Whether you’re looking for a gift for a PhD student who is just beginning their studies or one who is graduating, finding just the right gift for any doctoral student can be daunting. Often, they have little time to shop for themselves beyond the necessities, and so gifts are perfect to help your friends and family involved in academia and too busy to take time for themselves. With stress and a host of responsibilities and tasks, doctoral students have a very packed schedule.
At R3ciprocity we always recommend students take time for themselves with breaks and practice good self care for both health and mental wellbeing; however, there are times when a very thoughtful gift makes all the difference. That’s why our list includes gifts to help with health, wellness, stress, mental health, as well as gifts to entertain or make students laugh. Of course, you can’t go wrong with gift cards for items like food, groceries, dinner out at their favorite restaurant, or just takeout from their local eateries. But we put our heads together to list our favorite gifts for students, some of which we own and some we would like to!
This post was written by Stephanie A. Bosco-Ruggiero (PhD candidate in Social Work at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service) and Jessica Russell (freelance writer) on behalf of Dave Maslach for the R3ciprocity project (Check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and research folk by providing a real and authentic look into doing research. It provides solutions and hope to researchers around the world.
Gifts for new doctoral students
AeroPress Coffee Press: If you’ve ever had coffee from a french press you know how delicious it can be and the AeroPress Coffee Press takes it a step further. Instead of coffee burning in a traditional coffee maker, AeroPress is an on-demand press for fresh coffee, anytime. A great gift for any student, the AeroPress can easily travel with them—especially the AeroPress Go single serving press. Aeropress.com says, “The AeroPress is ideal for any coffee lover looking for a rich and smooth cup of coffee without acidity or bitterness. Brews one to three delicious cups of American or espresso style coffee in about a minute, and clean up takes only a few seconds. It’s a great addition to any kitchen but since it is durable, lightweight, and compact, the AeroPress also makes the perfect companion when traveling, camping, or just going to work”. You can find AeroPress online or at many local retailers.
(Hey. This is Dave – this was given to me from my wife, and it was amazing. I use it pretty regularly.)
Ember Coffee Mug: An Ember mug is the “World’s first temperature control mug” that allows you to set the temperature for your hot beverage—and it stays that temp from the first to the last drop! With an Ember Coffee Mug, you can keep your drink perfectly hot, control the temp with your smartphone, set it to auto sleep. The LED indicator shows heating and cooling status, and it includes a long lasting battery, which can be coupled with an extended charging coaster (not included). Hand wash only. Ember mugs are available at many local and online retailers.
(Hey. This is Dave – Another wife gift. I got it for Christmas 2020. I like it, and my wife often steals it from me when she is home. The only downside – it’s pretty expensive and I would have felt terrible buying it a few years ago because of the cost.)
Matcha Starter Tea Set: For the tea lover a Matcha starter kit is a great way to enjoy green tea. Matcha has become very popular and there are many accessories and kits to help students brew their own as well as create delectable tea drinks and try new recipes. For those of you unfamiliar with Matcha, it’s a deep rich powdered tea that can be dropped in your mug and whisked to create a lovely creamy froth on top. Most matcha teas sold online are green teas, but there are also flavored matcha teas that can come in peppermint, vanilla, ginger, and many other flavors. You might want to get an electric whisk to go with bag of tea – they are quite inexpensive online.
Journal books Keeping track of notes, ideas and bits of data is important. Self care and journaling are also great ways to keep track of thoughts and feelings. Journals are a fantastic resource that become very personal to the student. A gifted journal is a thoughtful way of saying take care of yourself, and keep yourself on task.
Under The Desk Exercise Bike Friends and family members who are starting their doctoral career will need to be reminded that exercise and staying fit is especially important now that they will spend so many hours at their desk. Stephanie bought this mini exercise bike for under or next to the desk so she could take breaks and get a little exercise in to break up the time spent sitting and stationary. It’s great, but you may need a cheap exercise mat to place under it so it doesn’t go sliding. It’s great for the tween kids to get a little exercise while they’re sitting with you as well!
(Hey. This is Dave – this is super goofy, but a friend of mine bought it recently and they really like it. I have a stand up desk, which as been a god-sent for my back.)
Exercise Ball Chair Sticking to the theme of getting some exercise, an exercise ball chair is a perfect alternative to a stiff office chair. Stephanie has one and it’s great for the fidgety sitters and keeps your posture straight too. Did you know you actually burn calories while you sit on an exercise ball at your desk. You can’t go wrong. It hurts and your back gets tired the first few days of using it, but stick with it. At first use it for 15 minutes, then a half hour, an hour, and then before you know it you’re sitting on an exercise ball the entire day. You could go with a free standing ball, but I think the one that fits in a basic chair frame is more stable and comfortable.
Gifts for current doctoral students
Fitbit – Fitbit’s mission has always been “to make everyone in the world healthier. The company pioneered the wearables industry 13+ years ago making fitness tracking a cultural phenomenon — helping people understand their health and wellness by tracking key metrics. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to health and fitness, which is why Fitbit offers a variety of full-featured smartwatch and tracker options in different form factors and price points.”
(Hey. This is Dave – I wear it all the time. It’s pretty cool to have data on sleep. Totally worth it.)
Stitch Fix Box: When students have little time to shop for clothing, and the idea of shopping and choosing what to wear adds additional stress where it’s not needed, Stitch Fix is the perfect gift. Stitch Fix is a no-obligation clothing box service that uses stylists to help people choose clothing. The service works simply in just a few steps. The student takes the style quiz, then places an order anytime that is convenient (which includes a minimal stylist fee), once the box is received, they can try before they buy, and simply send back what they don’t want, no subscription required. And postage for returns is free! Clothing is available for women and men—including styles for Maternity, Plus, Big and Tall, and Petites, as well as for kids.
