I am a grad student. I have been away for an internship in another city. My professor came to meet me at the weekend and he invited me to dinner. I did not have any time to prepare and I did not bring a gift and he brought me a gift. I was embarrassed, really.

I recently got a result from my project and was very interested to show him my result as I had not seen him for a long time. I am feeling so embarrassed.

Do you think these behaviors were rude? I was very clumsy. Could I write something as thankyou letter and apologize about not being prepared?

  • 2
    Explanation usually works! – Eilia Aug 25 at 5:55
  • @Eilia, how should I explain? – programmer Aug 25 at 5:57
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    Don't over react. Just get on with your regular work. Professors are experienced and they were students too. They understand. – Rajesh Dachiraju Aug 25 at 5:57
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    did you keep rambling on about the research for 30 minutes and talk over people that tried to cut in? Because yeah that might cost you a chance at future dinners. – A Simple Algorithm Aug 25 at 14:25
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    What country are you in? – Flyto Aug 26 at 2:47

Welcome to academia.SE :-)

See, many things that we do in our life are most of the time unplanned and spontaneous. The thing that you did is not a big deal for good people. Just say sorry sometime during tea time and get on with it. Don't keep it scratching.

Further, one positive to that is: He would have felt so happy that he has got a very dedicated (and weird) student who shows results during family dinner.

I have done it quite few times and I am not sorry about it. It feels weird initially, but not so apologetic.

Good luck!

  • 15
    Yes, weird can be good. Don't overdo weird, tho. – Buffy Aug 25 at 11:22
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    +1 for "welcome" and the smiley! – user111955 Aug 25 at 12:33
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    I suspect most professors’ families are used to such occurrences - part of marrying a professor or having a professor parent... – Jon Custer Aug 25 at 15:47
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    @einpoklum for me, it's 11.30am and 4pm almost everyday. We discuss much research during this time. – Coder Aug 26 at 12:05
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    I like it that @Coder is giving advice to programmer about a potential faux pas! – rhombidodecahedron Aug 27 at 19:54

I agree with Coder. There aren't usually any rules with informal family dinners with the supervisor. On the spectrum of interactions, it is not formal and does not hold as great a social weight as you seem to imply. It could be that he and his family really enjoyed your excitement and your passion explaining your project. It is likely that it may not be inappropriate at all. His family recognise that it is not just a "social dinner" and they know that you are his student and they are probably very used to work debate and discussions. Imagine how awkward it would be if you became overly familiar and overly social with him and his family, asking about personal sensitive issues. That would have been a far much worse scenario, with huge implications and damage to your professional relationship.

Definitely thank him and show deep appreciation for the gift, time and dinner. Take the time to figure out how best to do this, his secretary or someone who knows him might give some clues. Remember it is something thoughtful rather than the cost that matters. When people get older, "stuff" and "trinkets" are more of a burden than appreciated. At a minimum, send an email.

Don't focus on apologizing, because his might make further invitations awkward. At a push, consider saying that you feel awkward or clumsy but you were excited about your project. Gifts are not usually expected from students. Usually people bring wine or a little something for home cooked dinners from colleagues or peers but not for restaurant dinners. If it is a more formal event then the gifting follows the rules around that type of event. So well done with your project and your internship. It sounds like great work and I am sure your professor appreciated catching up.


I did not bring a gift

In most (?) cultures, a person above you in a hierarchical structure should not expect gifts from you, especially if his income is significantly higher than yours - unless he is doing you some great favor. A dinner invitation is not a great favor meriting a gift from you.

Do you think these behaviors were rude?

The only part which may have been rude is "talking shop" in the presence of his family. And even that depends on subtle aspects of your relationship with your supervisor and whether or not he hinted he might be interested in seeing the result.

It couldn't have been significantly rude, because you only did it at the end of the meeting. So, either a bit rude or not rude at all.

I was very clumsy.

Whether you had been rude or not, you weren't clumsy. You're berating yourself well beyond what your actions merit, even under the worst possible interpretation.

Could I write something as thank you letter and apologize about not being prepared?

That sounds like too much. But when you next meet, you can tell him you what you feel; you can even say you're sorry (whether that's merited or not). He will likely tell you that it's all fine and say there's nothing for you to be sorry about.

If you're not meeting him for a long time, then it's ok to send a thank-you email for the gift (assuming it's not completely trivial gift like some chocolate); and you can tell him how you feel as a secondary point in such a message - but don't over-dramatize things.

I do not know what should I do right now. I am feeling so embarrassed.

Consider some breathing exercising, or light physical activity, to reduce tension. Until you next meet your Professor.

  • 4
    "In most (?) cultures, a person above you in a hierarchical structure should not expect gifts from you," In my experience, the general rule-of-thumb for Australia is that if you get invited to dinner with someone at their house, you should brink a plate of food or a bottle of drink (often alcoholic) with you as a gift for the host. I think that the rules are similar in most other Western countries, right? – nick012000 Aug 26 at 14:27
  • @nick012000: Is this true even if the host is rich and you are poor? – einpoklum Aug 26 at 15:06
  • @einpoklum it is the intention that counts. Could just be a token, cheap thing. I have had people bring over bread or coke. – Rui F Ribeiro Aug 26 at 17:23
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    They came to see you; they bring the gifts. Also sounds like the OP is either a foreigner or very young. All first time transgressions from either are to be forgiven. – Mazura Aug 26 at 20:29

You were rude, social meetings should generally be kept on a social basis unless explicitly invited not to do so by the other party. You monopolized the professor's attention at a dinner with their family, this will not endear you to the family. And you should apologize to them, or at least to your professor, lightly, next time you see them. Don't go on and on about it and expect some sort of formal absolution, just acknowledge that you impinged on what should have been a totally enjoyable evening and are now aware of it.

But hopefully your results were worth the inconvenience, and will get you forgiveness :-). Next time, just mention at the end of the evening that you are very excited about your new results, and make an appointment to discuss them, at the office, at the professor's convenience. You will be better prepared to explain them, in addition to respecting the boundaries of work and life.

  • I think you did not read the entire question. I am away how can I make an appointment? he was just in the city that I am living for a limited time. – programmer Aug 26 at 23:01
  • I don't think you have any evidence that she monopolized his and his family's attention. It could be that the professor was keen to hear the results and his family was quite agreeable to that – Poidah Aug 27 at 1:06
  • You are away but still able to have dinner? This makes no sense. Did you mean he came to your new city for the weekend? You can still arrange to meet someone for work purposes at another time of the weekend. Clearly seeing you was not the only purpose of his trip, or his family would not have been there. Plus you can make an appointment for a phone or video session where you talk about work, you don't need to be in the same place – George M Aug 27 at 1:08

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