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In elementary school we are taught to give an apple to your teacher as a sign of appreciation. Obviously it doesn't work anymore in academia.

I wish to maintain a relationship with a professor after his class, so to establish a relationship that maybe worthwhile longer down the road.

What are some of the ways to show appreciation to your university prof. without resorting to excessive (and often empty) flattery or sending him gifts which maybe in violation of university policy and land everyone in trouble.

  • The goal is to compliment, but I am not sure if it will be received as that. In any case I feel directly complimenting his teaching skill etc. appears too trite. I tend to think of what I am trying to do instead as some sort of micro-praise. – Carlos - the Mongoose - Danger Jan 7 '15 at 5:31
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    Why do you want to compliment this professor? – ff524 Jan 7 '15 at 5:34
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    Why are you setting out to compliment per se? That seems like an odd goal unless you are trying to flatter him. – BrenBarn Jan 7 '15 at 5:34
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    I think this is a classic XY problem. Please edit your question so it asks about your end goal, not just about what you think is the solution to it. – ff524 Jan 7 '15 at 5:39
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    Well, an Apple actually might work, but seriously, what is your goal here? Networking? Some concrete goal in the future? Is he such a good teacher that you want to learn more? If you like to work with this person consider asking him whether he looks for student assistants -- and then do a good job. Doing your thesis with this person as supervisor might be another idea. And I always remembered students who were willing to go the extra mile and do really good work in the course. – Daniel Wessel Jan 7 '15 at 12:10
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After I finished my undergraduate degree I wanted to thank those professors who were the most influential to me and my studies over the past years. In particular, those who wrote all my graduate school letters of recommendations and took the time to help me through the process. I thought about getting them a gift, but felt it was inappropriate.

What I ended up doing was typing a letter to them which thanked them for all they did to me and provided a specific example in which they were influential to me that helped steer me in the direction I was going. I then mailed it to the department so they received it unexpectedly. All of them emailed me to thank me for the nice letter and that it was their pleasure.

This would be a really nice thing to do that isn't flattering and full of praise, but what you actually got from them that was beneficial.

Hope this helps :)

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Some institutions have awards for outstanding instructors that students can nominate people to receive. If you believe your instructor was outstanding, you might submit a nomination for a teaching award.

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I am first going to point out how the actual application of any answer to this question is very dependent on the culture that you are in, and afterwards, I am going to suggest a few abstract ways how to do this.


As I said, answers to this question will be extremely culture-dependent. Starting with your example of giving an apple to an elementary school teacher, this could be seen as bordering on corruption in some places (especially in elementary school, where it can be surmised that the child did not buy the apple themselves, but was given the apple by their parents and asked to hand it over to their teacher). (Aside from the more practical question, unless you expect to be treated in a special way compared to your classmates, which would leave an extremely sour taste concerning your little apple gift, what the teacher is supposed to do with some 20 (or whatever the size of your class) apples.)

Signs of appreciation, and the degree at which appreciation is expressed, vary a lot between cultures. I grew up in Germany, and seen with a German cultural background, most praise expressed in English-speaking cultures sounds way over the top. Conversely, Germans are often perceived as cold and uncaring by people from English-speaking cultures, as a simple "Thank you for the interesting class." would already be quite a strong praise in German, but is not necessarily perceived as such by native English speakers. (Some of these differences are outlined quite well in an essay that was translated to English by Thorsten S in his answer on Travel SE.) There is even a region in Germany that is especially well-known for that trait, and one of their sayings goes "Absence of ranting is sufficient praise." While it's not actually quite that bad and that somewhat humorous saying should be taken with a grain of salt, it demonstrates well different cultural attitudes toward expressing praise.

The same applies to more material ways of expressing praise. Depending on the culture and circumstances, the way in which a gift (for saying thank you or otherwise) is presented might matter more than the gift itself. To cite just two examples:

  • In some cultures such as in China, a gift might be simple, but needs to be well-chosen. As pointed out by the graphic linked in a Travel SE question, an apple might be an ok gift, but by no means switch it for a pear.
  • Wedding gifts in Germany typically involve some money, but the most important aspect (the one that will actually be appreciated and memorized) is that a lot of fantasy and crafting went into them. cf. this, this, or this.

After establishing that the actual contents and wording is very culture-dependent, there might still be some generic suggestions for how to place the statement of appreciation:

  • At the end of the last lesson, when you see the professor for the last time: If you hope to collaborate with the professor in the future, just talk to the professor and express that you'd be interested taking more classes/participating in projects in the research area of the professor or their department. You can then easily start such a conversation by pointing out that one of your main motivations for that goal is that you found the current class very interesting (or, if the topics do not match a lot, at least that it was very well organized and/or well-taught).
  • Once you have something specific in mind, such as a project, point out that you found the class very interesting then. You can postpone your praise till that time; being on the professor's "gave praise, but didn't have anything concrete" batch will probably not help a lot, anyway.
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