Survivor gifts

Jun 10 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

In my experience, there is a sort of tradition in science that a supervisor gives a gift to a trainee leaving the lab. I think it's a nice gesture and I know I appreciated it when I left the various stops in my academic life. Of course, now being on the supervisor side of things, I've got to be the one coming up with the gift ideas.

I bring this up because I have a student graduating by the end of the summer and since my summer is a vortex of deadlines and travel it occurred to me that I should consider what I would get as a gift now rather than picking something up at the local convenience store 10 minutes before the defense. I mean, every likes fudgesicles, but they may not make the best going away gift.

The fall back for almost every supervisor is books. We all like books and there is an essentially endless number from which to choose, but unless you know what the person leaving is moving on to, picking the books that will be useful to them in the future is not all that easy. Plus, at the rate people move in most academic fields, you might as well be giving someone lead bricks.

Surely there are more innovative ideas out there.

31 responses so far

  • Dr. Zeek says:

    engraved laser-pointer?actually, I think anything from this website would suffice

  • chall says:

    hm, there are these different traditions. My old department wher eI was a grad student, it wasn't uncommon to get a painting, necklace, engraved glasses or earrings... even a tree for the garden was one choice. Of course, I can see that this is strange for other places ;)I personally like something that reminds me of the person and/or the place. A plaque with the most used pathway they've studied? A coffee mug with the molecules on it for their new office? If they play sports, something to use in the sports with a engraving on (like a golf ball with the molecule etc).But yeah, I like the engraved laser pointer and I have never said no to a book as a gift (personal, yet not intrusive) 🙂

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    My old boss gave me a book on the field that I was heading off towards (may not be applicable to your trainee) but also one of those lab technique manuals that you can get from CSHL press. I was very thankful for it and thought it to be a very genuine gift.

  • BLG says:

    Ha! My Ph.D. advisor used to carve us stone statues/figurines for graduation. As you can imagine, these could sometimes be very cumbersome to move, but they certainly showed his appreciation of our time and effort.

  • Arlenna says:

    I started a tradition of giving a digital camera with my first two graduates... I might continue that or I might try to come up with something more creative.

  • Micro Dr. O says:

    My lab groups have always tried to find something that is fitting for the individual. One person who recently moved on from my current lab was given a new iPod - his had been working poorly for months, and he depended on it for moving files between work and home, as well as music for his bike ride into work. I received some really nice scarfs, hats, and gloves when I left my PhD lab...I was moving from the south to a colder climate, and our lab was all girls who loved clothes. I would think of the person and talk to the people who've worked them in the lab. Is he/she an organization freak? A new leather-bound portfolio with a seal of your university might be nice. A huge coffee drinker? Maybe a personalized mug and gift basket from Gevalia. A book could also definitely work, especially with how expensive they can be on a student/postdoc salary. But I would think outside the science box as well.

  • Ambivalent Academic says:

    GrAdvsior let us pick our own. Most people got ref texts relevant to their next positions. Others got nice framed art related to their dissertations (I know how much you love some Haeckl).

  • Dr.Girlfriend says:

    I got Champaign and a little "party in hall". This was fairly standard for the department (despite the no-alcohol-on-campus policy). Of course fake bubbly was available for non-drinkers, and the PI would provide finger food and sometimes a cake. It was nice because however busy a person is in the lab, they can take 5 minutes out to walk down the hall and say goodbye or congratulations. It is a nice thought, but gifts can be embarrassing, inappropriate, too cheap, or too expensive. You have also got to be careful that gifts you give are of equal value and thought from one to the next. Personally I value my cork and the card signed by the department more than I could imagine appreciating any other gift.

  • Steve says:

    My PhD supervisor would have a chemical structure related to your research engraved on a beer mug. Everyone knew what they were getting, but maybe not the molecule in question...its a great gift - very personal (I know that no-one else has one like it), and there's no worry about one person's gift being better than another.

  • Anonymous says:

    My adviser gave everyone one of these. It makes a decent computer bag if desired, although it's not padded.

  • Anonymous says:

    What is everyone talking about? I got a pat on the back.

  • New Asst. Prof. says:

    I agree that books are good, especially if relevant to the trainees next stage of life. One tradition from my grad school lab that I loved even more is that the departing student gave a gift to the group - a new coffee pot and a CD player/radio (with a remote for quick settlement of music disputes!) were our favorites. Of course I'm dating myself a bit with this last one, since I graduated prior to the age of the iPod :).

  • Alyssa says:

    I'm feeling left out - I didn't get a gift from either of my grad supervisors!I like the ideas of a book, or the engraved laser pointer or mug though.

