Thank You Note To Dissertation Committee Members

Writing thank you notes has turned into a lost art form. Many people either don't write them or many people don't maximize their full potential. You can easily set yourself apart from the rest by spending a few moments to write out a well, thought out thank you note. Writing thank you notes will help you to build strong relationships. Following this small step and easily put you ahead of the pack when applying for a job and can help to open other unforeseen opportunities.

Why should I write a thank you note?

Although the most obvious and apparent reason to write a thank you note is to express appreciation, that is actually only a small aspect of why one should write them, especially when applying for a job. These notes allow you to also stand out, to form strong relationships, to highlight important aspects of an interaction, to supply your contact information, and to suggest a call to action. When applying for a job, they further allow you to reiterate why you are the best candidate for a job, why you want to work there, and what you would uniquely provide to that position. Think of a thank you note as a way to accomplish these things without badgering the recipient and without sounding pushing, while also encouraging them to have a positive impression of you. Although there are many circumstances where writing thank you notes is socially expected, consider writing one whenever you have a high potential to gain from writing one, even if the situation generally doesn't warrant one.

When should you write a thank you note?

You should write a thank you note whenever someone does something for you, especially whenever they go above and beyond to do so. Below are a few examples of when you should write them‡: 

  1. •Letters of recommendation - Whenever someone writes you a letter of recommendation, always send them a thank you note, even if they are your advisor or boss. Neglecting to do so may make them less enthusiastic about writing future letters as they might not feel appreciated. Neglecting to write one could also hinder future collaborations. Writing a well thought out recommendation is time consuming. Let your letter writers know that you appreciate their support and help.

  1. •After job interview - Social etiquette is to always write a thank you note after all interviews to the person who interviewed you. This is actually expected by many interviewers in all fields and job types, including industry, government labs, and academia. Skipping this step can be detrimental and can cause you to be excluded as a candidate as some employers take omitting this step as an insult. After a job interview, IMMEDIATELY send a personalized thank you note to everyone who interviewed you.

  1. ➡“Greetings Director Jane Doe, Thank you for meeting with me on Tuesday. I enjoyed our conversation about what-jah-mah-call-it [Reminding them of you as they likely spoke with many candidates and what you talked about with them]. I am excited about the opportunity to work on this project, as some-reason-why [Find a way to emphasis that you are excited to work there]. With my background on x-y-z, I will be able to contribute to this project by example-contribution [Describe how you will fit into the team and how they will benefit from having you work there. Illustrative examples are best and use team members names if possible.]. My expertise on z-y-x will complement the goals of the team by adding a-example-of-what-you-will-add-to-the-team [What will or can you do for them]. Thank you for considering me for the blah-blah-blah position [Be sure to state somewhere in the note what position you applied to as they might be hiring for multiple positions]. I will call you next week to follow up with you [Call to action]. If you need to reach me before then, please call me at 555-555-5555 or email me at [Provide them with a way to contact you]. Sincerely, John Doe”  

  2. •After a giving a talk - Send a thank you note whenever you give a talk to the organizer. This is true for science lunch talks, seminars, colloquia, and conference talks.

Try to include something personal about your intereaction with them, e.g., While visiting, I enjoyed learning your preliminary results on x-y-z and would be interested in reading a preprint when available.

  1. •Dissertation committee - Send a thank you note to each member of your dissertation committee. Reading your thesis is very time consuming and your reviewers what to know that they are appreciated. Also, you may later want one of your committee members to write you a letter of recommendation, to collaborate with you, or invite you back in a couple years to give a talk. They will be more receptive to help you in the future if you have a strong relationship and if they feel appreciated for their efforts.

‡ This is not an exhaustive list and only highlights a few examples of when to write a thank you note.   

Should I send them an email or letter thank you note?

Whether you should send the thank you through email and snail mail depends on many factors, including how significant the favor was and how much you can potential gain through the thank you note. There are even debates as to whether post job interview thank you notes have to be sent via snail mail or if they can be sent electronically. The more you have to gain, the better the chances are that the note should be hand written. 

  1. •Email thank you: An email thank you note has the benefit of being quick and easy to send. In this age of technology, email thank you notes are gaining more and more acceptance as we live in an increasingly digitized world. However, note that when applying for jobs, many conservative interviewers will appreciate the extra time and effort put into a hard copy note. Ultimately, writing any thank you note through any medium is far better than not writing one at all.   

  1. •Snail mail thank you: Sending a note through mail can often result in the recipient having a better impression of you as you had to exert more energy and effort to send that note. This will put a stronger emphasis on the your appreciation and can send the message that you are committed to establishing or building upon a existing relationship. When applying for jobs, this tells your potential employer than you care about details and that you will be the candidate that will better represent their organization—both are sought after traits inside and outside of academic organizations. However, remember when applying for jobs that decisions and impressions are often made quickly. If you mail them your thank you note, be sure to send it out either the day of your interview or on the very next day to ensure they receive it before making their decision. An alternative is to send them both an electronic so they receive one right away and to also send a paper thank you note that they will receive within a few days; just be sure that they aren't identical!

Any other tips or advice?

Always make sure to personalize each thank you note. Sending out generic ones are a waste of your time and of the person reading them. Personalizing them will help to build and to promote strong relationships. 

