Note from Jeremy: This is a guest post from Greg Crowther.
When I first composed the Acknowledgments section of my latest paper, it was fine but unremarkable:
Mentorship of GJC by LDJ was supported in part by a PALM Fellowship (PI: Susan Wick, University of Minnesota). We thank Susan Wick for encouragement and comments on a draft of this paper, and Subin Hyun for illustrations in the Appendix.
Weeks later, as I made some post-review revisions, I got to thinking about how the ideas behind the paper had evolved over the past two years — how privately ranting to a colleague had led to the present attempt at constructive advice for teaching biology better. And so the Acknowledgments grew:
We also thank Jonathan Pottle for feedback on GJC’s ideas for an “A&P manifesto,” which indirectly fueled the writing of the present article.
I then reflected more broadly on my development as an instructor. I realized that certain elements of the present article could be traced back even farther, and these words came to mind:
Furthermore, GJC thanks his postdoctoral mentor Mary Lidstrom, whose HHMI-funded “biology for engineers” project (2003-07) showed him that biology could be taught like engineering.
Now fully absorbed in nostalgia, I thought back to a graduate seminar on teaching biology that I had taken in 1997. The primary text was a little paperback by Steven Krantz called How to Teach Mathematics, and it convinced young-impressionable-me that we biologists might have something to learn about education from mathematicians. Perhaps this was worth acknowledging as well?
Finally, GJC thanks his former Zoology 529 teacher, Jon Herron, for once assigning a book that helped GJC appreciate how other STEM fields can and should inform biology education.
To see the final published Acknowledgments, you’ll need to click through to the full article. (You should go there anyway, or at least to the Twitter thread, because the article addresses the important issue of aligning biology activities and assessments, and it sports the concise elegance of an essay unencumbered by actual data.) But, regardless of the ultimate outcome, it was interesting to contemplate some variations on the usual acknowledgments. I thought again, as I often do, of Stephen Heard’s argument that we should include more personal voice in scientific articles. And I decided that, to this end, we should collectively aim to write longer, weirder Acknowledgments sections.
In case the brilliance of this proposition is not immediately obvious, I will explain.
As you all know, the Acknowledgments are almost always a discrete section at the end of an article. That means it can easily be written, judged, argued over, and revised with few if any ripple effects on the rest of the article. Thus, if someone includes strange acknowledgments in an otherwise great article, reviewers and editors may object, but they aren’t going to reject the entire article on that basis. At worst, they’ll say something like, “Please confine your acknowledgments to the most direct contributors to the current work.” And sometimes they’ll go, “Oh, whatever — it’s a great piece that is good for our journal, let him thank his dog if he really wants to.”
Thus, even if the main text of our articles adheres to a rigid format to meet readers’ expectations, I claim that we have the freedom to experiment with our acknowledgments with little professional risk. So let’s make good use of that freedom! Let’s (briefly) explain how we came to study a particular species of beetle, or how we initially mistook hemoglobin for parasitism in Daphnia dentifura. While acknowledgments should always serve the purpose of acknowledging people, our reasons for thanking them need not be confined to one sentence apiece.
So, what do you all think? Are you ready to make your acknowledgments a bit freakier? Comment away! Feel free, also, to remind us of your favorite past examples of unorthodox acknowledgments.
Before I end, I’d like to thank Jeremy for the opportunity to write this. And also our college cross-country coach, Pete Farwell, for creating a team environment that led to Jeremy and me becoming friends. And also….