A question that has no easy answers – or perhaps it does?
By Nazlin Bhimani, on 3 April 2019
Congratulations! You have completed your thesis, gone through the viva and have passed with flying colours (with or without corrections).
At this stage, you are expected to upload the digital copy of the thesis into UCL’s Research Publications System (RPS) together with the ‘Thesis Deposit Agreement Form’. And it is also at this stage when you have to decide on whether the thesis will be open access, which of the open access licenses is appropriate for you, and whether you want to impose an embargo on the thesis for 6-12 months. Your supervisor(s) may advise but many will leave the decision to you.
It is reasonable to put an embargo on your thesis if you are if planning on converting the thesis into a book. Some publishers will ask you to take down your thesis before they will publish your work. You may consider an embargo if your thesis contains material that will be patented or is confidential in nature.
Before you put an embargo on your work, check your funder’s terms and conditions if your doctorate was funded. Most funders want the research they have paid for to be openly available.
If I am asked for my advice on whether to put an embargo or not, I usually list the advantages of making the thesis open access as they outweigh the disadvantages. Perhaps I am biased but when you think back to your own research process, you may want to remember how you benefitted from open access content. You may even want to think about the benefits of open access content for independent scholars and policy makers as not everyone has access to a large digial library of subscribed resources. Quite apart from the ethical issue of making information freely and openly available, there are advantages to society on making research freely available. The tax payer will have access – and, consequenty, you will have more readers. The thesis will not gather dust on your shelves or languish in a vault in the Library.
Making your thesis openly avaialble has the following advantages:
- Your work will have greater visibility with the UCL brand as the URL will be discovery.ucl.ac.uk.
- The UCL brand offers credibility to your work as a researcher.
- Your thesis will be discoverable via Google Scholar, eThOS and on DART (European theses portal).
- You will be providing scholars in your area with a service by promoting and flagging your research so that they are aware of it but also do not waste time duplicating the research.
- This means you will get cited quicker.
- A publisher may find your thesis and offer to publish it as a book – saving you the time to look for one.
- It is not likely that all the content in your thesis will be published in book or article format. For instance, your methodology chapter will be read more widely and this is the chapter that is not likely to be published fully in a book unless the basis for the thesis is a new methodology.
- Future employers, co-authors and your network can have evidence of the quality of your research.
- The law will protect against misuse of your intellectual property and the University will ensure that any misappropriate is actioned.
- You will be adhering to the UCL Publications Policy which favours open access. See: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/library/open-access/ucl-publications-policy-2012
The disadvantages are as follows:
- You work gets plagiarised – but this is risk for all online content.
- Your work is sold on Amazon or eBay without you knowing – but this is a risk with all online content.
- You will get harassed by predatory publishers to publish with them
- You are approached by a predatory publisher who convinces you to publish with them and your intellectual property right is assigned to this publisher – but then your information literacy skills will kick in and you will investigate before using this publisher
- You won’t get known for the great researcher you are if your work remains hidden!
As you can see from the list there are advantages to making your thesis open acces than disadvantages. Given the rate at which scholarship is produced and available on the internet, you may want to re-consider an embargo if you were thinking of one – at least a lengthy embargo. Fundamentally, UCL is committed to open access and we have the first open access university press here in the UK – see UCL Press
Once your thesis and the form are uploaded and available on UCL’s research repository, UCL Discovery, it is considered to be published. Double the congratulations, for you have now contributed new knowledge and it is available for the rest of the world to read for free!