Adventures in Ethics and Science

This post brought to you by my intense desire to avoid grading any more papers.

More than a dozen years ago, when I earned my Ph.D. in chemistry, I made what many at the time viewed as a financially reckless decision and purchased academic regalia rather than just renting it.

At the time, there was apparently just one company who even made the regalia for the university from which I earned my degree. Given their monopoly, they could charge a bundle — almost $600 — for the gown, hood, and mortarboard. (Despite the price, I would also argue that the uniform still needed modifications to be fully functional.)

Renting Ph.D. regalia at that time was around $60. Clearly I was looking to prolong my state of grad student-like poverty?

Actually, part of what persuaded me to buy the regalia was that I knew, by the time the graduation ceremony had rolled around, that I was going to be doing another Ph.D. at the same university, and that I had probably narrowed by career prospects to being a professional academic or needing a distinctive schtick with which to panhandle. By the time I was closing in on my Ph.D. in philosophy, there were other players in the regalia biz, and I was able to purchase a new hood (with coloration indicating my degree in philosophy) a la carte for a mere $100. That puts my regalia investment at $700.*

This morning, I started tallying the occasions on which I have worn my regalia:

  • two of my own graduations
  • three SJSU commencements
  • three SJSU welcome convocations
  • two SJSU honors convocations
  • SJSU Founders Day earlier this month

That’s eleven wearings of my purchased regalia. If we estimate that rentals would have hovered around $60 a pop, that would be $660.

And this Saturday I’ll be wearing it to one more commencement, putting the cost if I were renting ($720) just a bit higher than my $700 investment. I am vindicated!

Vindicated or not, I now return to the grading.

*If we want to get picky, it’s a bit more than that, as I had it dry cleaned once, and I spent a little bit on fasteners to do the retrofit last year.


  1. #1 JP Stormcrow
    May 24, 2007

    *If we want to get picky

    If you want to get really picky, you did not include the time value of money (maybe offset somewhat by inflation of rental prices), or the opportunity cost differential due to extra time it might take to arrange a rental versus preparing the ones you bought, or the ….

    Thank god for bounded rationality.

  2. #2 bsci
    May 24, 2007

    Of course if you invested the initial $540 12 years ago (assuming a conservative average interest rate of 3% and not subtracting future rental costs) you’d now have $770 meaning you’ll have to wear your gown another few times before breaking even. Of course, this also assumes you would have saved the money instead of putting it towards a wild chemistry keg party.

  3. #3 Kyle
    May 24, 2007

    What about the cost of storing and cleaning the one you’ve had?

  4. #4 ctenotrish, FCD
    May 24, 2007

    I bought my regalia for the very same reason. I haven’t *yet* had the chance to wear it to a function other than my own Ph.D. graduation (2005), but will be attending grad. ceremonies for many years to come, once I am back on a campus. I wouldn’t exactly consider it an investment, but I am glad I did it. Plus I am not fond of wearing shared clothing. 🙂

  5. #5 Super Sally
    May 24, 2007

    My recollection is that your grandmother’s gift was supposed to be a contribution to the purchase…? She’ll be pleased that you have gotten enough use from it to be more than a frivolous purchase.


  6. #6 katherine sharpe
    May 24, 2007

    In further defense of your decision to buy, I’d point out that you also saved yourself the hassle of renting academic regalia ten-ish times.

  7. #7 Alan Kellogg
    May 24, 2007

    Don’t forget, in their time your two could wear it at their graduations. Depending on durablity and maintenance it may well become a heirloom passed on from generation to generation, becoming a trademark of your descendents as they earn their degrees and enter the world of the practicing scientist.

  8. #8 greensmile
    May 25, 2007

    Our son just got a BA in molecular biology. We are so delighted that he graduated that we paid for the gown and hood get-up. Since he is going in to a PhD program, we may get to see it used twice. He is considering a life in academic molecular biology rather than industry laboratories so further use is likely [which I did not appreciate until I saw your accounting here.]

  9. #9 Christina Pikas
    May 26, 2007

    Holy Cow! I just priced mine at it will be over $900! I borrowed a stole and used the gown from my undergrad for my masters.. and our doctoral regalia includes a tam, a tam, I tell you… Much better to have invested that money then, than to have to buy a new set now.

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