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How to thank a professor?

  • Thread starter Dishsoap
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I posted a topic like this quite awhile ago but the situation is a bit different now, as I'm near the end of undergrad so I won't be asking for LoRs anymore (so no risk of anything being considered bribery).

There are two things that I'd like advice with

1) Thanking professors who wrote me LoRs. I know personalized gifts for the professors I work with daily (not sure anyone can help me with that), but what about the ones I only worked with for a summer, and who live really far away? I simply don't know enough about their interests to be able to give them a gift that says "I put time into this".

2) This is the big one. Two of my professors have helped me immensely as an undergraduate. There is no doubt that without them, I wouldn't have learned that I enjoy physics research, and I definitely wouldn't be going to graduate school without them. I've learned so much from them, whether about physics or life lessons, and they've probably spent thousands of hours teaching me what they know (sounds extreme, but probably not far off). I really want to do something big for them at the end of the year, no issue putting a hundred dollars or more into this as I really want them to know how much I appreciate them. I considered taking them out to dinner at a nice place, but that just seems awkward, and getting them a gift card to a nice place seems impersonal.

I'm really hoping for advice from some of the professors here on this one. Of course everyone will be getting an honest thank-you card. I just want to do something more.
 
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I get it, you want to do something huge for them. But do THEY want you to do something huge for them? I doubt they would want it. I would not want one of my students to put 100 dollars in to a gift for me!

Don't think you can only show gratitude by giving money. It's one of the worst ways of showing gratitude actually. Sure, give a gift card. But what about writing a nice personalized letter that says how much you appreciated their help and guidance. I would definitely appreciate that way more than getting a dinner. Seriously, a letter and a gift card, what more could you want? And keep sending letters years later to tell them how you're doing!

There are far better gestures than the ones that just cost a lot of money.
 
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I agree with micromass. Keep in mind that it is in their job description to write letters of recommendation. That's not to say you shouldn't thank them, but I'm sure they would appreciate a simple gesture like a handwritten card.

I've heard professors say they wouldn't accept gifts of monetary value from students. Even if you no longer need them for recommendations, there's just too much potential for it to look like a conflict of interest.

If you really want to give them a big gift, go to grad school, win a Nobel prize, and credit your success to them:biggrin:
 
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True. I certainly agree with the LoR thank-yous. But what about the end-of-the-year thank you to my two dear professors that I've worked closely with for the past 4 years?
 

MarneMath

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Honestly, even in that case, I think Micromass has the right idea. Don't underestimate the value in the simple gesture of letting someone know that their hard work, patient and dedication were immensely beneficial and that you are grateful for their guidance. I think in the future when you're in a position to mentor someone else, you'll realize that those words hold more weight than anything of monetary value can, and also less awkward to receive :).
 

Chronos

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It's OK to gush praise on someone who really helped you achieve your goal. It reinforces the faith their efforts make a difference. A symbolic, yet inextravagant, token of appreciation is not inappropriate.
 
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Nothing beats a face to face 'thank you' along with an appropriate message just as you posted.

I've been on both ends of such acknowledgements and they really count.

I still feel bad that I never went back to thank a few of my High School teachers who really made a difference....Just did not think of it until years later.
 

mathwonk

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I agree with those who say just say "thank you" sincerely. The main thing to understand is that professors do not work for money, but for satisfaction and appreciation. I have taught hundreds of students, some closely and for years. Only a few of them have ever acknowledged my help in any way with even a sentence of thanks. I hugely appreciate the words from those who have either simply told me what my help meant to them, or have sent me a personal letter expressing it. I have received a couple of material gifts, but those do not mean as much as a letter would. (They are usually from foreign students and represent a sample of their culture, and are nice but not expected. Apparently gifts are more acceptable in some other cultures.)

As others have said I am more uncomfortable than anything else at receiving a material gift, and to me even a dinner or a gift card would be over the top. There is no way a gift can repay a person who has devoted dozens of hours of attention to you, but a few sincere words, especially written down so they can keep them, is very meaningful. Indeed I believe I still have somewhere the sincere such letters from one or two students, and have re read them with great pleasure occasionally. If you want to do something that could actually benefit them somehow materially, a letter like this can also help them document their teaching accomplishments to their superiors. You might even send one to their chairman. This would be far more valuable to the professor than a gift card or a present since it could even help toward a raise or promotion, but just a sincere letter of thanks will be remembered longest.

By the way, its not too late to thank high school teachers years later. I found mine, who had disappeared from the school's radar, living in a distant state in retirement in her nineties. I visited her several times, and when she expressed curiosity about others of her students, I publicized her whereabouts to other classmates. There followed a general outflow of thanks and appreciation directed to her that was very much enjoyed before she died. Indeed when I returned for my last visit with her family, they told me of the many wonderful messages she had received from students and how much they meant to her.

I also once thanked a postdoctoral research advisor some 20 years later, and he appreciated it too, as did a college professor some 40 years late. It is perhaps only after we become professors ourselves that we begin to understand how rare and how welcome genuine thanks are in our field.
 
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Choppy

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I agree with what's been said already.

Saying "thank you" in a letter is greatly appreciated. And forwarding that on to the department chair is can also lead to professional acknowledgement. Material gifts or dinners can lead to awkward situations.

One thing that I would highly recommend, though is "pay it forward." As you move on in your career, where ever it takes you, you will inevitably find yourself in a position where you will have the opportunity to mentor someone. In those situations do your best to emulate the best of the instructors that you've had.
 

IGU

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The best way to thank your teachers, mentors, and other helpers in your life is first to let them know you are appreciative, second to let them know again in the future (five years, ten years, etc.), and third to pay it forward. Gifts for doing your job well, for going above and beyond, aren't really the right thing.

And if what you've done to thank them feels inadequate, use that to motivate yourself to help others.
 

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