Don't call me bro: A guide to emailing your professors

longhiI have a small heart attack every time I have to send an email to an ASU faculty member.

My apprehension is rooted in what has become a sense of dread for many university students today: the email greeting.

With so many adjunct professionals and young instructors teaching classes today, the diction to use when it comes time to address our superiors has become awkward and confusing. What do we call them? Professor? Mr. or Mrs.? Instructor?



On Thursday, Slate published a piece by education columnist Rebecca Schuman examining this very issue and the struggle by students to wade through this copious amount of new titles.

The fact is, the vast majority of college students often call their professors by the 'wrong' name or title because the conventions for this are massively, overwhelmingly confusing,” says Schuman.

In the past, I’ve tried to keep it traditional. “Dear Professor” is my default, even if, yes, they’re not technically a professor.

My friends tend to throw definitive side-eye at me for this, but I’ve never seen the problem.

Better to be laughed at for being too formal than sneered at for being rude.

But while this issue is hotly debated among academia, it seems as though most students could care less about the greeting. Indeed, Slate and I have both noticed that, in contrast to my own archaic greeting habits, several of my peers now prefer to not include a salutation at all, instead greeting instructors with a simple “Hi,” or nothing at all. Some are more ballsy and go straight for a first name basis on the first day of class.

“I usually just use ‘Hello,’” said Adriana Barajas, a junior studying broadcast journalism at ASU. “I try not to be disrespectful or anything like that. I don’t think it’s wrong to call someone by their first name, but I think it depends on your relationship with the professor.”

Occasionally, professors will politely inform you prior to the beginning of the semester how they would like to be addressed; however, there should still be a standard for those that don't.

When it comes to emails and addressing individuals in a professional sense, I hold steady to the belief that it is better to come off as too stiff and formal than to appear too chummy.

“My rule of thumb: Be courteous, and always err on the side of formality,” comments Nancy C. Lovell, a professor of anthropology at the University of Alberta, on the issue. “‘Yo’ and ‘Hey’ are inappropriate; you and your instructor are not peers.”

While discussing email etiquette may seem a trivial issue to students at this juncture in their lives, it’s important that we be conscious of the habits we’re forming in college and how they will affect our reputations in the professional world.

Reach the columnist at or follow her on Twitter @lolonghi

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