This topic has been popping in and out of my mind for months now, but I never seem to have the time to jot anything down before I forget again… So today is the day!

Professors, do you go commencement ceremonies to hood your PhD graduates?

I did it with my first PhD graduate. While I am sure it meant something to her, it was loud, crowded, and just a pain in the butt for me. Then several students following her didn’t attend their ceremonies, so my hooding services were not required.

Last spring two of my PhD students “walked.” They were talking about their families coming for the ceremony, and they seemingly casually asked if I would be attending with them, but I cited a conflict and that was that. The truth is, if I had wanted to go, I would have made the time, but I didn’t and admit to feeling a little guilty about it. I am not even sure where my cap and gown are, probably in the office; wherever they are, they need ironing and/or dusting since they haven’t seen the light of day in years.

I really don’t like crowds and will avoid them in every way I can. So a big ceremony is really unpleasant for me; however, once could say that I should suck it up and do it for my students. My PhD advisor went to hood every one of his graduating students (obviously, including me), but many of his colleagues never did. Many of my colleagues don’t seem to go hood anyone ever.

DH, who fortunately has enough of a celebratory and holiday spirit for both of us (else our kids would never know the consumerist joys of Christmas or Halloween), thought it was very uncool that I had weaseled out of hooding my students this spring; I know he has a point that it’s the students’ once-in-a-lifetime celebration and do feel a little bad about not playing my part. But I just couldn’t stomach the idea of hours of ceremony, and hanging out awkwardly with the students and their families. We did have a small party to send the students off, with the whole group, several hours before the ceremony; I bought food for everyone and the parents were there as well. I generally make a point of feeding everyone when someone graduates (I buy lunch or dinner for everyone), so it’s not that I don’t want to celebrate my students’ success. I just don’t like the craziness that are the crowds of thousands of young’uns and their extended families in a huge arena for hours on end, and I don’t care for the shared captivity, with the ensuing awkwardness, with my soon-to-be former group members.

What say you, blogosphere? Professors, do you hood your PhD students? Graduate students/postdocs, do you care about the hooding ceremony and your advisor being there? Everyone who’s received a PhD, did you elect to go to the ceremony, and do you have any feelings whatsoever about it today? 


  1. I am totally with you in that I too “…just don’t like the craziness that are the crowds of thousands of young’uns and their extended families in a huge arena for hours on end, and I don’t care for the shared captivity, with the ensuing awkwardness, with my soon-to-be former group members.” However, since it is such a Big Deal, especially for them, I “suck it up” as well, quite happily. I don’t care to go to such ceremonies if I’m not hooding someone… and have (in my mind) good reasons not to. However, the powers that be made it clear that all faculty are expected to attend all commencements, in regalia, even if they aren’t hooding students: and attendance at all such ceremonies will be a factor considered in our annual performance evaluation. And they do keep an eye on who’s there and who isn’t, I assure you!

  2. Neither my advisor nor my family attended my PhD graduation ceremony, and I was only there to hang out with my friends anyway. Being present for the defense is much more important imo.

    However, I now work at a SLAC, and I try to attend every Commencement that I can in order to show support for my graduating research students (and to some extent students from my courses). It is a pain in the ass at times… no, make that every year… but usually at least one student and his/her family take the opportunity to thank me for everything I’ve done, so it’s well worth it.

  3. My first PhD student graduated recently and I really wanted to attend the ceremony but could not due to a conference. Around the same time though, I arranged a large outdoors party (entire afternoon) for all group members and their families to celebrate the occasion.

    Perhaps for the next one I will go for the ceremony. But I do see why one may not be enthusiastic about attending ceremonies for all their students.

  4. My advisor didn’t come to my PhD graduation and I survived unscathed. Like the Grinch above, he arranged a nice lunch out for our research group in my honor, and I thought that was way better than the ceremonial crap. I will say, though, that it helped that “hooding” ceremonies were not really a thing at my university — we all hooded ourselves and then just walked across the stage, picked up our diplomas, and shook hands with whichever members of the department were actually there. The ceremony was much more about cheering on our friends and having our families there to watch.

    I think it’s a nice idea for advisors to celebrate their PhD students somehow, and I think it’s totally possible to do that without crowds. I felt very thoroughly celebrated by the end — obviously my advisor was there for the defense and public talk (at which he met my mom), then there was the traditional department champagne toast, and then there was lunch out with the group. The whole robe-dressing-up bit was something that I’d been planning to skip myself until I found out that my family really wanted to come for it.

  5. I didn’t attend either my BSc or PhD graduation ceremonies (already moved on to new places very far away both times), and would definitely be happy to never have to attend one of these ceremonies ever. Maybe I will have an honest discussion with my graduating student(s) and see if they feel strongly about my being there (I haven’t been to any BSc or MSc graduations for students yet, but have my first PhD graduating soon). If I never go to any of them, maybe it will just be the expectation in the group. We do make a point to have a special event for each student leaving (party or at least lunch/dinner) and so far have a tradition of preparing a plaque with the student’s name, major contribution, and a special quote representing them as a farewell gift.

  6. My adviser made it widely know to our group that attending commencement to hood us, “wasn’t his thing” so at least none of us expected him to join us. It worked out well for me, as I got to sit with some of my classmates who were also “orphans” as we lined up to be hooded by our department head.

    Another interesting note, some of the faculty in the row behind me didn’t let attending a ceremony stop them from working. They were obviously whisper-discussing project ideas during commencement.

