Do you give a gift to your advisor when you defend?

Dear SW and Alice,

I will soon defend my dissertation, and I don't know whether it is customary or acceptable or expected to give an appreciation gift to one's adviser. ...I asked around with colleagues... and there seems to be no consensus - I got, "you could and it would be nice but I don't think it would be expected". Is there a standard of behavior to show appreciation for dissertation advising, or is it part of the job, in your experiences? Did you give gifts? If you did, what did you give? Can you shed any light on this?

Soontobe PhD

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgDear Soontobe,

Congratulations on your coming defense! You've done all of the hard parts of your PhD and now you can relax and worry about details like page formatting and gifts for your advisor. That's awesome.

And what a great question. I wondered about the same thing when I was defending. I think the traditional thing to do is have the present be a bound copy of the dissertation for your advisor's collection. I also chose to give my advisor a framed photo of the two of us at one of my scenic field sites. I know that he still has that picture amidst the clutter of his office - not even totally buried! I don't think you should feel in any way obligated to give your advisor anything of monetary value - but if you are close and have something sentimental to give or shared interests or something like that I think a gift would be fine. I'd bet that a nice - but not too sappy - letter saying how much you appreciated his advice and mentoring, etc. would be just as appreciated as any gift.

On a more pragmatic level - the dissertation copy may actually be used by future grad students who are doing related work. Even better would be to make sure that you actually get all of the chapters of your thesis published in a timely manner. Finally, when you leave, don't leave behind unlabeled samples and messy or incomplete lab/field notebooks. You should be a good lab citizen and give your advisor (and, again, future grad students) a tidy package of notebooks, reagents, and whatnot for future work. (But you already knew that...)

Readers - Did you give your advisor a gift? If so, what?


More like this

I defended last week and passed. I have a few words of advice. My advisor was extremely helpful and told me what was expected.

I brought in coffee, breakfast pastries, and cut up fruit. It was much appreciated. My advisor gave me a clock with my university's name on it - a very appropriate and appreciated gift. I will give to her a bound copy of my dissertation, and a collection of spices from a local spice shop - she likes to cook and barbecue. I will most likely not do anything for the other four members, except to invite them to my graduation party.

It really varies it sounds like - so you can't go wrong by asking your advisor or other students who have graduated.

Regarding how many do not make it through the defense (fail) I would venture this is a very small number. No advisor should allow a student to get to that point if they are not ready. If they do, they are not doing their job. A failure at some institutions means you are out of the program, or you may be granted one more opportunity to defend if you can show that you can perform the required research, analysis, etc. in order to satisfy the minimum requirements. Keep in mind, it is in the best interest of the institution to have you graduate.

I did my dissertation on Procrastination - and one frightening statistic is that 70% of students who make it to the ABD stage never earn their doctorate. Glad I made it through, with only a few months before my time was up.

By johnna Gueorguieva (not verified) on 21 Mar 2011 #permalink

Yes! The best thing you can give your advisor, and the lab as a whole, is to organize all your stuff! (I say this because our lab just graduated its first Ph.D. student, who left behind a mess of crap and we have no idea what to do with it -- our PI would have been THRILLED had he taken a week or so to label all his samples, find space in the freezer for everything, and printed out a sheet with the location of everything, maps for his plasmids, lists of his antibodies and locations, thrown away his old Western blots, etc etc).

I gave my committee little boxes of chocolates from a local very favorite store. They ripped them open immediately and starting munching on them. I gave my Master's advisor 3 packs (30 total) of red pens to replenish his supply!

I kind of think you shouldn't give anything at your defense (and that any such tradition should be strongly discouraged). It has the potential to feel like bribery because they are still in the process of grading (passing) you. If you give anything, then I think something small (ala SW's suggestion above) given at graduation is much more appropriate.

By hypatia cade (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

I only gave a gift to my major professor. I gave it to her at the party I had after graduation.

I didn't give anything to my advisor, but I went to a nearby cafe' with my family and friends (including the advisor) and my father paid. I never received a present as an advisor, except of course a nice copy of the thesis. I suspect I would find it weird.

