) )

    A further point about this privilege is that in order to get into Oxford or Cambridge in my day you had to do special entrance exams -- further hurdles to jump. So perhaps your gratis M.A. could be seen as recompense for the extra effort you had to put in beforehand.

    Anyway, those who have Oxford or Cambridge M.A. degrees, and wish to put their 'letters' after their names, qualify the degree abbreviation with the university Latin abbreviation in brackets. It always looks as if it is either a boast, or acknowledgement of the cheat. You decide:

    Howard, M.A. (Oxon) ;-)

  27. The American liberal arts college B.A. is a fantastic thing; no 18yo really needs to be specializing in one subject exclusively, and if one does so, one is really much more of a technician than a well-educated person. I suspect my training at Williams, one of the elite such institutions, has biased me, but, after one has gone to a school like that, even proceeding to a megamammoth state university for grad school can seem a letdown.

    WRT length of time to get an American PhD-- various factors affect this. Some students do their subject MA at one school, then transfer to a different university to study for the doctorate (often after taking time off), and this can have different effects. Some PhD programs will not give any credit for prior MA work in field, resulting in repetitive coursework. But, in any case, the real wildcard is when the student arrives at the lofty status of A.B.D. (slang for 'all but dissertation'), where the student has completed all requirements for the PhD save the actual dissertation. At this stage, many students are no longer even on campus; they are off teaching or working elsewhere, often full-time, which has serious implications for the speed at which a dissertation could be competently completed. Even those students who have no outside work at this stage can get very bogged down, and, yes, the advisor can really influence, for good or ill, the student's completion time as well. Some depts./ unis will have time requirements for how long a student can continue to be a doctoral candidate before he is dropped from the program, but others did not, or still have some A.B.D.s on the rolls grandfathered in from when they had no time limit (my department gave a PhD in 1994 to a fellow who had started the program in 1973, but two years later, a new dean finally imposed a time limit on all new graduate students).

  28. Because physicians don't usually have a doctorate - the medical degree is actually a pair of bachelor's degrees - the 'doctor' is a courtesy title. Without the person's name, it's partly analogous to the rarely-heard 'sir' and the Italian 'dottore', and partly a job description, as in 'how long do I have, doctor?' or 'more tea, vicar?'
    So 'excuse me, professor, will this be in the exam?' is a different form of address from 'our speaker today is Professor Bloggs, head of the geology department'. Having introduced Prof. Bloggs, a BrE academic would continue to refer to him/her as Prof. Bloggs, while other US academics probably would refer to and address him/her as Dr Bloggs. [Note the full stop after Prof., and not after Dr, as explained by apgraves).
    I remember being informed of the distinction between Title, Style and Address many years ago by a rather grand British lady, but my head is beginning to whirl at the strain of recollecting the rules - so let me tell you about another type of address that I hope is obsolete. In the early 1970s my husband was offered a research studentship in a letter from his supervisor, addressing him by surname only. To the eminent professor, 'Smith' was a perfectly acceptable way of addressing an academic colleague, or perhaps an old chum from (BrE)public school. To a younger person from a less rarefied background, it seemed incredibly patronising - reminiscent of an army officer addressing a squaddie, or a duke addressing his butler ... of course the professor could not have used this form with a female research student, which may explain why he didn't have any. His wife worked in the same department, and was referred to as Mrs Bloggs - allegedly to distinguish her from her husband, but since he was Professor Bloggs, and she was Dr Bloggs, I don't think that was the real reason! How things have changed (I hope).
    Just for the record, British science undergraduates outside Oxbridge have little one-to-one contact with their lecturers, so would address them as Dr Smith and Professor Jones, but once the students are in the lab doing a research project they might reasonably expect to address their supervisor by first name. However they would refer to the supervisor as Dr Smith at the viva, when discussing the project with an external examiner.

