Who do you include in your thesis acknowledgements?

Once you’ve dealt with the small matter of finishing your thesis, there are a few other tasks to complete, too. Although the Acknowledgements page isn’t assessed during the examination process, it still performs a vital role. This is where you get to thank all the people who’ve helped you along the way. The research itself is, of course, a solo effort, but it would be impossible to reach the finish line without a few cheerleaders.

Everyone will have their own supporting team, but here are some suggestions on who you should probably include:

  1. Your supervisors. Traditionally, they come at the top having (hopefully) played a pivotal role in your PhD. Even if your relationship wasn’t altogether positive, you should still acknowledge them. Otherwise, it might be a red flag to your examiners.
  2. Your funding body, if you have one. You should also acknowledge any separate grants you recieved for travel or conference attendance.
  3. Other academic staff. Perhaps there were other academics who didn’t supervise you but nevertheless provided useful feedback or support, through an end-of-year review or during a postgraduate symposium.
  4. Professional services staff. You almost certainly spent a lot of time in the library, so don’t forget to thank the librarians both at your own institution and elsewhere if you received any external support, e.g. archives or special collections. Ditto technicians, workshop facilitators, and administrators. 
  5. Your peer group. Hopefully, you made some connections during your PhD. Give a shout out to anyone who provided significant support. 
  6. Your family and friends. It’s possible your loved ones have suffered almost as much as you during the PhD, so you can make it up to them here.

And here are a few tips to help you with the style:

  • The Acknowledgements page can be less formal than the thesis, but it still needs to be professional. No pet names or in-jokes, and make sure you’re not gushing like Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars. This section gives your examiners a sense of who you are as a person, so make a good impression.
  • Although you don’t want to miss anyone important, only include those people who were significantly involved. One way around this is a phrase such as, “Heartfelt thanks to my close friends and family who were with me throughout the PhD. You know who you are.” This craftily conveys intimacy and disguises forgetfulness.
  • If someone helped you with a very specific piece of information, that might be better acknowledged in a footnote at the appropriate point. This can prevent your page from turning into a chapter.

In the flurry of activity leading up to submission day, it’s easy to forget key people. It’s a good idea to keep a list during your PhD. You don’t need to start crafting the page itself, but capturing the names as you go ensures you won’t offend anyone through omission.

You can’t acknowledge yourself, but do give yourself a big pat on the back anyway.

Photo by Howie R on Unsplash

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