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I’m getting towards the end of a long project and am required to write a dissertation (Bachelor of Engineering) and we have been advised that it’s a good idea to include an acknowledgements page¹. What I’m wondering is: Is it considered a requirement to thank your academic supervisor, regardless of whether they actually helped? My supervisor was not particularly helpful and I ended up not bothering to ask them questions about half way through the project. Is it considered poor form to leave them out of the acknowledgements?

My original question was similar to a previous question asking about whether they should publish a PhD Thesis without acknowledgements due to difficulties with supervisors. My question is slightly different in that I would like to include an acknowledgements page to thank family and friends etc. This would make it more obvious that the supervisor has been left off the list of people who have been acknowledged.


¹ The guidance provided says:

It is common courtesy that you acknowledge assistance received whilst undertaking the project and preparing the dissertation. You should consider carefully all forms of assistance received and these may encompass academic, technical, secretarial, administrative and personal assistance (e.g. family and friends). A set of simple statements is usually appropriate and adequate acknowledgement should not normally exceed one page.

marked as duplicate by scaaahu, Fomite, jakebeal, gman, Alexandros Oct 17 '15 at 20:37

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    Just write a simple thank you to your advisor and not make it a big deal out of it. He is the one signing your thesis and you will get your degree after that. 10 years from now, nothing of this will matter. – Alexandros Oct 17 '15 at 7:06
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    I would not use real name and avatar to ask question like this. If your advisor happens to visit this post, he will be upset like this TA: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/56021/… – qsp Oct 17 '15 at 8:03
  • Yes, I thought of this after posting. Fortunately, I have multiple academic advisors for this project and I have not mentioned which advisor I wasn't happy with.... – anon Oct 17 '15 at 8:05
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    OP: That means that when the news of your posting gets back to your department -- as seems rather likely given the way the internet and academic communities work -- it will either be clear who you're talking about or it won't...in which case faculty who were helpful to you will have to worry that you found them completely useless. In fact the action of posting here non-anonymously is much more precipitous than the lack of acknowledgments you are contemplating. I urge you to think things through a bit more carefully. – Pete L. Clark Oct 17 '15 at 8:15
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    Yes, it is unfortunate that taking the lazy route and using Facebook for your sign in has the side effect of making your posts non-anonymous. I hadn't notice this until after posting but yes, I take you point. Fortunately, everyone I can think of who is involved is thick skinned and there are few 'affected' people. I don't like the word useless, I'll edit the question to make it less emotive. – anon Oct 17 '15 at 8:45
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From your comment:

ereading the guidance provided, it says the following: 11.6.5 Acknowledgements It is common courtesy that you acknowledge assistance received whilst undertaking the project and preparing the dissertation. You should consider carefully all forms of assistance received and these may encompass academic, technical, secretarial, administrative and personal assistance (e.g. family and friends). A set of simple statements is usually appropriate and adequate acknowledgement should not normally exceed one page.

As your academic supervisor is the one that probably will sign off on your dissertation (if that is the custom where you are) and at the very least, filled the necessary role of having a supervisor - then at the very least, he/she has helped in an administrative sense. However, consider that there may have been a lot of activity 'behind the scenes'.

But, it is always polite to acknowledge your supervisor in a positive manner - realistically though, it is the content of your work that will matter.

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    While I agree that from social/professional point of view it is a good choice, I am disappointed that lying to please the authority became a standard mode of academia (supposedly centered around the search for truth, even if it is unsettling or displeases authority). – Piotr Migdal Oct 17 '15 at 16:33
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    why is it lying to acknowledge that some nonzero help was received, even if that amount is less than what was hoped for? I wouldn't tell anyone to lie. – Kate Gregory Oct 17 '15 at 16:34
  • @KateGregory Every situation is different (and the OP asks for a case when the relationship was toxic; hard to say to which degree). Sometimes total help is negative (given opportunity cost, bad advices, personal health cost, etc) - don't assume it has to be positive no matter what; and the answer advises to thank no matter what, with no conditions, etc. Cf. - would you like to thank all people you have strongly interacted with? – Piotr Migdal Oct 17 '15 at 16:41
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    Thanking your advisor for the times that they helped is not lying, even if their net total help was negative. A thesis is a public document: praise the good stuff, omit the bad stuff. If you have grievances with your advisor, air them in person, as if you were both grownups. – JeffE Oct 17 '15 at 19:35
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There is acknowledging and there is thanking. Your supervisor presumably has done at least one thing to get you finished, whether it was accepting you into the program, suggesting the idea that you worked on, helping for the first half or so, or just signing whatever has to be signed at the end for you to actually pass.

So don't write a long paragraph about what an inspiration your supervisor was and how amazing the support and guidance was. Just write a sentence specifically for your supervisor. The university is listing all kinds of people they think you should acknowledge including secretarial and admin staff, so leaving off the supervisor would be really strange. While this one may not have set any amazing-supervisor records, that doesn't mean you were actually unsupervised. Save the flowery couldn't-have-done-it-without-you sentences for your parents or best friend or love of your life. Provide one sentence for each person or group you want to acknowledge or thank, and then move on.

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I think the guidance is largely intended to prevent some sentimental types from spending five pages with their acknowledgments, and to guide those with poor social skills from forgetting to have an acknowledgments page at all. It definitely doesn't state any requirements.

You might as well be polite -- but you can choose whom to be effusive about, and whom to be polite about.

And now, please forgive me for quoting my favorite dedication, by P.G. Wodehouse:

To my daughter Leonora, without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.

  • @Apo comments: "There are many shades to this, which the careful reader can interpret as they see fit. Also, consider that your advisor is not necessarily going to read the acknowledgements or care. If they couldn't bother to help previously, what makes you think they will do anything beyond scrawl a signature on a page? The acknowledgements section is the one place where you get to be subjective and drop the dispassionate voice. It's where you get to be you. So try to say something that you mean. If you can't say something positive, try to blur the lines, or consider leaving it out entirely." – aparente001 Oct 20 '15 at 6:13
  • What a wonderful quote! :) – TT_ Jan 28 '16 at 23:35