  29. Should be pointed out here that biochemist is speaking about the UK. In the US, medical doctors are, academically speaking, doctors, as the MD (Doctor of Medicine) degree that they have is a (post)graduate degree. Some medical program(me)s, like the one at my (post)graduate alma mater, offer a joint MD/PhD as well as a joint MD/JD (doctor/lawyer) and an MD/MBA [ick]. One doesn't have to write a dissertation/thesis for the MD, but does for the PhD part. The PhD part might be on history of medicine or some other kind of medical humanities or psychology or in biochemistry or other cognate scientific fields.

  30. I went to the ABD stage in a research PhD in a fairly prestigiuos US university prior to attending law school. As others have mentioend, as an undergradutate (also in the US), we customarily addressed professors as "Professor" or "Doctor" and grad-student teaching assistants and the like by their first names, and in the PhD program professors were addressed by the first names; I always assumed this was because graduate students were regarded as colleagues (or at least proto-colleagues) of professors.

    In law school, however, instructors were invariably addressed as "Professor"--and this regardless of the actual degree held by the instructor or his/her level of seniority/tenure. This always struck me as due to the fundamentally conservative (and often pretentious) nature of the legal profession.

  31. Interesting post and discussion indeed!

    In some colleges in Oxbridge, if you do not have an Oxbridge doctorate, forget about being addressed as 'Dr.' by the porter, who is the most powerful person, next to the Master (in some colleges, at least).

    One of the comments mentioned never having addressed their teachers by first names in Cambridge. I think it is safe to say this practice varies by faculty. In the management and the engineering faculties, in Cambridge, it is quite common never to say Professor or Dr., but simply address people by their first names.

    One thing however has bothered me a while. Having newly earned the right to write the letters 'Ph.D' after my name, I am conscious - and a bit upset - that a lawyer friend styles herself 'Dr' by virtue of having completed a Juris Doctor degree in America. I am aware that the American Bar Association has an informal opinion that where this usage does not cause confusion, the JD being a terminal degree may allow people to use the honorific 'Dr.' with their names. I find it pretentious and immoral. Any ideas what the form here is or should be? Thanks.

    As for the length of the American and the British PhD programmes, I think both systems allow for individuals to make a case for exemptions based on their unique situation. I have negotiated on both sides and this has been my experience. The duration of individual research and writing works out more or less the same in both cases. It may be the case that mature students get more leeway than those younger students, who pile degrees one on top of the other.

    Back to the topic: I think there are uses to having a honorific to be addressed by. One of my female colleagues in Cambridge sometimes faces this question from her male students - Is that Miss or Mrs? Her answer - It is Doctor to you. This helps her prevent her students from getting overly familiar while she teaches them.

    On the comment that mentions the use of 'Ms.', I hope it is ok to point you to this funny post by a friend - An American in England - who raises similar questions:


  32. I'm a current undergraduate at Oxford and there is no way I would call my tutors by their first names only! If I did (or began an email, as someone else said, "Hi, Dr...") I would likely receive a scathing response!

  33. Much later, but still remembering the comments on this post....

    You can tell that British TV shows are made with an American audience in mind when you hear the use of 'Reverend':

    More tea, Reverend?
    Did you see the Reverend going to church?
    Hello, Reverend Bloggs...

    I even heard a comment in the 'Henry VIII' series about a fire that was being built 'to burn the Reverend Fisher' for heresy.

    Well, this use of Reverend is a heresy! It's not a form of Address, it is his Style: for example, the Reverend Ninian Bloggs is the Vicar of St Mary Midsomer, and should be addressed or referred to as Mr Bloggs or as 'vicar'. When promoted to Canon or Bishop he could be referred to and addressed as Canon, and (just about) as 'Bishop' without the Bloggs, although older proper style would insist that a bishop is addressed as 'your grace'.

    Grr - I've been watching too much Agatha Christie and chums over the Christmas break!

  34. Biochemist,
    "Reverend Bloggs" is a pet peeve of mine, but is it that British TV dramas are made with US audiences in mind, or that British people have seen so much American TV that they've forgotten the traditional British usage? I often hear people (probably non-churchgoers) say "Reverend Bloggs", or see clergy named thus in the newspapers.

