25

I recently got a good job and I want to thank a very senior professor in my department, who spent time to write me a very good reference.

I am thinking maybe to give him a thank you card when I go to see him before leaving the department.

I come from a culture where gift-giving is considered obligatory if someone has helped you to achieve something major. I'm not sure this is appropriate in the UK context.

Any ideas?

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    I feel like a card is appropriate. I'm not familiar with UK etiquette, but in the US, if we really feel the need to give a gift, it's a $15ish gift card to a coffee shop. Perhaps you can ask a classmate about UK customs? – Compass Oct 7 '14 at 18:25
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    This may be applicable in very specific cases only but would be a(n additional) nice gesture: Assuming the professor has written a book (which you have also read or at least think/know is a great text to keep in your bookshelf), you may buy a new copy and request him to sign it. – jayann Oct 8 '14 at 12:01
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    Possible duplicate of On giving gifts to LOR writers – Enthusiastic Engineer Jun 5 '19 at 19:23
11

A thank-you card would be perfect, or even just saying thank you.

There isn't a strong culture of giving thank-you gifts in the UK so your professor won't expect one and certainly won't feel that you are ungrateful if you don't give him something. However, it's almost never inappropriate1 to give a small gift if that's what you want to do. The suggestions in the other answers (a gift card for a coffee shop, a bottle of wine or especially something from your own country) are all good ideas. I wouldn't spend more than about £10 on such a gift.

1 The situations where it would be inappropriate would mostly be cases where the gift could be interpreted as a bribe; that obviously isn't the case, here.

27

A thank you card is definitely a good idea and I cannot see that it would be considered inappropriate. If you are from abroad, a little something typical of your country of origin may also be appropriate. Like a small box of traditional sweets, a little traditional doll, a fan, or something like that. I have had this kind of little things given to me by students.

Also, the university will probably have a policy on gifts which you may be able to locate on their web site. The general idea is that it should not be something worth a significant amount of money.

Rather than asking a classmate, I would ask a junior faculty for what goes as the norm. A classmate may be as inexperienced in this as you are, because the rules in academia can be significantly different from other parts of society.

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    New car! Do you know how little academics are paid? I have written many of these letters over the years and to date have received (and expected) exactly nothing in return. A $15 Starbucks gift card would blow me away. – Dave Kanter Oct 7 '14 at 19:57
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    @DaveKaye This is pretty trivial, but I'm puzzled by your reference to new car. In any case, I agree that a thank you card and a small gift would be a nice gesture, and completely appropriate in any culture I've spent time in. – Faheem Mitha Oct 7 '14 at 20:56
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    Just a joke Faheem. Trivial indeed. – Dave Kanter Oct 7 '14 at 21:17
  • +1 on asking a junior faculty member, preferably one who knows not only the norms but the letter writer and what they might like. Believe it or not, some people don't drink coffee! Many people would love a free bottle of wine, others do not drink, still others are wine snobs and won't drink anything less that $30/bottle. – Matthew Leingang Oct 8 '14 at 13:02
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    Let me be clear to any of my recommendees: I like wine and I am not a snob. :-) – Matthew Leingang Oct 8 '14 at 13:03
3

A well thought-out thank you note would be good. Better if you know them well enough to know they like a particular place, e.g. their favorite coffee shop, and you could buy them a gift certificate. I'm probably reading my own biases into this, but I would not get them less than a $20 gift certificate, or maybe a nice bottle of wine (if you know they'd like it). If that's too expensive for you, just focus on making your thank you note mean more than a couple cups of free coffee.

But you're under no obligation. They performed their duty as they were obliged to do, likely because you did so as well. If you're on good terms, and I think it's safe to assume you are, a simple thank-you note is likely to mean much more than anything else you might do.

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