Academic Tipping Guidelines

This was sent to me by Howell Gwin of Lamar University. It probably is universally applicable.


Steven A. Hughes           Vicksburg, Mississippi


Tipping is an essential component of every graduate student’s education, yet many students either fail to recognize the importance of academic tipping or they are uncertain of prevailing tipping conventions at the graduate level. This paper sets forth a standard of academic tipping protocol suitable for use at most highly-ranked graduate research institutions in the United States.


Thirty years ago the first “baby boomers” packed up and got ready to go 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 other such gratuities for a job well done. Furthermore, it is well documented that no Congressman has ever shown preferential treatment to any of his or her satisfied “constituents” (Thomas “Tip” O’Neill 1987).


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 (footnote 1). Those who ‘service’ 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 salary (footnote 2) (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 experienced (footnote 3) 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 he 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.


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.

DO TIP the department chairman when you are accepted into graduate school, particularly in the fields of law and medicine.

DON’T TIP if you are accepted into any arts or science graduate program (lack of future employment options).

DO TIP (about $10) after weekly meetings with your thesis adviser.

DON’T TIP after weekly meetings with your thesis adviser if a large amount of additional work is assigned.

DO TIP your adviser if he or she attends your graduation.

DON’T TIP your spouse, or lover for attending your graduation.

DO TIP your research adviser if support funding for you is included in any of his or her successful grant proposals.

DON’T TIP your adviser if your role in the research grant is that of “subject”.

DO TIP journal editors when submitting articles for publication. Size of the tip should be in proportion to how fast you would like the article to be published. Make the editor aware that you are also interested in tipping the hard-working peer reviewers.

DON’T TIP people you date (unless, of course, you and your date had Previously negotiated Some type of financial arrangement.) (footnote 4)

DO TIP the department secretary on a weekly basis if you ever expect to accomplish anything in graduate school.

DON’T TIP professors with Rubles, Green Stamps, Silverado common stock or other useless currencies. Food stamps may suffice under extraordinary circumstances.

At this juncture many prospective graduate students may be wondering how they can afford to tip the amounts required to assure the best quality education. The best advice is try to win an appointment as a teaching assistant. (A generous tip to the Department Chair will help achieve this goal.) Teaching assistants have the Opportunity to earn tips from their undergraduate students (who also hope to earn tips from their parents for good grades). Place a glass fish bowl near the door and prime it with a $5 bill (footnote 5). Naturally bigger classes are much more desirable to teach than marginally populated specialty classes. Expect to see similar trends in graduate school.


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 achieve his or her goals. At the same time, generous tips from appreciate 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 readying 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.

FOOTNOTES: 1) This usage of the term “service” should not be confused with the animal husbandry meaning, such as in the phrase “…the bull serviced the herd.” 2) Be sure to calculate this tip based on the salary of the good-paying job you expect to have upon graduation, not on the salary you receive as graduate school scum. 3) Graduate students with more than nine years in the graduate program are generally considered “experienced” 4) Please refrain from any speculation on how “tipper” Gore got her nickname. 5) Carefully monitor the bowl when pre-law students are present.

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