My professer, regrettably and very suddenly, passed away yesterday. He was my mentor for my graduation thesis. His teaching capabilities were not great, but he was a great man. Always helping out with everything he could and very supportive. I have very fond memories of him.

I have to hand in my thesis in two weeks time. Currently, I have his and another mentor's name on the front page to make it clear they are my supervisors.

How should I proceed with his name? I'd prefer not to erase it from my thesis, as he helped me and supported me. Would it be appropriate to leave it? Is it appropriate to add a little symbol like a cross next to his name to mark his passing? Should I just leave it the way it is now?

If it matters, I'm from the Netherlands.

  • 11
    It depends more on your institution that anything else. But I'd guess that you just put both names and that's it. Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 14:21
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    My sincere condolences. I would write a small note on one of the first pages. Ask your other mentor.
    – Karlo
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 14:25
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    In the UK, I wouldn't be surprised to see "The Late Professor M Jones" used. I've no idea what convention is used in the Netherlands. Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 15:34
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    You should check with your department on how to precisely handle certain aspects, because in some contexts your supervisor's name reflects his contribution to your work, and in other contexts his name reflects his approval of your thesis. For the former, obviously you want to still include his name and you probably have some choice in the matter whether or not to highlight his passing. For the latter, he cannot approve your final thesis (even if he was obviously approving of your work overall), but there may still be an appropriate way you can indicate his name to not leave him out.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 17:10
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    Is this about a PhD thesis or a Master's thesis? For the former rules are more strict in general and I would recommend contacting the "pedel". For example, in the university where I did my PhD the title page of the thesis had to be approved by the university before you would even be admitted to the thesis defence procedure. Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 19:11

4 Answers 4


You should definitely keep the name. I've seen that people who passed away during some endeavor usually have their names surrounded with a rectangle.

You can also consider putting some In Memoriam page for your mentor somewhere at the beginning of the thesis. You should consult other people within your institutions culture to make sure that this doesn't come off as pretentious (although I see no reason why it should).

  • 30
    He supervised you to the end. He should be listed as superviser. How you treat his passing away is a separate question. Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 14:26
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    Interesting. I normally see a dagger/obelisk after their name: Dr. John Doe † Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 17:17
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    Yes @guifa is right, I don't think I've ever seen a bold rectangle in the Netherlands to indicate a deceased person. A dagger/obelisk is commonly used for that in the Netherlands. Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 19:08
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    Rather unfortunate that it's called a "dagger"...
    – Dmiters
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 20:37
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    @O.R.Mapper that's true, but how many styles still use the asterisk series for footnotes? (I'm sure they exist, but it's been a while since I've seen one). Another variation I see that would resolve the ambiguity is Dr. John Doe († 2017) Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 14:30

My sincere condolences. I am in the same situation: one of my advisors passed away 6 months before the end of my PhD.

Here are the issues I faced:

  • My thesis had to be supervised until the viva. OP (as it was the case for me) seems to have another supervisor. Talk with them and this shouldn't be an issue — especially if this other supervisor is in the academia.
    The PI of my research group also offered me to review my thesis even if it was not really within its field of expertize. You might otherwise find a more adequate other researcher ready to help you in your institution (just make sure that everyone in charge of your graduating program is in the loop when contacting new temporary advisors).

  • I had to put names on my thesis' cover. I just listed names of my two original supervisors. (I don't think that temporary supervising a thesis for two weeks is worth being listed as supervisor.) You can find here ideas on how to indicate your supervisor passed away.
    The solution I chose was to indicate nothing on the front cover, to add a dedication page ("In the memory of Professor John Doe") at the beginning of my thesis, and to thank the temporary advisor in the Acknowledgement section. In this section, I also refer to my deceased supervisor as "the late Prof. Doe".
    Reason for no special symbol on the cover is that your deceased supervisor was de facto your supervisor for your thesis. It thus must be listed. But my opinion is that you won't change your thesis cover in the future if another person passes away.
    So I think that the purpose of the cover is to indicate who supervised you (here, both supervisors, hence both names listed), not their current state (hence, no indication). The dedication page, imho, already makes obvious that this person passed away short before graduation.

  • This supervisor co-authored papers that were still under review. With the consent of my second advisor, I sent a note to journal's editors at the next round of review to explain them the situation. I asked them if it was possible to keep him/her acknowledged as author. It is then up to editors.
    Some journals have strict policies (e.g., having the written co-authoring consent from all authors regarding the accepted version — which we obviously cannot have.) Their name was then listed in the acknowledgment section.
    Most of them don't. What happened for a conference paper is that the name was listed along with the others, with a footnote explaining that the paper was finalized after their death.

TL;DR: You should list both names in your thesis. Regarding indicating that one of them passed away, I would keep it short and subtle. (My opinion is to add no specific indication on the front cover — see above.) For what regards on-going publications, talk with the editors the next time you contact them.


In my country we put a frame, with the name and surname inside the rectangle. This means that the author died in the process of creation.

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    I would make sure this practice is common in OP's country. Indeed, I am from western Europe. I have never seen such a practice, and I'm not sure I would have understood it without further context. (Appending a dagger to one's name † is the standard in my country.)
    – ebosi
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 16:13
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    @ebo Sometimes journals use the dagger like an asterisk for annotating institutions in an author list, for example. I'm going to have to start paying attention to where those journals are based, maybe they are expressing their opinions of certain authors in a way I didn't recognize...
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 18:44
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    @BryanKrause You are right. The sequence *, , , §, **, ††, etc. is the usual way to indicate multiple (foot)notes when preferring symbols over numbers) [cf. §14.20 in the Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed.] However, my intuitive reaction is always to think these authors are deceased when I see a dagger append to their name -- I only realize after a few moments that it links to their institution/email/etc. instead.
    – ebosi
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 18:56
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    What country is your country? Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 19:19
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    "the author died in the process of creation" - let's hope the author's death only coincided with the creation phase. Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 7:05

In case it helps, I want to add an answer from my own experience.

My PhD Supervisor suddenly and unexpectedly passed away before I handed in my PhD memory. The bulk of the work was already done, but I still needed some advice and supervision to prepare the final document.

My University allowed me to keep her name in the records as first supervisor. I added a cosupervisor, who really helped and encouraged me to finish the job.

I wrote some special words to my first supervisor in the 'Acknowledgements' section of the PhD memory, and also added a special text at the end of the document (more precisely, I added the poem 'When Great Trees Fall' by Maya Angelou) which was implicitly dedicated to her. The thesis was in Spanish, but I kept the poem in English.

A full electronic version of the PhD thesis can be found on http://hdl.handle.net/10251/46373 .

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