Saturday, June 19, 2010

On Titles and Gender

The recent discussion on gender in science at FSP's blog (inspired by FSP's column at CHE) have got me rethinking on a pet peeve of mine: students and titles. At Prodigal U, the departmental culture is such that students call the professors "Dr. Professor" unless invited to use something else. I have my group members call my "Prodigal", but I don't mind being called "Dr. Academic" or "Professor Academic" if they prefer.

When I teach my large undergrad class, many of the students call me "Miss", which drives me UP THE WALL! Even worse is when they call me Miss in email, after sending on a forwarded mail where they called a colleague "Dr. MaleProf". I sign my emails to students as "Dr. Academic", I call myself "Dr. Academic" on the first class, and I refer to all other profs as "Dr. Colleague". This year, I have the added service requirement of being the adviser for our incoming majors, so I anticipate even more "Miss" than ever before.

I am looking for a way to correct them (I would even prefer "Prodigal" to "Miss", which I hate! Outside academia, I use "Ms" anyway) without sounding like a pompous ass. I don't want to get more hate in my teaching evals (which go in the tenure file) than I already do for being a strict female prof. Any advice, or should I just suck it up until I have tenure?

In some ways, it is not all about me. I also want to get them properly socialized--I have been to several conferences where the session chair has called all the male presenters "Dr." and all the female presenters "Ms.", even when the female presenters are professors, and some of the male presenters are students. Getting them away from this at a young age seems like a good idea!


Dr.Girlfriend said...

I hate Miss, Mrs., and Ms with a passion.

Dr. does not revel my gender or my martial status, neither of which should come into play outside of my personal life. I do not believe Dr. is really appropriate outside of my professional life, but I am not going to tolerate Miss or Ms!

I prefer Girlfriend (even from my students), but if someone insists on a title I will get pompous on their ass and insist on Dr. Girlfriend. I find people who insist on Ms. pompous so take great pleasure in out-pompousing them.

My 3rd graders kept calling me "miss" and I did found this cute. I would never tolerate being called "miss" by an adult student!

Next time you are at one of them conferences you should make a point of thanking "Mr. Session Chair" for his kind introduction - Ha!

GMP said...

A tough one. I can tell you what I do:

My group call me by my first name. I don't like any other students calling me by my first name (it implies familiarity which isn't there), and I introduce myself as Prof. LastName in the first class and I also have Prof. FirstInitial LastName on the syllabus (so my first name does not appear on syllabus or class website, just 1st initial; this was advice from a senior female prof who found useful in minimizing being referred to by first name).

Prof. Lastname or Dr. Lastname are both fine with me. Still some undergrads will refer to me by my first name, which I hate but I don't correct them either. I try to ignore it.

Another issue you touched upon are teaching evals and strictness: I recommend that you remain as firm as feel necessary in class; don't be overly accommodating out of fear of teaching evals dropping. I actually found that when I stopped being too accommodating (e.g. I now have a really strict HW policy), the evals went up. Not sure if there is a causality but there is definitely a correlation. I just lay down the rules clearly during the 1st class and it's all on the syllabus in writing, so students are usually OK with it. I don't think being strict is bad for them or your evals per se, as long as they understand the rules. But this is my experience, other may disagree of course.

One thing to help with your and students' satisfaction with the class would be to do additional informal mid-semester evaluations. You can write a questionnaire up yourself (I can send you what my dept uses, it's pretty generic), and these would be just for your benefit. I think these let the students know you care about their opinion while there is still time to implement changes.

(Btw, I really really like your blog. It's one of my favorites! And thanks for supportive comments over at my place. :)

Hope said...

I would flash the offending students my biggest, most confident smile and say, “Please call me Prof./Dr. Academic” (whichever you prefer), and then quickly move on. I don’t think this needs to be a huge deal and probably won’t be to your students.

