Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Gifted Students

A reader writes:

I have a summer intern (in this case, an undergraduate), who has done a lot of excellent work for me this summer. I am looking for gift suggestions as a way of expressing my thanks for (in this case 'his') hard work that was far above expectations. I had thought of (a) a nice lunch out; (b) university-wear - seems blah; (c) or an Amazon gift card - the fungible option.

Of course I realize that the student is getting a lot already (payment, research experience, probable future letters of recommendation). This isn't a long-term relationship like an advisee or post doc - its one summer.


Anyway, do you counsel for/against such gifts, and if you are for them, do you have suggestions that have been well-received in the past?


**************

I have previously discussed the issue of gifts from students to professors (typically as thanks for writing reference letters, or as a general thanks for years of support and advising), but not the other way around. Note, however, that in the comments to the post linked above, one person mentioned that their father, a professor, gave his graduating students a tie or a copy of On the Origin of Species. I do not know the era of the father's academic career, but somehow I doubt there is much tie-giving these days*.

Anyway, I do not typically give students thank-you gifts, although I have given gifts on various occasions, including:

- When a student borrows a book or science gizmo from me and I think they would benefit a lot from having their own, I might say "Keep it". This is more of an encouragement than a thank-you gift.

- Sometimes I get an idea for a strange or humorous (in my opinion) item -- for example, a T-shirt festooned with a particularly unusual or stunning figure from a student's thesis. This is sort of a gift, but not really, especially if a committee member wears the T-shirt.. Mostly this is just intended to lighten the mood or mark an occasion.

- Once, years ago when my group had been going through a particularly rough time owing to the extreme behavior of one unbalanced person (not me!), I got everyone together at a Mexican restaurant and gave out goofy presents that each had a specific meaning or symbolism for the recipient. This made us all laugh, and was a good way to get us all back on track as a (reasonably) happy, functioning group.

Of the possibilities listed in the e-mail above, I guess I would go for the nice lunch out. I've done that before, typically inviting various group members and colleagues to make an event out of it. But giving routine tangible gifts, such as gift cards or U-wear, to excellent students? No, I haven't done that, and can't imagine that I would ever do that.

Have you given (or received) a gift as a student, from a professor? What was it and how did you feel about it? Or, even if you have not given or received, do you think there is anything strange or wrong about professor-student gift-giving?



* except possibly in some engineering departments, in which tie-giving may well be rampant.

38 comments:

m said...

I have twice received gifts at the end of TA'ing a course, so it was as a graduate student and a pretty different situation than the one described above. In both cases, I had done some "extra" work not normally expected of a TA, mostly just because I enjoy the teaching, and the gifts were unexpected, but it was nice to feel appreciated. And in one case, the professor and I shared a hobby, so the gift was pretty awesome and perfect for me. In the other case, it was a gift card, which was very nice and useful, too. But for a research assistant undergrad, I agree with FSP that a nice lunch seems more appropriate. Or, I feel like university paraphernalia could work if it's a visiting student as a sort of goodbye memento.

Jessica said...

Thank you lunches are a really common 'gift' in our department, especially for undergrads. Everyone enjoys them, and I think it's always a good choice.

Once during my undergrad career I did receive a gift card - it was a also a very nice gift and given my close relationship with my supervisor at the time, it felt appropriate.

Klaas said...

Why not go to the pub for a beer?

Random CS grad student said...

Give them a nice (somewhat relevant/sciencey) book with a nice note. It might serve as an inspiration for the next few years. I would certainly take that as the highest of honors coming from a professor/mentor/teaching.

Anonymous said...

my phd advisor hosted lunches at his house for the lab everytime one of us graduated. He also tried to set up other traditions (champagne bottle that we would sign, a gift of a coffee mug with figures/pictures from our dissertations).

it was a nice touch and definitely appreciated; however it was quite unusual in that he was otherwise an extremely private person with our (occasional) conversations limited exclusively to research. we didn't even know when he got tenure!

