Saying Thank You to a Wonderful Person
January 8, 2012 6:43 AM   Subscribe

One of my professors from last semester has been so incredibly kind, helpful, and supportive of me despite how difficult things were academically for me last semester. I want to thank this professor, but I don't know what's appropriate because I have never given a professor a gift before. What are some sentimental gifts that can accompany a handwritten note?

I have received a lot of support from this English and Communications professor, she's such a kind person and she really helped me get through this semester by encouraging me even when things were difficult and creating an alternate assignment for me. She told me that I was welcome to come to her office anytime this semester even though I am currently taking a break from school.

I want to visit her sometime soon (after I'm done my alternate assignment) to chat and say thank you in person for everything that she has done for me. But, I don't know what her interests are so it's difficult to know what she would appreciate.

I was thinking of getting her this book "Dr Seuss and Philosophy: Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!" along with some chocolate, but I'm not sure if this is a good gift idea?

What are some gifts that a professor would appreciate? Help me brainstorm some gift ideas for such a wonderful person and professor.

Thanks, MeFites!
posted by sincerely-s to Shopping (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oh she would love exactly what you are thinking of, she will just be delighted to get such a gift and it is both modest and appropriate. The letter is the most important bit.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:45 AM on January 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, the note is the key thing. Small gifts are fine but don't over do it. Saying thanks is great!
posted by Mngo at 7:14 AM on January 8, 2012

Just the note is perfect.
posted by Miko at 7:19 AM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just the note is fine.
posted by k8t at 7:23 AM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

The note alone would be wonderful. I think the book is a fine addition. Book + chocolate might be overdoing it.

Even though the book is not expensive, you might want to wait to make the gift until after the professor submits your final grade, to avoid the appearance of trying to curry favor.
posted by Orinda at 7:24 AM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would prefer a note over a gift. Unless you are a graduate student (which is a very different sort of relationship), do not give me a gift. If you really want to be nice to me, give a note to my chair or my dean instead.
posted by yeolcoatl at 7:26 AM on January 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

IAAEP, albeit NYEP. Trust me, the professor will think that the note is awesome enough. In fact, seconding yeolcoatl: have a copy deposited in her file.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:28 AM on January 8, 2012

I agree that the note alone is fine, but she may have an amazon wish list.
posted by jayder at 7:30 AM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yup, speaking as a former college instructor, definitely agree with Orinda on giving the gift AFTER the prof submits your grade. The book is a lovely idea. One of my students did that once and I was really touched. Nthing also writing a note and getting a copy put in her file. Also nthing that you should skip the chocolate.

It's great that you are acknowledging what she did for you, btw!
posted by dovesandstones at 7:36 AM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wanted to chime in that a note is really best (especially if it goes in her file!). I've had students email me similar notes at the end of the semester and really treasure them, while I think an actual gift would have just made me feel uncomfortable.
posted by girl scientist at 7:44 AM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Make sure you leave her a nice review at RateMyProfessor as well.
posted by procrastination at 8:03 AM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have had students give me notes alone, notes with gifts, and gifts alone. I almost always politely declined the gifts (the exception being from students who had already graduated). I always appreciated the notes, but gifts made me feel a little weird - after all, it is part of your professor's job to foster your academic development. Giving a gift implies a level of personal intimacy that most professors would prefer to not share with their students.
posted by dirtmonster at 8:05 AM on January 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Maybe offer to buy her coffee from the campus coffee cart when she has a moment between classes. Seems casual enough.
posted by book 'em dano at 9:28 AM on January 8, 2012

Another professor:

Note: Yes! Handwritten notes from my students are something I absolutely treasure.

Gift: No. The only gifts that haven't made me feel a little skeevy have been of trivial monetary value, like some cookies or brownies, or little handmade trinkets. (I have an origami swan from a student that sits in a place of honor on a shelf.)
posted by BrashTech at 9:58 AM on January 8, 2012

Best answer: She told me that I was welcome to come to her office anytime this semester even though I am currently taking a break from school.

Right. So, stick the note in the mail, and stop by once or twice later in the semester to say hi. Don't bring a present.

This is going to sound backwards, but it's true: one of the most respectful things you can do for a professor or a TA is just to approach them as an equal.

Most college students either ignore their teachers entirely outside of the classroom, or they only pay them any attention when they want to get fighty about bad grades, or they do this weird ass-kiss-y deferential thing that is apparently supposed to count as respectful but that generally just comes across as awkward and annoying. (Done wrong it can even be a little insulting: "Wait, you thought I was doing you some sort of special under-the-table favor? And that I expected gifts and praise in return? What sort of corrupt Machiavellian weirdo do you think I am?")

