Would You Publish Your Dissertation Drafts on the Web?

8 June 2007 at 10:48 pm 6 comments

| Peter Klein |

Academic researchers have long circulated unpublished working papers, first on paper (remember those little yellow NBER working papers?) and now on the web. Of course, opinions differ on when papers should be circulated. Some scholars share their early drafts, hoping to solicit constructive feedback; others prefer to wait for a more mature product, worrying about unpolished writings that live forever in the Google cache.

But would you circulate rough drafts of dissertation chapters online? Advisers, would you encourage your students to do this?

This guy, a PhD candidate in microbiology, is editing his dissertation on his blog. He asked an editor at Nature if this was a problem, and she replied:

There is no problem with you publishing your thesis in this way, so far as consideration for publication of any part of it for a Nature journal is concerned (or any NPG journal). We encourage communication between scientists via discussion of work and unpublished drafts in the form of theses, meetings, preprint servers, online scientific forums (between scientists) etc.

What we don’t allow is active solicitation of the media by scientists of work that will be or is submitted but not (yet) published in a Nature journal. So, in this case, if a journalist were to approach you because he/she had read part of your thesis on your blog and asks you about it, if this part of it is something you wish to submit for publication, you’d need to say to that journalist that you could not discuss it yet as you are planning to submit it to a journal, but that you’d be happy to talk about it when it is published. This is standard practice in most journals and journalists (reputable ones) are all aware of this type of policy. In our case, the policy is there to avoid “media hype” before a ms has been through peer-review.

Jean-Claude Bradley, who publishes an open-source chemistry website, has a student writing her entire maters’s thesis on a wiki.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science, Teaching.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jean-Claude Bradley  |  9 June 2007 at 8:22 am

    Yes, there is a fundamental question of whether it is better to expose one’s “unpolished” work or wait until it is considered “polished” enough for exposure. For me, I think the question comes down to – will someone be able to benefit from exposing the work? From the types of queries that are used to find our lab notebook I think that there is a benefit to posting experimental data in real time. People are often looking for properties of compounds and troubleshooting of reactions and that information can be found from the raw data, even if some of the analysis is flawed or incomplete. There are students at all levels in my group – from starting undergrads to graduate students and they are learning. I’m learning too. And learning is messy. If the expectations are similar to those one would have in a conversation in a group meeting (or a seminar) then useful information can be derived from science recorded on a wiki in real time.

  • 2. links for 2007-06-10 at Jacob Christensen  |  10 June 2007 at 7:25 am

    […] Organisations and Markets: Would You Publish Your Dissertation Drafts on the Web? But would you circulate rough drafts of dissertation chapters online? Advisers, would you encourage your students to do this? (tags: academic research writing publishing) […]

  • 3. Vladimir Dzhuvinov  |  10 June 2007 at 11:45 am

    What a hypocritical note. The editor seems more concerned about loosing subscription revenues than avoiding a false “media hype” (that may bypass his reputable journal).

    The note also implies that journalists are ignorant and they aren’t qualified to discuss scientific matters.

    Frankly, I feel disgusted to see such attempts at manipulating scientists.

    The web can offer a much more open and transparent review process than a journal:

    1. A blog gives you a posibility to read the the comments of reviewers. Do journals do that?

    2. A blog/wiki gives you a possibility to trace the evolution of a paper. Do journals allow for that?

  • 4. jonfernquest  |  11 June 2007 at 4:29 am

    This is a great post. Thanks for sharing it. More information sharing is obviously going to increased research productivity and different kinds of research are obviously going to be ideally shared at different granularities. Citeseer (with cited and cited-by works) is more coarsely grained (and citeable) than a blog or wiki, for instance. The extreme rigour of peer review in medical journals is probably not conducive to blogging.

    Having used blogs to publish two papers, I would say to really benefit from blog comment peer feedback you probably would have to have a motivated open group of people online who want to build interest in their specialised topic and get people actively involved.

    Or maybe their interests only partially overlap, for example, this blog frequently addresses entrepreneurship, at an abstract and theoretical level (Hayek, Knight,…), this is a subject that I am personally involved with in the classroom at a more practical business plan writing level and newspaper article level. This blog allows me to inject perhaps a little theoretical depth into my more practical work. In short, one really doesn’t know what benefits are going to flow from blogging until you actually do it, but for sure there will be benefits.

  • 5. jonfernquest  |  11 June 2007 at 4:37 am

    P.S. one obvious drawback of blog comments, as opposed to editable Wiki pages, are typos you don’t catch when proofreading yourself, for example, in the above above:

    “…is obviously going to increase[d] research productivity…”

  • 6. Cliff Grammich  |  11 June 2007 at 11:47 am

    Seems like a great way to get more comments, guidance, and interaction in the dissertation process. I can’t be the first doctoral student to write on an esoteric topic on which my well-meaning advisers had only a little knowledge, can I? At the same time, possibly limiting my publication prospects (such as they were) would have given me pause . . .

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