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My dissertation is just for an undergraduate degree, but acknowledgements are required. I have sent two direct emails to the internal supervisor who was assigned to me, one introducing myself and one asking for advice. There have also been several emails where they have been copied into, just to keep them up to date with my progress.

I plan to acknowledge and thank other staff members (academics and counsellor), my external supervisor and a friend.

I have never received a reply from this internal supervisor. Do I have to acknowledge them if they've never bothered to respond to a single email let alone help in any way? Alternatively, or perhaps additionally, I'm considering excluding them altogether from the title page and cover sheet where I'm required to name my supervisors.

EDIT: Just wanted to thank everyone for their insight and suggestions. I'm still considering which path to take and in the meantime I have mentioned the lack of response to my course leader again, just in case there's still an alternative route at this point.

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    You could also thank them for their help, which has been “of incalculable value” in blah, blah, blah. I did this in my dissertation and got a free trip to see the Dean. Nothing happened as a consequence, but probably best to heed the good advice by @Buffy.
    – Ed V
    Oct 27 '21 at 19:22
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    Are you sure this is abnormal (in your context)? I have seen instances where day to day supervision of undergraduate theses were delegated to PhD students, and the main supervisor only took part in the formal evaluation (defense, grading, etc.). In any case, it is probably not up to you to decide whom to include in the title page and cover sheet, you'd most likely have to follow the format prescribed by the university.
    – GoodDeeds
    Oct 27 '21 at 20:08
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    Have you contacted whoever "assigned" this supervisor to let them know that you did not receive the supervision you expected from them? Oct 28 '21 at 7:38
  • 2
    I think this is normal unfortunately. When I did my MSc thesis, one of the supervisors responded to emails so infrequently it seemed they had no interest in the success of the project. I still thanked them as a formality in the acknowledgments, sometimes you just have to do these things. It would serve no purpose to make an enemy, especially so early in your career.
    – Tom
    Oct 28 '21 at 12:41
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    Requirements don't have to make sense, unfortunately. A lot of things in academia are more akin to jumping through hoops than solving problems. That's part of the territory, unfortunately.
    – Mast
    Oct 28 '21 at 13:34
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Don't do things that will come back to haunt you. Name them on the title page as required, certainly.

As to the other, I won't advise, but it is possible that the advisor saw no need to give you feedback if they felt that you were making appropriate progress otherwise. If you sent an email and specifically asked for a reply then they should have done so, but if it read as "informational" then a reply might not be considered necessary.

If they are required to approves/sign your work for credit and graduation then it is better to go along even if it seems unfair. First, protect yourself. Don't bite the big dogs.

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    "Don't bite the big dogs" is a very good advice. A PhD student in my department refused to include their main supervisor in their acknowledgement (but did add the name where it was required by bureaucracy) as the prof. had been anything but helpful through the years (constantly absent, often changing things last minute, scolding for not managing to change things last minute, etc). The end result was that the PhD student got a bad word in every university where the prof. had contacts (many!) and that no one in the dept. could publish anything w/o the prof. accepting the acknowledgements first.
    – Mrkvička
    Oct 28 '21 at 10:43
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    @Mrkvička I would say that the PhD student had the privilege and the luck of not stepping into the network of the professor. If he/she was a smart person, he/she would find an opportunity outside of that world. Most likely a rewarding one (as always is, when you find a path on your own). On the other hand, If he/she could get in that network, he/she would think how bad conditions are imposed by that professor to other PhDs ... or even worse, he/she would impose such conditions because those conditions are boundary conditions imposed by the big dogs.
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 28 '21 at 12:36
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    @EarlGrey I don't think it would have been that bad if the PhD student had managed to get into the network (when not angering their prof. first), there are ample of reasonable professors available but the problem is that they often rather listen to the word of another professor than of a PhD; it's hard to argue that the prof. was the bad person when they only show their nice side to other professors. My point with the anecdote, however, was that not only did the PhD get a tougher time, but so did all students who remained in the department as well.
    – Mrkvička
    Oct 28 '21 at 18:47
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    @Mrkvička "but so did all students who remained in the department as well." so the first student was a trigger of change, and the change will go through all these students, in two possible forms: either the professor realize how he/she is faring, or some of the students will miracolously go somewhere else in the professor network, bringing with them the truth about said professor ... which will slowly see his/her relevance vanish. Plus, the students had hastly to realize they needed another reference than their advisor: short term pain, but a good thing, in the long term!
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 28 '21 at 19:37
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    @Mrkvička: The reason such bad advisers remain is because people who know their mistreatment of students do not speak up about it. Of course, everyone needs to weigh the cost of speaking up against the benefits, but it is really ridiculous that many people who can effect change instead hide the misdoings.
    – user21820
    Oct 29 '21 at 14:21
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A story from ancient Greece:

Diogenes was knee deep in a stream washing vegetables. Coming up to him, Plato said, "My good Diogenes, if you knew how to pay court to kings, you wouldn't have to wash vegetables."

