Dealing with thesis examiners.
August 28, 2009 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Should I thank my thesis readers? If so, how?

About two weeks ago, I got a call from my department telling me that my MA thesis has passed. My supervisor and I have already been through all the examiners' comments and discussed them in depth. All I have to do is incorporate these small corrections into my thesis and hand it back in. The thesis does not have to be reexamined, nor do I have to defend.

Both examiners submitted tons of comments and constructive criticisms, including general statements about the work as a whole and all the tiny nitpicky things you'd expect. Both of my readers did a very thorough reading and I am pretty darn pleased with the feedback I have received. The final product will benefit greatly from their input. FWIW, I didn't get to find out who the readers were until the thesis had been examined.

I would like to thank them individually. The external reader is a professor at another university whom I have never met. The internal is a professor in our department. She and I have a really good rapport, even though she has never taught me a course.

I would like to send them each a card - short and sweet. Is it appropriate for me to do this while I'm still incorporating their comments into the final version or should I wait until the entire process is finished?

Furthermore, would it be cool to contact my internal and ask her to meet up with me and clarify a few of her points?
posted by futureisunwritten to Education (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, wait until the process is completed. It sounds like they are still technically examining your thesis upon submitting the corrections, although they have told you it's a done deal.

It's probably fine to ask your internal examiner to meet up, but you should ask your supervisor to confirm the norms of your institution.
posted by grouse at 8:31 AM on August 28, 2009

My vote is for no. Not appropriate.

In many universities thesis reviews are supposed to anonymous; insofar as they are arranged by the supervisor who isn't always allowed to tell the student their identity.

In practice, this doesn't always happen. Indeed my supervisor asked me who I wanted to review my PhD thesis. But it does demonstrate that there is supposed to be a separation between reviewer and reviewee.

Your external reviewer may fully subscribe to this idea, or he/she may not. Either way, they are not going to be put out if you don't contact them.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 8:38 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

FWIW, For my PhD I got to choose my thesis readers - there was no pretense of anonymity. It certainly would have been appropriate to send a thank you card, had I felt like one of my readers did a spectacular job. If you decide to send one, definitely send it after it's been fully accepted by the school.

And if you have questions about what someone said I don't see what problem there would be contacting the reviewer. At my school, one would have been expected to do so if there were questions. But I would recommend mentioning to your adviser that you are planning on doing this.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 9:22 AM on August 28, 2009

Furthermore, would it be cool to contact my internal and ask her to meet up with me and clarify a few of her points?

I'm not sure exactly what you mean here, but I will say this: only ask for a meeting if you really need it. If it is a matter that can be handled over e-mail, go that route. It sounds like a minor issue anyway so I would not bother her at all. This is a very busy time of the year for professors.

I know that great feeling of accomplishment you feel right now. But at the end of the day, your readers are just doing their job. Your best present would be to ask as little as possible of them from here on out.

To me an e-mail thanking the external readers for their feedback does not seem categorically out of line. But TheOtherGuy gave the opposite advice. Where we both agree is that you don't need to do send anything. So I vote don't. The same goes for your internal reader. Express your thanks in a sincere e-mail if you wish, but do not send a gift or even a card. (I am a professor.)

Congratulations on your achievement!
posted by vincele at 9:27 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also a professor. Honestly, I don't expect anything from a student under these circumstances. An e-mail would be fine after everything is accepted.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:45 AM on August 28, 2009

I wondered the same thing after completing my PhD. My examiners were really great and offered criticisms and suggestions (as well as compliments!) and it seemed to be the right thing to acknowledge them in some way (I was told their identities once everything had passed.) However, my very senior, very well-versed-in-etiquette supervisor said that it was not the norm and not expected and suggested I didn't. I followed his advice.
posted by unlaced at 9:47 AM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

It would, I think, be appropriate to thank them in the acknowledgements if your thesis is published as an article or book.
posted by Jahaza at 9:55 AM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Also a professor, and seconding Jahaza's advice: thank them in the acknowledgements of the final thesis. A card or short email would also be nice. It's not expected, but it would be a kind gesture. These sorts of things (examining theses, writing letters of reference, etc.) are part of our job, but it is nice when a student acknowledges that we did more than just phone it in.

That said, I think a lot of us pay it forward, as it were: our teachers, mentors, and advisors did so much for us that the way we repay them is by doing the same for our students and advisees. Don't just thank your readers; try also to behave as they did when you wind up in an analogous situation.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:29 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it depends a lot on your department culture. In my neck of the woods, it's not uncommon to thank people for doing their jobs, and cards and even gifts are in the range of acceptable. My master's supervisor gave me a gift after I TA'ed a course for her, and she also once jokingly complained about the fact that she always received these very "proper" gifts (academic books, that kind of thing) while her professor-husband got bottles of scotch. I've known several teaching assistants whose students have gotten together to get them a Christmas gift, and I've received personal thank-yous by email and such. It's not expected, but it's certainly appreciated.

All that is to say, if it's something that's done in your area, then by all means do it. It's a very nice gesture. You could ask your supervisor or ask around if people ever send thank-you cards to profs and get a sense of things before you make your final decision.
posted by carmen at 6:35 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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