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I will be graduating my first Ph.D. student this summer. My student is quite strong and has done good work, and I am quite proud of him!

I do face one conundrum. He has expressed the hope that I would be there for his Ph.D. hooding and graduation ceremony. It seems like an utterly natural, totally reasonable thing to ask for. I was tenatively planning on being out of the country at the time, so I need to decide whether to cancel my plans to attend his graduation.

On the one hand, missing my student's graduation seems like the equivalent of missing your best friend's wedding. Or perhaps worse, missing your child's wedding, or your own. On the other, this seems to be very common. My own Ph.D. advisor was out of town for my graduation and I asked another professor on my committee to escort me in his place.

Is there any kind of consensus?

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If you can postpone your plans, I would strongly suggest you do so. It is your first Ph.D. student to graduate, that opportunity will never come back. You might be sorry later - of all the comparisons you gave, I think missing your own wedding is the best suiting ;) –  Martin Apr 2 at 3:01
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What kind of trip is it? My feeling would be that "student's graduation" in priority is ahead of "boring minor conference" and "routine meeting with collaborator" but behind "exciting major conference" and "family vacation". Personally, I'd put it closer to "co-worker's wedding" than "best friend's wedding". But I agree with Martin that you may find it enjoyable and special too. –  Nate Eldredge Apr 2 at 3:12
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Different universities also have different degrees of involvement of the PhD advisor in the ceremonies. Your mentioned that you were escorted in your graduation ceremony. For my PhD hooding and graduation, there was nothing similar. (The difference is sort of "declining an invitation to a wedding" versus "declining a request to be a part of the wedding party".) –  Willie Wong Apr 2 at 10:52
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It might depend on the country. I was not even present myself to my own graduation ceremony (I was doing a postdoc 10.000 km away). But in France, the ceremony is quite impersonal (all PhD graduates of all fields at the same time), while there is usually a small party after the defence, which is much more personal, and is the moment that matters (and the advisor is expected to attend the defence). –  Charles Morisset Apr 2 at 13:05
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@Anonymous, in which direction did you want us to convince you when you posted the question? Because that's the answer. –  badroit Apr 2 at 23:07
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4 Answers 4

Obligation? Unless through your institution's academic responsibilities there is a requirement to attend, then none.

However, if you equate it to being on par with missing your own child's wedding, then I think you've answered your own question.

You only get one 'first Ph.D. student'.

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Congratulations on your first PhD student!

I don't think there's any hard-and-fast rule about attending your student's graduation. It comes down to how much you want to be there, how strongly your student feels about you being there, and how compelling your other plans are.

There are certainly some people who don't care much about this kind of thing. (I am one of those people; I gave my father wholehearted permission to skip both my high school and college graduation. Neither of us has regretted his absence from those ceremonies in the slightest.)

Then there are some people who really care about graduations, and want the people who were instrumental in their success to be there. And you're right that it's a reasonable thing to ask for, if it's very important to the student.

So, see if you can find out what category your student falls in. From your description (he "hopes you will be there") it could really be either one. If it turns out he feels really strongly about it, you can look into canceling your trip; if not, I don't think it's a big deal.

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I am a phd student myself, and to be honest I couldn't care less if my advisor was at my graduation. The graduation ceremony is not something you should cancel any plans over. If you missed my thesis defense however ...

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I didn't bother to attend my own graduation. I don't think my adviser would have, if I had. –  Jeremy Miles Apr 2 at 16:15
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I feel the same way. That said, I also understand other people do not. This should fundamentally be about what the student wants and how they will feel, not how the advisor (or anybody else) would feel in the same situation. –  Benjamin Mako Hill Apr 2 at 17:52
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Being hooded by my advisor was a really big deal for me. Without him, I wouldn't have gotten the degree. If your student as explicitly asked you to attend, I would do it- if you have a good personal and professional relationship with this student, your absence would be significant.

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