27 and a PhD

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Gift-giving for the newly minted PhD

A couple of days ago I got a very interesting question in one of my posts as to what would be an appropriate gift for a newly minted PhD. That got me thinking that, since not many people close to us (family, non grad school friends) may be in the academic realm, they are probably scratching their heads as to how to show appreciation during this momentous occasion. Thus, here’s a little post intended for our family and friends … in case they’re inclined to share their happiness and pride with a little something.

Now, a PhD is a big, big thing. We’ve spent years slaving away in the library and/or the lab, or field, or underwater, or wherever. We’ve grown a lot and have faced some of the most challenging times ever. Thus, it’s a wonderful time to celebrate the good times, and drink a bit to drown the sorrows. But, as a family member or friend, what would be an appropriate gift to give, if you’re feeling like giving something?

Here are some ideas, accompanied by the rationale behind them (in no particular order):

  1. Money – I know, it sounds like an easy way out, but trust me, ask any grad student (besides your grad student) or postdoc and they will gladly admit that they’re broke. So money is a safe bet, and totally appropriate, I’d say. Think about it, your grad may be moving across the country, or the pond, as it is they have to get rid of a lot of things, and they’re broke (have I stressed this enough). A little bit of money will be greatly appreciated, it doesn’t take much space, it’s not insulting (IMO), and will be put to good use. The amount … it really doesn’t matter, as long as you’re comfortable with what you’re giving. It doesn’t have to be a lot, it’s the thought that counts.
  2. Good food – again, this goes back to the fact that a lot of people are broke by the time their defense rolls in. And chances are they’ve been doing the ramen noodle and coffee diet for a long, long time, thus, a good, real, wholesome meal will be greatly appreciated. It doesn’t have to be a really big fancy restaurant, as long as it’s good and comes from the heart. If you’re so inclined, feel free to invite them over to your place, or if you’re far away, take your graduate during their next visit to town. It’s thoughtful and gives you the time to share and celebrate with your graduate.
  3. Jewelry – a new watch, a nice pair of earrings, maybe something engraved. It will for sure make your graduate feel special. One of my grad school’s BFFs got a cute pair of diamond earrings from her husband to wear during the defense. They were a nice touch to her outfit and it gave her a bit of a boost too.
  4. Help – chances are the grad will be relocating, they will need help moving, boxing stuff, throwing away most of their Ikea furniture. Volunteering your time to help the grad will be greatly appreciated.
  5. Some sort of spa treatment – again, this goes back to grad student’s being broke. So, if you can or are so inclined, maybe a 30-minute massage for a stressed body, or a hair cut are a good salon, or a mani/pedi, or something similar. The grad will feel very pampered after it, and will thank you for years to come.
  6. A gift card – if giving moolah straight out sounds a little eefy, then maybe a gift card to their favourite store, or electronics place makes you more comfortable. Again, the amount is up to you. But to give you an idea, in my family, gifts ranged from 100-200$.
  7. Something electronic – a tablet, a smartphone, a fancy set of earphones, a portable gaming system, an e-reader. Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be too expensive, maybe their iPod is falling apart, or maybe they’d like to eventually read something not so sciency … again, maybe a gift card for any of the above electronics is a good idea.
  8. A fancy piece of clothing – chances are, your graduate has been wearing the same jeans for 3 years non-stop. They may have a new job lined up, or they’ll be going on interviews. Maybe a nice shirt, or a new pair of (non-athletic, non flip-flop) shoes is in order.
  9. A vacation – my in-laws helped a bit to get me and hon to Spain two years ago, after my graduation. If you’re so inclined, and can do it, maybe the whole family or set of friends can pool money to send the grad on a short trip away from all-things grad school related.
  10. Booze – or the grad’s favourite drink. The grad will need some booze to celebrate (or drown their sorrows), so feel free to sponsor a night out, or get a bottle of something (or a nice bag of coffee, a fancy tea, ice-cream for our Mormon crowd).

Hope this helps. Feel free to add or ask anything I may have forgotten. And congrats!!!!

Tackling two questions – Search Terms – short answers

Since I get a good deal of interesting search terms when I check my blog stats, I’ve started seeing them as inquiries. I’ve also decided to start answering some of these in short form, instead of having a long, long post. Also, I’m going to try to answer some of these questions, inquiries, etc more often (my usual answering speed is about a week to 2 weeks in length). So today, I’m going to tackle two inquiries A) what to wear to your PhD defense and B) Can you be my your PhD thesis defense?

A) What to wear. From experience, wear something nice, but comfy. Chances are you’ll be standing for a long, long time, so better be safe than sorry. I decided to wear a dress (which was so very unusual for me). My defense was in the summer, so wearing a dress was a nice option. I wore 2-inch heeled sandals, which by the end of the day were killing my feet. Since more than likely you’ll have loved ones there (or really good friends), maybe you could get some flats and have them hold ’em for after the defense, or just plain and simple wear them to begin with (if you’re a girl). You don’t have to wear an evening gown, but something nice, comfortable and serious will help you look and feel the part. If you’re a guy, wear IRONED clothes, or if you don’t have time to go to the dry-cleaners, please go get something that doesn’t need ironing (I know with all the stress it is one more thing to take into account, but it’s one of the most important days of your life and you want to look and feel like a winner). Wear a tie if you’re so inclined (but not required) and wear comfy shoes. If you’re a girl, try to keep it simple, sober and elegant (not prom-ish, not too much bling or things that like straight out of jersey shore). Wear something that will make you feel comfy yet professional. Get a haircut or a trim and look clean and presentable, a little make up would enhance your look too. Trust me, it will help you feel better in your skin while getting drilled by thesis committee. After (or before if you have time, sanity and money) go get a little pampered, like a massage or facial.

B) Can you be in my PhD thesis defense? Well, I don’t know the intention behind this question. If it’s about whether I (Dr. 28 and a PhD) be in your thesis committee the (sad) answer is that no, I can’t be. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’m not a PI and as far as I know postdocs aren’t allowed in thesis committees. I can however help if I’m in your geographical area, so leave a message or send an email to stitchick at gmail dot com (change the at for @ and dot for . as I don’t want to encourage spammers). But on to the real answer. I think what the reader is asking is how can you ask a PI or prof to be in your committee. Simple, send and email or visit the lab. Usually 3-5 members are needed per thesis committee and there might be rules as to the affiliations of those PI’s (say, 75-to 90% of the have to be from your department while the rest can be from outside, or they might have specific roles within the department or program and you need to have a certain number of them there). PI’s are very busy people, they serve in many committees, are almost always mentoring others, etc, but if asked nicely and politely you’ll more than likely get a positive answer. Get input from your PI or labmates on who they prefer to have and why. In my case I almost copied a previous grad student’s committee when it was my time to assemble my thesis committee, as I knew they were familiar with the topic and were excited about it (I kind of wanted to keep some continuity). So be polite, be ready to get some no’s or maybe’s and remember to be thankful and acknowledge their help when they accept (and if the don’t be courteous too). This reminds me, I still want to mail some thank yous for my thesis committee and their help and input through the years.