Repost: Survivor gifts

Jun 27 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

This is a repost from a few years back, which I bring up again because I never seem to feel like I have a good answer.

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, everyone 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.

29 responses so far

  • pyrope says:

    My PhD supervisor gave me a serving plate - it's kinda funky, but I went to grad school in an artsy town. Probably not a style I would have picked out myself, but it makes me remember him every time I see it.
    You could also go for beer glasses...practically guaranteed to get used.

  • Anne says:

    I'm finishing up grad school in the southwest, and my advisor has a tradition of giving a print from a local artist (who does southwestern themed work, mostly landscapes) to each person who graduates. Every couple of years she buys a handful of these and decorates her office with them. When you leave you get to pick which one you want. She restocks when she's almost out.

  • We had the opposite: gift for advisor. I got advisor and advisor's spouse some fancy chocolates, because what do you get for someone with an income ten times yours??

  • Although he did get a cake for my departure party, which he didn't do for ANYONE else in like six years, so that was a little weird too.

  • scicurious says:

    I got a plaque with "My Name, PhD" on it, and a lab coat with my name embroidered on. And the lab got me a super nice planner with my initials (I guess my excessive organizational skills were obvious).

  • Geeka (@Geeka) says:

    I got a macbook air and the final cut software. (I used to deal w/ lab computers and made the yearly lab video)

    However, in the ~6 students that I knew that graduated from the lab, I was the only one to get anything.

  • Dr 27 says:

    My PhD mentor gave me some fancy wine glasses and a couple of other little things. Then a year later, when I went for commencement, I also got german and french chocolate from her latest vacation. She also made arrangements for a departmental gathering afterwards and a BBQ at her place.

    In my PhD I never saw my boss give anything to anyone. People would pool money to get a fancy school frame from the school.

    I believe that @bam284 got one of her department students a MacBook. I think it was because this student was stellar.

    Just my two cents.

  • Dr 27 says:

    I meant to say, my postdoc, not my PhD. Sorry, brain freeze

  • sarah says:

    I'm not sure what we do here, since no one has graduated since I've joined the lab. But for other celebrations (e.g., passing oral exams) we each choose what we want to drink. Not everyone in my group drinks alcohol, which means beer/wine glasses are not a good default gift.

  • treedoc says:

    How about a world map atlas? I got one of these, it's a nice idea - you can go anywhere, here are some nice maps...

  • Dr Becca says:

    I got a textbook, and a party with a cake in the shape of a rat dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

  • NatC says:

    For graduation, from my advisor, I got a framed pic of the two of us together and all gowned up at graduation (we were close, so that wasn't so weird), and chocolate and wine.

    From the larger lab group, I got a whole bunch of random university-tagged gear - It's traditional in that group to give the weirdest, tackiest stuff from the university store to people who are leaving/getting married/having a baby.

    I'll let you know what I get when I leave my post-doc - though that's likely to be a more personal gift.

  • Yael says:

    My former advisor took the whole lab out to lunch when someone was leaving.

  • studyzone says:

    In both my grad and postdoc labs, the tradition is a "lab gift" - everyone chips in. The PIs put up the bulk of the money, but the gift suggestions were left to whomever in the lab initiated the gift. My lab-leaving gift from grad lab was a set of nice dishes (because my practical-minded friend, who was put in charge of the gift, knew I would be setting up an apartment from scratch and thought it would be appreciated. It was.) In my postdoc lab, we try to tailor gifts to the departing lab member's interests/personality/career goals. For example, a postdoc who left to become a lecturer in anatomy & phys (among other subjects), got a skeleton, which is now his "sidekick" (and coat hangar).

  • B says:

    My grad school advisor got me a desk name plate with a spot for holding business cards with my name and PhD. It was nice but the lab as a whole didn't do anything. At my current place the PI takes everyone to lunch when someone leaves.

  • Socal_dendrite says:

    Books may seem boring or impractical, but they don't have to be. My PhD advisor gave me 'Advice to a Young Scientist' by Peter Medawar and 'Mary: A Fiction and Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman' by Mary Wollstonecraft. Both are slim volumes that I treasure. The lab clubbed together to get me a very nice rolling carry-on bag and the tackiest soft toy from the university gift shop.

    In my postdoc lab, personal gifts are not given (as suits the more hands-off style of my postdoc advisor) but he treats the whole (large) lab to lunch whenever someone leaves.

  • Kate in SB says:

    My PI throws a happy hour or lunch buffet when students graduate. He gave me a nice leather portfolio with my university logo on it when I finished my Ph.D., which I really liked. He's also given out travel coffee mugs with the university logo.

  • phagenista says:

    My advisor bought something from the local natural history museum for each of us. I love my fossil bookends!

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Suggestions of a laptop or Ipad or things of that nature are just not happening. Not sure how much you folks think assistant professors get paid, but apparently more than I do.

    I'm not opposed to books, per se, but they can be hard to pick for people going in different directions. I am having a get together, but want to add a little something for them to take with them as well.

  • Pascale says:

    My husband's section gave departing fellows a coffee table book about Nebraska.
    When I finished my fellowship, my mentor gave me a clay gull sculpted by a local artist in Minnesota. I don't know if he knew something or if it was just coincidence, but every time I see it I remember our daytrips to Duluth where we would watch gulls catch popcorn on the fly over Lake Superior. It also fit in well with a bunch of duck and loon stuff we have in our living room.
    I also got a copy of a text in my field, autographed by the editor who was our program director at the time. I finally threw it away because it was and expensive, out-of-date doorstop.
    If you can come up with something that reflects the region and that may resonate with the trainee, it's a winner. I love my gull.

  • TJ says:

    When I left my last lab, they gave me a huge canvas print with artistic images of all of the creatures I had done research with. It was extremely cool, and I love it.

  • FunkDoctorX says:

    I got a sports on...word!

  • Polytrope says:

    I always stick to books. Something classic e.g. by Feynmann (I'm in physics), a history of science type book (relevant to field of study), or Medawar's 'Advice to a Young Scientist'. But then I am a book addict!

  • My current lab makes a science image of some sort - if there has been a cover story paper, often it will be a nice print of it - or otherwise somehow incorporates some sort of visual element of the person's work into the skyline of the city or the outline of the state we're located in and frames it. The PI writes a badly rhyming toast and gives it at the lab party, just before presenting the picture.

    For my PhD defense, there was a cheese plate and a bottle of champagne.

  • CSO says:

    Some good ideas above. I got my co-advisers fossilized fishes. They weren't the same species I worked on, but they were very reasonably priced and suitable for display in a variety of places. There's lots of cheap fossils or fossil replicas out there so if you do organismal biology, it's not hard to find one that's reasonably close to the taxa you did your dissertation on.

  • Topher says:

    My advisor, stealing the idea from his advisor I believe, buys too relatively inexpensive bottles of champagne. The lab group and anyone else handy helps drink them (I think I pours 24 little cups for one last week) - but the price is that everyone has to sign both bottles with permanent markers (silver or gold fine-tip work well). The advisor keeps one, the new graduate keeps the other. It works well.

  • Topher says:

    ....And I promise to proof-read my comment better next time. Yeesh. Two, not too; poured, not pours. Sorry about that!

  • H says:

    Very unexpectedly, I got a really nice wooden chair (similar to this one: It arrived the day of my graduation and had my name (with "Ph.D" after it) , the initials of my lab, and the university's logo. It a total surprise! And I love having it in my office now. Students and colleagues rave over it.

  • Haleyshae says:

    I always liked some good prints of scientific drawings of the student's organism in a nice frame.

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