I recently finished my Ph.D. in the U.S. and will be leaving soon for a job in industry. I have got a precious gift for my advisor as I really admire him and he is one of my role models and totally deserves it.

Now for giving him the gift I was thinking maybe I should take him out to dinner or something and then give him the gift. The problem is during these years we’ve never had such a relationship! Like we’ve been cool and he’s always been super friendly and supportive, but I have not even spoken to him over the phone!! Like we’ve either met in his office for in-person meetings or have been in touch via emails (although he twice invited the whole department to his house for barbecue and I went to his house, but that’s pretty much it).

So I feel like it might be a little weird to ask him out for drinks or dinner, especially since he has a family and kids and I’m single. I mean if I had a wife I would totally invite his whole family but now I don't know what to do. I am not planning for a farewell party either otherwise I would have invited him.

Should I just go to his office like always and give him the gift and say goodbye? Or should I ask him out? Or should I ask his whole family out? What is the professional/moral way of doing this?

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    Were there other people that you collaborated closely with during your PhD? (Other students, post-docs, other faculty)? If so taking a small group of them out to dinner to celebrate getting your PhD would be appropriate, and potentially less awkward then a one-on-one dinner with just your advisor.
    – TimRias
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 7:43
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    Nah I wish but no! All his students I knew are already gone and I have not been working with his new students!
    – RezAm
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 7:44

6 Answers 6


What is the professional/moral way of doing this?

I think that if you have never invited/been invited to a casual gathering involving the advisor's family, it will be awkward to do so now. If you feel like a one-on-one dinner invitation is too much, how about a lunch appointment?

I will say this - many universities have strict rules on receiving expensive gifts from students/subordinates. If your meaning of precious is simply "of significant emotional value" (say, you made a piece of art yourself, or found a book that they really like) that's fine; if you mean expensive (say, an expensive watch) - your advisor may not be able to accept the gift at all (or, as is the case in my university, will have to report the gift and then give it to the school).

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    Also to emphasize, there's no moral issue here in my opinion, just one of social interaction.
    – Spark
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 7:41
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    @Antonio in that case, enjoy your lunch, and congratulations on graduating by the way!
    – Spark
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 13:05
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    "...gifts from students..." - the question title says "after graduation". He is not student anymore. Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 20:16
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    @TT_ It depends when it happens and what the university's rules are, and even if it technically happens after he's a student, it can still look bad. See also politicians who propose a bill and then receive a large campaign donation from an interested party.
    – anon
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 22:35
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    @TT_: e.g. in Germany, it would still be considered at least suspicious and that's sufficient to make it a no-no. (German professors are public officials and the no-gift/anti-corruption rules for them still apply when they are retired.) Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 9:43

Since you have completed your doctorate, you are no longer bound by gift rules, I suppose. Your relationship to your advisor now changes from one in which you have a subordinate role to one of collegiality.

I don't see any particular issue here, but suggest, pretty strongly, that you invite the prof and his spouse. You don't need to invite the whole family, as it can be a more adult affair with just you three, or you three and a "date". Unless the spouse is in the same field, the conversation will be more general and interesting, I think.

Presumably you aren't strapped for funds at this time or you wouldn't be considering this. If he understands that then he won't necessarily be uncomfortable accepting the invitation.

It is good to thank your advisor. But things of monetary value aren't really that important. Saying thank you is more "precious", actually.

But it is also especially good to maintain that collegial relationship and let it develop over time if you can. But if you are staying in the same general area or expect to return, doing this in a year or so, rather than immediately would be even better, IMO.


First, congratulations.

Second, thanks for wanting to thank your advisor.

I hope what's "precious" about your gift is "appropriate" and not "very expensive". If the latter, perhaps reconsider, or wait a year until you've been employed in industry so there's no question that you can afford it.

Ask him out to lunch - not dinner with his whole family. Extend the invitation in a way that allows him to say "no" graciously.

Finally: when I defended my dissertation my advisor and his spouse asked me out to dinner and gave me a small gift for my then one year old daughter. (I had moved away to a job so they couldn't include her or my wife.)


I think lunch is completely appropriate and dinner with family sounds awkward if you have never met his family. At the time, my advisor was very supportive and encouraging as yours but he has always remained very professional and never got into discussions regarding his private life but once I have finished my thesis, he became more informal and started to talk about his family, grandsons and his vacation time and also about politics, by giving his political ideas during the lunchtime. The informality comes with time I suppose.

I think a very expensive gift will surely put him/her in an uncomfortable situation. You can simply buy flowers or a nice box of chocolates. This was what I have done and he was very happy that I brought some nice chocolates to him! (I have already known that he loves particularly chocolates so much.)

You can also have a coffee in his office as well if he does not have time for lunch.


Make sure you have graduated, so you are no longer a student, and there can be no perceived connection between the gift and your grades. You want the gift to be outside university rules.

University teachers often are not well paid. How shabby are his clothes and car? The reason I ask is this: If you take the teacher and his wife out to dinner, they may have to hire a babysitter, which may be expensive for them.

Lunch is usually ideal. It has the significance of a meal, without the cultural connotated social pressure of dinner. It also does not interfere with his family time, which may be precious to his family.

If the gift is not so expensive, (Maybe $20) but more symbolic, then you may give it earlier in the meal. The advisor will likely not want to talk about the gift very much. If it is more expensive, ($50-100) then give it to him as you say good bye, and ask him to open it later, so he will not open it in front of you. This way he can be much more comfortable during your meal together.

Do not give an extremely expensive gift. Honestly, a used book with a short note explaining why you love the book would feel like a significant gift to the teacher, even if the book only cost you $2. Cherished books are much more valuable than their price tag. University teachers often are not well paid. How shabby are his clothes and car? The reason I ask is this: If you take the teacher and his wife out to dinner, they have to hire a babysitter, which may be difficult for them.

If you are from another country, you could give something from your homeland. (That might end up being more expensive, but because it is a cross-cultural gift, you can get away with something higher. Your university may have rules regarding the value of a gift, so please protect your advisor from professional difficulty. My husband used to teach at the university. and I teach now. Our experience is that the international students tend to give more expensive gifts, (a fancy pen, a large hand painted scroll, a small teapot) so even though they were sometimes costlier than we would have been comfortable with, we recognized this was a cultural difference and were humbly grateful for the respect and appreciation the student was clearly expressing.

Here is a thought: You can tell/write to him "I would really like to take you out to lunch or dinner this next week to thank you for all you have done. What is your schedule like? How would Tuesday or Wednesday work for you?" He will probably say it isn't necessary. If you tell him again that you would really like to do this, he will probably accept. But by asking him which is better for him he can chose the situation that can fit with his family's needs.


Don't invite the family. Too much a production. And this is more of a colleague interaction. Even dinner alone is a hassle because he doesn't want to lose evening and be away from home.

Maybe do lunch. Less of a production and easier to get away from family. Probably easier in summer when no teaching.

No meal is a fine option also.

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    "Even dinner alone is a hassle because he doesn't want to lose evening and be away from home": What an assumption! As though anyone who has a family cannot enjoy a dinner with someone else from time to time. Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 14:24

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