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Should You Make Your Thesis Available Online? Part 5: Where Can I Make My PhD Thesis Available Online?

If, having considered all of the issues, you still feel that you want to make your thesis available online, the question you may now face is where to post it? This blog post explores where you can publish your thesis online and what options there are.

Library and university archives for E-Theses

According to Emily Kothe on Twitter (@emilyandthelime) some universities already require students to post their thesis online upon submission, along with paper copies. When I submitted in July 2011 I was not required to do this, but having contacted the librarian at the university where I conducted my PhD, I learned that it has now become a requirement for students submitting their thesis from 2011/2012 onwards to submit a further digital copy. I missed out on this but have been informed that if I want to, I can make it available through this outlet. At present I am uncertain who is aware of this service, other than students who submit their thesis to it from now on, or who can access the service beyond the university, if at all. According to the online deposit for Lancaster University (which you can view here) there are benefits to both the student and the university itself:

For the student

  • Increased visibility for your work
  • Easier access to your thesis
  • Raise your personal profile
  • Can use digital services such as links to datasets, videos etc.

For Lancaster University

  • Raise institutional profile
  • Showcase successful graduate research

There are several of these services now available and visible through a simple Google Search that PhD students in particular may find useful if they are looking for ways to structure their thesis and want to look at some examples of theses that have passed. Durham University depository and Nottingham University depository are good examples. It may be important too inform academic book publishers if your thesis is available in this way; these issues are discussed in Part 3 of this series.

Ethos – British Library

Rob Myers on Twitter (@robmyers) initially drew attention to Ethos, an electronic online thesis service run by the British Library (see Part 4 of this series about EThOS by Sara Gould). This is a site I had actually used myself when writing my PhD. I downloaded some theses in order to explore how they were structured and to access additional research in my topic area. My university does subscribe to the service and I was informed that “if a thesis is only available in print form, we send it to the British Library to be digitised, and the person making the request has to pay the British Library £40 towards the cost of digitisation”, not entirely free but eventually Open Access. There are now 44,000 online theses available, and to download a copy you first need to register so that records can be kept and to ensure the intellectual property of the author is protected.

Personal Blog Site

I have also considered posting a copy of the thesis to my own personal blog. Before I posted it online however I wanted to check copyright right and intellectual property issues, something that RuthFT (@RuthFT) warned me of and that I discuss in Part 2 of this series. Some universities hold intellectual property rights to the thesis even if you have written it and conducted the research for it so it is essential that this is considered before rushing ahead to do it. A librarian at my university informed me that because my thesis is an unpublished piece of work it can be uploaded online on my personal blog, as long as I respect and observe the rights of those who participated in the study, which of course is part of ethical research practices anyway. It is highly recommended that you check with your own institution first though because rules may differ.

There are therefore several places where the unpublished PhD thesis can be deposited online, if you deem the issues detailed in previous posts to be outweighed by the benefits of disseminating your research more widely. These are just a very few of those I have explored (in repsonse to Part 3 for example user moorbi, introduces us to GRIN, a free German publisher). Having researched this in greater detail, I am still concerned that by posting my thesis online I may face additional challenges in publishing a monograph. This ultimately has become an issue of Open Access and I have to admit I find it encouraging that universities (in the UK at least) and EThOS and the like, are making it easier for PhD researchers to make their PhD research available online.

I’d love to hear more about this issue, particularly if anyone is against doing this or has critiques of it (most people I have spoken to support onlinethesis). Please do get in contact if you want to add, or contribute any ideas and do let us know if you plan to submit your thesis online (#onlinethesis).

Weekly Wisdom #76 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
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TENURE COMMITTEES LOOK ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY AT REFEREED PUBLICATIONS that appear in peer-reviewed journals or in scholarly books. It is, in a sense, a tragedy that you get much more credit for what appears in a “write only” journal (i.e., a journal with minute circu­lation) than for what appears in a high circulation, widely read pop­ular magazine. But that is the way the game is played.

Should You Make Your Thesis Available Online? Part 4: Introducing EthOS by Sara Gould

Today’s post, which contributes to our series about publishing dissertations and theses online is written by Sara Gould. Sara is the EThOS Service Manager at the British Library, UK. She is managing the transition of this e-theses website to a sustainable Higher Education shared service.