But so for someone who cares about teaching, it's really refreshing to have a student or ex-student show up, not to pick a fight or pay tribute or some damn thing like that, but just to chat in an ordinary non-groveling no-bullshit sort of way. Do that.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:20 AM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

No present. A handwritten thank-you note. If your teacher went really above and beyond, it would be appropriate to send a note to the department chair summarizing what the teacher did for you and asking that this be kept in mind for any faculty teaching awards.
posted by elizeh at 10:37 AM on January 8, 2012

Best answer: I took a class with a professor during a difficult time in my life. He was very supportive and I never forgot it. A year later, I took a different class with the same professor. One assignment was to write a letter of appreciation to someone. I decided to write the letter to him, thanking him for his small but very meaningful acts of support during a time I had no idea which way was up.

(It occurred to me that it might seem like sucking up since it was an assignment for the class, but I figured that he knew me better than that, and I was right. He loved it, I knew it meant a lot to him and I am very glad I wrote that letter.)

I think that professors (at least at my college) are very used to seeing students with potential come through their classes, many of whom are struggling in one way or another, and many of whom will succumb to those struggles — maybe not during this semester, but somewhere down the road. With that in mind, I plan to write to my professor again in a few years and let him know that I'm doing well and that I haven't forgotten his kindness. I think that will be meaningful to him.
posted by hypotheticole at 10:47 AM on January 8, 2012

When I taught (at a community college, as a grad student, so maybe it's not quite the same thing) I would not have been skeeved out by a small gift, and a book is a small gift. A thoughtful, interesting book could be a good gift.

BUT I worry that a student is not really capable of gauging what Kind of book would be valued by a professor. The course you took from the professor doesn't necessarily provide any clues about what the professor would enjoy, so there's a good chance you'd give the professor a book that would not really interest her at all, unless you have some other way of knowing their interests.
posted by jayder at 10:50 AM on January 8, 2012

Nthing don't do the gift (at least until until after you've graduated). It really is the the thought that counts here, and the note expresses the thought best. I'm always made uncomfortable by gifts from students when I know I might teach them again or serve any kind of professorial duty for them. Notes of gratitude are HUGELY significant to teachers and will be remembered long after the gift becomes a "where did that come from again?" piece of clutter.
posted by yoink at 10:53 AM on January 8, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I'm going to skip out on the gift because I don't want to do anything that will make this professor uncomfortable. I just thought she might appreciate this book, but at the same time-I don't know what her interests are and she might not appreciate that at all. Plus, it might be awkward for the professor to receive a gift from a student which is something that some of you mentioned.

I have said thank you quite a few times at the end of emails by saying things like thank you for what you have done to help me get through this semester and I really appreciate your kindness and help. So I think writing a handwritten note might be overdoing it, but what do you think?
posted by sincerely-s at 11:28 AM on January 8, 2012

Best answer: Not at all. A handwritten note is worth dozens of emails. They're a lot more special. When I get handwritten notes I put them on a shelf above my desk and they're there to make me remember why I do this stuff when I'm having a bad day. Emails are too ephemeral in feel to have that lasting power. Plus, they're not as pretty (so write your note on a nice looking card).
posted by Miko at 11:36 AM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I know this has already been answered, but as many people have mentioned, you ought to send something up the food chain -- to the professor's department chair, I think. I recommend sending a nice hand-written note to your professor AND a formal, typed-on-nice-paper letter to the department chair. Think of this letter as a letter of recommendation based on your experience with the professor. Make the letter as detailed as possible.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 12:39 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding that a handwritten note is something your prof will keep and treasure. I have notes from students going back to my first semester teaching; one of them I even keep in my wallet.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:50 PM on January 8, 2012

I have a french ribbon board in a prominent place in my home where I keep wedding invitations, baby announcements, and notes from students about how they liked my class.

I do also appreciate notes about my awesomeness to my department chair CC'd to HR for my permanent file.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:51 PM on January 8, 2012

I gave a favorite prof a can of Ghirardelli cocoa with a card at the end of the semester, back when Ghirardelli wasn't terribly easy to get in the great Midwest (or maybe it was and I didn't know any better). He was going through chemo that year. He was pleased as punch.

This was back in the '80's when one could do such things without eyebrows being raised (I am female, but he was way too old for me at the time. :-))

As others have mentioned, best to wait till after grading is done. I was so clueless that I didn't consider that it might be looked on poorly; I just liked the guy. Didn't matter at all in my case but prudence is a virtue.

A commendation to the department chair couldn't hurt, either.
posted by Currer Belfry at 1:55 PM on January 8, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I really appreciate everyone's answers and I'm going to find some nice looking paper to write the letter on and email the department chair about what she has done to help me out. I know that my professor said that it was part of her job, but really she showed concern for me as a person and went above and beyond what I could have asked for in order to make it through this semester. I've known her for more than a year now and she has taught me a few courses.

The only complicating factor is that the department chair is on sabbatical for the rest of the year and the associate chair was one of my other professor's for the fall term. But, I'll figure that out and then email them to let them know about what a wonderful person and professor she is!
posted by sincerely-s at 2:09 PM on January 8, 2012

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