Should I give my student a gift to celebrate her PhD? If so, what?
December 15, 2013 3:17 PM   Subscribe

This is a gift question, but not holiday related. Still, MeFi is full of experts.... So, my first PhD student just successfully defended, and I am very proud of her. The question is whether to give her a gift, and if so, what....

She did a truly fantastic job, and we celebrated (with the whole department) with champagne after her defense. A colleague (at another institution) has made a habit of giving successful PhDs from his group a gift. (For his first 2, he gave very nice Lichtenberg Figures with a plaque with the name.) I've heard of other advisors giving a briefcase, etc.

I am a bit torn, because there's no tradition of gifts at my institution, but I'm not afraid to start one either. Does anyone have other experiences in which the advisor gave his student a gift upon graduation?

If I'm going to give a gift, I'm looking for suggestions. I considered the Lichtenberg figure as well, and also considered a nice Galileo thermometer, but I'd love other ideas since neither feels quite right. I'd prefer something compact as students typically move soon after. Something that can be personalized is good, and desk "things" that are elegant are especially welcome. I'd like to keep this budget to $100ish, but if you have ideas, toss them out. If you think a gift is a terrible idea, that's fair game as well. Thanks!
posted by JMOZ to Shopping (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My advisor gave me a beautiful framed photograph of fall leaves (my dissertation research was on carbon cycling, primarily leaf litter decomposition). I treasure it highly, and now as a professor myself, it is the only real decoration in my office. I think that she has given many of her students similar photographs related to their study topic.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:31 PM on December 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think this is a really nice idea and I like the Lichtenberg figure idea. (The images on the page weren't working for me. It's the name of a vein disorder, for those who look it up on google images.) The briefcase sounds boring.

Breakable is a headache for people who move a lot unless there's a good reason for breakable. So if you're not sold on the Lichtenberg figure maybe consider a framed poster that has special meaning to your field, or a textile. Etsy will have some really great ideas in that price range.

Another idea is a membership to a society in your field. It suddenly gets really expensive when you're no longer a student. It's ok if you have a job lined up, not so much if you don't.

The only thing to consider is that if you start a tradition, you will have to get every candidate from your group a gift going forward, not just the ones you are really proud of. I have had grad students I didn't really bond with. I can imagine not wanting to give them gifts. I haven't had phd students though. I guess that's a bit different.

Maybe get this woman a gift and think about whether to make it a tradition when the next candidate comes along?
posted by vincele at 3:39 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Briefcases or a nice suitcase are traditional. A fancy laser pointer is as well.

I will give an answer for a field you're not in just for the sake of someone else visiting this question later; in the biosciences, if you're doing any protein work, you can get a custom protein model in a couple of different ways.
Clear crystal cube
Plastic model
And jewelry of protein sequence.

But if there's a 3d printed thing that can be made in your field, go for it.

My advisor paid for the bar tab when we celebrated my defense. But that was a bit more expensive than you are planning for.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:42 PM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

What a nice idea. I wish my advisor had done that for me.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:54 PM on December 15, 2013

My advisor gave me an excellent book in my field that he knew I'd want (~$100.00) and wrote a really nice inscription to me on the inside cover.
posted by PinkPoodle at 4:40 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Our lab's tradition was university-themed clothing. Usually you buy that sort of thing when you first come to that school, so leaving 6 years later with a fresh one was nice.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:11 PM on December 15, 2013

My friend's adviser gives out purple capes for PhD's. I approve of this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:30 PM on December 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you can't do the cape
, which is awesome, a prof I know gets all his phd 's an engraved stein or goblet with the date of defense their name and a quote of a major theorist in their field.
posted by chapps at 9:32 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

My husband's PI gave him a set of camping dishes when he successfully defended. This was a personal gift because she knew we liked to go camping. I'm not sure what discipline you are in, but he is a scientist, if that's helpful. I have to say, as the spouse, I would have been pretty annoyed if she hadn't done anything to celebrate his defense, and the 5+ years of work he did in her lab. That being said, I think a standard gift you could give your current, and future students, would be a really good idea. Then you never have to make this decision again.
posted by fyrebelley at 10:15 PM on December 15, 2013

This may sound flippant but is meant very genuinely: in addition to whatever physical gift you give them, make sure they know they can always rely on you for an excellent recommendation letter, good contacts in your field, and sound career advice.

Also, seconding tchemgrrl, fun university-branded stuff makes great souvenirs for the future. A university coffee mug still sits in my office :-)
posted by firesine at 12:00 AM on December 16, 2013

My advisor gave me a nice pen.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:35 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

My advisor bought me my hood.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:37 AM on December 16, 2013

I think a gift is acceptable, but I would recommend selecting something that could be repeatable for multiple graduate students. IE, you could do something personally chosen at a ~$50 price point, or everyone gets a framed photograph, or whatever
posted by fermezporte at 8:01 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Favorites for me (as a former PhD graduate myself) include the briefcase, the cape, and some research-related art, with the choice depending on the nature of the student and of your relationship. I wouldn't worry too much about setting a standard for future students, as the first is special to anybody -- by the time you have a second queued up, you'll have a better feel for whether you want to give each a present or just be part of throwing a departmental party or whatever.

Congratulations on your first spawn! :)
posted by acm at 8:16 AM on December 16, 2013

I've been given very nice pens by people who genuinely cared about me, and I absolutely love them. They're personal enough to be meaningful without being so personal it's weird (and it doesn't take a whole lot of effort to pick out a nice pen for each person).
posted by Capri at 11:49 AM on December 16, 2013

My advisor (I was her first student) gave me a non-field-related gift, because I had decided to not really stay in the field. I still find that very touching, as a symbol that she was ok with that [not that it was her choice, but you know]. The gift was more relevant to my true interests and was very fitting.

On the fun University-related side, my husband's advisor gave him University-etched wine glasses, so he could remember his time there, and fondly. He stayed in his field, fwiw. It also was a nice symbol that his advisor knew how much he liked wine and had a life outside of his field, I thought.
posted by freezer cake at 2:43 PM on December 16, 2013

Lots of great suggestions, but I *THINK* (if I can work out the details) that I'm going to use sciencegeek's recommendation of bioetch to get a relevant 3D model made.
posted by JMOZ at 6:48 AM on December 19, 2013

In the end, I went with a 3D cube similar to what science geek recommended, but from another vendor who was more responsive.... Thanks all!
posted by JMOZ at 12:32 PM on January 15, 2014

I'd love to see a photo of the cube. (sorry about the other vendor, I've never personally ordered one of those before - would you perhaps link to the more responsive vendor?)
posted by sciencegeek at 3:22 AM on January 16, 2014

Hi sciencegeek.... Here's a picture of the cube. I had to edit it to remove the name of the student for her privacy. I should mention that it looks much better in person. If I had spent more time photographing, I could have gotten crystallographic planes aligned better, but you (hopefully) get the idea.

I don't mean to insult the vendor you suggested, and there's no need for you to apologize, but the vendor I went with was less expensive and more responsive to my (admittedly detailed) questions. I didn't post a link initially because it felt a bit like advertising, but in hindsight, why wouldn't I advertise the people who did a good job (and quickly/reasonably priced, too?) I ordered from CrystalPrints, and I was happy with the one purchase I've made from them.

Thanks again for the suggestions, all! (and especially sciencegeek)
posted by JMOZ at 4:53 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

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