Anna has been wondering whether to publish her thesis. Or if not ‘publish’ then put it online somewhere to share the results of her work more widely, and gain the benefits she mentions, like raising the level of interest in her research and making connections with like-minded researchers.

EThOS is the UK’s e-theses website that gives instant access to 55,000+ doctoral theses. Pretty much all UK universities have their theses listed in EThOS so there’s around 300,000 records in all, with a variety of routes to get hold of the full text if it’s not already available.

That’s a fantastic resource for students and all researchers, not just to be able to dig deep into research that’s already happened, but to see who’s researching what and who the key players are – individuals, departments, institutions, even funders.

It almost goes without saying that open access to research theses is a ‘good thing’ for new researchers, for those looking for source material. But what about for thesis authors themselves? Should Anna try to make sure her PhD thesis appears in her university’s repository and/or EThOS, or not?

Here are a few frequently expressed concerns:

1.    It’ll spoil my publication chances later

Well, it might, but in a recent survey only 7% of institutions cited this as a frequent concern amongst their students, and no concrete examples were found of publication being refused because the PhD thesis had been added to an open access repository. If reassurance is needed, then an embargo period can be applied, with may be the record plus abstract still being available to all.

2.    My work will be plagiarised

It’s possible, but then again people can plagiarise from printed theses too, and in those cases there’s no automated way to detect the crime.

Allowing open access to your thesis does open it up to all sorts of people who may come along and use the content in whatever way they like. But plagiarism detection services can help to mitigate the risks, and in EThOS at least, users have to register their details, so we could if necessary track all users of a particular thesis. So far that’s never been needed. And as people get more and more used to open access and theses become increasingly available in institutional repositories, it may be that the login process is becoming a tiresome deterrent to use and has had its day.

Brown J. (2010) Influencing the deposit of electronic theses in UK HE: report on a sector-wide survey into thesis deposit and open access. UCL. http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/116819/

3.    All that hassle with third party copyright

We do need to take copyright ownership seriously and it can be really time-consuming to seek permissions from any third party for permission to publish. Some university libraries are able to support their students to make sure any third party copyright is managed properly, but most don’t have the resources to undertake such a massive task. Take-down policies and embargoes come into play here, and digitisation services, whether through EThOS or another route, will carefully redact any sections, diagrams etc that aren’t copyright cleared on instruction from the institution.

List of redactions from a 2002 thesis held in EThOS.

The world of repositories and open access is moving fast. EThOS celebrated its third birthday last month. When it launched – on the same day as another auspicious event – theses were held in paper format in the university library and a microfilm copy held by the British Library. Now those microfilms have been packed away, and an average of 450 people a day download a copy of a full-text thesis from EThOS. With possibly the same number again accessing copies held directly in university open access repositories, it appears that full-text open access is here to stay.

Weekly Wisdom #75 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
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COMMUNICATING YOUR FIELD TO THE PUBLIC. Those who can communicate ideas from their discipline clearly to the public hold an important place in our society.  If you develop this skill, you can become a “public intellectual”.  Some highly successful public intellectuals in the recent past included astronomer Carl Sagan (Cornell) who had a television series, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Harvard) who became a United States senator, and Stephen Jay Gould (Harvard) a broadly published a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist. Listed by your school’s PR department as an expert in your field, you can expect local (and sometimes national) media will ask for your comment.  If you are good on TV, you will be asked about all kinds of subjects, many beyond your expertise. Be careful not to pontificate about subjects where you know next to nothing.

Should You Make Your Thesis Available Online? Part 3: Thinking about Publishing

You have made your thesis available online, but does that affect whether or not it will get accepted for publication as a monograph? Academic publishers have varying opinions about this…

This is a very important issue for postdocs who are planning how to disseminate and publish the findings from their PhD research and an increasingly common question that academic publishers are now being asked. It was this question that originally kick-started my desire to run this blog series and start this conversation (#onlinethesis). I know that I am not the only one who has been dealing with this question either. One of the comments made in relation to Part 1 of this series was that a thesis that is available online is something that may be seen as problematic to publishers if a monograph based on a PhD is proposed. Others on Twitter are also interested in how publishers responded to this question. I contacted several publishers to find out more about this and these were the responses.

