"should theses be Open?"

Until now most theses reside in a dusty basement or on a supervisor’s shelf, but we are in transition to a world where all theses are -potentially – Openly visible to anyone. Surely this is a good idea.

In principle, of course, anyone can see my thsesis. It’s badly written and the examiners rightly gave me a terrible time, but all the work in it was eventually published in peer-reviewed journals. In those days corrections meant ripping the thesis apart and Tippexing or rebinding. At the distance of some decades I’m now very happy if Oxford wishes to digitize it and put it on the web. Linguists can use it a useful source of typos.

Do all academics feel that Open theses are a good idea?

Two recent anecdotes – paraphrased and anonymized:

Academic 1: “I wouldn’t want people to see our theses – many of them are of terrible quality”.

Academic 2: “I wouldn’t want anyone to see our theses – there are so many good ideas that we don’t want our competitors to see.”

This makes the case strongly that Open theses will improve quality and the dissemination of science.

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6 Responses to "should theses be Open?"

  1. Graham Steel says:

    My $0.02
    I personally think this can only be a good thing.
    A case example.
    Feb 2007. Bog standard email request put to Author of a TA Manuscript I wanted to read. As is the case in 90% of such requests, the Author complied. In addition however, the Author, Dr Jack van Horssen, also provided a link to his thesis (39 MB of data) of which the pdf I had requested was based upon and several subsequent manu’s in peer-reviewed journals.
    And here it is:- http://webdoc.ubn.ru.nl/mono/h/horssen_j_van/index.html
    (Jack and I then exchanged a number of Manu’s which were of mutual benefit).
    As someone who is most interested in the field of Glycobiology, this is an extremely impressive piece of work, one that I learned many things from, have cited the Author’s work in my first Manu and am likely to do so again in the future.
    None of this would have happened if this thesis had resided in a dusty basement or on a supervisor’s shelf.
    Of course, I’m only talking about an “n” of one here but I for one would like to see more openness and collaborations that are made possible by doing so.

  2. A PhD != a PhD != PhD. I have come to see very many different standards for getting a dr. degree, just within Europe.
    The first academic is in a really bad situation even if he decides not to make their theses Open: those who deliver good theses will show off, and those who do not will always be questioned about why those theses are not freely available.
    Oh, and my thesis is not on the Radboud University Nijmegen (NL) repository, because it contains papers published in ACS journals for which I decided to give them copyright (stupid me); moreover, Open Choice was not established then. Uppsala University has the non-published parts in the repository, and I am thinking of doing the same…

  3. As the Project Director, I thought I should plug EThOS (http://ethos.bl.uk), the service from the British Library (in collaboration with UK HE institutions) that has recently gone into public beta, and seeks to provide access to UK HE research theses. Wherever possible EThOS provides Open Access to digital copies of theses – either born digital, or digitised from the print copies for older theses.
    Unfortunately for a variety of reasons, often linked to concerns over intellectual property rights some theses are not yet available at the moment (and this includes those from the University of Cambridge).
    However, I the usage figures speak for themselves – in under 2 months EThOS has had requests to digitise more than a years worth of theses as measured by the previous ‘microfilm’ system – and the downloads of digitised theses far outstrip the previous supply figures.

  4. Peter Suber says:

    Here’s my attempt (from 2006) to make the case for OA to theses and dissertations, including appropriate exceptions,

  5. You are probably aware of the catalog of Electronic Theses and Dissertations provided by NDLTD.
    Catalog is available in a variety of ways, listed here:
    Background here:
    This is a longstanding collaborative initiative pioneered by Ed Fox. Full disclosure: we harvest the metadata from local repositories which makes up the catalogs.

  6. pm286 says:

    @all – many thanks for this

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