Carmelo Fruciano said...

When I obtained my Doctorate, I received a book of naturalistic pictures from a Professor who was not my advisor but with whom I worked a lot. The Professor also put a dedication in the book writing "Ad maiora".
While the book was only tangentially related to my research (i.e. it wasn't useful for my scientific development), I appreciated a lot both the fact of receiving the gift and the dedication the Professor wrote. I never considered the gift inappropriate.

KarinL said...

I would go with a fourth option, giving away a relevant book. Books are never wrong as gifts, no matter what kind of relationship one has.

Lindsay said...

I received a memory card for my camera after one summer position and gave an Amazon gift card for a summer volunteer. I thought both were great. I would just suggest being consistent. Don't just give gifts to the great students the less than greats are sure to find out and be offended. It that case, I think the gifts don't necessary need to match up in grandeur. This is slightly different but I have seen advisors through little baby or wedding showers for students (mostly excuse to have cake as a lab- but still a gift was given to student). Or we even had a lab birthday party for everyone that had a birthday in the last 6months (once again, just an excuse to eat cake together).

keri said...

As an undergrad, I received an immunology textbook as a thank-you gift from a professor after a summer's work. I thought that was an extremely nice gift and a good way to encourage me to continue with my studies in the field - and it worked!

More commonly, the labs I have been in have taken the student out to a last lunch to say goodbye - which I think is also a very nice option.

Lauren said...

I am a PhD student at a medium-sized research university (but the biology department is small). Our lab is the largest in the department and we frequently have visiting scholars--usually foreign grad students who come to spend a semester to a year in our lab. At the end of their stay, we typically take them out to lunch at the faculty club and give them a goodbye gift. These have gotten fairly extravagant, including an iPad. I think that is more than is necessary, and a smaller gift would be sufficient.

Daniel said...

In my department (as a student), faculty/student lunches were not uncommon, especially if working on a project together. At graduation, my chair gave me a business card case and the rest of the committee gave me a gift card to the local office store for resume paper. While the message was rather pointed, it was also a great encouragement.

Anonymous said...

In my previous lab, gift-giving was standard when anyone left the lab, even the summer students. The summer students got small gifts, but if you had been there for a bigger chunk of time the gifts were substantial. It was a big lab though, about 15 people strong, so plenty of people to chuck in a fiver. I don't know how common this would be, even in the same department, though.

Anonymous said...

Books is stupid, no one reads anymore.

Gift cards are tacky.

Brandi said...

I tell my students to write thank you notes to their supervisors/mentors at the end of the experience, so why can't it be done the other way around too? Everyone loves a heartfelt thank you card, especially when it includes specific thanks for going above and beyond. I would also agree that a nice lunch is always appreciated. Students may have the money to eat out once in a while, but a step up from where they normal might go or a special place you think they'd like would be fun!

Hawkeyegirl said...

Bith my graduate and postdoc mentor would take the lab and the undergrad or summer students out to lunch when they were finished. Not a fancy place but just somewhere we could all have lunch and chat.

Cheesey Chemist said...

Group outing for lunch, afternoon tea with the student.

When I was an undergrad, I had a high school aged intern from India or Nepal and he left me a small trinket box with a decoration like one would find in Indian or Nepalese trinket boxes.

When I left for grad school, I gave the postdoc I was working with a trinket box as well, made of abalone shell pieces. She keeps her crochet hooks in it. I didn't know that was a hobby of hers either.

A professor I TA'd with nominated me for a teaching award I received. I found a vintage pennant from his graduate program (which was also in his home state) at an antique store (also difficult because that institute is a big rival of my undergrad institute). I wrote a gracious 'thank you' note, calligraphed his initials on the envelope, and gave both to him.

If you select a physical item, make it well-thought and sincere. I agree with a previous posters that it should be on par with what a less-astounding undergrad might receive. I don't believe it has to be related to science exactly, just something that you know or hope the individual will enjoy.

That and a sincere note of appreciation.

