Friday, March 11, 2011


What do your trainees call you?  Do you think/know that they call you something else when you are not in the room?

I thought long and hard about this question as a noob starting out. It sets the tone and atmosphere for the lab. After much deliberation, I decided that I was comfortable enough to go by my first name, even though I'm only a few years older than them. At the undergrad level, it's all business, but at the graduate level, I depend as much on my trainees as they do on me for succeeding in academia. All of the professors that I looked up to in grad school and post grad did that. Of course what first two trainees decided that they would rather call me Dr. X. Fine. A bit awkward when we occasionally go out for drinks after work, but I wasn't going to push them. This week, finally, one of my people started switching to a first name.

Background. No one else in our department goes by their first name with their students. I'm wondering what this will do to the culture of the department. Of course being a researcher, I'm terribly interested in studying this system and a bit worried that I might have permanently changed our fragile ecosystem. Should I care?


  1. Everyone calls me Ewan. That includes students in my classes - or at least that is what they're instructed to call me, but most freshmen and sophomores still revert to 'Dr.' or 'Professor.'

  2. I find behind your back, most people just call you by your last name, no title. The typical guy thing.

    During my PhD, we all went by first names but that's because as a PhD student here, you're considered full staff. They didn't have that grey area of student/staff.

    It's hard to build a group where there are clear divisions. I plan on telling my students to go by my first name.

  3. Mine all call me Prodigal. I find this is very group specific in my department--some profs prefer to have their trainees call them "Dr. Professor", but I prefer to use my first name with my group. It's probably 50-50 on first name vs. Dr. Professor.

    The students in my courses ideally call me "Dr. Academic" or "Prof. Academic" (the norm for Prodigal U), but unfortunately far more often call me "Ms. Academic" or "Miss Academic" (which annoys the crap out of me).

  4. I still call my MS advisor "Dr. Advisor" despite him saying I could call him by his first name. Somehow, it just feels really uncomfortable for me. Of course, I grew up in a German family where I addressed my grandparents as "Grandma Last-Name." Despite all efforts to kick the habit, they're still extremely ingrained.

    In my PhD dept, everyone went by their first name. I usually would address them as "prof so-and-so" the first couple times I dealt with them and then used first names when I was a bit more comfortable. It may be a comfort thing, but I don't think that requesting first names is bad.

  5. I demand Herr Professor Doktor Drug Monkey from trainees at all stages.

  6. I take it Herr Professor Doktor works in Germany?

  7. I get Dr.Firstname from my Indian staff, Dr. Surname from my Thai staff and Lastname from my American staff ... interesting cultural divides...