  7. I didn’t attend any of my own graduation ceremonies, but I frequently attend ceremonies as a faculty member. I prefer attending if I have a role (reader of names, hooder of PhD students), but I also attend even if I have no role. One year I attended 3 ceremonies (college, School of Engineering, and grad)—our campus has at least 12 different graduation ceremonies each year, to keep any one of them from getting too big.

  8. I haven’t yet directed a phD thesis so haven’t found myself in this particular situation. We are expected to attend commencement on a rotating basis (a certain percentage of faculty needs to represent the department). I don’t like it, and it requires getting childcare, but once every few years really isn’t bad.

    I did attend my own PhD ceremony and was hooded by my advisor. I wouldn’t have done it for myself, but my mother and grandfather. It was a nice weekend. Probably a pain for her, though.

  9. My PhD advisor didn’t attend my graduation, but she had moved her lab to a different country and I stayed behind at the original university, so I had no expectation of her attending. I think if she was still living in the same city that she would have wanted to attend. Though I don’t think I would have been offended if she’d just said that she was not interested… My supervisor did take me and a few others (significant others included) out to a very nice dinner after my defense.

    At my graduation, the university president was the one to hood everyone. The supervisors who were in attendance just stood off to the side of the stage and shook the hand of their student after they were hooded.

  10. There was a 6-week gap between my defense and graduation so my advisor was back out of the country by then, just as he was during most of my last couple years. I don’t think there would have been anyone I knew at the graduation ceremony so there didn’t seem to be much point in attending. I think one is expected to have the appropriate doctoral regalia at these things; I have no idea where the money would have come from for that. I have to confess that I don’t even know what a doctoral hooding even looks like and I guess I might not ever find out! We’re required by the Faculty Handbook to attend either the Fall or Spring commencement every year at my PUI. Even the Spring ceremony is relatively small enough to not be too painful and there’s a good energy, but I sympathize with not wanting to be part of a huge ceremony.

  11. I agree with your husband on this one.

    My advisor came to my graduation and hooded me and that is one of the few things I remember from my graduation. He also hung out awkwardly with me and my family and we all really appreciated it.

    I dunno, maybe it’s superficial or maybe I just like celebrating by following traditions.

  12. I was my adviser’s first student, and he did come to the hooding ceremony, which was about a month after my defense (and he had previously ohsted a defense party at his house). I was definitely into it – and it was a nice capstone to the whole process (ordeal?). I even bought my own robes in the U colors. I thought, I can wear them to graduation when I am a prof and I’ll stand out against all the black robes. Even so, I probably wouldn’t have bothered it if my defense hadn’t been fairly close to graduation time.

    But, far as I know, none of the other students in the group have even gone to their hooding ceremony, let alone brought out adviser along. So I dunno. I guess I’d agree with your husband, if your students were interested, then you should probably go, if it isn’t hugely inconvenient… I certainly appreciated it.

  13. I’m expecting to graduate this coming Spring, and my advisor has been talking about my hooding for two years now. I want to go and my family will be there for it, but it’s pretty clear that even if I didn’t I would go to the hooding for my advisor – she was disappointed when another student of hers a few years ago didn’t want to go. She’s proud of her students, and I really appreciate that. Also, our university is small as far as R1’s go, and there is a separate Ph.D. hooding ceremony the day before big commencement, so it isn’t a super long ceremony.

  14. The hooding ceremony is something for the student, not you. If they invite you to hood them, I think it’s respectful for you to try to be there, even if you don’t want to. Obviously a conference/travel is a reasonable excuse; but if it’s a meeting that can be rescheduled, it’d be polite to show up to the hooding. 1-2 hours of discomfort for a student who’s been around for 5-7 years I think is respectably worth it if they’d like you to be there.

  15. Ugh. I did it for my first student (the only one who has finished) and I hated it. My feet hurt from my fancy shoes, it felt like hours of awkward small talk, and I worry my ugly mug ruined all her photos. I did not enjoy it. But now that I did it for the first, I’m sure I will feel obligated to do it for the rest. Next time maybe I’ll bring a crossword.

    Hey, xyk, I am really enjoying your daily posts.

  16. Yes, I will go to the ceremony and hood the student always, if the student is going. That said, I’m not in a science field so we don’t have the great numbers of Ph.D. students that you all do.

  17. I think attending graduation is part of the role of the professor (one largely ignored these days) and especially if your own Ph.D student is graduating. I suspect for some it is a very important moment. I skipped my own graduation but I hooded my student. Her parents flew in from Assam to see it–I certainly can manage to show up myself.

  18. My first PhD student has another year to go, but she is definitely not into ceremony or being singled out for recognition, so I’m actually kind of sad that I probably won’t get to hood her. I am an introvert and small talk exhausts me (and then I get a head ache from smiling awkwardly all day), but I actually really love ceremony and tradition…so I dorkily enjoy going to our college graduation and cheering for our undergrads. Haven’t been to a grad ceremony yet for lack of graduating students, but I expect they will be similar.
    When I got my PhD we had a small departmental hooding ceremony and all advisors gave a short little speech about the students…it was really special and memorable.

  19. Similar to pyrope above, I like traditions, so I’m into the ceremony, and I try to attend if one of my students is graduating. The chit-chat afterwards is uncomfortable, so I usually just pose for a few pictures with the graduate after the ceremony, shake hands of the friend and family, say congratulations, and then politely excuse myself (childcare is always a great, and honest, excuse to leave early).

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