Friday, September 30, 2011

Writing an Acknowledgement Page in the Dissertation

One thing you'll have to do near the end of your dissertation writing days is to come up with an acknowledgement page.  This can be a tough thing to write, but it's your chance to put some real personality into your writing.

Even though you might feel
like this near the end of the
dissertation process, try to
refrain from thanking your
dissertation directly as if it
were a human being.  Save
the crazy for after tenure.
If you haven't really thought about writing the acknowledgement page yet, but it's getting close, I'd recommend checking out a few recent dissertations and seeing what THEY wrote.  You'll likely read some that you think are horrible/boring/sterile, and some that are really touching/interesting/funny.  It's really up to you whether you want to go with the standard business-like thank yous or make it more personal, though I recommend the latter.

So, once you decide the type of page you want to write, you have to come up with a list of people to thank.
Here's some ideas that might help you remember everyone who helped you along the way.

1. Your dissertation advisor/committee -- Obviously these are the people that worked with you to get your dissertation finished, and in my opinion they should be either the first people you thank in the acknowledgments, or the last people you thank.  I went with first, saving the last thank yous for my family.  You should single out your dissertation advisor (DA) from the other committee members (CMs), as the DA likely put the most effort into your dissertation compared with the other CMs.

2. Your other 'advisors' in the program.  You may have been assigned an advisor early on in your Ph.D. program that ended up not becoming your DA, or even a CM, but provided a lot of early advice and encouragement.  If so, they should be included in your acknowledgements.  If they are one of your CMs, then single them out in addition to your DA, and if they are you DA, then be sure to mention the non-dissertation support they provided for you.

3. The other faculty you frequently bugged for help.  When I was in the Ph.D. program, there were a few faculty that I frequently bothered for advice on a number of topics, despite having no formal mentor/mentee relationship with them.  The advice ranged from detailed methodological/statistical advice to inform career advice.  I'm sure by the time I was ready to graduate, they had developed an inadvertent eye-twitch whenever they heard me knocked on their door and/or start a conversation with the phrase: "So I've got a quick question for you..."  Even though they may not have directly helped on my dissertation, they still helped me navigate life as a Ph.D. student, and so they deserve to be thanked.

4. The staff you bugged for help.  There is likely at least one staff member who not only knew you by name, but did things above and beyond the call of duty to help you out.  This might have involved helping you file all of the misc. paperwork for a grant application at the last minute, helping find you a last-minute assistantship position to keep your health insurance in tact, or even printing on their fancy high-quality laser printer 20 sheets of stick-on beer labels for your newly brewed batch of Maple Ale.  If anything like this applies to a staff member know you, then you should thank them.

There's a reason the show wasn't
just called Garfield. Dude needed
help filling the other 15 minutes.
5. Your friends.  The Ph.D. program can be very isolating and lonely.  If you're lucky, you will find a tight-knit group of friends to commiserate with, whether they are part of the program or not.  Even if they don't know the first thing about your research and never read a draft, they had a small part in helping you get through the program and finish the dissertation.  You should thank them in your acknowledgement page (by name for at least some, with a catch all 'all others who I haven't yet thanked').

6. The people who got you to grad school.  I know that if it weren't for the people who wrote my recommendation letters, I wouldn't have been accepted to the grad program that I graduated from. Therefore, I felt I should thank them for the time they put into me both as an undergrad student of theirs, as well as for the letter writing that they did for my application packet.

8. Other support networks.  If you have other support networks, like a grad student forum that you've used for advice over the years, writing support, etc. don't forget to include them if it makes sense to.

8. Your family.  This is an obvious one, and who you specifically mention will vary based on your own circumstances.  In my own acknowledgement page, I put my family (parents, sibling) next to last, and put my wife last, as I felt the first and last positions held the most importance.

Final thoughts: Finally, just a couple words of wisdom regarding the acknowledgement page.

First, I don't personally believe this is something that your dissertation committee needs to see.  It is personal and doesn't affect the merit of your dissertation work in terms of defensible or not.  So, if you don't feel you want the committee to see this page until after the dissertation is bound and printed, then I see no concerns with slipping it into the dissertation after the final defense and before the final product is sent to the university's graduate office for final approval and publication.  (Your mileage may vary, however).

Second, you should spell check your acknowledgement page very, very, very carefully.  This is because the rest of the dissertation has probably been read dozens of times by various people, but this is something that, probably, very few people will have a chance to read before it's in print.

Dr. Seuss had many friends.
Dr. Seuss liked to use pens.
Those who mattered minded not.
Those who did he f*cking shot.
Third, I think there's nothing wrong with adding some humor to this page.  To crudely paraphrase Bernard Baruch and/or Dr. Seuss, "those who matter won't mind and the rest can go f*ck themselves."  I would much rather have someone read my acknowledgement page and laugh (or cry, if you're my wife -- yes, it was that good/touching/etc.), than have someone read it, shrug, and go "eh, pretty good."

Finally, you should be proud of your acknowledgement page when you're done.  My acknowledgement page, I think, is pretty damn good, as well as interesting, funny, and touching.  Plus, where else in my dissertation could I have used phrases such as "hobo salary," "purchase the 'good' beer that individuals of stature and sophistication drink," "ridiculously strong back muscles," "totally-should-be-subject-to-freedom-of-information-laws-but-it-is-not," "slow-but-steady financial support (one poker game at a time),"  "squeezing the bejesus out of him," "defend myself from an onslaught of up to four enemy samurai," and "zombie apocalypse."
...See, don't you feel at least a little interested in reading my acknowledgement page now?  That's what I was going for.
Image credits: Hugging_Words, GarfieldDr. Seuss,


  1. I am currently in the process of writing the acknowledgements page for my dissertation and this has been enormously helpful. Thank you so much for sharing, and yes, it does make me want to read yours : )

  2. I'm wondering if it's okay to leave out your dissertation chair/committee if they've been more of a hinderance than a help?

  3. Brilliant advice for writing my own, thank you so much!

  4. Thanks for the outline. It has been helpful and puts my mind at ease a bit more.

  5. Re: Leaving out the chair/committee -- I personally would add them in, if only for the sake of avoiding a potential political battle down the road when you are/might be one of their colleagues.

  6. Thank you for the ideas. It has cleared up my mind, and saved me time!

  7. hey... i was lookin for some samples for writing my acknowledgement, then i saw your ouline.. it has come out to be a warm and with a smile kind of acknowledgement.... thank yaa.

  8. Thank you for your idea it made a lot easier to my mind now.

  9. Brilliant.... saved my a*se from a few rough ones :)

  10. Thanks for sharing this post.

  11. Thank you for your good ideas on writing acknowledgement for Ph.D dissertation. This saves me a lot of time.