61

I am nearing the end of my PhD and I would quite like to buy a "thank you" gift for my supervisor (although, she's the socially awkward type who I'm sure will be greatly embarrassed to receive one).

I'm just wondering whether a gift is the done thing? And if so, what sort of gift seems appropriate? I suppose a bottle of wine would be a safe choice?

  • 3
    This question (academia.stackexchange.com/questions/23884/…) may be of interest as it is asked from the supervisor point of view. – gman Sep 8 '14 at 9:22
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    "she's the socially awkward type who I'm sure will be greatly embarrassed to receive one" - then perhaps it would be better to have the gift sent to her office, rather than presenting it in person. – mhwombat Sep 8 '14 at 12:05
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    @mhwombat: possibly; but it’s also quite possible for someone to be embarrassed at a public gesture of thanks/appreciation, while still appreciating it and being very grateful for it. – PLL Sep 8 '14 at 16:01
86

After your defense, and final submission to the university; you can give the gift, with a thank you note. Right before your defense is a big no, in my opinion.

  • 5
    I'd go with Dave Rose's answer. Currently I'm preparing my defence (should take place in February if things go as scheduled). Once I'm done - and independently from the result - I will invite my supervisor with his wife and children for a good dinner to say thanks. After all he had a lot of work and even if he gets paid for doing things like this in general, he doesn't get paid anything in addition for the efforts he did for me. – Patric Hartmann Sep 8 '14 at 10:11
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    I think inviting your supervisor and/or committee members out to a nice dinner, perhaps along with your own family members, is a very nice choice. On the one hand, this is a very positive way to bring closure to a multi-year relationship. On the other, among academics I know, enjoying good food is much more universal than a proclivity towards any one material good. – Pete L. Clark Sep 8 '14 at 23:51
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    This is the right answer, but the real shame is having to ask! Yes, gift (and not right before defense), and if you don't know something very specific to give her or him at this point, they've sold you very short. ;^) You haven't said the field, but, eg, a signed book from one of your and their favorite/most cited authors/theorists or their advisor? – ruffin Sep 9 '14 at 20:27
33

This might be a location dependent question, but in NW Europe a bottle of wine is appropriate for such and even lesser events.

Many campus shops offer a standardized wine bottle in a gift wrap with the name of the university printed on it. They are the obvious choice, but there is plenty of room for creativity.

23

As others have already written, a gift is appropriate only after you are completely done. In my case, that was after the registrar had notified me that my application for degree had been approved by the program office.

I had asked my supervisor a couple of probably unsubtle questions after the defense, and sent (to his home, not to the university) two bottles of wine that would have been hard for him to find and a pretty nice decanter. I also sent three small (very low three figures) checks to the university, one in honor of each committee member, so each should have gotten a letter stating that a gift had been made in his name.

(I'm in the United States.)

  • 18
    very low three figures x3 is small??? – ff524 Sep 7 '14 at 20:48
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    I don't think the gift is supposed to be comparable to the cost of the doctorate – ff524 Sep 7 '14 at 21:11
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    If you look through the answerer's webpage, you can find this page scis.nova.edu/~robebrow which shows that he received his PhD at a relatively late age and after many years of gainful employment. This may help to explain what to many 20-something PhDs looks a bit on the extravagant side. (As a PhD advisor, I feel very tempted to add: maybe he is just a more gracious person....But in all sincerity, gifts totaling more than $100 from any one student would probably make me uncomfortable.) – Pete L. Clark Sep 7 '14 at 21:19
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    Do note that a gift to the university is a gesture of thanks that benefits the committee member not at all. In fact, the committee member probably doesn't even know the amount, just gets an acknowledgment from the school's development office. – Bob Brown Sep 7 '14 at 23:59
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    @Bob: I was thinking more about the wine and the decanter than the university gifts. Also -- although I need to be clear that I am not in any way criticizing your choice, which was admirably gracious and generous -- I would not personally be especially pleased in hearing that some student made a donation to my employer in my name. Most universities I know have endowments of such magnitude that a three figure gift is truly negligible. I would much rather have a donation made to the charitable organization of my choice. I don't claim anything more than personal preference here... – Pete L. Clark Sep 8 '14 at 4:51
19

The appropriateness would depend on the culture. In Sweden it is customary for advisor and advisee to exchange presents. Usually, they consist on things like a fine vase of pottery. Personally, I would go for something that is somehow related to your research. For example, a pathologist expert in chimeric cells got custom made necklace and earrings with chimeras, and was greatly appreciated (and not only saying it because my mother made it!). In my opinion, originality is what counts most.

And you can always do it privately to avoid her the embarrassment.

13

Following the defense, a small token of appreciation would not be inappropriate. However, this should not be a substantial gift, as even after the defense, it could be viewed as a quid pro quo arrangement.

3

I took my adviser out for a steak dinner at the finest restaurant in town. I'm told that I was the first to do so (other students bought him a box of red pens, etc.), but cherish the occasion. One of my happiest memories is this occasion, enjoying each other's company as equals, after having completed a long/hard joint project.

3

As a new assistant professor, I feel awkward whenever my students offer me gifts. I am sure they have the best of intentions, but potential implications and potential alterior motives are enough to make me uncomfortable.

I am sure this is culture dependent as some of the other answers have suggested, but I would recommend going with the local culture of the deparment and former graduates(if any)

1

In my case it was a bottle of cognac, of course after the defense. I brought it to my supervisor's home. It was in Russia 18 years ago, I believe nowadays it is still nice/appropriate gesture.

0

It completely depends on:

  • The kind of relationship you have with your advisor/supervisor and
  • The extent to which s/he has gone out of their way to help you over the course of your Ph.D.

In most cases I would say no, because you are the underpaid employee and s/he is sort-of the boss, or at least the representative of the university. Would you give your supervisor at work a gift after finishing a significant project? Probably not.

PS - It's true that it's not your advisor who decides that Ph.D. salaries be low, but then, that's usually true for your supervisor at a regular job.

  • This answer seems to be from the perspective of a field in which Ph.D. students work as part of some team for their advisor. In many areas, advisors are (at least supposed to be) givers, not takers. – Michael Greinecker Feb 15 '18 at 13:23
  • @MichaelGreinecker: Even if you work outside of a team - you work for a university, producing originall research. So, as a Ph.D. candidate, you're a giver. You do get some mentoring, advice, supervision - but you put in years of work. – einpoklum Feb 15 '18 at 13:53

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