Many companies sell box sets generic cards with no inscription on either the inside or outside, but have an interesting cover design. These box sets are very affordable and versatile. Having a few of these sets on hand encourages active and regular writing of thank you notes.

Remember that even if you're not offered a position when applying for a jobs, you want to maintain a cordial relationship with the interviewer. Although you weren't offered the position, building and maintaining these relationships could still help to open future doors and opportunities.  

The Public Speaker, Lisa B. Marshall, at Quick and Dirty tips, provides a wonderful explanation of why, how, and when you write a thank you note. This podcast provides further examples of how you maximize thank you notes for both your professional and personal life.

Next:Introduction Up:Thesis Title Page Previous:List of Figures


I would like to thank three important groups of people, without whom this dissertation would not have been possible: my committee, my wonderful lab-mates, and my family.

I would like to first thank the members of my dissertation committee - not only for their time and extreme patience, but for their intellectual contributions to my development as a scientist. I am indebted to Kathleen Hall, who first taught me that RNA genes were ``cool'' in my favorite section of the Nucleic Acids core graduate course. Without the appreciation and excitement in RNA research inspired by those lectures, I may not have ever pursued this challenging area of biology overlooked by many. To Tim Schedl, I thank for being a supportive, strong guiding force as Chair of my committee. I am particularly appreciative to Tim for agreeing to head a committee dominated by computational biologists; he offered a welcome, balancing perspective as a rigorous experimental geneticist. To Warren Gish, who helped train me as a budding computational biologist even before I arrived at graduate school. My experience working with Warren on dbEST at the National Center for Biotechnology Information was extremely positive and fun (Ultimate and Friday TGIFs sipping margaritas certainly included). To Michael Zuker, for kindly sharing his decades of wisdom in the RNA field. The tRNAscan-SE website was enhanced with his help creating graphic representations of tRNA secondary structures. To Steve Johnson, whom I am most appreciative for agreeing to serve on the committee on short notice, and knowing he would probably have less than two weeks to read my thesis. I earnestly hope to have the chance to contribute to vertebrate genomics in the future through active collaborations with Steve.

Most of all, I would like to thank my thesis advisor, Sean Eddy, a talented teacher and passionate scientist. For a young researcher who had never before taken on a graduate student, Sean seemed to be wise beyond his experience. Sean took me into his lab after I had left my first thesis lab under less-than-favorable conditions, without questions or prejudgement - for that, I am indebted and thankful for the fresh new opportunities he offered. At several points during my thesis work, Sean put my interests as a student ahead of his own - as a young, unestablished faculty member, his ultimate concern for the welfare of his students is noteworthy. I also thank Sean for appreciating my research strengths and patiently encouraging me to improve in my weaker areas. His strong support of my own ideas and research directions, and confidence in my abilities were benefits not all thesis students enjoy (but should). Graduate school can be a difficult, draining experience. I am proud to say my experience in the Eddy lab was intellectually exciting and fun, and has energized me to continue in academic research. I sincerely hope I continue to have opportunities to interact with Sean for the rest of my research career.

To my lab-mates, thanks for the fun and support. My experience in the lab was greatly enhanced as it filled out from just Sean, Mindi, and me. I greatly look forward to having all of you as colleagues in the years ahead. To Mindi and Cheryl, many thanks for help at the bench and great company. Of all the people I have worked with in the ``wet-lab'' environment, I will easily miss hanging out with you two the most. I only hope my future wet-lab mates have a similarly adventurous taste in music. Lastly, I wish to sincerely thank Linda Lutfiyya. Linda was a best friend, a source of great emotional support, and the best ``fun stuff'' organizer I knew in grad school. Linda was also critical in the success of my main thesis project. She helped train me in yeast bench technique, sharing her excellent advice, reagents, and protocols eagerly through dozens of gene disruptions and tetrad dissections. Without her expertise and other valuable resources from the Johnston lab, my project might not have ever come to fruition. I cannot adequately express how thankful I am.

Finally, but not least, I want to thank my parents and my identical twin brother Robert (with whom I shared so much growing up, hence the ``us'' in this section). My parents always encouraged us to ask questions, to be curious about how things work. Thanks for watching endless Nova, Nature, and The Body Human programs on PBS with us when we were little. Thanks for encouraging us to be independent thinkers, and having confidence in our abilities to go after new things that inspired us. Thanks Dad for taking us into lab with you to see those cool pictures you called ``electron micrographs'' when we were just five or six - and showing us how marvelously exciting biological research can be by your excitement. Thanks for teaching us that it is important to try to leave the world just a little better than when you came into it, and how a career in research can be a worthy part of that pursuit. And, of course, thank you both for your constant support through the ups and downs of my academic career. It has been bumpy at times, but your confidence in me has enhanced my ability to get through it all and succeed in the end.

And my most heartfelt thanks to my brother Robert. Without a doubt, my interest in genetics started when I realized we had the same DNA, down to the base pair, and yet we were still so different in some ways. I sometimes consider our lives a life-long experiment, in which chance and the interesting people we interact with split us on different paths. Our intense, yet positive academic and athletic competition up through high school pushed me to always strive for more. I cannot imagine being the person I am today without such a great brother through the years. Thanks for everything that helped me get to this day.

Next:Introduction Up:Thesis Title Page Previous:List of FiguresTodd M. Lowe


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