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Monday 12 December 2022 12:12pm

Chocolate fish image
Susan Craig holding one of the chocolate fish which are wrapped in red foil.

A unique University of Otago PhD tradition has been beloved by students for more than 20 years.

Every PhD candidate who hands in their completed thesis receives a burgundy-foil-wrapped fishy treat made of Belgian chocolate – yes, a chocolate fish – as a classic Kiwi reward for their hard work.

“The students love it,” says Graduate Research School administrator, Susan Craig.

The practise was started by the late Margaret Sykes, then manager of the Postgraduate Office, Craig says.

“It used to be that when a student submitted their soft-bounds for examination, they were given a Cadbury marshmallow chocolate fish. Margaret bought these things out of her own money and started giving them out to the PhD students when they submitted for examination.”

Sykes also had a magic wand she would wave over the thesis for good luck.

When Dr Charles Tustin became director of the then Research, Higher Degrees and Scholarships Office, he continued the marshmallow chocolate fish tradition, and added a new tradition of gifting “beautiful Belgian chocolate, solid chocolate fish” and a card saying “well done” to candidates when their hard-bound theses were handed in.

Over the years, the Office became the Graduate Research School, and theses are now submitted electronically.

“Now, when they submit their thesis for examination online, candidates are invited to come to the Graduate Research School and we give them the handmade Belgian chocolate fish with a signed card from the Graduate Research School team in a special envelope. Then they go away and ring the bell to say ‘I've submitted my thesis’,” Craig says.

Students will often arrive to collect their fish accompanied by a large group friends, family, supervisors and heads of department.

If need be, Craig will mail the fish overseas, because students still want to receive them even though they have left the country.

“I send them to Wellington and Christchurch to be given out by the teams up there as well.”

The fish handed out come from a little factory just outside of Christchurch, she says.

“We have been using the same company for over 16 years.”

Though no one had asked yet, she has tried to source a dark chocolate option for vegan or dairy free students without luck so far.

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