"And," replied Diogenes, "If you knew how to wash vegetables, you wouldn't have to pay court to kings."

So the question is, would you rather be Diogenes or Plato? Perhaps you prefer to be truthful with some cost to your reputation, or perhaps you prefer to be polite with some cost to your sense of personal integrity. It really depends on which you value more highly, and we can't tell you what to value.

That said, we can tell you what the cost to your reputation might result in: a supervisor who may be unwilling to write a reference for you when you graduate, or who may write a less glowing reference than otherwise; who may not think highly of you if you apply for a postgraduate course at the same institution, and may be unwilling to supervise you if you do; and who may be in a bad mood while grading your project. On the other hand, the cost to your integrity is fairly small, and you likely won't even think about simply having written their name in your acknowledgements section after a few months or a year.

Still, if you are Diogenes the Cynic, then I can't say it's wrong to leave their name out. In that case, though, do leave them out entirely; it would be unnecessary and rude to damn them with faint praise or say anything negative about them.

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  • I always consider the cost to my reputation of not being truthful first (as well as the cost to my own self-respect)
    – uhoh
    Oct 30 '21 at 0:43
  • @uhoh In many cases, dishonesty can harm your reputation, indeed. In this case, though, I don't think the OP's reputation could plausibly be harmed by thanking their supervisor in their thesis's "acknowledgements" section.
    – kaya3
    Oct 30 '21 at 0:45
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Here's how I solved this problem once. I simply wrote something along the lines of "I thank Prof. X for agreeing to supervise my studies". Looks like an entirely valid acknowledgement - people not aware of Prof. X not having done any supervision at all won't notice how I actually have nothing to thank for except signing an agreement.

This way, I did not have to express fake gratitude but neither had to potentially cause trouble by leaving out an "important" person.

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First: their name on the title page and the cover sheet is not an acknowledgment whatsoever, it is just a bureaucratic formality. Sure, it is an implicit acknowledgment, they are in the front page, but it is simply because they officially accepted and (most likely) they did the final review of your submitted thesis. If anyone discover that you plagiarized material for your thesis, they will have some issue as well.

Second: there are two sides to their silence.

  • the obvious "you did not have such a big relation, they did not care", which is somehow understandable, considering the pandemic and the total lack of empathy that people have in the academia (i.e., they did not understand that even an encouraging "good job, keep on" can be tremendously helpful).
  • you actually were doing a good job on your own, so among the bazillion things to do, a bachelor student is somehow after the least important thing. I don not share this view, but it is a common view forced by the extreme load imposed on people in the academia.

So, who cares about being polite? since they did not complain, it means you did a good job, they did not help, so do not acknowledge them, stick to the bureaucratic requirements of placing their name on whatever sheet of page required, but simply ignore them in your acknowledgement.

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    (+1) Sadly, your second bullet point is more often true than we should be comfortable admitting.
    – Ed V
    Oct 28 '21 at 11:52
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    Third side to the silence: An overzelaous spam filter ate all the e-mails and they never actually saw them.
    – Boldewyn
    Oct 28 '21 at 14:52
  • Or that they did loads for OP, but it was all behind the scenes
    – Valorum
    Oct 28 '21 at 15:12
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    @Valorum My supervisor is the professor, though not one I've ever been taught by, met or spoken to. Unfortunately I didn't get a response from them at all, directly or from a disguised minion, which EarlGrey did point out so I'm just stepping all over their comment really.
    – Xanna
    Oct 29 '21 at 18:50
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    (+1) I agree in particular with the last sentence. Others seem to assume that the professor wants to be thanked/acknowledged...while this is possible, I think a reasonable person would not expect this if they didn't do any work, and may even be (slightly) taken aback to find themselves being acknowledged for no particular reason.
    – cag51
    Oct 30 '21 at 22:19
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Perhaps the subject of your dissertation was assigned (possibly in discussion with you) by him/her; if so, already one reason to acknowledge.

As a supervisor, s/he equally is ultimately in charge to let you access his/her research group to use lab space, technical equipment (like computers and glassware), consumables (like chemicals), group specific know-how (directly or/and by fellow co-workers in the group); surely worth an acknowledgment, too.

While interaction of the PI with the day-to-day business may vary (e.g., due to the size of the group, his/her engagement in teaching, organization of the group), his/her work contributes to keep this running e.g., by grant writing, establishing collaborations with other groups. In addition, preparing publications, reviewing other publications, participation in commissions of uni/professional societies demand attention, too. As an undergrad, many facets of this work may not visible to you (yet).

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    An external body and supervisor who I'll be acknowledging provided the subject, the internal supervisor had nothing to do with that. Use of lab space or equipment wasn't required as my project options were limited to literature reviews because of COVID-19. I understand their existing workload and commitments were likely very demanding however with this in mind, perhaps they shouldn't have agreed to supervise an undergrad who would mostly likely need direction with their dissertation. I wasn't asking for my hand to be held, just some advice, which is what I was told they were there for.
    – Xanna
    Oct 29 '21 at 18:37

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