Tips for Grad Students: Decorum in Correspondences with Professors

One thing that I hope our graduate students will note is that every professor teaching in the Mercy College MA program holds a doctorate. In order to be qualified to teach in our graduate program at all, the professor must hold a doctorate and therefore be, technically, a Doctor. This is one of the things that makes Mercy’s graduate program special, that all of our faculty have achieved what’s known as the terminal or final degree in the field. In correspondences with any professor in the program, therefore, it’s appropriate to begin with a salutation such as “Hello Dr. [last name],” or “Dear Dr. [last name],” or even simply “Dr. [last name].” It’s also quite normal to instead begin a correspondence with something like “Hello Professor [last name].” But as earning a doctorate and the formal academic title of Doctor takes a great deal of sacrifice, work, risk, time, and cost, many people who have achieved this distinction will be taken aback, especially in an academic setting, if not addressed, at least in early correspondences, in an appropriately professional way. What we’re talking about here is decorum.

As you develop your collegial relationship with various professors over individual classes, and over the whole of your graduate career, and as your degree of familiarity with certain professors increases over time, it will (or might, depending on the professor) make more and more sense to be more casual with one another in correspondences. Some professors might even ask you to refer to them by their first name rather than their title, or in some other way might indicate that it’s okay to be less formal in salutations and correspondences.

But prior to such familiarity, and prior to a professor indicating or inviting any such thing, please be considerate of corresponding with professors with an awareness of decorum. It is not appropriate, for example, to begin a correspondence with a professor in the graduate program by writing something like “Hey you,” or even by not including any salutation at all and just writing as if you were texting a friend, or sending a message to customer service. Please just reflect on and be considerate of such things when you’re engaging with your professors.

It is entirely appropriate, if you’re unsure or have questions or thoughts about such things as this, to ask your various professors directly about them. Communicating about things is how we develop. The faculty are here to help develop our grad students’ expertise in the fields of literature and writing; but we are also here to help develop our grad students’ sense of decorum appropriate to the field of academia, so to help professionalize and prepare our grad students for potentially entering the field. Thank you, everyone.