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My dissertation advisor & Chair was professor A. He all of a sudden was severely ill and left the program right before I proposed my dissertation study. I built the study under his supervision, including part of the data analysis, but he didn't have a chance to read even the first draft of the proposal.

Professor B (from my department) took over as the committee chair. The dissertation was not exactly her area of specialty. She served as the chair (someone needs to and the department decided that she would take the role) and arranged the defense by signing off on paperwork and making sure the procedure functioned. Her advising role did not involve major, valuable feedback. She's acting like any other committee member by asking a few questions and checking the final revision.

I thanked both advisors in the acknowledgment.

Would thanking professor A in the dedication be too much? I frequently see people thank families and friends but advisors/professors are always in the acknowledgment. Also, this might make professor B feel bad if she sees the dedication.

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    My immediate reaction is that a dedication to A is permissible, but it might be good to include in the dedication the reason for it, something like "To Professor A, who initiated the research reported here but was prevented by illness from participating in its completion." Jul 29 at 19:22
  • This might be highly dependend on local culture, but to me the idea to dedicate your thesis to your advisor seems a bit odd anyway (no matter whether they have left in the mean time or not) Jul 29 at 20:25
  • Maybe one way to resolve your issue is to focus on the fact that a dedication does not play the role of an acknowledgment section. They are two quite different things! You can dedicate your thesis to your grandma (and I'm sure people have) while acknowledging the help and support of your advisor (and librarian and IT support...) during your doctoral studies. Jul 29 at 21:10
  • One example I know of -- but it's U.S. and from 1955 -- is the Acknowledgment on p. ii of On the symmetric structure of unconditioned point sets and real functions by Herbert Charles Parrish. Jul 30 at 19:01

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Given that your advisor A became sick and left the university, I see no problem with dedicating your thesis to him and thank your committee and especially advisor B at length for rescuing you. In a certain sense, you can claim that this was the last thesis ever written under A, so that a dedication seems appropriate.

However, do not underestimate cultural differences. What is appropriate in my culture might not be appropriate in your culture. In the US, dedications and acknowledgments are in general not taken as serious as you seem to take them. There, you might be overthinking the issue.

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    Thank you for the suggestion! Professor B who rescued me actually immigrated to the states so she is not completely US-ish, and this worried me a little!
    – Katie
    Jul 29 at 18:24
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    I think you are over-thinking it. As long as you thank your committee and especially B for rescuing your thesis, you will be fine. In general, the cultures who would put a big value on a public expression of gratitude seem to be the cultures which honor the elders as well. Jul 29 at 19:30
  • The acknowledgments, like the preface to any book, are personal remarks and you are free to thank anyone in any way. Your remarks are permanently and publicly part of the record, so you would usually want to avoid saying anything negative. Anything else, including whimsical thanks to baristas, is your business.
    – djs
    Jul 30 at 13:29
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Absolutely, do dedicate it to your former advisor if that's who you most want to honour that way.

In your acknowledgements, be careful to be clear about contributions but also to be clearly sincerely grateful for each. You don't need to harp on about who has done more or less, don't say someone has "only" rescued you. Be positive, graceful, and succinct about everyone you mention.

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