The invisible support networks of doctoral candidates: What acknowledgement sections of doctoral theses reveal

Keywords: Doctoral acknowledgements, doctural studies, social support, doctoral success


Although some argue that acknowledgement sections should not form part of doctoral theses, others welcome such sections and are of the opinion that they reflect original and personal contributions, constituting a neglected genre. Previous research on acknowledgement texts have focused more on their linguistic characteristics as related to the academic writing of theses. The present study, however, inquired into acknowledgement sections from a social support perspective. The aim of the study was to bring to light the dimension of the social milieu and its importance in supporting doctoral students in successfully achieving their doctorate. More specifically, the study sought to investigate the role of “significant others” in the academic success of doctoral students as reflected in the genres of acknowledgement in doctoral theses by analysing such texts from 30 completed doctoral theses in South Africa and Israel. Follow-up interviews with graduates assisted to probe deeper into the meaning of the texts. Although limited in nature, the study found that, based on who doctoral graduates acknowledge, several role-players and supporters seem to contribute to doctoral success. This includes family members, friends, colleagues, study supervisors, funders and university administrators. What also became clear was that doctoral candidates rely mainly on psycho-social forms of support and that particular kinds of such support are crucial at different stages of the doctoral journey. Acknowledgement studies confirm the doctoral research process as an activity stream that integrates the personal, the interpersonal and the institutional to reveal the mostly hidden, but very important, influences on the doctorate.

Author Biography

E. Bitzer, Stellenbosch University

Emeritus Professor, Centre for Higher and Adult Education



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How to Cite
Bitzer, E., and S. Leshem. 2021. “The Invisible Support Networks of Doctoral Candidates: What Acknowledgement Sections of Doctoral Theses Reveal”. South African Journal of Higher Education 35 (3), 1-12.
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