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Within one week I shall leave my present institution, where I felt severely mistreated around salary payment and work conditions for 2 years, as a postdoctoral fellow.

The PI who signed my contract (theoretically my supervisor) has played passive-aggressive "not-here" all my stay while consistently demanding honorary, corresponding authorship status in any piece I happen to publish, from any source. In fact I had never heard of this person prior to signing my contract from abroad, over which I was dealing with another local professor. They had made some kind of agreement.

Soon I will leave, at the official end of my contract. I am wondering whether I should give this person a symbolic departure gift, especially in front of the other lab mates. I am not culturally hierarchy-oriented but displaying respect to hierarchy is seen as a strong moral virtue, where I am, in China.

Relevant: I am not staying in China, but I might keep in touch with one or two current lab mates after I leave. I am afraid that an act of offering him a gift will communicate a wish to continue "guanxi" which is his understanding probably means I will forever offer him credit over my work, favors.

Please, what do others suggest?

* UPDATE * 02/04/2018

I have finally departed and left a bottle of fairly good French wine behind, sitting on my desk among the student's office, with a note clearly stating it was for the Professor. With a "Thank You for the opportunity, and provided unforgettable experience to share".

As mentioned, my main objective was to displaying respect for other labmates by thanking the professor in the local hierarchy and presenting a gift.

I had, however, no direct dialogue with this person upon my departure. The final days were particularly tense, where finally the supervisor openly failed to pay for a long-delayed amount of 1k USD of salary agreement. The details of this conflict are described in another question in SE Academia.

Thanks to all for suggestions; I believe this was the best I could do.

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    Is it common in the target culture to give departure gifts? Will those few people, with whom you want to maintain contact, think less of you if you don't give the departure gift to your bad boss? Would it make sense to give departure gifts to them instead? I am at loss at all the cultural differences. – Oleg Lobachev Apr 21 '18 at 14:53
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    I think you are overthinking it, what's the worst that can happen if you don't give him a gift? Even if not giving a gift is a minor violation of normal social customs what does it matter? Also remember as presumably a non-Chinese person, quite frankly there are not the same expectations for following such social norms, since one can always interpret your failure to follow them as a cultural difference. – Bobgom Apr 24 '18 at 6:00
  • @OlegLobachev Actually it is common here that people give gifts to "bosses" at any suitable occasion. I think they already find me disrespectful because clearly I don't abide to any local hierarchy. Hierarchy is highly esteemed in Asia as a pilar of social harmony. – Scientist Apr 25 '18 at 11:59
  • @Bobgom I in fact think at this point the gift would make little difference because I am sure this guy spreads the hell about me behind my back. Must be very creative as we have no interaction. I am just a bit worried about disrespecting my best colleagues who believe hierarchy is sacred at their work and family. Local tradition. – Scientist Apr 25 '18 at 12:01
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    I have no idea what your social norms are, but giving a really terrible gift can be more insulting than none at all. Depending on your goals, that could be a good or bad thing. – Acccumulation Apr 25 '18 at 15:44
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I don't know much about Chinese culture, so take this answer with as many grains of salt as necessary, but it seems like the best thing to do here is find out what is the minimum socially acceptable gift you could give the advisor without it burning bridges with your lab and the other people you work with, and then give that. If you can get away without giving anything, so much the better.

If you do find yourself socially obligated to give some kind of gift, when you give it perhaps you could emphasize to the advisor how much you're looking forward to doing your own, independent work as a polite way to discourage any further involvement.

Even if this person demands honorary authorship over your work after you leave, it will be much easier to tell them no when you're not working in their lab. The worst they could directly do to retaliate is refuse to give you a reference or letter of recommendation to future employers, and someone who gets their authorships by abusing their students and not doing any actual work is unlikely to be able to do much damage to your reputation anyways.

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    Thanks, I think this is the best way of facing it. I am sure he's eager to provide me bad references, but I do agree that he'll have few opportunities outside of his biased circle in China. I haven't been in the lab since a long time now, since my final documents were delivered. I have 5 days left before departure. I am thinking of leaving him a gift to be found among stuff for the students so that everyone can see. Will think about it, thanks. – Scientist Apr 25 '18 at 12:07
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I would not give a gift - symbolic or otherwise. It seems from your response that you will not (nor value) the contact of this particular supervisor much so there is no need to do so. I would not deliberately demean him - sending a nasty email or attempting some sort of sardonic gift for him but I would not present a gift. That said, if you do decide to give something - I think your fears that this represent some sort of desire to extend the relationship is overblown.

P.S. I am familiar with the Chinese culture but, of course, that should not be taken as being somehow more authoritative than other answers.

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I once had a supervisor that I didn't really see eye to eye with. Definitely nothing as serious as you are noting, I just felt like we didn't really understand each other.

So as a parting gift, I gave him some music that I very much cared for and that I knew he would not like or understand. I never explained to him why I gave him that music. It gave me some satisfaction then and it still gives me some satisfaction to this day.

  • Incompatibility is normal and fairly common. Abusive supervisors are unfortunately also becoming more and more common. I think you parted well and he may not remember you much which is sure for the best. – Scientist Apr 25 '18 at 12:12

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