Jay Dew of University of Oklahoma Press informs me that this is a question he is frequently asked and his response is in favour of making theses online:

“On the whole, I don’t believe that having a dissertation or thesis available online works to the detriment of publishing a monograph. Indeed, more and more dissertations and theses are available online through library databases such as Dissertation Abstracts, etc. A dissertation and a book are two different things, with two different and distinct audiences. The revisions that are almost always necessary to bring a dissertation into book manuscript form are usually substantial enough that one need not cannibalize the other. There may be exceptions, of course, especially in the hard sciences, but at least for my press and the kinds of books we publish, this is not a problem.”

John Yates of University of Toronto Press extends this debate further arguing:

“I believe the situation in North America is different from yours [in the UK]. I understand that here all PhD thesis are licensed to ProQuest. I also understand that in Canada, theses are posted on-line by University libraries. Consequently scholars have quite a bit of work to do to convert their thesis into a scholarly monograph since libraries are not interested in purchasing titles that are effectively a thesis with minor revisions.

In your situation, if there is no requirement to post the thesis on-line and you’d like to have it published it as a monograph, I would think by not posting it on-line you’d be able to have the monograph published sooner, since fewer changes would be required than if the full thesis was publicly available on the web.”

The responses I have received in relation to this issue support the idea that making a thesis available online is generally acceptable to academic publishers, as long as the proposed monograph is substantially different to the submitted PhD thesis. Nonetheless, concerns are still evident amongst authors and researchers and it is recommended that potential publishers are contacted in advance of proposing a monograph to find out how they view this because opinions may vary depending on discipline and research topic. A more specialised research topic for example with a smaller market and audience may be seen as more problematic for some publishers if the material is already accessible online. It is possible to embargo the publication of your thesis in university depositories if this is considered an issue and you plan to propose a monograph but it is increasingly important to make this decision before the thesis is submitted, and made available electronically.

The key message then, is that the monograph based on a PhD thesis should be in substantially different format to the submitted PhD. Publishing houses from different countries are in agreement about this as presented here but it is important to be aware that making it available in an online depository may slow down the process of writing a book. It is also important to check the position of publishers who you wish to write book proposals for, to ensure that your decision is well informed. In a period of increased debate over open access to research, making the thesis online should not be, and doesn’t appear to be, a barrier to publishing a monograph but is certainly a consideration.

Weekly Wisdom #74 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
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AS A FULL PROFESSOR YOU MUST BE KNOWN FOR SOMETHING. When you reach the exalted state of tenured associate professor, the time has come to see the big picture and undertake large, long-term research projects so that you can become a full professor. Unfortunately, you spent the previous six years (and your dissertation time) doing small, short-term research projects, each designed to earn you a publication or two so that you could achieve tenure. The system never taught you how to conduct a large project. You are therefore put back into a learning situation. Merely doing more of what you did as an assistant professor doesn’t hack it in major institutions because the promotion committees ask different questions. Having survived the tenure process, everyone knows you can do research. But to be a full professor, you must be known for something.

Should You Make Your Thesis More Widely Available Online? Part 2: Fear of Idea Theft

Following my first post that introduced my musings on the debate about making a PhD thesis or dissertation available online, this blog explores the issue of fear in relation to the theft of your ideas. This is an issue that is fairly central in Alex Galarza’s article for @GradHacker. The student in question feared that their ideas may be more susceptible to being stolen if they were to be made available online; a reasonable assumption given that, if the intention to put your thesis online is to make it more widely accessible, then the more likely it is that the ideas can be accessed and potentially lifted.

For me, this fear is not altogether unfounded and essentially boils down to a lack of knowledge about how online material is managed and regulated. In university teaching in the UK at least, students are taught about plagiarism, or the use of someone else’s work without acknowledgement, and are warned of the need to avoid doing it. Not only is it considered bad academic practice, but a plagiarised essay or piece of coursework is more likely to be of poor standard. As academics this becomes deeply ingrained in everyday working and writing practices, and is currently regulated through the processes of peer review and assessment. How this may be regulated online however, is less clear and the boundaries of citing and discussing the work of others is increasingly blurred.  Similarly if the aim of publishing online is to reach broader audiences, there is potential that those audiences are unfamiliar with referencing practices or maybe unwilling to use them.

A research paper about electronic theses by Copeland et al (2005, pg 195) suggests however that ‘it is easier to detect instances where this activity [plagiarism] has taken place when the material is published on the web. Electronic detection software is available’. My university in the UK uses Turn-It in for student essays for this purpose.

