What do you call your advisor?

Not Jim or Sam or Sally or Jane. Or Dr. Acula. But how do you refer to your advisor when you’re talking to someone else? Do you call him/her “my advisor”? Do you call him/her “my boss”? Do you call him/her “that person I see once every two weeks who provides the money for me to get my PhD”?

This is a Sunday unScientific Survey. Leave your answer in the comments.


  1. #1 Julie Stahlhut
    February 10, 2008

    Usually “my advisor” to most people, and maybe “my major prof” to a few others who were or had been grad students. I don’t remember ever calling him “my boss”; we had a really informal working relationship with little or no rank-pulling.

    As a postdoc, it’s always been a challenge to find the right term. While “boss” isn’t completely inaccurate, it doesn’t really describe my working relationship with the PIs who have funded my positions. “Advisor” kind of works, but is less precise than it would be for a grad student.

    Of course, for people in my life who haven’t been through the grad school experience, I have to explain “postdoc” first. 🙂

  2. #2 Andy
    February 10, 2008

    “My advisor,” if it’s someone who doesn’t know her or know of her. “Cathy,” if they do. Never “Dr.” She’d make fun of me.

  3. #3 Sarah
    February 10, 2008

    Same as Andy — “Jerry” if they know who I’m talking about, “my advisor” if they don’t.

  4. #4 "GrrlScientist"
    February 10, 2008

    “my advisor” for my diss advisors (i had a co-advisorship on my committee) and either “my advisor” or “my boss” for my postdoc advisor, depending upon whom i was talking to.

  5. #5 Ben
    February 10, 2008

    Advisor to most, PI to others who know what it is. Sometimes I miscalculate and get: “What? Your private investigator?”

  6. #6 Change
    February 10, 2008

    “My adviser” to people who don’t know him, “Acula” with my labmates and other grad student friends in the department, “Dr. Acula” to other people that know him.

  7. #7 kevin z
    February 10, 2008

    If I’m not sure people know him: my advisor
    If I know people know him: his first name (or a nickname among the grad students in our lab that we never call him out in the open.)

  8. #8 dz
    February 10, 2008

    “Ken” among my friends, because he is an established character within the stories I tell
    “My PI” among other scientists, students
    “Dr. So-and-so, my boss” for everyone else (family, acquaintances, humanities students)

  9. #9 vil
    February 10, 2008

    “The person who made my life hell for 4 years” or “Assface”

  10. #10 Karen
    February 10, 2008

    Depends on context. “My friend Dave” if I’m talking to someone who doesn’t know my advisor’s name, and we’re talking about something not related to my studies. Ex: “My friend Dave bought a new hybrid car last year, and he’s really happy with it.”

    If I’m referring to him in an official capacity, and the listener isn’t familiar with the cast of characters at my school, it’s “my advisor Dave”. If I’m talking with people in the department, it’s just “Dave”. We’ve only got one.

    Caveat: I study (working on an MS, not a PhD) in a small department in a large state university. It is customary to address all faculty here by their first names, even for undergraduates. Admittedly, most of our undergrads are not just out of high school, and have worked in environments where everyone was addressed by first names, even the CEO of the company. For this crowd, being on a first-name basis is not an indicator of familiarity.

  11. #11 Jim Thomerson
    February 10, 2008

    Doc is a widely used. I think that’s what most of my students called me. One of my colleagues insists that all students call him by his first name. I never felt comfortable with that. However, when my students finished their MS (no PHD program) I privately told them to call me Jim. Same with my BS people out in the job world.

    When I completed my dissertation defense, all the faculty present, one by one, addressed me as Doctor, and congratulated me. I was touched and impressed.

  12. #12 themadlolscientist
    February 10, 2008

    My ex used to call his “Crazy Ed.” But so did everyone else, even the man himself on occasion.

    Other than that, most everyone I knew was on a first-name basis with their advisors except for the department head (who came from one of those “Old Families” for whom the Pilgrims were a bunch of upstarts), the dean (who bore an amazing resemblance to Groucho Marx and got called “Groucho” by the students whenever his back was turned), and a couple of profs who were almost old enough to be our grandparents. Those few were always “Doctor.”

    My former Significant Other tends to be pretty formal in general and calls almost all his profs “Doctor,” even after they ask him to call them by their first names. He even refers to himself as “Mr.” when he answers the phone. (He’s been ABD for about 7 years now.) I don’t know why he does it, but it always bugged the crap out of me. Oh well, he’s someone else’s problem now. :-\

    @Jim T.: =LOL= I thought my ex was gonna bust when the committee all shook his hand called him “Doctor.” it was about all I could do not to ROFLMAO. (OK, I was bustin’ too.)

    “PI”? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that term.

  13. #13 Michele
    February 12, 2008

    I called him Dave to most of my friends, and since he was the only Dave in my life at the time, it was sufficient. To those whom I didn’t speak to that often, I called him “my advisor” or “my boss”. During a few periods of time, I called him “that f-ing a-hole who is making my life miserable”. But that is an obligatory stage during the developmental pathway of a grad student, and we are past that now.

  14. #14 oliveoyl
    February 14, 2008

    Most people in North America would laugh at this. As a person raised in South Asia, we never got used to calling faculty by first names. We called everybody “Sir” or “Madam” irrespective of whether they were your advisor, PI, teacher etc. Funny ah!
    I knew it was brutally insulting for my Masters advisor in the US to call him “Sir”, and inspite of trying too hard, I couldn’t get rid of it. He told me a couple times but I guess later gave up & adapted ( read by no choice) to this idiosyncrasy of mine. But I was careful not to embarass him in public, so in front of everyone else I called him Dr So & So or just by his first name. But in front of him – never could utter his first name. I guess there was this whole awe filling & respect for the great scientist thing that kept bugging me.
    Thankfully my PhD advisor turned out to be just a few years elder to me, an upcoming young scientist whom I first met when he was postdoc-ing. So there was no choice here & I happily call him by his first name. No qualms, no awe here! It is very healthy:)

New comments have been disabled.