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Completing your doctoral thesis is one of the most significant milestones you can ever achieve, and a feat of which you should rightly be very proud. But as Newton once observed, if we have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Your acknowledgment in your doctoral thesis is your opportunity to reflect on the shoulders of those who have personally helped you in your journey, and to make clear your gratitude to them.
The completion of your doctoral thesis was almost certainly aided by many, many people, in many, many different ways. The most common acknowledgement of all is to parents, who influence spans decades, and spans love, motivation, finances (and food!) Teachers, mentors, coaches, and guides are a close second. But anyone who has crossed your path may have made a key contribution. So start by taking the time to recollect your journey, and jot down those who helped you, and how.
Once you’ve completed your list, you should get a very strong sense of those whose contribution to your doctoral thesis mattered the most to you. This is a good time to listen to your heart, because what from the outside may appear to be the most significant contribution, may actually have had less impact on your personally. For some people, even a single word of encouragement in their darkest hour is what gives them strength to fight on.
To actually make the acknowledgement, say thank you. But to meaningfully communicate your gratitude, say a little about how their help has impacted you and your work. In stark contrast to the measured, objective tone of your doctoral thesis, this is a rare opportunity to be personal and authentic.
Having polished your specific acknowledgements so that they sparkle and resonate with you, run a little cross check about every left unmentioned. Do you feel that they will be comfortable, but more importantly, that you will be comfortable? After all, you don’t want to diminish the truly great contributions by hiding them in a sea of more minor waves. That said, if you wish, you may also close with a generic acknowledgement, such as “to the countless others who have supported me, guided me, tolerated my moods, and even loved me, through my journey. You know who you are. Thank you.”