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Supporting the PhD journey: insights from acknowledgements

Lilia Mantai (School of Education, Macquarie University, North Ryde, Australia)
Robyn Dowling (Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University, North Ryde, Australia)

International Journal for Researcher Development

ISSN: 2048-8696

Article publication date: 9 November 2015



The aim of this paper is to explore the types of social networks and relationships that PhD candidates identify as important in a successful PhD journey.


We use an under-utilised yet rich data source: PhD thesis acknowledgements. The paper employs a sample of 79 PhD acknowledgements drawn from diverse disciplines across Australian universities to illustrate the types of social support provided, who and what is acknowledged as providing support and the intersections between the types and providers of support.


Key findings of the paper are that three types of support are evident – emotional, academic and instrumental – and that families, colleagues and supervisors, as well as others, are acknowledged for providing all three forms of support. Further, acknowledgements give insights into students’ personal and professional development and identification as researchers.

Research limitations/implications

This research helps higher degree research recognise the breadth of relationships in the PhD process to make provisions that encourage such network building. It delineates the meaning and value of social support in successful doctoral candidature. So far, little empirical research has outlined the types of support valued by students.


The study confirms the critical place of candidates’ networks in the PhD journey, broadens the view of what constitutes support and identifies the range of individuals involved in the process. It identifies potential in acknowledgements as a source of evidence of social support and researcher development in the PhD experience.



The research reported in this manuscript has been funded through the Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship and the Learning and Teaching Centre, Macquarie University. Thanks are also due to colleagues Dr Claire Aitchison and Dr Olga Kozar for their valuable comments and feedback on the early drafts and to the staff of the National Library of Australia for assisting with preliminary queries on the Trove database.


Mantai, L. and Dowling, R. (2015), "Supporting the PhD journey: insights from acknowledgements", International Journal for Researcher Development, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 106-121.



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