  • Natalie says:

    I got a gift a bookstore 🙂 I didn't buy a textbook, I bought Thoreau's Walden and Kafka's Metamorphosis (among others- all very far from my discipline of study). I would have never spent my own money on some non-related readings but the GC gave me freedom to pick something I normally wouldn't. I loved the idea.

  • Ewan says:

    My PhD advisor gave each of us a framed photo of the local Blue Ridge mountains; highly beautiful.My postdoc mentor knew I was coming to upstate NY, and gave me a set of James Fennimore Cooper's work; I thought that was especially thoughtful.I have been pondering this for my own lab folk; my first undergrad got a Sagan volume, and I think that a book is probably the right level for undergrads, but not sure yet what will happen with grad students. I am thinking perhaps good kitchen knives, but that might convey an odd message... ;).

  • Anonymous says:

    I GAVE a gift to all MY advisors... but never received one.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Unfortunately, our organisms and study topic are not the kind of thing that is great for engraving. It is also not clear right now what the next step for this student is, so a gift relating to where they are going next is tough. The book store gift certificate is not a bad idea, though perhaps slightly impersonal. I do not, however, see myself carving anything for anyone anytime soon. Hobbies are for tenured people, it would seem. Hmmmm....

  • chall says:

    oh, I referred to my graduate advisor whom I had a fairly good relationship with. From my undergrad PI, nothing. Which I think is ok since I wasn't in their lab for 4.5 years as I did my PhD :)I hope you can get some ideas - many of the comments are great I think. Personal yet not expensive would be my way in this... and I'm such a geek so a geeky thing with molecules would work well for me. The moving aspect is important too - if you know they are moving in the future give them something small they can bring with them etc. (an extrernal hard drive with the group logo on or something similar might come in very handy too?)

  • Anonymous says:

    When I was a grad student, it fell to me to organize the party/gift for the departing students. I had a lab photo taken and put in a nice frame, and got them a gift card to their favorite store with the remaining money. It was a nice memento without being too over the top.

  • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    My undergrad research supervisor gave me a very nice refillable pen, which I used for years; unfortunately it got lost when I moved jobs two years ago.My PhD lab (including my supervisor) gave me a camera, because they knew I didn't have one and was moving to a very scenic part of the world. It was a fantastic gift - but now outdated (it was a film camera 🙂 ). I don't like clutter, and don't usually keep old electronics around the house, but I don't want to get rid of this one. I actually don't think electronics are a very good idea because of their short life-span.My postdoc lab got me a dry bag designed to sit on top of an ocean kayak. I use it every single time I go out, even if it's just for a couple of hours. Awesome gift that will last a long time (especially since I don't get much time for kayaking at the moment).

  • Odyssey says:

    You let your students leave?????

  • Alcaligenesv says:

    My grad school advisor gave each graduating student a lab family photo in a nice frame and a photo book of the area where the grad school was located. She would pass the book around to everyone in the lab and any other people who were friends or played an important part in our work and have them sign it and leave messages. They are both treasured items from my grad school days.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I agree that electronics are probably not what I'll shoot for because they will be obsolete in 5 years or less. The photo idea could work, and it is lightweight. Maybe combined with some of the other suggestions...And Odeyssey, shhhhhh. It's all for appearances before we push them into the grad cave and make them process more data in the dark with only left-over seminar pizza and coffee as nutrition. It's important to keep up morale in the rest of the lab.

  • Odyssey says:

    You have pizza at seminars????? Geez, what kind of namby-pamby institution is that?

  • Anonymous says:

    I was my PhD adviser's first student, and we are evolutionary biologists. He had intended to give books, but I had closed out a couple of grants with large purchases, so he was unsure what I still needed. Instead he got me bookends shaped from rocks imbued with fossils. I treasure them, and all of his subsequent trainees have pointedly mentioned to my adviser how beautiful and significant they were... and he's had to get them various items made of fossils for their graduations! Hit your local natural history museum gift shop for some great ideas.

  • Anonymous says:

    I give T-shirts with the metabolic pathway we study ironed on it. In place of the structure of the enzyme a student worked on, I put their face. It's relatively easy and the students really get a kick out of it.

  • Jessica says:

    I got a printed book of pictures of me and the lab... I think it's an awesome gift to remember people I spent 7 years with (but we were a very picture heavy lab.. pictures of us at benches, drinking at conferences, the lab ski trip).

  • LabMom says:

    I came from a 'leather briefcase' lab. Unisex.

  • Dr Becca, PhD says:

    Bacon of the Month Club membership!I didn't get this when I defended, but think about it--it's the best present! There's nothing to carry, it's delicious, and plus you will be helping to feed a poor and starving grad student or post-doc!

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    My heart hurts just looking at that page...

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