What to give a mentor as a thank-you gift?
October 25, 2010 2:11 AM   Subscribe

Is it appropriate to give a thank you gift to a mentor, and what can I give someone who doesn't drink, doesn't eat junk food, and doesn't like flowers?

I got a lot of advice and support from someone in the research office when preparing a grant application. She met with me once a week for months. Although this what she is paid to do, I feel like she did an exceptional job and I really appreciate it. I know that some evenings she stayed an hour or two past her home-time to give me extra help.

I just heard that my application was successful. Just so it's clear how much this means to me: I will now have a job for the next three years doing exactly what I love the most, in large part thanks to this mentor. I feel like giving her some sort of thank you gift. Is this appropriate, or is it weird?

If it is appropriate, I'm not sure what to give her. My first thought would be a bottle of champagne, but she doesn't drink. My second thought would be flowers, but I'm in Australia, and a huge number of people I know here are weird about flowers: they dislike imported flowers and think only native plants should be allowed, and/or they hate seeing cut flowers die, or something. I have a feeling this woman is one of those people, although I can't remember exactly what she said that made me think that. I thought about a live potted plant, but it seems kind of mean to give someone something they will have to take care of forever. She only eats super-healthy food, so the thought of a fruit basket crossed my mind, but that has connotations of a "get well soon" thing to me. I feel like gift certificates are a bit tacky, as well as too impersonal.

Any other ideas? I'd like to spend somewhere between $30 and $60.
posted by lollusc to Human Relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Also, in case it helps someone come up with an idea, although I can't think how it would, her main interests that I know of are French literature, and Sudoku puzzles.
posted by lollusc at 2:13 AM on October 25, 2010

A book or album?
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:13 AM on October 25, 2010

Since you spent so much time wih her, tell us about what she has on her desk that may be revealing about her likes and dislikes.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:18 AM on October 25, 2010

Yeah, that was pretty much it: a book of Sudoku puzzles, some French literature and language stuff, and a container of dried fruit and nuts. Her office is pretty minimalist.
posted by lollusc at 2:27 AM on October 25, 2010

I'm a mentor of sorts (an academic supervisor to PhD and honours students) and what I appreciate receiving most are thoughtful cards letting me know that my efforts are appreciated. The more you can be specific (i.e., give the sense that it's not just a general "thank you" of the sorts that you would give to anybody), the more I appreciate it. I save the cards people have given me over the years, so they really do mean a lot.

Beyond that, if you really feel like you must get her something tangible, a gift certificate to a bookstore is appreciated and useful to almost everyone. Combine it with a card or a note, though.
posted by forza at 2:31 AM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

A nice note and an Amazon gift card?
posted by dzaz at 2:33 AM on October 25, 2010

"I feel like giving her some sort of thank you gift. Is this appropriate, or is it weird?"

No gift ideas, but as someone who has what sounds like her exact job and has frequently stayed up all night helping my guys finish their grant applications, I think it's really awesome that you're getting her a thank you gift. All I ever get is lunch. :(

Search her name on Amazon and see if she has a Wish List?
posted by Jacqueline at 2:34 AM on October 25, 2010

nthing the thoughtful note on a nice card. I'd feel a bit weird if one of my students or former students got me a gift certificate, although a copy of Neruda's poems remains one of my favourite "thank you gifts." Seriously, though, the note is what matters.
posted by bardophile at 2:36 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

A nice note and an Amazon gift card?

This person has spent hours upon hours helping you. Giving them something that directly equates this to a visible monetary amount will reduce that. Please don't give an Amazon gift card.

Do something personal. Show you've thought about it. Remember any off the cuff remark they made about liking something? Get them something related to that. And write them a very personal thank you letter.
posted by devnull at 2:42 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

If she likes dried fruit and nuts, maybe head to one of the posher food stores and get her a small basket/hamper-type thing of healthy snacks?

Include your hand-written thank you note, put it on her desk, and thank her in person as well.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:50 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think a handwritten thank-you note might be more valued than you think. I notice that people tend to be inordinately thrilled by them and keep them for a long time.

