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I will be defending my dissertation in this Summer and I'm planning to give a gift to my advisor. I'm not quite sure what would be the best and meaningful gift for a professor receiving from his/her student. Main reason I'm asking this questions is that I'm an international student and not sure what would be most suitable. It's usually a general understanding in my homeland that we give some gifts to the professors that stays for long time. In other words, we avoid giving Champagne, Wine, or something to eat rather a shirt, pen set, etc. Any idea from the american life perspective will be appreciated.

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    America = guns! – Dave Clarke Mar 18 '15 at 20:20
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    Something from your home country would be ideal. It should also be small, to avoid any potential issues. – Jeremy Miles Mar 18 '15 at 20:24
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    On a more serious note (or are the gun folks serious? You never really know these days...) – if your professor is one who (in this electronic age) still keeps a notebook, a high quality notebook and perhaps a good pen would be well received. For example I find that Leuchtturm's 5.75x8.25 notebooks, although expensive, are really good. They even have numbered pages! – Moriarty Mar 18 '15 at 21:25
  • @Moriarty, yes he's exactly such a person that you described. So, it's a great idea to have a notebook and a pen set. – Lorderon Mar 19 '15 at 1:05
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As far as I'm aware, giving gifts to your PhD adviser upon completion in the US is not an obligatory ritual, as compared to Christmas gift exchange in families, or Mother's Day cards and flowers, which are obligatory rituals.

Before you decide to give a gift and choose one, you should consider your adviser's personality, value system, relationship style, and cultural background. Does this adviser frequently give and receive gifts from other faculty members? From other students? Does he/she display many gifts or honors in the office? If so, examine the symbolic nature of these gifts. Are they personal to him/her? Are they status oriented? Do they reflect or signify certain values or identity? Following this line of inquiry is fruitful on two levels. First, what ever you give him will certainly show that your knowledge and appreciation of him/her as a unique person. Everyone likes to be valued for their unique, special qualities and "quirks". Second, you will be giving something that has significance in the context of your relationship with him/her, not something that is generic.

My personal opinion is that the best gift a PhD student can give their adviser is to be a great student, to be someone who is easy to advise, to be someone who heeds the advice, to be someone who stimulates the adviser intellectually, and, above all, finishes the PhD program on time (or at least expeditiously). You can also express in words what your adviser means to you in your acknowledgements section of your dissertation. You can also offer public thanks at the dissertation defense.

If you think a gift is warranted above and beyond this, then I'd lean toward something that has low economic value but very high symbolic value in the context of the adviser as a unique person and your unique relationship with him/her.

  • This is a great recommendation. Honestly, I haven't seen any other students giving him a gift. I haven't seen anything that looks like a gift that he keeps in his room. But, it's a great to think about a personalized gift. – Lorderon Mar 19 '15 at 1:04
  • Great list of what "gifts" we'd love to see in our students. Certainly, having gifted students is more rewarding than having students that give gifts! – Wolfgang Bangerth Mar 19 '15 at 1:29
  • Well, if, say, the professor works in biology, you could find an oversized cell model that is a bit funny and could hang on a wall. For a different personality, a little statue that says "great adviser" , or "best adviser", may work well. – user14102 Apr 28 '15 at 6:34

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