Faculty Etiquette

Since I am on PTO this week, I am pre-posting some content.

Today’s post is something I run every year as we get closer to the start of classes. It’s about how your Deacs can put their best foot forward with faculty.

A few years ago, a faculty friend of mine emailed me this article, U Can’t Talk to Ur Professor Like This. It is a great read, especially for incoming students, who are used to high school teacher etiquette and might not know how that differs in college. I have adapted some of the main ideas for the Wake setting:

ALWAYS call your faculty member Dr. [Last Name] or Professor [Last Name] – do not use Mr./Mrs./Ms. [Last Name] and never ever address a faculty member by their first name the first time you email/speak to them.  Dr. or Professor are the proper titles. If your professor tells you it’s OK to call them by their first name, that is fine. But unless/until they do, they are Dr. to you, always and forever.

If emailing, you need to introduce yourself, use polite language, and close warmly. This means opening with a “Dear Dr. Jones,” and closing with a polite send off (“Thank you,” “Sincerely” etc.) and signing with your first and last name so your faculty member knows who you are (a faculty member could have five Scotts among all the classes she teaches, and the way our Wake email addresses are constructed does not always make it obvious what one’s last name is.)

Use a subject line so that your faculty member knows why you are contacting them.

Your grammar and punctuation need to be correct. You want to make a good first impression, so avoid typos. Also, avoid using shortcuts like UR for “your” etc.

Before you email a professor with a question, do your homework. The course syllabus is essentially the contract for the class – it tells students what the assignments are and when they are due, when tests/papers/quizzes are due, whether there is an attendance or class participation policy, what the grading system is, etc.  When a student emails a professor to say “what happens if I miss class today?” and there is a clearly-stated attendance policy on the syllabus, that student is revealing that they have not done their homework in knowing their obligations for the class. That can form a bad impression.

Be very careful of your tone. Email is a notoriously difficult medium to sense tone, and you want to make sure your message is not coming off as complaining, condescending, demanding. Write a draft, let it sit for a few hours, and then reread it to make sure your tone is professional and appropriate before sending.

You may be wondering Why does all this stuff matter? or Why have nit-picky rules and formality?  The article explains:

“Insisting on traditional etiquette is also simply good pedagogy.  It’s a teacher’s job to correct sloppy prose, whether in an essay or an email. And I suspect that most of the time, students who call faculty members by their first names and send slangy messages are not seeking a more casual rapport.  They just don’t know they should do otherwise – no one has bothered to explain it to them.  Explaining the rules of professional interaction is not an act of condescension: it’s the first step in treating students like adults. [emphasis mine]

There is a very comprehensive site from one faculty member from the University of Houston, who explains academic etiquette guidelines for his students. It is a very worthwhile read, as it goes into many more details and situations your students might encounter.

by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)




Categories: academicscampus life

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