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December 11, 2023

A lesson in academic etiquette at Hopkins - The dated term still has its applications

By Abby Harri | September 14, 2011

When considering the concept of etiquette in general, notions of corset-entrapped women with folded hands, straight backs, elegant gowns and a vast wealth of seemingly irrelevant information filling their heads comes to mind. But that's from the perspective of a female in 2011. That type of etiquette may have been completely relevant to life in the 1800's, but how do we apply to this somewhat antiquated term to Hopkins life?

For me, the academic world is pretty odd as I've never really been forced into situations where etiquette is important. Just yesterday I ended up empty-handed while searching for something appropriate to wear for a business casual, semi-formal event on campus. For others who have troubles, let me give my perspective on etiquette concerning a specific realm of academic life: professors.

One part of etiquette that can be simple and easy to understand on campus is how to treat professors. This can be especially important when considering that some of them may consistently be your instructor over the four years that you are here (if they lecture in your concentration). Each professor is different, but you should be sure to treat each one formally at first because you don't know what his or her preference may be.

This means that in an email or in person, you address them as Professor Blank or Dr. Whoever, depending on their title. This is very important because some are very specific about this, with good reason. It took hard work to earn that title, so don't feel that someone is being picky and too formal by requesting this.

On the opposite end, like many of my professors, a person might be a little skeptical or even uncomfortable about the need for this formality and request that they call you by their first name. This is completely understandable as well, and you should also remember this request.

Neither should be considered better or more understandable, and like I said, you shouldn't assume that a certain professor prefers either. This is key, because some assume that because a professor teaches in a certain department, like Writing Seminars or Film and Media Studies, that they are more chill and don't care.

Firstly, if they do have you call them by their first name it doesn't mean that you shouldn't respect their department as much as any other. When asking one of my professors what he would like to be called a few weeks ago, he responded that he didn't care and offered "Bubba" as a suggestion.

Let's be clear: this doesn't mean that I don't take him seriously in his field ā€” he knows his stuff. Every professor has earned the right to be where her or she is and has extensive knowledge in the area in which they teach or lecture; this is coming from the perspective of a humanities student at Hopkins. It's not worth the time to discuss whether one area of study is better than the other, because they all have their place and importance, but that is a discussion for another day.

Once you get to know a professor on a more personal level, it's better to wait until they confirm that you can call them by their first name instead of you assuming so. From my experience, what happens is they will correct you if you call them by a formal name and they are comfortable with you calling them something else.

Also, this is a big step, so you shouldn't take it lightly. Knowing your professor well enough to call them by their first name (or Bubba) may mean that you have earned a lifelong friend, or at least a lifelong acquaintance.

Even if you haven't reached the level of acquaintance that allows you to call your professor after a Forrest Gump character, don't worry. Everyone is different and views professional life differently. It doesn't have to be a maze of unwritten rules. Just proceed with caution and you'll be fine.

To wrap it up cheesily: "life is a box of chocolates; you never know which one you're gonna get."

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