While this is comforting to know to some extent, an important thing to do before making your thesis available online is to check the copyright regulations of the archive you post to and to ensure that you own those rights as primary researcher. This should discourage any potential theft, protect your property rights and discourage the potential for idea theft by others. Where you make the thesis available online is also a consideration. The chances of having your ideas stolen and reproduced online or elsewhere are much less likely if you post to a university online archive than a personal blog for example because these are better regulated. It is also recommended that you seek advice from your PhD supervisor before posting online to check if there are any issues with copyright that you hadn’t thought of (especially important if the work is funded). You could also protect your work using a Creative Commons license. These allow ‘everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work’ (Creative Commons website).

Fear of theft of your work when making it more readily available online is reasonable, and was something that led me to research and produce this series of blog posts. However there are frameworks and laws in place that are designed to protect your ideas and your intellectual property, as well as new technologies that are detecting plagiarism online. Make sure you are aware of these before you make your research outputs available online however. If you want to disseminate your work more widely to broaden its impacts, you should be able to, and it is important that academic work is accountable but also used in appropriate ways.

A recent hashtag on Twitter that has been used in relation to these ideas (and also Will’s post) is #notopenenough (thanks @ThomsonPat). Publishing online is becoming more popular, and hopefully fear of theft won’t stand in your way in your quest to make your research more widely known.

Join the conversation at #onlinethesis.


Copeland, Susan,  Penman, Andrew and  Mime Richard (2005) “Electronic Theses: The Turning Point.” Program: Electronic Library & Information Systems 39, no. 3 : 185-197.

Structural Engineering Journals: A Top 5 by Eva Lantsoght

Eva Lantsoght is a structural engineer currently pursuing a PhD at Delft University of Technology on the topic of shear in one-way reinforced concrete slabs. Originally from Lier, Belgium, she received an Engineering Degree from the Vrije Universiteit, Brussels and an MS from Georgia Tech. At her blog PhD Talk, she blogs about her research, the process of doing a PhD, the non-scientific skills you need during your PhD, living abroad and her travels.

Recently on Twitter, PhD2Published posed the question “What is your academic discipline and what are your top 5 recommended high impact journals?”

I am a structural engineer with a focus on bridge engineering, and my research is done in the Concrete Structures group at Delft University of Technology. For my PhD research on the shear capacity of concrete slab bridges under the wheel loads of trucks, I’ve been reading about bridge engineering as well as about structural concrete. For bridge engineering, I’ve been mostly focused on gaining an understanding of how slab bridges work, and how we model the traffic loads on bridges. For structural concrete, I’ve been focusing on slabs (as structural elements) and shear (as a failure mode). My scope has been from the small scale of how the different elements in concrete, which is a non-homogenous material, work together and transfer stresses, to the scale of real-life bridges.

I’ve mostly been reading papers from these five journals (in no particular order). In between brackets you can see the impact factor of these journals:

– ACI Structural Journal (0.782 in 2010)
– Journal of Structural Engineering / ASCE (0.834 in 2010)
– Journal of Bridge Engineering / ASCE (1.009 in 2010)
– Beton- und Stahlbetonbau (0.265 in 2010)
– Magazine of Concrete Research (0.52 in 2010)

Three of these journals are American, one is German and one is British. Two of the journals are publications of ASCE, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and these two are as well the publications with the highest impact factor in the list. The ACI Structural Journal is a publication of the American Concrete Institute, and the Magazine of Concrete Research is issued by the Institution of Civil Engineers.

As a final remark, I would like to zoom in to Beton- und Stahlbetonbau, a German journal. Even though I can barely put a sentence together in German, I don’t have much trouble reading technical German. Initially I had to read German papers with a dictionary right next to me, but by now I know most of the technical vocabulary. I do think it was worth the effort of trying to understand technical German. I’ve found information in German journals which I did not find published elsewhere at all, and I’ve found a goldmine of carefully described and executed experimental research in there. It’s been of tremendous importance to my own research so far.

Weekly Wisdom #73 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew
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PUBLICATION QUALITY COUNTS. While we think that academic priorities should be different, in real life tenure committees focus almost exclusively on publications in peer-reviewed journals, the higher ranked and the more ‘impact’ the better.  Of course, the quantity of your publications is also critical. Value quality highly.  Try to make each paper you submit to a journal about a single topic of importance. Conduct your research with a solid, rigorous design. Write as clearly as possible.  Try to produce each article as though it is the one example of your work that will be remembered.