On the other hand …. If you think about it, your students should definitely call you “Dr.” or “Prof.,” unless invited to do otherwise. But you should refer to them as “Mr.” or “Ms.” Now I realize that no one does this, and I’m not actually suggesting that you do it. But I hate it when people I don’t know (e.g., telemarketers or customer service reps) refer to me by my first name – especially when I’m mad at them for screwing something up! :-) Assuming a level of familiarity which simply isn’t there doesn’t strike me as friendly, just rude.

Hope said...

@ Dr. Girlfriend: I find people who insist on Ms. pompous....

"Ms" is pompous?! Or was that a typo?

prodigal academic said...

Dr. Girlfriend you find Ms. pretentious? I like the fact that it has nothing to do with my marital status. I think the French have it right there--all men are Monsieur and all women are Madam. What do you use instead?

GMP thanks for the nice comments--I am glad you like the blog. I agree with you on the strictness thing. In my classes, I am very upfront with the course requirements and expectations, and I review them again after each midterm (I run two in my big class). I haven't tried asking for feedback in the term, but that is a good idea.

I got decent evaluations, mostly split between people who really liked the class, and people who hated it/me. Fortunately, this year we added a question about expected grade, so I can show that the really bad evaluations are from people who expect to fail the class. I have noticed that students expect me to be more "motherly" or more like their high school teachers, which is really annoying. Most of them get over it, but the ones that don't write some really nasty comments.

Hope, I totally agree with you about forced informality. I hate being called Prodigal by people I don't know--I much prefer Ms. Academic. I would totally call my students by last name, but they would think it was really strange since none of the other profs do. That, and we have many, many students with the same last names (much more common than the same first name, even in a class of 200+).

Hope said...

Fortunately, this year we added a question about expected grade….

Ha!! I am totes vindicated! I suggested that evals should contain a question like this some time ago (think it was @ FSP’s – not sure though), but nobody took me seriously.

I was thinking of one prof in my dept. who *totally* sucks up to the students, giving almost everyone an A and making it clear that he intends to do this from the start. It’s like an unwritten agreement between him and his students: you be “nice” to me, and I’ll be “nice” to you. I find it very difficult to respect him for that, since he’s obviously buying his good evals; and it’s just not fair to other faculty who work very hard and actually care that their students learn something.

One other bit of advice: if you do conduct midterm evals, make sure to acknowledge the comments in some way, especially those that appear on many or most of the evals. As a student, it’s hard to tell which profs are interested in feedback from me and which aren’t. Unless you make the situation clear, your students may assume that midterm evals are just another hoop that you (and they) have to jump through, and that their comments will probably wind up in your circular file.

GMP said...

One other bit of advice: if you do conduct midterm evals, make sure to acknowledge the comments in some way, especially those that appear on many or most of the evals. As a student, it’s hard to tell which profs are interested in feedback from me and which aren’t.

I second what Hope said above. I go through the evaluations and the next time I talk with the class about them. Acknowledge what people have written and if and how you plan to address it. For instance, I always get comments that I speak too fast, but I explain that's a personal trait that is really hard to control and that if I pay too much attention to the speed then what I say suffers. Sometimes there are mechnical issues such as "writing on part of board that's obscured"; that's easy to fix. There are also comments, perhaps, on timeliness of returning work, or amount of homework etc. I think it's important to let the students know you really want to improve the experience for them and that you have thought about what can be done. Even comments such as "the material is too hard" or "I will never use it in my life" or "The class is boring" can be addressed in a manner where you acknowledge you've heard them but that there is absolutely no doubt in your mind that the material is important, delivered with care, and that they can master it with hard work.

It's always hard to get even one of those "I hate this class/teacher" evals... But as long as you are doing well overall (e.g. your averages are where the dept expects them to be) try to not let them bother you too much. I save the nice fan emails from students (I also got a few cards in my day!) saying that people liked my teaching, and these are well worth looking at after you've been upset by a particularly nasty eval...