Anonymous said...

My summer advisor gave me an IDL (programming software) license.

Anonymous said...

If you in any branch of biomedical science give her/him "The Eight Day of Creation" by Horace Judson.

In my opinion the best piece of science writing ever, and one of the reasons I am in this business,

Mark P

Anonymous said...

I have received many small, wonderful gifts from students over the years. Three come to mind:
1) a hand-made (very small) mobile from 3 grad students I helped out with a project that got funded (and which is hanging in my office),
2) a small blue, sparkly wax heart with a ribbon (from an undergrad in one of my courses).
and 3) a vase for flowers (we work on flowers in the lab).
And I almost always give a small gift to my PhD students the day of their defense. A favorite is a mug with photos representing their research.
My lab is a friendly, happy, productive place, and we don't shy away from expressing gratitude and genuine affection for each other.
LD

dolce vita said...

In my summer internship, I became of age (in Europe, so rules were a bit more relaxed on beverages and such at Universities)so, the grad students and postdocs threw a party on the roof of the Institute, which was a lot of fun (and any excuse to celebrate) and very memorable. My PI gave me a really beautiful book of postcards from Zurich, which I still treasure.

After TAing for a professor, she gave me an Immuno textbook, which I still use in my grad studies, and, because she and I share ballroom dance as a hobby, she gave me a mirror set I could use for competitions.

My friends, after leaving their undergrad labs usually got gift cards and/or goodbye lunches.

Pagan Topologist said...

I typically take my TA out to dinner after s/he has worked with me grading the final exam in a large-enrollemnt course, or during the grading if we will need to work on it late into the evening. This can be a big job, since I do not use multiple choice tests. This is the only gift I recall ever giving in such circumstances.

Wendy said...

My undergrad research advisor sent me a letter expressing his thoughts on my performance through my college research career. I tucked it into my copy of the BS thesis, and I still read it every now and then 20 years later.

I gave an undergrad student who has a gift for the visual side of presenting her results a copy of one of the Tufte books.

Amber Lynne said...

As an undergraduate I was very close to the professor I did research for. She took the lab (herself, a graduate student, and I) out to lunch. She did this when anyone left the lab. For 2 years I have been a tech at another institution and the PI takes the whole lab (13 of us) out to lunch for big events (getting a needed grant) or when someone leaves (even the undergrad summer students). We also all have champagne when someone passes a big milestone (comps or thesis defense or grant). I think this is a great way to bring the lab together and show appreciation.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Lunch out has always been the norm in my experiences.

Patchi said...

Farewell lunch + card signed by the whole lab are pretty common. I got a gift from the lab I did an internship while in undregrad and I've seen it done in other labs too. Something fun that reminds you of the time there or an inside joke. I got a notepad with fall colored leaves as I was moving to Florida and would not see those for a long time.

MZ said...

Agree with the recommendations for books; it's easy to find something the student would like. We give most of the undergrads who have worked in the lab gifts when they leave or graduate, but I have been lucky to have had grad students or postdocs who like managing the process. That way it seems like something from the lab rather than me personally. But I think the students like the gifts partly because they can show them to their family members who wonder what the culture is like in a lab.

makita said...

We had an *awesome* undergrad student in the lab a couple of years ago. Although we didn't usually give gifts either, we felt compelled. We ended up getting her a custom-made shirt that said
"I survived the PI's lab"
with the actual name of the PI, and a recent picture of lab members. It didn't cost much, but it was personalized, and we all had a good laugh about it, since at least 2 labmembers were inexpertly photoshopped in.

Anonymous said...

I'd go with book. I am a chemist and now regularly give out "The Disappearing Spoon" to my undergraduates. With undergraduate students who have been with me for a few years, I give them an engraved picture frame that says "College Name, Class of XX, Research group name" That seems to go over pretty well.

Anonymous said...

FSP!!! I've been in serious withdrawal....

