Do your ho-ho-homework: TSW’s gift guide for the academic on your holiday shopping list

The holidays can be a great time to show your appreciation for the academic in your life. The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s has always been one of my absolute favorites– the celebrations, the festive atmosphere, gatherings with friends and loved ones, decorations, the first snow, delicious food and seasonal cocktails (I happen to love eggnog and spiced rum). For academics, however, it’s also a particularly stressful time. As a grad student, I had course and grading obligations, plus financial stress often meant I could’t travel, or couldn’t afford gifts. As a faculty, November marked the beginning of my major grant-writing season, and moving across the country for my job means my partner and I are celebrating without our closest friends and loved ones. While the holidays are a time for much-needed restoration for everyone, they’re also a great opportunity to give your favorite academic a little love and support.

If you’re celebrating a gift-giving ritual this season and you’ve got a stressed-out, overworked academic on your list, fear not! Tenure, She Wrote is here to help with your gift-giving needs. I asked our blogging team what they’d love to unwrap this year.

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You can’t give your favorite academic a PhD or a funded proposal, but the right gift can make a big difference! Cartoon by Jorge Cham, PhDComics.

Overwhelmingly, we’d love to receive something to make our lives easier, either at home or in the office. Many electronic gadgets may not be in our budgets, but can make a world of difference in terms of productivity or workplace comfort. Blogger Sarcozona says “as a grad student in a shared office, a comfy pair of noise canceling headphones would be great.” I agree; the pair I received as a grad student for Christmas gift are now a huge help on long overseas flights. New professor DrMellivora’s wish list includes a laser pointer set, a nice business card case and a new laptop bag to replace the old one she’s had since graduate school; whether your academic is a bicycling commuter or would opt for a nice leather satchel, bags make great gifts. Graduate student GracieABD would love a nice portable hard drive; what greater gift than to save someone’s dissertation from a hard drive crash?

Hard-working academics can always use a hand at home, too. SciTriGrrl says, “One thing would be a gift card/voucher for a cleaning service to come in and clean my place. Preferably with a time already arranged and someone to let them in and hang out while they cleaned. Not glamorous, but thoroughly and totally awesome.” This was enthusiastically seconded by other members of our blogging team at all career stages. Time-saving gifts may seem dull or unimaginative, but they will be appreciated! SciWo says “in some places you can get a subscription to a meal delivery service. A friend…gets a couple of servings of soup delivered once a week and that takes care of most of her lunches for the week. I wish I had something like that.” Dr.Mellivora also suggested a couple hours of personal assistant time a month, for making appointments and paying bills.

Think of these kinds of gifts as the gift of time: you’re not just giving us a clean house, you’re giving us a few precious hours a month to do something fun for ourselves. Time is an academic’s most previous commodity. New mom and R1 professor Hasb8ng had the great suggestion of “a beauty squad that would come to my office and do my nails/cut my hair while I’m working,” which covers the time and the pampering.  Hasb8ng’s list also includes “really good dictation software so I can sometimes draft emails while I’m doing something else.” Anything that lets you multitask is a plus in my book. One of my favorite gifts during grad school was a slow cooker, and a cookbook of quick-and-healthy recipes. I also picked up the habit of listening to audiobooks while I did my chores, which helped me squeeze in more personal reading time. Something like an Audible subscription would be a nice gift for the time-strapped reader in your life.

DrMsScientist has a great suggestion for new professors. She’d love “some cool painting, map, or picture for my work office. I love working in a nice environment, and having nice things on walls is so nice!” I heartily second this. Buying vintage National Park posters or prints from a favorite artist is on my to-do list, but always gets pushed back. Even a gift certificate for framing would be great — I have a lot of things in my “to be framed” pile that would look great in my office, but I never get around to getting them matted and mounted on the wall. I’m always happy to receive something geeky to give my workspace personality and make me laugh (and think of the gift-giver, which is a plus).

For a more personal touch, consider something fun and wearable, like molecule or DNA-themed jewelry, a scarf with a microbe or EKG print, a custom pendant with a map or dictionary entry related to their research, or a literary tote bag to carry around all those term papers. Many of us are expanding our professional wardrobes for the first time, and being able to add a little personality is always nice.

Never underestimate the power of self-pampering. A number of our bloggers voted for gift certificates for massages, haircuts, yoga passes, or spa treatments. A good friend of mine in grad school actually loves getting things like candles, soaps, or other consumables, because she rarely buys those things for herself on a limited budget. Does your academic have a hobby? Grad student GracieABD would love “a new pair of running shoes,” a gift that does the double duty of supporting her health and wellness, often the first things to get cut when time or money are tight (speaking of which, plain old money is always great, especially for grad students). As a knitter, reader, gamer, and hiker, receiving gifts that support my non-academic activities help me make time for myself and my loved ones, which is a great gift in and of itself. I love boardgames for this reason — the more nerdy and complex the better! Similarly, tickets to a show or a gift certificate to a restaurant can be a real treat. Even if we can afford to indulge in a nice night out, it never hurts to have that extra push to take that time for ourselves.

When in doubt, treats like wine, coffee, tea, and chocolate are always welcome!

And, to our academic readers: What would you love to get as a academic? What were your favorite gifts? Is there something you dont like getting? Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments, and to share this with your loved ones as a not-so-subtle hint.

5 thoughts on “Do your ho-ho-homework: TSW’s gift guide for the academic on your holiday shopping list

  1. Reblogged this on Swift, like Shadows and commented:
    I think… I’d take a gift card for a laundry pick-up/delivery service! I have a small hand-crank and drying rack, which is fine for very small loads, or an all-day wash day, but I really need a proper laundry run and I’d have to walk my laundry over to a laundromat.

    Lessee…. a deal on a Taekwondo class? Or a deal on a women’s only gym. Or a deal on tai chi classes.

    And a gift card for Amazon. Always a gift card for Amazon.

    • Great idea for the laundry service! I’d totally do that. I’d also love to take a women’s self-defense class, or have some time at a women’s boxing gym.

  2. Great list. Great thoughts behind the ideas.

    I usually don’t like people to give me things out of the blue, I prefer to choose them myself (eg computer case, poster). So I would either like a discussion about ‘which one’, I don’t mind if it isn’t a surprise when i open it (I am good at acting that bit out), or a gift voucher, or one of the home-services for a few hours (laundry or house-cleaning or meals). Or, as you suggest, something that can be eaten or drunk so that if it isn’t exactly what i would buy myself, it is appreciated at the time anyway and no-one has to sit and look at it for a year.

  3. I loved when my Mom paid for my pottery classes (a hobby) at a community center while I was in grad school. She got some nice pieces. I got away from the campus atmosphere.

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