Friday, December 04, 2009

Gifted

Every few months I get an email about this topic, so here goes:

Is it appropriate to give your graduate adviser a gift when you graduate?

I can't speak for anyone else, but I personally do not want gifts from my students, even the students who became friends/colleagues by the time they graduated. I don't know about other departments/fields/countries, but gift-giving is not routine in my little academic niche.

Every once in a while a student gives me a gift; these are mostly new international students who may be used to a culture of gift-giving. I accept the gifts with polite thanks.

Every once in a while a graduating undergrad is inspired to give me a small geeky gift to thank me for some extra efforts I might have made on their behalf -- e.g. lots of letter-writing, advice, and/or research opportunities above and beyond what is typical etc. That's fine. It's not necessary but I appreciate the sentiment.

My best guess is that in many cases a gift is not expected. If gift-giving were a tradition in a department, I think most people would know about it and therefore students would not be wondering whether they should get something for their adviser. The best people to ask are probably recent graduates.

I don't want tangible gifts, but consider this: Last year my graduating PhD students sent me heartfelt thank you e-mail messages, and I very much appreciated those. The messages made me very happy and, although I delete a lot of my e-mail, I kept those.

Advisers: Which would you rather receive from a graduating student: a sincere and moving thank you note or an aliquot of your favorite food or beverage (chocolate, wine etc.)? (Note: in this poll, 'both' is not an option. You can of course be anonymous, so feel free to be venal.)

64 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, very definitely the sincere and moving comment. The tangible gifts tend to lie around the office gathering dust until someone knocks them over and breaks them...

Anonymous said...

When I graduated undergrad, my advisor gave *me* a gift (as she did for the other undergrad and grad graduating at the same time).

It was a very, very thoughtful, wonderful gift which I still greatly enjoy. :)

NTT said...

hmm, im interested in what others have to say. i just finished my PhD and haven't figured out whether or not to write a sincere thank you to my advisor- I want to, we did not communicate well and I dont believe i've ever adequately said thank you. but said advisor gets weird sometimes about me being female (ie touchy feely). so i did think about a gift, too but would love to hear what others say.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I'll take a bottle of motherfucking jameson!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thankful email is the most appropriate I think, however if student is from a country where gift-giving is considered as a tradition.. well let it be a tiny gift.

kamikaze said...

I am knitting a Klein bottle hat as a present for my PhD advisor when I have defended along with a nice bottle of wine. It never even occurred to me that it would be inappropriate?! To give it before the examination -- yes, but after everything is over and done with?

Anonymous said...

In my limited experience, the gift-giving has generally been the other way around - my father gave one graduating student a copy of Origin of Species, and my supervisor gave a graduating student a tie. I don't know how common that is, or whether it's usual to give gifts the other way, though.

Anonymous said...

My last PhD student left in a huff and that was after I wrote most of his bloody thesis for him and organised an external who would be nice to him. Usually, you end up in the acknowledgement of a thesis, something like "I thank my parents, my dog, my budgie, and - oh yeah - my advisor too". They're typically an ungrateful bunch. A thank-you email would be hugely appreciated but is unlikely to happen, so I'd prefer the bottle of booze.

Anonymous said...

I gave my graduate adviser a bar of chocolate when I was done. It cost a whole $1.99. I don't think it qualifies as a "tangible" gift.

jyby said...

I got examples of both (present and email) and loved both. Probably, the attention matters more than the form of attention. Yet, for presents, I would be worried of accusation or feelings of corruption?

1) A student who learned that my office was broken into and my clock stolen offered me a new one at the end of her internship. I love it and keep it in my office to this day. It reminds me that my efforts at being a good teacher are appreciated (even though she might have offered for another reason).

2) An undergrad I taught and advised sent me an email several years later to thank me on his first publication. I was very proud (even though I do not feel I played such an important role).

Anonymous said...

I am not a direct advisor, thus probably making me unqualified for this particular question, but I do work directly with undergraduate science research students. I love getting thank you notes, and one time a student even sent a thank you postcard from the city of a conference my program helped him attend. The notes make me smile!

Anonymous said...

I'd rather have a note than drinks. But I'd rather have nothing than some of the inappropriate gifts I've been given - clothing, pictures and clutter. I feel guilty giving things away but I won't use them.

