Acknowledgments Phd Dissertation Defense


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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank three important groups of people, without whom this dissertation would not have been possible: my committee, my wonderful lab-mates, and my family.

I would like to first thank the members of my dissertation committee - not only for their time and extreme patience, but for their intellectual contributions to my development as a scientist. I am indebted to Kathleen Hall, who first taught me that RNA genes were ``cool'' in my favorite section of the Nucleic Acids core graduate course. Without the appreciation and excitement in RNA research inspired by those lectures, I may not have ever pursued this challenging area of biology overlooked by many. To Tim Schedl, I thank for being a supportive, strong guiding force as Chair of my committee. I am particularly appreciative to Tim for agreeing to head a committee dominated by computational biologists; he offered a welcome, balancing perspective as a rigorous experimental geneticist. To Warren Gish, who helped train me as a budding computational biologist even before I arrived at graduate school. My experience working with Warren on dbEST at the National Center for Biotechnology Information was extremely positive and fun (Ultimate and Friday TGIFs sipping margaritas certainly included). To Michael Zuker, for kindly sharing his decades of wisdom in the RNA field. The tRNAscan-SE website was enhanced with his help creating graphic representations of tRNA secondary structures. To Steve Johnson, whom I am most appreciative for agreeing to serve on the committee on short notice, and knowing he would probably have less than two weeks to read my thesis. I earnestly hope to have the chance to contribute to vertebrate genomics in the future through active collaborations with Steve.

Most of all, I would like to thank my thesis advisor, Sean Eddy, a talented teacher and passionate scientist. For a young researcher who had never before taken on a graduate student, Sean seemed to be wise beyond his experience. Sean took me into his lab after I had left my first thesis lab under less-than-favorable conditions, without questions or prejudgement - for that, I am indebted and thankful for the fresh new opportunities he offered. At several points during my thesis work, Sean put my interests as a student ahead of his own - as a young, unestablished faculty member, his ultimate concern for the welfare of his students is noteworthy. I also thank Sean for appreciating my research strengths and patiently encouraging me to improve in my weaker areas. His strong support of my own ideas and research directions, and confidence in my abilities were benefits not all thesis students enjoy (but should). Graduate school can be a difficult, draining experience. I am proud to say my experience in the Eddy lab was intellectually exciting and fun, and has energized me to continue in academic research. I sincerely hope I continue to have opportunities to interact with Sean for the rest of my research career.

To my lab-mates, thanks for the fun and support. My experience in the lab was greatly enhanced as it filled out from just Sean, Mindi, and me. I greatly look forward to having all of you as colleagues in the years ahead. To Mindi and Cheryl, many thanks for help at the bench and great company. Of all the people I have worked with in the ``wet-lab'' environment, I will easily miss hanging out with you two the most. I only hope my future wet-lab mates have a similarly adventurous taste in music. Lastly, I wish to sincerely thank Linda Lutfiyya. Linda was a best friend, a source of great emotional support, and the best ``fun stuff'' organizer I knew in grad school. Linda was also critical in the success of my main thesis project. She helped train me in yeast bench technique, sharing her excellent advice, reagents, and protocols eagerly through dozens of gene disruptions and tetrad dissections. Without her expertise and other valuable resources from the Johnston lab, my project might not have ever come to fruition. I cannot adequately express how thankful I am.

Finally, but not least, I want to thank my parents and my identical twin brother Robert (with whom I shared so much growing up, hence the ``us'' in this section). My parents always encouraged us to ask questions, to be curious about how things work. Thanks for watching endless Nova, Nature, and The Body Human programs on PBS with us when we were little. Thanks for encouraging us to be independent thinkers, and having confidence in our abilities to go after new things that inspired us. Thanks Dad for taking us into lab with you to see those cool pictures you called ``electron micrographs'' when we were just five or six - and showing us how marvelously exciting biological research can be by your excitement. Thanks for teaching us that it is important to try to leave the world just a little better than when you came into it, and how a career in research can be a worthy part of that pursuit. And, of course, thank you both for your constant support through the ups and downs of my academic career. It has been bumpy at times, but your confidence in me has enhanced my ability to get through it all and succeed in the end.

