A guide to Science Secret Santa

It’s December, and labs across the globe (probably) are running Secret Santas in order to keep festive spirits up.

For those readers unfamiliar with the concept of a Secret Santa, the idea is that a bunch of you get together, stick your names in a hat, or these days an online random name generator, and each of you pulls out the name of one person to buy a Christmas gift for, up to a value of a certain amount. That way everybody gets a present, but you don’t feel obliged to spend all your time and money buying gifts for each person and similarly have to fake-smile at multiple weird gifts yourself, rather than just one. They’re normally pretty silly, and often opened during the lab or office Christmas lunch.

Sometimes you’ll pull out the name of the perfect person – your best lab buddy who you know really well, or someone you secretly hate and have always wanted to send a glitter bomb to – but sometimes you have the lab boss, or that postdoc who you’ve only said hi to once on the first day they were introduced to everybody. In these instances, it can be pretty tricky to figure out what to buy them, especially if there’s a risk of too much wine at the Christmas lunch and letting slip who you had to buy for.

Thus, here is a handy list of gifts to buy the typical characters you may find in your lab, for small, medium and large budgets.

The one who’s always stealing your lab equipment

Budget: Small

A couple of pipette tips in an unmarked envelope with a note that says “I know what you did”.

Budget: Medium

A balaclava, a bag marked ‘SWAG’ and and a black-and-white striped top.

Budget: Large

A plane ticket for a long holiday far far away over the period of your next big experiment, so you can safely get on with things knowing they’re not going to steal that piece of important equipment just as you need to use it.

Your best lab bud who helps you out with everything

Budget: Small

Write them a small card that promises them an acknowledgement of their wonderfulness in your next paper (or your thesis).

Budget: Medium

A larger card with a promise to take them out for a posh meal to thank them for being amazing.

Budget: Large

Literally anything they want – a puppy/house/car – you cannot underestimate how important it is to have someone who looks out for you in academia, and buying them off to ensure your friendship probably isn’t a bad idea.

Your supervisor

Budget: Small

A nice green pen so that when they’re making notes on your work it seems less harsh.

Budget: Medium

A big pack of soothing tea such as camomile so that they’re really calm the next time you ask them to turn around some feedback for you in ~2 hours.

Budget: Large

All those papers they’ve been nagging you to get done? Do them all and package them up in a lovely gift box ready for them to comment on. (May also be appropriate to supply green pen from earlier here.) Yeah, they’ll know who the gift is from, but hey. Not a large financial budget, but probably quite a large time and sleep one.

The postdoc you’ve only said hi to once

Budget: Small

A box of chocolates – dull, yes, but everyone likes chocolate. And if they don’t, they can re-gift it.

Budget: Medium

A textbook on that thing you’re pretty sure they research. Cross your fingers and hope for the best that if it’s wrong, they’ll never find out who gave it to them.

Budget: Large

A shop voucher for the exact amount of money in your budget. Everyone needs things from a shop, right?

The clumsy one who’s always breaking stuff

Budget: Small

A pair of lab goggles.

Budget: Medium

Some new lab glassware of their own – but plastic!

Budget: Large

A full hazmat suit for everyone’s protection.

The lab boss

Budget: Small

A ridiculous Christmas hat that you just know everyone will insist that they wear for the rest of the day.

Budget: Medium

A light-up Christmas jumper (preferably in one size too small/large, whatever will be funnier) AND a ridiculous Christmas hat that you just know everyone will insist that they wear for the rest of the day.

Budget: Large

A fancy new laptop so they’ve no excuse for not looking at all those paper drafts you’ve sent to them for feedback.

The lab secretary or admin person

Budget: Small

A paperweight for all that outstanding paperwork they’re waiting for. The more novelty, the better.

Budget: Medium

A nice bottle of wine as a thank-you for keeping everyone in check.

Budget: Large

Several bottles of wine as a massive thank-you/way of alleviating their considerable stress at having to look after a labful of scientists and technicians.

Happy Secret Santa-ing and have a wonderful festive period, Clutter readers!

Michelle Reeve

Michelle is the host of Clutter, and a recovering spider scientist. She now does a whole bunch of science communication things, and still regularly wrangles arachnids.

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