BB said...

The best gift is, as you said, heartfelt thanks (hopefully cc'd to your chair or dean as well).

Anonymous said...

I would definitely prefer the thank you note.
Recently Tenured Female Bioscience Professor

phiae01 said...

In my department it is customary to give your advisor a bound copy of your thesis.

Anonymous said...

When I graduated from undergraduate, I baked cookies for all of my letter writers... it was a small department and everybody knew everyone. I think this small gift was appreciated but not expected. When graduating from graduate school, I gave my advisor a present that I had picked up while traveling a few years earlier... it was something very specific that I knew he would appreciate. If I hadn't thought of it then, I wouldn't have given him anything. Gift giving is definitely not the norm in my science field, but I know he appreciated it as I was greated with a big hug (we can debate whether or not that was an appropriate response but that's another story). I think it is an individuals choice but as an advisor now, all I expect is a good thesis to be deposited.

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering the same thing. I just turned in a fellowship application (as a postdoc) and my sponsor spent hours proof-reading, commenting, etc, when I know she has her own application update due.

Anonymous said...

A sincere thank-you note is priceless--I never delete or throw one away. Plus, the source of a sincere thank-you is often surprising--several times they've come from students I butted heads with a few times.

Anonymous said...

I've sent a thank you e-mail to my undergrad supervisor and he sure liked that...though I do have to ask, since it is close to that time of the year again about sending previous supervisors/tutors Christmas cards?

PhD Student said...

What about giving a small thank you to the technicians in the lab? A few months ago I gave one of the technicians some beer as a thank you for going above the call of duty to help me. He practically fell out of his chair in surprise!

Charles said...

Yeah, when I finished my PhD, I gave a bound copy of the thesis to my advisor. At the time, it struck me like giving someone a picture of yourself: it's the kind of gift you can only give to your parents.

I did also include a (handwritten!) thank you note, which he probably appreciated much more than the book.

female Science Professor said...

Re. the issue of thanking the adviser after the budgie and the beagle, I wrote about that a while ago in the context of the thesis defense , but it also happens in the thesis document. It would be interesting to see the results of a study of the relative warmth and text-length involved in thanking nonacademic humans and pets vs. thesis advisers.

Anonymous said...

Gift-giving was the norm in my PhD dept, but not expected. My advisor said he did not expect anything because it is his job, but he never turned down a bottle of wine!

Sometimes the student's parents footed the gift bill and bought gift certificates to one of the nice restaurants in town. Others have also given nice pens.

Anonymous said...

Giving a bound copy of the dissertation to all committee members was an expectation in my doctoral program. I know that my dissertation advisor found this useful because he would loan out ones that he thought were good to his advisees that were writing their dissertations to give them examples.

Anonymous said...

I have received several small boxes of chocolates and candy from undergrads, and once from a grad. They sit around my office while I ponder the possibility that they are somehow tainted. But eventually, I'll gobble them down when I'm working late, or have forgotten my lunch. Haven't been poisoned yet.

So, yes. I'd much prefer a thoughtful email or card.

Anonymous said...

It is inappropriate for students to give gifts to teachers. A thesis defense is supposed to be an honest and open evaluation of a student's work. Receiving gifts can lead to the appearance of bribery.

Now I don't think any faculty member, after years of working with a student, will be bought by a bottle of wine. In reality, the benefits to the advisor of the student graduating are much larger than any reasonable gift, which is why we have thesis committees. Nonetheless, gifts are inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

I have a PhD student defending in January (my first). Should I take him and his family out to a nice restaurant afterward? Or is that not done?

This is a timely topic.

Anonymous said...

My favorite little gift (from a group of grad students I helped to publish their first paper) was custom made for me in recognition of my fondness for cats. It is a very small mobile that the students called "Dreaming of Fish", with a cat on the bottom tier, a moon and a star on the middle tier, and two fish on the top tier. I simply love it, have it hanging in my office, and think of the two students who gave it to me often. And no FSP, even though you may love cats as much as me, you can't have it...

MommyProf said...

Note, definitely.

aceon said...

I gave my advisor a bound copy of my thesis with a nice inscription about what a great advisor he is. I think an actual non-thesis related gift would have been weird.