And my most heartfelt thanks to my brother Robert. Without a doubt, my interest in genetics started when I realized we had the same DNA, down to the base pair, and yet we were still so different in some ways. I sometimes consider our lives a life-long experiment, in which chance and the interesting people we interact with split us on different paths. Our intense, yet positive academic and athletic competition up through high school pushed me to always strive for more. I cannot imagine being the person I am today without such a great brother through the years. Thanks for everything that helped me get to this day.



Next:Introduction Up:Thesis Title Page Previous:List of FiguresTodd M. Lowe
2000-03-31

By Susan Carter
Acknowledgements pages show the essence of the thesis author and their experience. If you look through a dozen or so at a time, you will hear the screams, the manic laughter, catching the sombre tragedy and the sense of awe and agony that underpins the doctoral life span.

Acknowledgements are non-consequential in that a student is not evaluated on them, unlike the rest of the prose they have laboured over. Some acknowledgement pages give away the secret of their authors’ difficulty with formal prose, and it doesn’t matter—by the time anyone reads them, the author has been found acceptable.

But acknowledgements do matter because in amongst the celebration the right people need to be thanked in the right sort of way.

The acknowledgement pages I have looked at vary considerably. Most thank funders, supervisors, close colleagues and family. Possibly supportive friends. This means it is effectively a snub if someone important is not thanked.

Typically the structure moves from thanking the most formal support to the least formal thanks as detailed above–funders, supervisors, other academics, colleagues, and finally family. This makes sense according to the logic of incremental progression because the informal thanks to family are often the most heartfelt. Close family members are often the people who gave the most (although some supervisors are likely to feel this is not true).

It is important that a student acknowledges the formal carefully, though: any person or institution that has contributed funding to the project, other researchers who have been involved in the research, institutions that have aided the research in some way. They should also acknowledge proofreaders and editors—that is a requirement at the University of Auckland where I work, and a good one in terms of honesty in authorship. Such formal thanks are usually in the first paragraph or two.

Interestingly, our Guide to Theses and Dissertations states that you should “Only acknowledge people or institutions that have contributed to the content of your thesis” (14).

Yet no one follows this advice. I have seen people thank their dog for sitting at their feet for hundreds of hours, the cat for its companionable choice of the thesis draft as a place to settle down for a nap, and God for creating a magnificent universe available to be studied.

It is possible to thank people for more specific regional rather than global help throughout the thesis too. I like doing this, because it cheers me up to remember the kind, wise colleagues who have helped me along with my thinking. If footnotes are used, the work can be done there, for example, with footnotes that state “I am indebted to xxx for several discussions that helped me to focus this section”. Without footnotes, more formal provision of a ‘personal conversation’ reference will do the same work.

Students may choose to namedrop in these internal thanks too: if a big name in the field gave feedback after a conference paper or in conversation, acknowledgements strengthen the student’s academic authority and insider status.

Acknowledgements vary in length, and the effect of a very long acknowledgement—I have seen a nine-pager—is to dilute the thanks. I have also seen one that simply lists five names, which was blunt, but powerful.

So it is good to start a draft within six months of submission, and revise it for the full satisfaction of a job well done on graduation, with all dues paid. The usual structuring principles apply: those who gave most should be given the most thanks. Supervisors will know the sad truth if the cat gets more lines than they do.

Thanks are best when concrete. I really like thanks to supervisors that carry a sense of who they were in the drama, like “My supervisor, who kept a sense of humour when I had lost mine”; “my supervisor, whose maddening attention to detail drove me to finally learn to punctuate prose”; or “my supervisor, whose selfless time and care were sometimes all that kept me going.” A precisely-worded acknowledgement like a perfectly chosen gift. It fits. It matches.

Some supervisors tend not to give advice on acknowledgments, because they expecting to be thanked, so it feels preemptive. Do others feel, though, that the end result is happier all round if supervisors offer to critically read the acknowledgements too? Or would it be more appropriately a place where academic advisors could give objective advice?

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