OTOH, I feel that I should be giving a present to my students when they graduate - something like a reference book. Did anybody get a present from their advisor? What do you all think about this?

no gifts...that wasn't part of the culture at my grad institution

Since I didn't get to the PhD defense or graduation part yet (although in my part of academia the graduation (party) follows the defense on the same day, I can only share experiences for my Masters. I got a nice bottle of wine from my adviser and I didn't get him anything (well, aside from a nice copy of my thesis).
Defenses that I have seen her, on average, you get a present from your adviser(s), and usually you also give your advisers something you know they will appreciate. In my case, this will be good quality Belgian black chocolate for all three of them ;)

After the defense, I gave small (2 piece) boxes of chocolate from a local chocolatier to my committee to thank them for reading my dissertation.

I didn't do anything for my MS, but for my PhD, I gave a moderately-priced bottle of wine to each of my committee members, including my advisor. I was able to do this individually, and they all seemed to appreciate it. I received a nice pair of earrings from my advisor at the get-together on the evening I defended.

I gave my professor a bound copy of the thesis and he gave me a little paperback math text he thought was a classic.

By Female Enginee… (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

Excellent post.

I think there are two things you should give your adviser. A suitable acknowledgment in the acknowledgment section and as suggested a copy of the thesis.

Otherwise any gift or act should simply be based on the nature of your relationship in its various dimensions. I set up a bar outside of my advisor's office and everybody who came by drank for free for the rest of the day. My most recent PhD gave me all his data. That was nice. My previous PhD and her husband bought me lunch. That was great because I had never met him before and always wanted to. The best present, though, is when I get emailed out of the blue just to say hi. As if that ever happens.... (sigh...)

I think in some departments it has become a tradition for the examinees for an oral to bring something to drink and something to eat, like apple juice and bars. I have mixed feelings about that.

I'm similar to LindaCO - did nothing for my M.S. committee, but I gave a reasonably priced bottle of alcohol to each person. For the committee members I knew well enough to know their tastes, I chose something specific (tequila for one person, a favorite beer for another) - a friend did something similar, giving a book to a committee member who did not drink.

My advisor (and another committee member) took me out for a nice dinner the night before (partly to keep me from overstressing the night before, I think).

Well, that brings up a whole other issue: What do do for your graduating advisee. Bugt I suppose that could be another post.

Okay, since I've never been through any of these kinds of processes (Masters, Ph.D., etc.), what's the failure rate once this dissertation defense stage is reached? This is an oral defense, right?

What are the possible outcomes of this, and what are the advisors or board members looking for?

By minusRusty (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

Ok greg laden, I bet your question about "what to do for your graduating advisee" will be answered in the comment thread here, but if not, I'll throw up another post in a few days.

minusRusty: your question definitely deserves its own post. I'll add it to my to-blog list and credit you as an impetus.

I gave my advisor my thin sections, my field notebooks, my rock samples, my maps, several figures for a proposal she was writing, and a couple submitted manuscripts. (Along with the dissertation.) She gave me a barbecue after the defense and a garlic-lovers cookbook. (Food was a running joke in our research group, because we did fieldwork in remote places and would run out of food on occasion.)

Oh, and I gave her an edited collection of quotes from e-mails she had sent me. (She was the perfect advisor to be teased in that kind of way.) And later, I gave her some new students for her research group.

I think I'll print this comment thread, underline every occurrence of the words "dark chocolate", and tape it to the door of my office.

I agree with Greg that what you give (if anything) and what your advisor gives you (if anything) depends on the nature of the relationship.

For my committee: I made sure they were fed and caffeinated during the defense. I think I wrote them all individual thank-you letters as well.

My advisor. He and his family were wonderful friends and colleagues during my PhD. I got him a nice bottle of scotch (I also got his wife a nice gift too), a long thank you letter, a huge acknowledgment in my dissertation, and a clean lab before I left. We still collaborate.

What my advisor got me:
Took me to dinner at a nice restaurant in town and bought be a coffee table book: nature shots specific to the State where I did my PhD. I really liked this gift, I thought it was a great idea!

1) I would wait to give a gift to your advisor until the party (or champaign opening) after you pass. I think something that fits the relationship you had (in my lab a good joke item was pretty standard).