An intern just asked for my address so she could send me a gift to thank me for all the recommendations I have written for her, which was nice, but maybe a little weird too.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting topic. I recently had a student defend who gave me a monetarily small but very specific to me gift along with a lovely hand written thank you card. The gift was a beverage (non-alcoholic) that I am known to love but only comes from the country where she did her field research. I'm guessing she purchased the gift a year before she gave it to me which means a lot. Sometimes students have a hard time saying things that are on the emotional side and a thoughtful gift shows their gratitude more than they can express otherwise. Advisors in our department are expected to throw our students a party at successful completion of their defense but gifts either way are not the norm. I give each of my students a children's book chosen specifically for them that is somehow related to their research and write a note on the first page. It's small and silly but it fits with other traditions my lab has developed

human said...

Oh. So I shouldn't include the professors I've been working with on my Christmas cookie list? :(

Amy said...

I prefer not to receive gifts, but I do save thank you cards. I've received a variety of gifts ranging from the somewhat inappropriate to small, simple things. On the inappropriate end, a student in my large nonmajors course gave me a $50 gift certificate to an electronics store for writing a letter of recommendation. It seemed much more that was called for, since writing letters is part of the job description! It also seemed vaguely like a bribe in case future letters were needed. I don't think the student intended it that way.

On the other hand, another undergrad gave me a $10 starbucks gift certificate for writing several letters over a couple of years, it seemed a nice token of thanks.

Overall, a small token is OK, a nice thank you card or note is best!

Anonymous said...

My acknowledgments started with thanking my adviser. However acrimonious our relationship may have been, his name is second on my thesis after mine and that should be acknowledged.

I fully knew though that 2 other people have been fighting for me every step of the way once they realized there was a problem (mid 2nd year or so). They were people number 3 and 4 on the thesis sign up page, and they also got acknowledged after my adviser for other things. (Only then did I thank colleagues, family and friends in that order.)

But I know that the above mentioned 2 faculty went out above and beyond the call of duty to help me and protect me from mid/end of year 2 onwards. They are the ones who read my prelim and thesis papers and gave feedback, they are the ones who gave me career advice, they are the ones who read research statements and what not, and they are the ones on whose shoulders I cried once or twice. They are the one who fought for me with my adviser.

I cannot officially leave a paper trail saying to the full extent how much I appreciate their help -- a lesson they have taught me. (Here I haven't even scratched the surface of the controversial things that happened). So I bought them small but meaningful gifts. My adviser got the 3rd one. It would be impolitic if he had not.

The gifts are all the same and clearly reflect me. But they would be a lot more meaningful to those two faculty members, since it is geared towards what they'd like. I gave them privately in their office after the dissertation exam was done. The gifts are the only way I could think to give a token of appreciation when I could not say so in an email/card officially.

The politics in science lead to places where logically, ideally we shouldn't be.

Rosie Redfield said...

I never thought of the bound copy of the thesis as being a gift from the (now former) student to me, but perhaps that's because I always pay for thesis binding (from a grant) and include a copy for me and the lab to keep.

Hope said...

Thanks for posting about this, FSP – the comments have been very interesting. I’m curious if those that prefer a note of thanks to actual gifts prefer it because:

a) the note has no monetary value, and gifts—especially expensive gifts—feel a little like a bribe (even if delivered after the exam/defense); and/or

b) the note is usually more personal, and takes time and effort to write.

Anonymous said...

I see no reason for students to give their PhD advisors gifts. It's the advisor's job, they are just doing their job. Plus, the advisor's name goes on all the students' papers anyway, and they are usually acknowledged in the dissertation. And the professor gets to add one more name to their CV as "students advised". Thus, since the professor is benefitting from the student as well, I see no reason for the student to give the advisor a gift.

swede in us said...

Where I come from it is customary to exchange gifts, the avisor gives something and the PhD student gives something. Nothing supermuch but something that symbolises the time together... one of the people in the group before me got an outdoor game since we usually played that game at his house with the research group. Another one got a necklace.

and the advisor got some car stuff since he was into cars.

I guess it is all about where you come from? I gave my former post doc mentor a nice bottle of bubbly when I left since he'd be super helpful with a visa application I needed. Then again, I have never gotten anything from him, which is perfectly fine!

