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 using a publisher who does not allow open access for a set time until after the publication of the book, or if your thesis contains material that will be patented or is confidential in nature. You may also want to check your funder’s terms and conditions before you put an embargo on the thesis if your doctorate was funded. Most funders want the research they have paid for to be openly available.
However, if a student asked me what they should do, I usually list the advantages and the disadvantages and ask them to weigh the benefits of making their work openly available. I confirm that I am biased but this is not to say that I don’t understand why students may want to place an embargo whilst they are creating other publishable content from their thesis. But I ask them to think back to their own research process and whether they had benefitted from using open access materials. I also explain that not all researchers have access to quality information around the globe, and quite apart from the ethical issue and the advantages to society and to policy/decision-makers on making research openly available, it is important to consider the following:
|You have more options on which publisher to use if you are converting your thesis into a book especially if this is a pre-requirement by the publisher.||Your work will be available immediately and will have greater visibility whilst also having the UCL stamp which offers you credibility as a researcher. This may mean your work gets cited earlier than it would otherwise have done.|
|You may be less anxious about others ‘copying’ your work; but remember the law (Copyright Act 1988) protects you against the misuse of your intellectual property, including plagiarism. See: https://libguides.ioe.ac.uk/copyright||Publishers often trawl through research repositories looking for content to publish in book format; they may not see your thesis!|
|Assuming you have not found a publisher, it is worth noting that it will take at least six months to a year (probably more) to convert your book into a thesis and in this time, the research may become (slightly) dated;|
|Your book or journal article(s) is unlikely to include all the content from your thesis. You may not, for instance, use all the content from your methodology, and this will not be available to current researchers, especially if they are interested in examples of methodologies used.|
|Future employers cannot see the quality of the work you produce;|
|You may lose citations as your research is current and literally ‘hot off the press’;|
|You are adhering to the UCL Publications Policy which favours open access. See: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/library/open-access/ucl-publications-policy-2012|
As you can see from the table above, there are more disadvantages to imposing an embargo than advantages. 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!