More on topic: in every lab I've worked in, the PI gave gifts to a PhD students upon graduation and post-docs when they left the lab. Undergrads didn't get gifts, typically.

In my lab, at the end of the summer I usually make cookies on the undergrad's last day as a celebratory type of thing. Then again, I make cookies a lot...

EliRabett said...

Thumb drives for all this summer. Next summer Eli gets them engraved. That and they get to take their poster home to mom.

Cherish said...

It's pretty standard to take students out to dinner when they leave.

My husband got a book (The Man Who Changed Everything - about Maxwell, which was appropriate given his research was in emag) and subscription to an outdoorsy magazine (given his goal in life was to become a professional ski bum) from his advisor as PhD gifts.

Science Professor Mum said...

I started a tradition of buying a half bottle of champagne (not cava) for my grad students when they passed their defence (obviously if I know they don't drink alcohol I would find something else suitably celebratory) and a congratulations card. Members of the group who leave typically get a gift which involves a small item of uni memorabilia, a cake for all of us to share on their last day, and something else related to either their research, a hobby or their destination, depending on the circumstances. This gift, and the card is usually contributed to by anyone in the department who wishes to do so, but co-ordinated, topped up and presented by me as group head. Undergrads who work for me in addition to their normal study (i.e. vacation bursaries) usually get a nice lunch out. Which reminds me, when my promotion was announced, I promised current and recent past members of my group a meal out... I must get around to organising that!

I have received some strange gifts over the years. Several bottles of wine and chocolate items are always ok, several novelty items to do with my research area and from one postdoc, a wireless radio linked alarm clock. I thought the last was a bit weird as I am never late, but it's turned out to be really useful as it keeps going in a power cut and corrects its own time to daylight saving etc. I find international students give larger and more frequent gifts than UK ones.

Anonymous said...

I've got a funny book from my undergrad advisor (not the big prof. but the postdoc I was working with). I guess he was pretty happy of what we achieved together.
I did not get anything from my group when I finished my PhD. After spending few years with them and considering that another member of the group got a big present for his graduation one year before, I felt offended.
In my former lab it is customary to buy a present and sign a card when somebody defend his/her thesis or when a postdoc is leaving the group.

mathgirl said...

As I was moving to my first tenure track job at Uof2, I visited my PhD supervisor and he gave me a copy of his recently published book with a dedication: "good luck at Uof2?", with the question mark, since he wasn't convinced that was the best place for me (surely enough, I moved to Uof1 three years after).

Anonymous said...

I always take my undergrad research students out to lunch. Remembering being a student, I know a free (not fancy)lunch is always appreciated, and they (all have been women) appreciate seeing a female scientist in a more relaxed setting.

Also a FSP said...

I (female) received a $ 200 gift card for a shoe shop from my advisor (female professor) after I got my PhD.

By the way. I this blog rocks! Thanks. Keep on!

Anonymous said...

GIVE HIM A NOTE/CERTIFICATE THAT HE CAN SCAN AND SHOW LATER ON, AND ADD TO HIS RESUME. You can name it an "award". For example, the best undergraduate award, or a certificate of outstanding research during undergraduate studies. Would cost you almost nothing, but he can display it on his walls. Better, if framed. And then he can put it into his resume. If he happens to not need "your" letter, he can still use that award to show his success in your lab. You can present it during lunch too ;)

Anonymous said...

In my university, it is pretty frequent to give small gifts to teachers or advisors, mostly fruit, as a way to acknowledge that they do a great job or that they helped you with something. The size and quantity of the fruit varies depending on the occasion - most of the time it is an apple, a mandarine, or the sort, and on big occasions (like end of term, or end of an internship), it might be something like a pineapple or a watermelon. I really like this tradition, as it is an inoffensive way of acknowledging other people's job. The other way round is less frequent, but it happens too, especially when you've just achieved something for your advisor (like finished a proof, got a paper accepted, or put up some extra effort). I'm told it's pretty unusual outside our university, or even outside our department, but I really enjoy this tradition.