Anonymous said...

I much prefer thank you letters - especially ones that come years later to the tune of "OMG, you were right about X!". I try to turn down the chocolates and red wine, although some have been insistent.

The very, very best present was a Tower of Hanoi that a group of students bought at a handwork fair for me after we had discussed it in class. I use it every year on the topic of conversion, in between it sits on my window sill with all the geek toys.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

A student who learned that my office was broken into and my clock stolen offered me a new one at the end of her internship.

What kind of fucking freakazoid breaks into a fucking office and steals a motherfucking clock?

DrDoyenne said...

I'd rather have the sincere note, but also appreciate unique gifts.

The most unusual expression of thanks was from a former staff member who gave me a beribboned gift package composed of white wine and a can of vienna sausage (a favorite of field biologists). Very thoughtful...and appropriate pairing!

Kevin said...

I have gotten small presents from students (like a coffee cup hand painted by the student). These tiny tokens of thanks are welcome but unnecessary. More welcome are letters or e-mails from students years later.

I did have one non-student who worked with me (and for whom I paid publication charges) send me a box of steaks a couple of years later (after he had landed a real job). This did strike me as excessive (and not well thought out, since I'm not particularly fond of steak---my wife ended up eating them).

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I read all these responses. Really running out of topics.

Anyways, I gave my advisor a text and a note.

Anonymous said...

I like thank you cards that I can display in my office! You can look at them on frustrating day and feel good :)
So if given a choice I would prefer a thank you card.

Anonymous said...

Definitely culturally determined. Where I'm from (Netherlands) the whole gift-giving is a definite yes. I think it also has to do with how much more official an ordeal the whole PhD defense itself is. E.g. the fresh PhD usually throws a big party somewhere where at least his/her whole family and lab are invited, usually more. Similar for the gifts: in order to give the fresh PhD a gift, money is usually collected not only at his/her own lab, but also at surrounding labs and floors and whoever knows him/her. Advisors definitely get gifts in return. I gave something that I put a lot of effort in and that symbolized our time together, but bottles of wine are always welcome. A gift goes with the speeches that are made back and forth too! As long as everything is done after the fact I really don't see how any gift could be seen as a bribeuniversity/research

Anonymous said...

I have both a handmade item and thoughtful e-mails from PhD students that I have advised, and hold both very dear. I hope the adviser who will receive the knitted Klein bottle appreciates the wonderful gift.

Anonymous said...

I did not give my advisor a gift nor thank-you note when I finished my PhD. But, when I took my dog to obedience class and he 'graduated' with his Canine Good Citizen certificate (from the American Kennel Club), I did give our trainer a gift AND a thank-you card!!

EthidiumBromide said...

I can't speak from the point of view of an advisor as I am still a graduate student, but I spent the summer mentoring an undergraduate "minion." At the end of the summer, he brought in a tray of cheesecake for the lab, and wrote me a very long, heartwarming thank you note. I don't remember if I even ate a piece of cheesecake, but I keep the note in my desk drawer and pull it out to reread whenever I am particularly frustrated and can't remember why I am doing the whole science thing.

Kira said...

Are you kidding me?? There are children dying of starvation, women tortured and opressed...and your big concern is this? Graciously accept your gifts-be thankful you can, auction them on ebay and donate the proceeds.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed a gendered pattern with gifts? When my husband gets a gift from students, it's often wine or whiskey. I get given tea, chocolate, jam - but rarely booze. Perhaps it's that he teaches fewer international students, perhaps this a more general phenomenon?

Generally I accept gifts so as not to avoid hurting people's feelings, but ones from students I hardly know or who I've not yet graded make me feel very uncomfortable.

PUI prof said...

I gave my advisor an expensive and symbolic gift. It seemed to be the culture in our department. I liked the humorous part of the defense where we present the gift in front of the audience and explain the symbolism. Hopefully it distracted a little from some of the goofy data before the questions. :)
p.s. it was an American university.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Are you kidding me?? There are children dying of starvation, women tortured and opressed...and your big concern is this? Graciously accept your gifts-be thankful you can, auction them on ebay and donate the proceeds.

