ETDs and Future Publication Potential for Graduate Students
Some graduate students in both the humanities and sciences are concerned that making their electronic theses and dissertations widely accessible will limit their ability to commercially publish journal articles or books from the ETD content.
Journal Articles & Conference Papers
Some students, particularly in the sciences, may intend to or have already submitted chapters of their dissertations to academic journals for publication or may have presented part of their research at a conference. Related publications almost always are radically different from the theses and dissertations that include them. Typically conference or journal articles are much shorter, are organized differently, benefit from considerable reflection on what was important during the period of graduate research, and are better written. They benefit greatly from the comments of reviewers and the re-work and re-writing demanded by scholars in the field.
There are a number of ways that students can determine the publication policies of various academic journals. An excellent source of information is the SHERPA/RoMEO Database, which includes detailed policies of a vast number of academic publishers.
Another way to determine the publication policies of various journals is to check the Web site of the respective journal or to contact the editor or publisher or the association for a specific discipline, such as the American Institute of Physics, and ask what its policy on prior publication of electronic theses is.
In certain disciplines in the humanities it is often a requirement for young academics to publish monographs in order to get tenure at their institutions. Often they turn to their dissertations as a means to accomplish this. It is important that they understand that no academic press will publish a dissertation without considerable revision.
The reason for this is one of simple economics. As Beth Luey points out in her excellent book Revising your dissertation: advice from leading editors, updated edition (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008),
“The purpose of the dissertation is to learn … how to define an original topic, ask interesting questions, apply the relevant research skills and methodologies, tap the relevant resources, draw conclusions, and write about what you have learned. A student’s first large independent project has to be fairly narrow … Although writing in a narrow topic makes perfect sense when the goal is to complete a dissertation, publishing such work raises enormous problems … A book that appeals to a thousand readers is a better investment than one that will appeal to a hundred. It is more likely to influence a field of knowledge and advance work in that field”.
A specific way to address concerns about making dissertations widely accessible is to contact academic publishers that would be likely to publish a monograph to determine exactly what the publishers’ policies are and what is required to turn a dissertation into a monograph.
One example of a success story in using open access in the humanities was a history doctoral dissertation written by Shirley Stewart Burns at West Virginia University.
“Burns was the first student at WVU to grant open access to her dissertation upon graduation. Burns topic “Bringing Down the Mountains: the Impact of Mountaintop Removal Surface Coal Mining on Southern West Virginia Communities, 1970-2004” spurred world-wide interest since 2005 when she graduated, and has since received over 120,000 downloads to her dissertation. This led to the publication of her dissertation as a book with the WVU Press by the same title and a consulting job to help create the recent film documentary “Coal Country”. The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that they will no longer issue MTR permits due to the extreme environmental and health hazards posed by industry practices. This makes a huge statement about providing open access to scholarly communications as well as the quickened pace of resulting scientific and social impact and change.”
In the area of creative writing, many professional writing associations, fiction publishers and creative writing faculty often recommend against electronic distribution of the creative work before it is commercially published. In this field, exact text may be intended to be published in book format. This is largely due to the niche market conditions for fiction publishing, the extreme competitiveness among many authors vying for their fiction to be published and conservative advice from faculty.
An example of a success story in using open access in creative writing was a master’s thesis written by Sara Pritchard at West Virginia University.
“…Upon graduation Prichard initially chose campus access for her thesis (a novel) and simultaneously won an award for another of her novels “Crackpots”, published by Houghton Mifflin which went on to become a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2003. Immediately following the book publication, Prichard granted open access to her thesis. This evidence … [along with substantive publishing evidence from other creative writers who used open access upon gradution] … suggests that students who have opted for open access ... [or initial temporary campus restriction] have successfully self-marketed their works.”
In the field of creative writing one would hope that the intent is for the student to be able to learn how to effectively write creative works over a lifetime. Further, one would hope that the creative writing thesis or dissertation would be one of many examples of a student’s talents, not the “magnum opus” or only work a student would be capable of producing in their career, as a creative writing director referred to in an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
With the latest trend, a growing number of institutions have begun to allow creative writers an indefinite “campus access” option to appease creative writing faculty and students. This often boils down to a curriculum issue (related to recruiting and retention) that is best recommended by the departmental faculty, not the University Libraries and/or the graduate school. A good compromise might be to negotiate eventual open access to the creative work, once the work has been commercially published, or perhaps offer a five to ten year limit on ETDs restricted to campus viewing.
The NDLTD recommends a sensible approach for students to market their creative ETDs effectively while still protecting their intellectual property rights. For example, a student could make their ETD available as open access from their respective institutional repository, while simultaneously soliciting another of their creative works, not distributed electronically, to satisfy the requirements of publishers. Another example would be for the student to use a temporary campus restriction until they have published and then grant open access to their ETD.
Restrictions on ETDs
The goal of universities is to provide universal open access to electronic theses and dissertations as early as possible in order to maximize the citation impact factor by maximizing research access (cf. Stevan Harnad PowerPoint, ETD 2009). However to accommodate various situations most universities have policies on restricting theses from public access for short term periods of time. For example the ETD policy of West Virginia University includes three levels of access: open access (worldwide); campus access for a period of five years after which in most cases the thesis will revert to open access; and no access (for reasons of patent, proprietary or data sensitivity). The “No Access” option is rarely used and lapses after one year.
Short term access restrictions may be one way of addressing concerns of graduate students about publication of their electronic theses but students should be able to make a strong case that it will harm their future publication potential.
How ETDs Benefit Graduate Students
Theses authors should be aware of the fact that they reap a number of benefits from publishing their theses electronically. The most significant is the dramatic increase (50 – 250%) in citation impact that results from electronic publishing. This leads to increased rewards from universities in the form of promotion and increased salary, and from granting agencies.
Other benefits include:
- Free publicity for their research – the authors of electronic theses become more widely known and their reputations are enhanced
- Easy worldwide access to their theses for colleagues and collaborators
- Easy worldwide access to their theses for job and grant applications
- A raised profile for their research institutions and departments
- Reduced costs at the point of graduation since there is no need to have multiple copies printed
Preliminary research suggests that prior publication of an electronic thesis actually benefits sales of the work if it is revised and published as a monograph.