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I am a Chinese student. I was emailing a professor for graduate study opportunity. He replied with the title: Dear Mr. Li Actually, I am a female. Would it be a little strange if I told him in my reply? and how do I put this, should I say "I am a female?" Thank you very much.

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Give him a call and acknowledge his Email,he'll know you're a female ! –  Makky Jan 19 at 22:08
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Hello! I'm glad you were able to act on an answer you got last night. But please, don't edit a new question into an existing one. This question is, more or less, finished; if you want to ask another, please ask it separately. Thank you! –  snailboat Jan 20 at 4:00
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What does it matter? Once you meet, he'll know your gender. –  hd1 Jan 20 at 4:46
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This may be more of an etiquette question rather than an English one, but you could soften the blow by saying that Wei is a woman's name, and let him deduce for himself that you are female. –  Andrew Grimm Jan 20 at 5:03
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@AndrewGrimm - You're assuming that Wei is the O.P.'s real name (which may not be the case). Moreover, are you sure that Wei is always a woman's name? This website suggests otherwise; and this one suggests the professor's guess wasn't a bad one. –  J.R. Jan 20 at 13:19

6 Answers 6

up vote 34 down vote accepted

How about you reply like this:

Dear Professor Smith,

(content of your reply)

Thanks and Regards,
Ms. Li Wei

That avoids the issue of "correcting" him altogether. He would hopefully get the hint.


Edit: Per StoneyB's suggestion in the below comment, I changed Miss to Ms..

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PS: I usually avoid using a salutation with my own name, and it is considered impolite/imprudent by many, but in this case, an exception could be made. –  Happy Jan 19 at 17:20
    
Thank you for your answer. Sometimes I think I can be casual with professors and sometimes I am not sure if it is impolite. –  Wei Jan 19 at 17:33
    
yeah, I think so. It is strange to add a title to my name, perhaps (Miss) Wei Li? –  Wei Jan 19 at 17:33
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@Wei Ms. [or (Ms.)] would perhaps be more decorous today, since your marital status is not in question. –  StoneyB Jan 19 at 17:53
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This is a subtle solution; maybe too subtle. Correspondents frequently spell my name incorrectly (Mathew vs Matthew) even though I write my own name in all of my replies. Sometimes I consider writing "Mattttthew" just to draw attention to it and make a point, but I've never actually gone through with it. Then again, "Miss" is easier to spot than a single extra 't'... –  MatthewD Jan 20 at 4:30

I agree with the suggestion offered by Happy & StoneyB; that is, you could simply sign your name with "Ms.", and hope that he notices and gets the hint.

That said, your question asked about a good way to phrase it.

I think the best policy is to be gracious and try not to embarrass the other party. As for the use of "female," you could use that, or you could say "a woman" instead. Here's what I might recommend:

By the way, I noticed you greeted me using "Mr." Perhaps there's a little mix-up there, as I am a woman. No offense taken.

You might also soften the blow by using an emoticon.

By the way, I noticed you greeted me using "Mr." I just wanted to let you know that I'm a woman. But please don't worry about it. :-)

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This is a good suggestion, however, in the given context, one needs to be more careful, since the OP is probably just getting to know the professor, and written communication carries a high risk of misunderstanding, especially if it is the only or the main mode of communication between the two. –  Happy Jan 19 at 19:08
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@Happy - I don't believe a professor would be offended by either of the suggestions I have provided here, and I think the meaning would be pretty clear. –  J.R. Jan 19 at 19:38
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It might just be me (and this probably goes a bit out of the scope of the question) but in text form (and even with the emoticon) your "No offense taken" sounds as if you really mean the opposite. My thought process is "Well if they really weren't offended, they probably wouldn't have even thought to mention it. At the very least, they must think that this is something which could be offensive." It sounds like a sort of back-handed chastisement, to me. I'd prefer the version with the emoticon, but not the final sentence. But that's just me, and I agree with everything else you've said! –  WendiKidd Jan 19 at 21:56
    
@Wendi - Maybe that needs to be another question: If you're afraid someone might be embarrassed, and you want to assure them not to worry about it, how can you say so? As for me, if I assumed a She was a He, and the subsequently had to be informed otherwise, I'd be a little red-faced (embarrassed) about it, and I would appreciate a quick acknowledgement that says, "No harm, no foul," or "No biggie," or "Don't worry about it," or "No offense taken." –  J.R. Jan 19 at 23:05
    
@J.R. Reading your comment, I think it actually might just be the fact that "no offense" is also used sarcastically that stood out to me. Your other suggestions don't sound negative to me at all. But since it's not uncommon to begin with "No offense, but..." and then say something offensive, I might have been making that connection in my mind. :) –  WendiKidd Jan 19 at 23:50

This is a recurring problem in email conversations for people with Chinese names, as when only seeing the English transliteration and not the actual Chinese character of the name, it can be impossible to infer the person's gender.