2) always make sure your committee is well fed and very well caffeinated and make sure as many diuretics are included as possible. The faster they have to pee, the faster the defense ends. :)

I did not give my Advisor anything after I have defended my Master's, but I treated her to dinner. At first she refused, but I insisted, saying that I could only do so much now (then, because I didn't have a job yet), and she agreed :D

It didn't occur to me that I should be buying gifts as a grad student :-). My advisor bought me (and all the others who graduated from his lab at U.Va) a framed photo of the Blue Ridge; I loved and love it.

I *did* give bottles of wine to folks at a couple of later points: folks who wrote a *lot* of letters of reference for me despite not ever having been a direct advisor (Shafer Relentless which seemed aptly named and is delicious!), and I sent my (now ex-)advisor some champagne at one point (I think for similar reasons but also because he had cancer; I forget exactly).

Definite plans to give presents to graduating students from my lab, should I ever have any!

Oh; (prompted by Missy above): one tradition that I like very much is faculty taking grad student friends to restaurants that the students can't afford. This is then paid forward in turn. Just seemed classy. Hat-tip here to Bobbie Spellman, who drew me into this reverse-ponzi scheme!

Thanks, everyone! I appreciate the ideas and tips!

The bound copy of my dissertation was expected, so I couldn't pawn it off as a gift. I gave my advisor a very expensive bottle of whiskey and took him out for dinner...

The tradition in my lab was that the student gave a bound copy of the thesis to the advisor (after the result was agreed) and the advisor gave the student a bottle of champagne (or equivalent pricey celebratory treat) and told them firmly to take it home and share with friends/family. I still have the cork from mine, and I'm continuing the custom...

I didn't give my boss anything. I'm in the sciences and my publications and matriculation made him look good. In turn, he advised during my research. I shook his hand and said thanks and went about my business.

By Dr Heratio Fon… (not verified) on 14 Sep 2008 #permalink

Yes, definitely. Despite all the problems and frustrations that I felt during the course of the PhD, I wanted her to know that I appreciated her efforts. It's important to recognize that supervisors are human and make mistakes. They learn about mentoring with every student.

I was more interested in kicking my supervisor in the face at the time. I did invite my committee to the party, but they didn't show. It was a good viva though, lots of people, charming opponent, a nice atmosphere.

I plan to give my advisor a hard copy of my Ph.D disseration, too.

I was just wondering if I should write down(by hand) my appreciation somewhere in the dissertation in addition to the printed ackowlegement?

Do you do that, or, just give the printed copy without any handwriting? Thanks,

Thread necromancy! You show up near the top of a Google search on the topic. I'm in a similar position at the moment, I defend (Ph.D.) in 5 days. I don't drink and don't know much about alcohol as a result, so I won't be giving my committee/advisor any booze.

But, I will be catering my defense. I do a lot of baking/confection stuff, and my advisor has joked in the past that he hired me because of my baking. A committee member who I had as a prof. in a class a few years ago told me that if science doesn't work out, baking will. So I figure that is my "thank-you" to my committee and bribe to get friends to come support me during the defense. I'm going to be making candied orange and lemon peels, half dipped in dark chocolate, and key lime meltaway cookies, half of them half-dipped in dark chocolate and the other half tossed in powdered sugar (one of my committee members doesn't like chocolate). Depending on how nervous I am and need to do other things, I also may be making marshmallow-filled chocolates.

I think in my case anything much more (along the lines of a "parting gift") would be weird because - assuming I pass - I will be continuing to work for the guy for at least another 18 months as a post-doc, continuing the work I'm doing now. I know that's generally a bad idea, but it's on a grant that I had written to fund me and he signed off on as the PI, so I'm a teensy bit obligated.

The advisor did get a big "thank you" in my thesis Acknowledgements, and after reading this thread I will get him a bound copy. I won't have it at the defense because, at least here, the committee can pass you but still tell you to change things in your thesis and the grad school gives us another week to get it in. My committee gets acknowledged at the end of my defense and two are called out individually because they're collaborators on my work (incl. the advisor).