Saying thanks

by Eszter Hargittai on December 26, 2008

Last year, when I was putting together my tenure file, I kept thinking that a section was missing. Where was I going to thank all the people who had helped me over the years? Of course, it makes all the sense in the world that a tenure file does not have an acknowledgements section. After all, talk about a situation where one would feel obligated to include everyone, rendering the exercise completely pointless. Nonetheless, while academic work is often characterized as a lonely enterprise, feedback from others – whether on research, teaching or professionalization – is an essential part of the process. Thus it seemed wrong to put forward one’s materials without acknowledging all the assistance and support offered by colleagues and friends near and far.

When I heard that I got tenure, I said thanks to people as I let them know about it. But it didn’t quite seem enough. While there is room in articles to acknowledge others’ contributions, they tend to be focused on the specific actions related to that particular piece. Book acknowledgements can be a bit more inclusive, but even there, it is not clear how wide a net one would cast.

When talking to one of my colleagues about this, he suggested that the appropriate thanks is to pay it forward by mentoring future generations. That is a nice and generous idea and I’m happy to do it. Nonetheless, I still wish there was a way for the many people to get credit. This is part of all that invisible work in academia (and probably many other professions) that never shows up on CVs. Thanks to those who engage in it, it means a lot!



Dan Kervick 12.26.08 at 3:58 pm

Maybe you should schedule a tenure acceptance speech, filled with blown kisses and shout-outs.


Perry 12.26.08 at 4:07 pm

You might want to think about why you are so hesitant to accept credit for your own efforts and hard work. When you are granted tenure, it is you who is being given that honor, not anyone who helped you get there. When I mentor a student, it is part of my job to do so, and I am not bestowing a favor on someone. These people who have helped you over the years were doing what they should do and you reciprocated by working hard and taking their advice seriously. I do not understand why you think you need to do more than accept what you have earned and return the trust by being a good professor. Your feeling that you somehow owe more than that to those who helped you by educating you may be something to explore with a therapist. This is a job for which you were trained. Why make it more than that?


JSE 12.26.08 at 4:49 pm

Right on, Eszter. And right on to your unnamed interlocutor, too – the best way to honor the many people whose generosity we’ve relied on is to extend the same kind of generosity to younger researchers, whether they’re formally our charges or not, without expectation of any explicit reward.


Bill Gardner 12.26.08 at 4:58 pm

Congratulations, Eszter. And thanks to you (and other contributors) for the opportunity costs of the time you spent on CT while you were untenured.


rea 12.26.08 at 5:37 pm

The traditional way to do it, of course, is to publish a series of dialogues, using your mentor as the leading character (and of course, putting your own views in the mentor’s mouth).


D Jagannathan 12.26.08 at 7:37 pm

Books seem the commonest place to acknowledge your intellectual, professional, and personal debts in a coherent way. I suppose the typical length of the whole manuscript excuses what may in other places (a journal article, a tenure file, etc.) be largesse: a page or two of acknowledgments not necessarily directly related to the work in hand.


chris uggen 12.26.08 at 9:13 pm

hey eszter, congrats! northwestern is fortunate to have you…


lisa 12.26.08 at 10:54 pm

Congrats on your tenure!!! It’s really amazing how far people have gone out of their way for me over the years. There’s no way to pay them back. I love the idea of mentoring new people as a kind of thanks. And just being a decent person generally, like the people who have helped me. I admire these people. They led good lives, in many different senses. I think I learned a lot from them that wasn’t only field-specific but about dedication, commitment, even courage. One mentor was seriously injured. We have great disability benefits so she could have had the whole semester off–but there she was, teaching and leading her department. People really needed her at that point for various reasons and I needed her help with tenure. And there she was. One unsexy way of reading Plato is that passing on one’s values leads to a kind of immortality so it is tribute to those who precede one to pass on their values. (It’s better to leave out the lying on the couch, tormented with desire thing, naturally.)


Eli Rabett 12.27.08 at 2:42 pm

Well, there is always dinner.

Such things are always best done early, because if done late

a. People die
b. They think you are a crud for having waited so long
c. Some go through life embittered that you didn’t notice


James Wimberley 12.28.08 at 12:19 pm

A page on your personal website? It’s the reverse of a Festschrift: so perhaps call it a Dankschrift.


Bill Gardner 12.29.08 at 3:52 pm

I was given Lewis Hyde’s The Gift last Thursday — recommended on these issues.

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