I think a monetary or monetary-substitute gift would be wrong, but an inexpensive book or gourmet food might be very well received.
posted by tel3path at 3:10 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Adding to the thoughtful, handwritten card suggestion. I still keep one received from a Master's student whom I'd helped extensively with his portfolio and resume development. Its far more meaningful as a memento of having made a difference to someone.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 3:28 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might consider writing her two letters of thanks: One written immediately, and one written 3 years from now in which you tell her how exciting and fulfilling a time it has been and how it has opened so many doors for your future.
posted by Houstonian at 3:31 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

If she drinks coffee or tea, a bag of nice beans or loose leaf tea would be thoughtful and appropriate. Maybe some really fancy nuts and dried fruit?
posted by stoneweaver at 3:45 AM on October 25, 2010

A lovely note stuck in the front of a book of sudoku puzzles?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:14 AM on October 25, 2010

Definitely appropriate. I wouldn't be so hesitant about fruit baskets. I always love them, regardless of whether I'm sick or not! But also, depending exactly what you mean by super healthy food, you might add a few gourmet delicatessen things to the basket - fine cheeses, really good single origin olive oils, a truffle or two, that sort of thing.
posted by Ahab at 4:19 AM on October 25, 2010

You might consider writing her two letters of thanks: One written immediately, and one written 3 years from now in which you tell her how exciting and fulfilling a time it has been and how it has opened so many doors for your future.

Don't forget a letter to her supervisor as well, with equal emphasis on the mentorship and the grant's success!
posted by headnsouth at 4:58 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

Definitely write a thoughtful thank you note. Someone pointed out in an Ask metafilter thread a while back, that if a mentor is an untenured person a thank you note will go in their tenure dossier and will help them more than you'll ever know. So please do write a very detailed thank you so that it will benefit their career.

As an aside I wish I had started keeping track of those kinds of thank you notes before I had seen that thread.

As for a gift, from a mentor's perspective, really nothing is nice than a note. I don't like to receive stuff for just doing my job. It makes me feel weird.
posted by vincele at 5:00 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

Get her a pillow of nuts from the santa barbara pistachio company.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:38 AM on October 25, 2010

Do you have fruit-of-the-month type things? Otherwise, truly excellent fruit and/or nuts are great, along with a nice letter. What did she eat/drink/do while she was at the office late with you? A lovely mug with tea or coffee, or a pitcher to keep water on her desk, or slippers because she complained her feet were cold, etc.
posted by jeather at 6:27 AM on October 25, 2010

If she's minimalist, she may not fully appreciate an object to have hanging around. A heart-felt card is excellent, or gift cert for her and a friend to a good restaurant might be nice.
posted by MeiraV at 6:35 AM on October 25, 2010

If she's a staff member, I would second the two letters idea: one for her, one for her supervisor. The one to her supervisor should be explicit about what her help means (in terms of outcomes, not necessarily emotions) - is this a topic the university is interested in cultivating as a focus? Is the university dedicated to the development of young scholars?

Letters like this are golden for review time, especially if they can make explicit the connection between what she did and the mission of the university. A lot of times staff with a support role can struggle to demonstrate a direct link between their work and the work of the university (teaching and research).

I work in a similar role at a US university, and these sort of supporting letters are what we ask for from anyone who is really appreciative of the help that we've given them.
posted by clerestory at 6:39 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

The gourmand-y type gifts (nice olive/nut oils, bread dippers/spreads, fruit compotes or rubs/sauces for fish or meat) would be my first instinct. I think the letters of recommendation are a great idea too.

Another idea might be to make a donation to a cause you know she's passionate about, in her name. I think a lot of foundations / charities would be able to send a "This donation was made in your honour!" kind of letter/email. f you think showing the dollar amount might be a bit awkward, you could see if they can omit the amount from the notice.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 8:26 AM on October 25, 2010

Definitely a hand-written thank-you note, plus a letter to her supervisor about how wonderful she is.

For the actual gift-gift, I think extremely nice pens (the kind that come in their own felt-lined box) are underused as professional gifts these days.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:57 PM on October 25, 2010

Thanks, everyone! Devnull expressed exactly why I feel a gift certificate is tacky and inappropriate. But all the other ideas are great! I think I will try to find a nice basket of dried fruit and nuts from a posh shop, or failing that some tea or coffee. I can say it's "supplies for the next time she's staying late helping people out".

And I will definitely write a thank you note. Thanks for the suggestion to write a note to her supervisor as well. I will do that too.
posted by lollusc at 1:46 PM on October 25, 2010

> extremely nice pens (the kind that come in their own felt-lined box) are underused as professional gifts these days

Came here to say that. I would love a gift like that, it lasts forever, you can never have too many, it's appropriate to the written nature of the project she helped with, etc.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:14 PM on October 25, 2010

As a follow-up, I got her some expensive Italian dried fruit and flavoured nuts from a posh shop. I spent about $50. I also wrote a long and detailed thank-you letter, and one to her supervisor. I liked the idea of the pen too, but the fruit/nuts seemed more personal, since I know she likes those. (And when she opened them, she checked the brand, and gasped happily).

In retrospect, I hear I got off easily - a colleague took her out to lunch last year as a thank you when she got him his grant, and he says she ate and drank her way through $120!
posted by lollusc at 2:24 AM on November 5, 2010

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