On occasion, I get emails in which people address me as Mrs. Hargittai. I’m not suggesting that people need know my personal history or preferences. However, if you are going to contact someone in a professional context and they have a Ph.D. and they teach at a university (both of which are very clear on their homepage where you probably got their email address in the first place), wouldn’t you opt for Dr. or Professor?
Most of the time when someone contacts me and says “Dear Dr. Hargittai” or “Dear Professor Hargittai” the first line of my response is: “Dear X, please call me Eszter.” So the status marker that comes with these is not what’s of interest to me. Rather, I’m intrigued by how gender ties into all this and would love to hear how male junior faculty get addressed in such situations.
Today, I received a message that had an interesting additional component:
Dear Mrs. Hargittai,
Professor Name-of-one-of-my-senior-male-colleagues recommended that I get in touch with you.
My male senior colleague is a Professor while I’m a Mrs. Perhaps not being a full professor is what’s preventing me from being considered a Prof. Given that these notes have always come from Europe (e.g. Germany, Netherlands, Russia), I suspect that may be the issue. Perhaps you’re not considered a Professor until you’re a Full Professor. Nonetheless, Dr still fits even if you don’t find Prof an appropriate greeting.
Another related anecdote underscores the importance of gender in all this. I was presenting at a conference (in the U.S.) a few months ago. It was not necessarily clear who on the panel was a student vs a faculty member, we all looked fairly young. There were two women on the panel and a man. In the end, it turned out that I was the only faculty member, the other woman was a Ph.D. student, the man a Master’s student.
The discussant (seemingly American) stood up to give his comments. He started mine with “Miss Eszter”. I don’t remember how he addressed the other woman. I do, however, remember that he addressed the man – the Master’s student – as “Professor X”. While I realize that my last name may be a challenge to pronounce, everyone on the panel had hard-to-pronounce foreign names so that doesn’t quite explain the distinction in how we were addressed.
When in doubt and you don’t have the necessary information, how about just writing/mentioning both first and last names and skipping the rest?