27 and a PhD

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Holiday gift(s) from the boss

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.


December 2011
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Lately I’ve been thinking about my days back in grad school. Those 6 or so crazy/fun/weird/sad/meh/whatever years I spent working my tail off to have a series of projects that made sense and made me happy.

The holidays were (and still are, except for this year) my all-time favourite season. I love the blinking lights, the decoration, the special drinks that only come out at this time. Heck, I even like bundling up, and how my cheeks get all rosy (or red).

My other favourite part was/is gift-giving. I always liked guessing what other people would get me (or drive hon crazy while trying to find out). I also liked getting unexpected surprises from friends, family and sometimes total strangers. And I always loved the expression of surprise and delight in people’s faces when they opened their gifts.

A few days ago a co-worker and I were having a conversation about gift-giving and bosses. Our boss is a bit stingy (I’m still not happy with my salary, it could be better, and I’m partly blaming it on being a woman … but that’s for another post). I was asking my co-worker if the boss ever gets the lab anything, like maybe lunch, or a bottle of wine/champagne to share. My co-worker looked at me all puzzled. He was surprised because he says he’s never received a gift from any of his bosses/mentors. And he sure doubts it will ever change.

I then became the puzzled one because, as far as I can remember, whether for my birthday or the holidays, most of my bosses have made an effort to give a little something. I remember getting a little card and a small gift from some of the students in my first summer undergrad lab. Then, on one of my internships, I got a book and ice-cream with the boss and labbies. In grad school my mentor had the lab sign a birthday card and I have a few of those. We also had a nice lunch after a paper was accepted or after a defense. During the holidays, the boss would call each person into their office, say some nice words about the performance/papers/career and hand a gift, usually a certificate (in the 25-50$ range) and some sweets or an ornament. It always made me feel special. And it I thought of it normal. When I moved on to my postdoc, my mentor would invite us over for dinner at his house, and get everyone a little something, whether a bottle of wine, a sweet or an ornament. And there were more than just a few of us, so money was definitely not an excuse. He’d also buy the first round of beer on special occasions, like a paper, a thesis defense or a goodbye get-together.

My coworker said I was lucky … and that apparently I’m one of the very few that ever crossed paths with people who are into giving gifts, or making a bit of an effort to show some appreciation to their minions lab.

This also brought to mind that a fairly new professor at work, who is a collaborator, has gone out of their way to show appreciation towards us, the staff. This person brought personalized cards and sweets for individual lab members and has shown a lot of kindness … just because we’ve been doing our jobs. Said token of appreciation brought memories of my old days in grad school, and how I could always count on my boss to cheer me up during the holidays. Having a little token made up for the times I was frustrated or irritated, or when I couldn’t go home and had to work throughout the holiday season.

Did you (or do you) get gifts/tokens of appreciation from the boss/higher up during the holidays? If so, what’s your favourite? If not, do you think it would make a different in how you percieve this person? As a mentor, do you go out of your way to show your lab peeps appreciation? Do they go out of their way to do the same? How do you feel?


  1. My advisor is much like your grad advisor; buying beer and meals for special occasions. I too had assumed it was the norm (I know of a few other profs in our department who also follow this trend). I’ve managed a couple of projects in the past year and have tried to impart the same ethic by showing my appreciation for colleagues help/work with simple gifts. Interesting (and a tad disappointing) to hear that some don’t do likewise!

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Yeah, it seemed like the norm to me. My current boss is somewhat stingy (though I did get relocation costs covered) … but it would be nice if he took the time to say thanks for doing a good job, or you know, get us cheap cupcakes and a smile. Oh well … different people work in different ways. I’m buying sweets for my coworkers for the New Years’ and Valentine’s. Thanks for commenting Morgan! Happy holidays.

  2. joshuca says:

    My grad boss was a generous man. We regularly had meals and parties paid for by him. He always participated in holiday gift swaps. However, he was most generous upon our graduation. He always got the graduate a very nice book to help us in our next journey. I had secured my current job as a professor by my graduation date, so he bought me the latest edition of Goodman & Gilman.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Oh cool! That’s very thoughtful of your grad boss. Yeah, my PhD boss would have everyone sign up a card and have a little token of appreciation, and at the end would give you a little something too. My postdoc boss was a little more on the “stingy” side, and I say “stingy” because compared to my current boss, he was rather generous. To celebrate papers he’d buy the first round of beer, always offer his house for holiday or summer parties and would bring a little treat from vacation. My current boss I think is simply unaware of common courtesy. Oh well. At least I have a job that I like, no? Thanks for commenting!

  3. Samantha says:

    I’m still in grad school so I don’t know how it will be once I finish and go on to a post-doc, but we always have “present time” in my lab. For every birthday my boss buys the cake and I usually take care of the card and gift — for which we all donate a sum of money once or twice a year in order to have a pool ready. We celebrate after defenses, publications, undergraduate graduations, and at year’s end. My boss just bought us all (15 of us) dinner a couple of weeks ago at a nice restaurant so I thought it was normal, but obviously several factors (boss, lab people, atmosphere, how people get along, etc.) play roles. :-/ I’m sorry your current boss doesn’t appear to be as aware of little things like these keeping workers happy, but I hope your holiday was great and that your new year is better!

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Oh, how nice of your boss! Yes, indeed, my boss took our lab out to celebrate after every paper or any major accomplishment. We had a tradition of sharing our fave dessert with the lab for our birthdays, and the boss would get the card. We lost the card tradition, but kept everything else. I think it’s so nice when a PI makes an effort to keep people motivated, happy and celebrate with them. And like my mom says, if the boss doesn’t do it, it doesn’t mean I can’t, so I try to keep the lab peeps motivated by bringing little treats and saying words of appreciation whenever I can. That was one of my goals when I joined the lab, make the environment and those around me feel appreciated.

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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