Academic Tipping Guidelines
Steven A. Hughes
Thirty years ago the first "baby boomers" packed up and headed to college, beginning a two-decade period of prosperity for universities in the United States. Those who graduated without decent job offers continued on with graduate study, some ultimately accepting positions as university faculty. However, a faltering economy (Greenspan 1992) and a failure of the baby boomers to breed as prolifically as their parents has resulted in declining enrollments, cutbacks in research grants, stagnant faculty salaries, and the harsh reality that most university professors are now forced to rely on gratuities for a substantial portion of their income. Consequently, it behooves any graduate student who is serious about obtaining a quality education to have a firm grasp of the conventions and etiquette associated with tipping graduate research professors.
A dwindling minority of traditionalists still oppose academic tipping; they instead cling to the old system whereby graduate students curried favor by emulating the thoughts and actions of their major professor, thus promulgating the "old fogy's" persona indefinitely. Clearly, this antiquated system stifled academic creativity far too long.
A good analogy to academic tipping has operated effectively in the United States Congress for over 150 years. Congressmen are given "tips" in the form of campaign contributions or such other gratuities for a job well done. Furthermore, it is well documented that no Congressman has ever shown preferential treatment toward any of his or her satisfied "constituents" (Thomas "Tip" O'Neill 1987).
Fundamentals of Graduate School Tipping
Below are the answers to three fundamental questions every new graduate student needs to know.
Who to Tip? The answer to the "who" question becomes obvious when we consider that tipping is meant to reward good service. Those who service1 graduate students are (listed in increasing order of importance) their professors, their advisory committees, and the thesis clerk.
How Much to Tip? Some universities still encourage a graduated tipping scale, "tipped" in favor of full professors. This arcane structure should not be followed. Instead, plan to tip each of your professors, regardless of academic rank, the customary 15% of the course registration fee (10% at MIT and Stanford). Of course, there will be exceptions to this guideline, so don't be afraid to increase or decrease the tip as the situation warrants. However, before "stiffing" a professor, bear in mind that your professor is obliged to share a percentage of his or her tip with those who render service but don't actually come in contact with the student, e.g., Department Chairs, Deans, Assistant Deans, Academic Deans, Graduate School Deans, etc.
It is customary to tip all the members of your Thesis Advisory Committee. A good rule of thumb is to tip the committee chair the equivalent of two months salary2 (De Beers 1980). Other committee members should receive about half that amount. Not surprisingly, this guideline has contributed to streamlined committees comprised of the minimum number of members.
Finally, plan to tip the thesis clerk generously. If the clerk is female, it is difficult to provide precise guidelines without knowing which coven she belongs to, but a good estimate is two dollars for each page in the main body of the thesis or dissertation. Male thesis clerks generally receive about 60-70% of what female clerks get for the same work. On rare occasions dating the thesis clerk has proven nearly as effective as a generous tip, but this is considered risky, at best.
When to Tip? Most experienced3 graduate students agree that professors
should be tipped at the end of each term, but there are two schools of thought about the
precise timing of the gratuity. One side advocates tipping after classes have finished,
but before the final exam is graded, so the professor can be aware of the student's
appreciation as soon as possible. The opposite camp favors tipping after final grades are
posted. They argue that this guarantees high-quality service from the professor right up
to the end of the course. Whichever advice is followed, it is vital that the tip be given
discretely. Small tips ($10-$20) after midterms or after particularly interesting lectures
are optional, and often depend on the student's individual satisfaction with the "service"
up to that point in the course.
Tips for Advisory Committee members should be split into two parts. The first half is given when delivering your thesis or dissertation for reading, and the second half is given at the end of the oral exam. Traditionally, the first portion of the tip is placed somewhere inside the manuscript. If the thesis is delivered with only a short time before the defense, place the tip in the Conclusions section. This encourages the professor to rush through the text without undue delay. After the oral defense pass on the remainder of the tip during the handshake.
Advanced Academic Tipping
True success in graduate studies comes from mastery of the tipping "gray areas." These are highly variable between universities, but some of the more common situations are listed below.
Knowledge of basic academic tipping protocol arms the new graduate student with a self-confidence that enhances the teacher-student relationship and allows the student to achiever his or her goals. At the same time, generous tips from appreciative graduate students help U.S. universities to retain top-notch faculty who would otherwise be dealing blackjack or standing on corners with signs reading "Will solve Helmholtz Equation for food."
A special thanks to Dr. Tony (The Palm) Dalrymple for sharing his depth of knowledge about academic tipping. Tony is presently promoting a "tipping pyramid scheme" at the University of Delaware. Those who feel they have benefited by reading this article may send tips to the author in care of The Journal of Irreproducible Results.
De Beers, F. 1980. "Establishing Arbitrary Rules of Thumb in the Diamond Market,"
Journal of Worldwide Monopolies, Capetown, South Africa, Vol 45, No. 2, pp 15-27.
Greenspan, A. 1992. "Dicking with the U.S. Economy," in Proceedings of The World
Economy as a Board Game, Washington D.C., Vol 2, pp 120-134.
O'Neill T. (Tip). 1987. "Congressional Ethics and Other Myths," Journal for Retired
Congressmen, Cayman Islands, Vol 26, 787 pp 1-245.
De Beers, F. 1980. "Establishing Arbitrary Rules of Thumb in the Diamond Market," Journal of Worldwide Monopolies, Capetown, South Africa, Vol 45, No. 2, pp 15-27.
Greenspan, A. 1992. "Dicking with the U.S. Economy," in Proceedings of The World Economy as a Board Game, Washington D.C., Vol 2, pp 120-134.
O'Neill T. (Tip). 1987. "Congressional Ethics and Other Myths," Journal for Retired Congressmen, Cayman Islands, Vol 26, 787 pp 1-245.
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