    Kate (Derby, UK)

  35. One tiny footnote one might add is that the abbreviation "Prof(.)" for professor in titles seems to be dying out. It was once universal in writing and also used in informal speech, before calling everyone by their (BrE, becoming dated?) Christian names became the norm, but is now rarely seen, the full form being used instead in contexts where no-one would dream of writing Doctor or Mister. So "Dr Jones" and "Mr Roberts" but "Professor Smith". I think the same may be happening with (since someone mentioned it) "Rev(erend) Bloggs".

  36. @Howard says of Oxford that "the degree of M.A. was actually invented there, many many years before any other university existed in Britain". Are we sure about that? Bear in mind that Britain includes more than one country that has "ancient" (medieval) universities. Ones with properly verifiable dates of foundation too, rather than the vague 13th-century claims of Teddy Hall et al. ;-]

    (And lest anyone should think I am being anti-Oxbridge, I have one MA of each sort, medieval and "worked-for".)

  37. It's only very recently that I happened on the reason why physicians are 'doctor' until they become surgeons. Snobbishness at work. In the past, 'real' doctors used medicine to treat their patients while quacks used to cut people up. Actually barbers had the sharp instruments so they were the ones using them for surgery. Physicians didn't want to be associated with mere barbers so those who used medicines had the courtesy title doctor while those who wielded knives were still only 'mister'. When they were all properly registered the surgeons kept the distinction.

  38. Revisiting this thread (I was the Anonymous above) I note that the TV series "Grantchester", shown last winter, correctly had the protagonist Rev. Sidney Chambers addressed as "Mr Chambers". This was certainly standard usage in 1950s Britain. Well, the series is based on stories written by the son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury!

  39. Coming back to this later still, linked from a 2016 blog post, I think it is only the Church of England which addresses its clergy as Mr or Mrs Bloggs (in my experience they expect to be addressed by their first names, unless they are very High, in which case they expect "Father John" or "Mother Jane" from their parishioners, but still John and Jane from everybody else). Methodists and other non-Conformists happily call their ministers "Reverend Bloggs", or, more commonly "Reverend John" or "Reverend Jane".

    My husband noticed recently that he was increasingly being addressed as "Uncle R" by younger church members - this appears to be a politeness to an older man in many African and Caribbean communities.

    And I was slightly thrown on a recent visit to the doctor when she said "Hullo, I'm Jane, what can I do for you?"

  40. "...MA was just the forerunner of Internet qualifications."
    An Oxford MA is not qualification; it is a degree - a stage of seniority in the university to which you are admitted.
    As for "Doctor"; it is pretentious of people with a D.Phil (PhD) to call themselves "doctor". It is like people after retiring from the army wishing to be called "Major".

  41. I did my undergrad at a liberal arts-y technically-a-university-but-called-college and graduate school at a large public university (both in the US), and in both cases I would never have *dreamed* of addressing my professors anything other than "Professor Lastname" or just "Professor." In undergrad, I had a professor who wanted us to call him "Dave," and I just could not do it. I went the next three years avoiding calling him anything at all. (My graduate degree is a JD; as Jim above points out, it's possible other graduate programs are less formal -- we can be a stuffy bunch).

    If I remember correctly, in undergrad I was usually just called by my professors by my first name. I law school, it was a mix of my first name and Miss Lastname.

    And, to those contrasting the narrowness of US v. UK academic programs, I really appreciated being able to major in a subject I loved in undergrad but that I had no intention of making a career out of, and to take a wide variety of other classes just because they interested me and would make me a more educated, well-rounded individual. I personally feel the freedom and flexibility offered by a US undergraduate degree is a wonderful privilege (and would also point to my sister, who double majored in English and biology, went to work at a hedge fund for 4 years, and then went to medical school and is now a doctor).

    Also, you did another post about Americans not saying "I did my undergrad at X," but I definitely do -- I wrote the first sentence above without even thinking about it.


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