Josie Dixon – From Planet PhD to Destination Publication: A Traveller’s Guide. Part 1. Ivory Tower vs Shopping Mall
shopping mall

This post is the first in a series by Josie Dixon, a consultant with 15 years’ experience in academic publishing, as Senior Commissioning Editor at Cambridge University Press and Publishing Director for the Academic Division at Palgrave Macmillan.  She now runs her own business, Lucian Consulting, and gives training workshops on publishing and other forms of research communication for postgraduates, postdocs and staff in over 50 universities internationally, alongside her training and consultancy work in the publishing industry. In this new set of blog posts for PhD2Published, Josie examines some of the polarities between Planet PhD and the world of publishing, and offers strategies for how to bridge the gap. 

In this series:

  1. Ivory Tower vs Shopping Mall
  2. Micro vs Macro
  3. Passenger vs Driver
  4. Process vs Afterlife
  5. Features vs Benefits

There’s a great article by Peter Barry which appeared in the Times Higher Education under the headline ‘Footnotes and Fancy Free’.  Among many useful insights, Barry caricatures very effectively two opposing worldviews or value systems in academic research.  For residents of the Ivory Tower, it’s all about pure intellectual excellence, never mind who (or what) it’s for.  For those who inhabit the Shopping Mall, there needs to be a clear benefit to an identifiable audience, and ultimately some form of commercial value for a paying market.  Barry diagnoses a fundamental problem in the fact that all too often PhDs (particularly in the arts and humanities) are supervised and examined by Ivory Tower standards, yet at the postdoctoral stage, researchers are suddenly pitched headlong into the Shopping Mall.  This is of necessity where publishers live, since their business is dependent on realising a commercial return on the investment that is made in every new publication.

Profitability – at whatever level – is key to a sustainable publishing business, and even university presses (whose non-profit model is the least commercially driven in the industry) can’t avoid this fundamental pillar of the Shopping Mall.  The sources of subsidy which have long shored up large sectors of university press publishing (particularly in the US) are running dry, and editors are looking ever harder at the commercial factors which position a prospective publication on the right or wrong side of the margins of viability.  At the other end of the scale, many major players in the academic publishing industry are fully commercial businesses accountable to shareholders with steep demands when it comes to the return on their investment.  It’s a fine balancing act to reconcile editorial values based on intellectual quality (those ivory tower sympathies which bring graduates into publishing in the first place) with tough financial imperatives, but that’s the daily challenge for commissioning editors at commercial academic presses like Palgrave Macmillan, Routledge, Blackwell, Ashgate or Continuum, to name only a few.

So the first stage in your journey from PhD to publication has to involve stepping out of the Ivory Tower and into the Shopping Mall, in order to see your project from the publisher’s point of view.  Here are five key questions to ask yourself, to help you to take this more commercial perspective on your research:

  1. What’s your USP (unique selling point)?  Can you sum up the original contribution of your research in a few accessible sentences, and make it into a selling point?  Imagine a blurb in a publisher’s catalogue – your sales pitch needs to be aimed at non-specialists in the book trade and the library supply business, not your end-user academic readers.
  2. Who are you writing for?  Publishers respond best to projects pitched at a well-defined readership.  Beware losing focus by trying to be all things to all people, either in terms of level (a research monograph is not a textbook or a trade book) or subject (interdisciplinary projects run the risk of being peripheral to several markets and central to none).
  3. Why do they need it (and will they pay)?  In tough market conditions like the present, there is very little room for discretionary, nice-to-have purchases.  Even libraries are having to prioritise very carefully after severe budget cuts, so there must be a clear demand for your research before they will consider buying it.  This is closely related to the next question:
  4. What benefit does your research provide?  (not to you, but to the reader!) Think about the applications of your research – how will it be used, and where will it make a difference?  Is there a problem (intellectual or otherwise) to which your research offers a solution?  Are there methodological tools or reference features which your readers will find helpful?  Publishers are looking for something more tangible than ‘another new interpretation’ of the subject, or research that ‘fills a gap’.
  5. How international is its focus and appeal?  The UK is a small market, and these days even the US is insufficient to carry the commercial viability of an academic publication.  Publishers will be thinking about the appeal to international markets, so you need to, too.

For more detailed guidance on these and other factors essential to maximising your chances of success in a competitive publishing climate, come to one of Josie’s publishing workshops or contact her direct.