In some business conversation I encountered, people would add a hint to their email signature, for example

Li Wei (Ms.)
Title, function
Company name
Contact details

I don't know if you're using a signature, but this would definitely be a subtle way of letting the professor know that you're female and also of avoiding this problem in the future.

Maybe in this case, since the professor has presumably already seen your old signature, you could think about about explaining this to him in the postscriptum of your next email:

PS: I happened to notice that you adressed me as Mr. Don't worry about it though, that's actually not the first time this has happened. Since my name makes it very easy for this to occur, I have now added a little hint to my signature.

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Thank you for your answer. By email signature do you mean the one I write or the one that automatically goes with my every email? –  Wei Jan 20 at 3:32
    
I mean the one that you can set up to automatically be attached to the bottom of all your emails. I don't mean the final sentence of your email, which you will usually write manually, like "Best wishes, Name". –  sarkast Jan 20 at 4:28

This happens all the time in academia and in the business world, too. I would just suggest always getting in the habit of putting Ms. in front of your name when there may even be the hint of an issue. I work at a university where there are lots of students coming and going and I see this all the time.

Believe me the professor is probably trying to be diligent and will definitely notice if there is a Ms. in front of the name the next time. I know I would. If it happens repeatedly after you start using the Ms. prefix, then I would explicitly call attention. But probably not before. After all, at this point it is just a single character mistake in an email (Mr. vs. Ms.) and I would treat it as such until it is clear that the prof. is clearly not paying attention.

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Thanks~ Should I use "Ms." or "Miss"? –  Wei Jan 20 at 3:41
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@Wei - If this professor is in the U.S., use "Ms." "Miss" is rarely used here now, as some consider it to be a bit condescending. Apparently, your professor has enough trouble keeping the Mr.'s and the Ms.'s straight – I wouldn't recommend adding another dimension. –  J.R. Jan 20 at 7:24
    
Thank you for your answer. I didn't know that. (Because in China, we never use "Ms." in front of a college student's name. If one has to use, it would be "Miss".) –  Wei Jan 21 at 6:35
    
Definitely use "Ms." in the United States. I've only seen "Miss" used professionally by pre-college teachers. I can't speak to other countries. –  espertus Jan 23 at 0:11

If this happens from time to time, you may want to consider changing your email contact information so that your 'From' name in your email client is set to 'Ms. Wei Whatever.' That way, you can still be informal in the body of your emails yet you are giving more information to new contacts in a perfectly acceptable and non-confrontational manner.

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Knowing more about the style of his answer would help focusing this diplomatic operation better, but Happy's excellent suggestion is almost surely the best bet.

If you still don't quite like it for some reason (you haven't marked it accepted), here's an alternative idea, that might work.

Assuming his answer was encouraging, and you are replying him because your case is proceeding (rather than to just tell him you are a woman ;) ), then that means a CV must be involved somewhere in the process. So, just add a field to your personal data section:

    Gender: female

(In case you've already submitted one without that, you can almost always find a way to re-send an updated/fixed version.)

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It would be strange to explicitly list one's sex on a CV. What I advise my students is to put "(Ms.)" or "(Mr.)" in front of their name to help the recipient. –  espertus Jan 20 at 0:16
    
Maybe, but that's not my invention. In the computer industry (where I work) people come from various countries, with cryptic names, and the "sex" field is not so rare, and it's been there exactly to prevent situations like what this topic is about. –  lunakid Jan 20 at 19:58
    
@espertus BTW, just realized, that I used the word "Sex" instead of "Gender" in the suggestion above. With that "softening", I'd argue that it's not strange even for more conservative fields than technology, e.g. have a look at this example (at about.com). –  lunakid Jan 21 at 23:21
    
Also consider this: "While some of this information [like sex, age etc.] may be required in a CV, it should be left out of a resume." (found here; note that I was referring to CVs.) –  lunakid Jan 21 at 23:32
    
I stand by what I said, even for CVs. American employers are not supposed to consider gender, age, or other information not directly related to the job. I'm a computer scientist and have been involved in many academic and industry job searches. I rarely see demographic information on a CV except from foreigners. Gender can be indicated more subtly with a parenthesized courtesy title. Putting it next to the name also communicates that you're mentioning it only so you can be addressed properly. Otherwise it can read like: Hire me because I'm a man/woman. –  espertus Jan 23 at 0:09

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