Communicating with members of staff

One thing we’ve noticed is that students are sometimes unsure about how to address members of teaching staff. This page offers some suggestions for how to proceed. Please be aware that these are suggestions that pertain to communicating with members of the English department at the University of Lausanne; if you go on exchange, different conventions may apply.

How to address members of staff

We are a casual department. It is perfectly acceptable to address us by our first names. If that makes you uncomfortable, please use our titles. Not sure what the correct title is? Check out the department’s staff page.

TitleHow to address them
Professeur.e (any type)« Professor Smith »
Maître d’enseignement et de recherche« Doctor Smith »
Maître assistant.e« Doctor Smith »
Premier.e assistant.e« Doctor Smith »
Assistant.e diplôme.e« Mister Smith » or « Ms Smith »
Doctorant.e« Mister Smith » or « Ms Smith »
Privat-docent« Doctor Smith »

For anyone else, including chargé.e.s de cours, the rules are not so clear, so good luck! In our department, many of our chargé.e.s de cours hold a PhD and should therefore be addressed as « Doctor » if you want to be formal, but others have not yet attained this title. No one will be mad if you erroneously address them as « Doctor ». The same cannot necessarily be said of the reverse. 😉

tl;dr: use our first names!

Emailing your instructor

Students sometimes find it stressful to write emails to their professors, particularly in their non-native languages. A good general rule of thumb is to treat this like a professional context and behave accordingly. While we are a less formal department, we do appreciate it when students make an effort to compose their emails with care. Here are some tips to help you!

(1) Salutation

The best opening to your email is « Dear NAME », e.g. « Dear Molly » or « Dear Professor Smith » if you’re feeling formal. « Hello NAME » also works if you know your instructor reasonably well.

If you’re not sure whether to use a title or a name, see how the member of staff has signed off in their messages. Do they use their first name? Then go ahead and use it in the salutation!

Avoid addressing us with « Sir » or « Madam ». « Sir Smith » is a knight; « Madam(e) Smith » is either incredibly old-fashioned or referring to someone who runs a brothel. (The salutation « Dear Sir or Madam » is typically reserved for correspondence addressed to an unknown person, such as a job application letter.)

Also avoid greetings that are overly informal, such as « Hey! », « Dude! », or « Help! ». While you may get to a point where you can be more casual with some members of staff, it’s best to open your message a bit more politely.

(2) Content

Please feel free to be direct. We appreciate concise messaging so long as it is polite. Think about the tone (i.e. the way your message sounds). Aim for « businesslike » if you’re unsure of how to begin.

(3) Signing off

There are conventions for how to close a professional email. « All best wishes » or some variation thereof is typically in our department. Other closings that you might find in these types of messages include « (yours) sincerely » or « best/kind regards ».