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I am a Ph.D. student in mathematics. I have worked on a project and wrote a paper. A reputed old mathematician, who is not my supervisor but is an excellent and friendly human, in my opinion, consistently helped me to write the paper. I am about to submit the paper to a journal. When I offered authorship, the mathematician politely said that giving acknowledgment (in the acknowledgment section) in the paper would be enough.

So I have decided to acknowledge. But I am also thinking of dedicating to the mathematician's birthday on the paper's front page.

Is it normal to dedicate a paper to the birthday of someone who contributed to it? Or should I mention the contribution in the acknowledgment part?

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  • 12
    @Buffy's answer is excellent. In addition, beware the possibility that revealing the famous mathematician's birthday facilitates a third party in gaining unauthorized access to online services they use, up to and including online banking. Sep 20 at 15:01
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    @DanielHatton What kind of online banking grants access just knowing a birthday? That makes no sense. Birthdays are quite commonly publicly known dates. I cannot imagine any security system using it as a secret. If your bank does this, I strongly suggest you find yourself a better one! Sep 20 at 22:25
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    @CrisLuengo True, but people also have a tendency to use their birthdays (or their families' birthdays) as passwords and PINs.
    – David Z
    Sep 20 at 23:33
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    @DanielHatton: As far as I’ve ever seen, a dedication to someone’s birthday means something like “…to XX YY, on the occasion of her 70th birthday”, not “…to XX YY, for her 70th birthday on 29 February 2022” — besides which, it seems pretty unlikely OP would know more about the mentor’s birthday than is already public.
    – PLL
    Sep 21 at 20:04
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    You could do worse than follow Einstein's example in On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies: "In conclusion I wish to say that in working at the problem here dealt with I have had the loyal assistance of my friend and colleague M. Besso, and that I am indebted to him for several valuable suggestions." Sep 23 at 6:53

4 Answers 4

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I think paper "dedications" are rare. A statement in the ack portion would be more common and probably sufficient. I've dedicated books to such people, though after they died, however.

But "I want to thank X for many many fruitful discussions on the material here and their guidance when things got hard." is pretty strong. Add another sentence about what a wonderful person they are and it will be over the top.

Note that in math it is common that advisors who contribute a lot to dissertations don't normally expect co-authorship or special thanks. "Just part of the job."

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  • Thank you very much for deciding my mind. It is very helpful. However that mathematician is not my advisor but more than my real advisor
    – learner
    Sep 20 at 15:52
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    Agree completely with this. This is someone who isn’t your advisor treating you like you’re their PhD student, which is generous and deserves warm gratitude, but isn’t that unusual. I was lucky enough that both Lenstra and Jones gave me this treatment, Here’s what I wrote in your circumstances. Now I try to “pay it forward” with how I treat my colleagues’ PhD students. Sep 20 at 16:17
  • @NoahSnyder, thanks for the paper.
    – learner
    Sep 20 at 16:31
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    @NoahSnyder OT but curious: in math papers, you don't have a separate section for acknowledgements? In physics, it's always a separate one at the end of the paper, and containing all personal and funding/institutional acknowledgments.
    – Neinstein
    Sep 21 at 7:14
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    @Neinstein In my experience it's usually a subsection at the end of the introduction, but I guess it could be different outside of my bubble. Sep 21 at 9:30
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There's the aspect of field etiquette, that Buffy and Ben have already addressed: it's common to express these thanks in the "acknowledgements" section of the paper, which exists precisely for this reason. It's uncommon to "dedicate" a paper, except for unusual circumstances (like Buffy, I have only seen this done for the death of a mentor) and I have never seen an example of a "birthday dedication". I would personally find such a dedication odd and perhaps suspect that the junior researcher is trying to emphasise their connection with the old, respected mentor for personal exposure.

But there's a more relevant aspect which applies to you specifically: you have asked this mathematician how they would like to be recognised for their help, by offering them authorship, and they have specified their preference, which is to be mentioned in the acknowledgement section. If you wish to express your gratitude to this person, the best way is always to respect their explicit wishes, rather than override them.

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    60th birthday dedications aren't that unusual, but are usually for papers published in proceedings attached to 60th birthday conferences. The other circumstance where it's not unusual is a mathematician who has recently passed away. Other than those specific scenarios, yes, dedication is unusual. Sep 20 at 16:30
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An acknowledgement is a perfectly good way to show your gratitude to this mathematician, particularly if he does not want coauthorship. It would be odd to dedicate a paper to the birthday of another mathematician, if only because birthdays for adults aren't really a big deal anyway, and they have nothing to do with the process of research. I recommend you write a nice acknowledgement and get an experienced scholar to read it to make sure it is sufficiently flattering without going too far overboard.

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  • if only because birthdays for adults aren't really a big deal anyway - some of us even hate them with passion :)
    – WoJ
    Sep 22 at 10:46
  • @WoJ: ...while some of us love them even having lived tens of them, so that's irrelevant. :)
    – DaG
    13 hours ago
  • @DaG: the first ones were fine, and it is after living, as you write, tens of them (it started at two tens, actually, many tens ago) that I really try to hide on the [redacted] of [redacted]
    – WoJ
    4 hours ago
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Is it normal to dedicate a paper to the birthday of someone who contributed to it?

It is neither normal nor welcome (or acceptable).

Or should I mention the contribution in the acknowledgment part?

A friend of mine turned around my PhD over a dinner. She came out with a brilliant idea that triggered a new field of research (this was a fresh, promising topic that was not applied yet to my area of research). While her comment was maybe 10 seconds long, it influenced a lot the direction I decided to take.

I was extremely grateful to her and put her first in the acknowledgment section, before the advisor, staff, wife, parents, and dog. This was the mark of respect that is expected, nothing more, nothing less.

Please do not make him feel weird.

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