(Hey. This is Dave – My wife had this for many years once we got out of grad school. She loved it! It is not inexpensive, and you can probably do better in the store, but she loved the fact that she did not have to do any picking. We are very busy people.)
Desk light/lamp: The right lighting can make a difference in a student’s study habits. A really well designed lamp/light can make the difference in a student’s environment. Etsy has a wonderful assortment of light sources and design ideas for any budget. Get something fun that changes color or a Himalayan salt lamp (don’t let the cat lick it). Or get something elegant. Just make sure you have enough light when you work long hours so you don’t strain those eyes!
Paper weights: PhD students will have books and binders open all over their desk as they complete their classwork, and especially as they complete their dissertation. They will need something to keep them on the right page so decorative or even kitschy paper weights are the perfect small give for a phd student. There are some really high priced, beautifully crafted paper weights and some that are unique to a person’s interests or loves. All kinds of paper weights can be found on Ebay. Buy something used if it’s really elegant and in mint condition – why not? You do not have to spend hundreds of dollars on someone just to say you care and here’s something to brighten your day and desk.
Bean Boozled: Jelly Belly brand jelly beans are Jessica’s favorite brand. They are small and just the right amount of sweet in packages with abundant flavor choices that really do taste like the real thing. From pear flavor to popcorn, you will be amazed how much they taste like the real thing. So when it comes to having a sweet tooth and enjoying a bit of fun (and maybe at your student’s expense) then you can’t go wrong with Jelly Belly BeanBoozled® jelly beans. With varieties made to look like your favorite flavors, but instead with names like Booger, Stinky Socks, and Dirty Dishwasher, you have to be brave to spin the dial and play Bean Boozled. Also available at Amazon.
(Hey. This is Dave – totally dorky but it is a great tool to use for teaching in class. I use it to teach about decision-making.)
Graduation gifts for doctoral students
Custom Bobble Head: We love this one for various reasons, most of which involve laughter and just plain fun. What’s not to love about giving your PhD student a mini version of themselves, especially at graduation. It’s a great way to honor their academic achievement while being a thoughtful gift to make them smile. Etsy.com is a great way to find unique and handmade products by artists. The first link is from a shop with 5-star reviews and some incredible talent. You can see in the reviews; many of which include a photo of the person and the finished bobblehead, just how exacting the artist is. Out of all the internet links we looked at, that shop has many options and captures both the look and feel of the person pictured—all at a reasonable prices. We also recommend https://www.allbobbleheads.com/ as another great option.
(Hey. This is Dave – I bought this for my wife this year. SHE LOVED IT! She was also the most popular person on social media for a while. Highly recommend.)
Galton Board: The listing on Amazon.com describes this Galton Board as “The BRAND-NEW and IMPROVED GALTON BOARD includes equal distance between standard deviation lines and includes a single SAME-SIZED brass bead that will flow easily into the bins. The Galton Board is math in motion, demonstrating centuries-old mathematical concepts in an innovative desktop device. It incorporates Sir Francis Galton’s illustration of the binomial distribution, which for a large number of beads approximates the normal distribution […] The Galton Board is reminiscent of Charles and Ray Eames’ groundbreaking 11-foot-tall “Probability Machine,” featured at the 1961 Mathematica exhibit. An even larger Eames probability machine was showcased at IBM’s Pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Both the Galton Board and the superimposed Pascal’s Triangle incorporate many related mathematical, statistical and probability concepts.”
Diploma Frame There’s no gift that better says “you did it!” than a diploma frame for your friend or family member who finally earned their PhD. Or, if they are in the dissertation phase, a diploma frame sitting in the corner of one’s room or office, still boxed up, can be a great reminder of the fact that they are almost there – keep going! Don’t go crazy purchasing an overly expensive frame from the university’s shop – there are many affordable yet attractive options on Amazon or Etsy.
Gifts for PhD Students that are free
Make a Playlist for a student you know. One for concentration that includes classical music or ambient sounds, or one for when they’re tired and need upbeat sounds to keep them awake, or one that tells them that you’re thinking of them with songs you both love.
Help them clean or finish a household project: Nothing says I care more than getting your hands dirty helping out. And nothing gets neglected as much in a PhD student’s home than cleaning, helping to assemble furniture, or helping repair something that’s been broken for months . Bring over a bucket and mop, or your handyman skills, and help your friend around the house. Of course, a non-free version of this idea is to gift them the services of a housekeeper for a few hours. Many cleaning companies and independent house cleaners will allow you to buy a gift card for someone in need of their services. Many handyman services will do this as well.
The bottom line
Friends who are completing a PhD or another type of doctoral program are very stressed and need your support. Nothing says “you can do it, and I’m rooting for you!” than a small gift. Of course you may want to get something more expensive for a family member, spouse, or child so there are more expensive options on this list as well. People who have made sacrifices to study for so many years to earn a degree that ultimately may not make them rich, deserve all of our support and good wishes. Many of these graduates will ultimately discover new theories or knowledge that will benefit all of us. It can be hard to have a family member or friend who spends so much time on their work and less time with friends and family, but keep in mind they will graduate at some point and will always remember that you supported them and cheered them on when they look at their paper weight, diploma frame, or Ember Coffee mug!
If you liked this post, check out these other posts at blog.r3ciprocity.com: