Course norms

What should we call each other? #

Teachers #

For most teachers in college, the conventional answer is “Professor [LAST NAME]” or “Doctor [LAST NAME].” If the teacher’s name were Albus Dumbledore, you would call them “Doctor Dumbledore,” “Professor Dumbledore,” or just “Professor” for short. In an email, you might write “Dr. Dumbledore.”

Brandon: For me in particular, we have a bit of an awkward situation to deal with. Tufts has given me the title “Lecturer,” not “Professor,” and I’d feel like a bit of a fraud asking you to call me by a higher rank than I am, so “Professor” is out. Also, I don’t have a doctorate degree (a Ph.D.), so “Doctor” is out as well. This leaves us with a few options.

  • Mr. Stafford
  • Brandon

The good news is that you get to pick. As I have repeatedly told my 7-year-old daughter, I don’t care what words you use; I do care about the tone of your voice. If you were to call me, “PROFESSOR STAFFORD!” in the same tone that my daughter uses for, “I WILL NEVER NEVER TAKE A DEEP BREATH AGAIN!”, I would be irritated with you, even though you chose respectful words. On the other hand, people have been calling me “Brandon” every day for the last 4 decades, so it feels fine to me.

I use the he/him/his pronoun series.

Kristen: I’m equally comfortable with students calling me “Kristen” or “Professor Wendell.” Technically, Tufts has given me the title “Associate Professor.” I do have a doctorate so you could call me “Dr. Wendell,” but I don’t request that because I’m accustomed to saving the title “doctor” for physicians.

I use the she/her/hers pronoun series.

Students #

Our practice is to refer to students by their first names. If you’d prefer us to address you differently, please let us know. In addition to working to learn, and frequently use, all of your names, we’ll also work to learn your preferred pronouns, if you’ve posted them to SIS or written them on your ME 30 box. If we get it wrong, we’re very open to your correction - we hope you will let us know!

Does this really matter? #

The way we address each other affects our relationships and the extent to which we feel recognized as members of a community. It’s important to us, to the kind of learning environment we want to establish, and to your individual learning, that we all feel known and seen.
On our side, as instructors, the truth is that if you call us by the wrong title, it’s okay, and we will probably pretend not to be irritated with you even if we feel irritated inside. This is called presenting a professional persona, and it’s one of the skills that you need to learn to be a good engineer. On the other hand, we want you, as students, to be called what you’d like to be called.

Your engineering persona #

One of the major skills of an engineer is working collaboratively in teams. Over time, you should cultivate a persona that you adopt when you are engaged in engineering.

Great engineers are particularly good at giving engineering criticism that makes you feel enlightened, rather than beaten down. Here are some suggestions to help you get started.

Criticize the design, not the person. When you feel criticized, check whether the target might be the design rather than you. You might adopt Jon Postel’s Robustness Principle, from section 1.2.2 of the IETF’s RFC1122, “Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send.”

A few examples:

  • ❤ “I’m worried this part won’t be strong enough.” ❤
  • ⚠ “You’re out of your mind! This will never work!” ⚠

Be specific in your criticism. Try to anticipate failures and describe failure modes.

  • ❤ “I’m worried the wood will slide under the tape, and then the upper deck will collapse.” ❤
  • ⚠ “This design is bad. So bad. It just is.” ⚠