It’s a cliché that just after creating a new document called ‘Thesis.doc”, the doctoral researcher finding him- or herself in ‘writing-up mode’ will inevitably start writing the Dedication and Acknowledgements. Stereotyped and tired this image may be, yet it is not a million miles from the truth. But, let’s pause and remove the veils of cynicism for a moment, because there are good reasons for why the myth is rooted in reality…
The Dedication: who’s your champion?
At the writing-up stage, we have committed a staggering quantity of energy, time and money towards our doctorate. We have made great sacrifices, most likely starting with small things like sleep and recreation, moving up the scale possibly to health and relationships. We have worked hard. And through it all, we have persevered. What keeps us going, through the years of research, culminating in what will probably be the longest piece of academic writing in our career?
Sometimes it isn’t a ‘what’, but a ‘who’ – someone we have kept in mind throughout the doctoral journey, a champion if you like. This person or persons may be living or dead, near or far. They will have been the ‘who’ we think of when we’re dragging ourselves through the tough times, and of course when we are celebrating the good times. We want our champions at our graduation ceremony. We want to make them proud. I bet you already know who your champions are.
The Acknowledgements: who’s in your your support team?
We know we couldn’t have achieved so much alone – there’s a support network behind every researcher, and it’s often bigger than we first think. The tip of the iceberg starts with friends, family, and supervisor. Go a little deeper though, and we find many more who deserve credit: housemates, library staff, lab technicians, department administrators, postdocs, IT technicians, mentors, archivists, proof-readers, participants, interviewees, researcher communities, bus drivers, bar staff, academics from other institutions, transcribers, office-mates, programmers, et al.
These folk are essential to the progress we’ve made, like the production team is essential to a movie, so let the credits roll. Let our support team have the recognition they deserve, for the part they have played. And once we start this list, it’s hard to stop. We remember every single friendly face, shoulder to cry on, helpful suggestion, handy piece of advice, constructive critique and useful recommendation that has come our way during the doctorate. We remember every kind email, every motivating chat, consolatory hug, and every bit of practical and emotional support bestowed on us by these wonderful people.
Who reads the credits?
The movie analogy fails us here. Most of us, at the end of a movie, care little about the credits. Yet the Acknowledgements section of our Thesis will probably be the most thumbed page of the whole thing. I know it’s the first page I read when looking at somebody else’s thesis. We’re a curious species, us researchers, it goes with the territory. I often joke that my thesis will be read in it’s entirety by a grand total of three people (my supervisor and my internal and external examiners). My Mum will have a good go, though I wouldn’t want to bet on her not skipping a few chunks. But I bet the acknowledgements get more airing than the rest of it put together, even in these bright new days of open access repositories. In fact, especially in these bright new days of open access repositories.
The thing is, most of the wonderful people on the roll-call of our support network won’t get to read our thanks to them. That’s where Time for Some Acknowledgement comes in. The Time for Some Acknowledgement blog is where you can post your thesis acknowledgements on the internet for the whole world to see. The blog is run by George Julian, and she will take submissions of your acknowledgements in pretty much any format: scanned pages, word-processed, handwritten, photographed – it’s up to you. The blog has thesis acknowledgements from all over the world, and makes interesting reading (remember that curiosity?). It’s also searchable, so you can have a look at who’s thanking who in your own institution – useful if you worry you might have forgotten someone. Of course you could also use the search function to find out if you appear in someone else’s acknowledgements…
I leave you with a sample from a recent post to the Time for Some Acknowledgement blog, entitled “The path to becoming a doctor is littered with distractions. I’d like to thank those distractions for making me the person I am“:
I would like to thank many people who have helped me through the completion of this dissertation. The first is my advisor, Steve Harrison, who is captivating, honest, and the true embodiment of a mentor. In combination with the mentorship of my advisor, I am blessed to work with dynamic and intelligent committee members Dr. Dennis Kafura, Dr. D. Scott McCrickard, Dr. Enid Montague, and Dr. Deborah Tatar. I would also like to thank the Computer Sc … Read More