Are you kidding me?? There are children dying of starvation, women tortured and opressed...and your big concern is this? Instead of reading and commenting on blogs, you should get your fucking ass on a plane RIGHT NOW to Madagascar and start helping some farmers hoe their rows! DO IT NOW, HYPOCRITE!!

AsstFemaleProf said...

I'm an Asst. Prof. - I would prefer a meaningful note written to my dept chair or Dean. Either undergrads or grads, but especially the undergrads. If it has to be a gift - the edible kind is best. I don't like throwing away gifts, and the non-edible are just one more thing I have to dust.

Anonymous said...

Another vote in favor of the sincere thank you!

Anonymous said...

Doesn't seem like a big deal to me. People often give gifts and/or thank you cards to co-workers / bosses / etc's to thank them for a job well done. If you think your adviser/student qualifies as having done a good job by teh time student defends, then by all means exchange gifts and/or cards. Otherwise, it shouldn't be required (although some verbal acknowledgement at least would be appropriate)

Anonymous said...

yes, being an advisor is part of the job. But, some go above and beyond. Mine does. I will be getting my advisor a (small, meaningful) gift when I finish. And writing a heartfelt thank you note. When a labmate gets their PhD, the whole lab goes out for dinner, advisor buys for the graduate.

Anonymous said...

I have both given and received gifts from my advisor. He has gotten me things ranging from a t-shirt to something I collect. I have gotten him things when I travel / or things I make (food to paintings). I do take gifts even now when I visit.

Anonymous said...

If to give or not to give a gift to your advisor is a doubt then don't give anything. Giving a gift has to be a personal choice that will make both the student and the advisor comfortable. I think that the gift will be considered a bribe only if the student is a lazy one and doesn't have enough background and results that support his/her defense.

jyby said...

>> A student who learned that my office was broken into and my clock stolen offered me a new one at the end of her internship.

> What kind of fucking freakazoid breaks into a fucking office and steals a motherfucking clock?

I was more annoyed by the stupidity of the act than the thief. They "forgot" to steal my expensive camera in the opposite corner of the office. The guess of the secretaries was that they were disturbed in the act and grabbed the first thing they saw.

Dr. Smith said...

Comrade PhysioProf would have loved to advise me. The evening after my defense, my advisor invited the department to his house for a congratulatory party he hosted in my honor. (It was a very small department). There, I presented my advisor and committee members with high quality bottles of their drink of choice. Most of them were consumed that evening.

I left pretty much immediately to start my postdoc, but I came back to walk in graduation and my mom and grandmother were in attendance. My PhD advisor treated us to a very nice dinner out.

I really appreciated his thoughtfulness, and though we had some rough times during the course of my project, it was nice to get an acknowledgment of my hard work.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth at the end of this long list of comments, I gave my PhD prof a hardbound copy of my dissertation (not exactly cheap) and a handwritten thank-you note. I didn't even think of getting a gift not related to work, even though I was extremely thankful for all his help and said so.

Anonymous said...

How do you feel about a gift of a small donation to the charity of the recipient's choice? (This is to thank letter of reference writers).

aileen said...

As a undergrad graduate, i feel really good when i have given mt thesis adviser a gift or just a simple dinner out to appreciate her effort help me with my thesis. Furthermore, my thesis adviser is the reason why i am graduating this sem!.

Anonymous said...

I've never been really comfortable with verbal expressions of gratitude, though I appreciate them from other people. I'm not sure why, it's just a personality thing that I prefer to express my heartfelt affection and appreciation through gifts I make myself. The time and effort my advisor spent on me was such than a note seemed like a fairly lame way of saying 'thanks,' though I did bind my diss for him and thank him profusely in the acknowledgements. So, I ended up handknitting a custom sweatervest for him after conspiring with his wife on the design and fiber. I suspect he's cut from the same cloth, since he and his wife got me a decorative pin made by artists in his New Mexico community. He still wears my sweater proudly whenever we see each other, I wear my pin on my interview suit, and we remain close.

I think there might be a culture issue at play here - I'm from Appalachia, and there you make people things (food or handcrafts) to express affection and gratitude. Cards and such are considered something you just pick up as an afterthought - nice, but hardly commensurate with a professor's guidance on a dissertation.