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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 various open access licenses is appropriate for your work, 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 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. However, before you put an embargo on your work, check your funder’s terms and conditions. Most funders want the research they have funded to be open access.

If I am asked for advice on whether to put an embargo or not, I usually list the advantages of making the thesis openly accessible. I may be biased in my response but I do believe the advantages far outweigh the disadvances. Quite apart from the ethical issue of making information freely and openly available, there are advantages to society too. Aside from independent scholars, who don’t have access to large libraries or cannot travel to a country where a source is held, the policymaker and the taxpayer will have access  – and, consequently, you will have more readers, and perhaps even more citations. Further, the thesis will not gather dust on your shelves or languish in a vault in the Library. There are other advantages too:

  • Your work will have greater visibility with the UCL brand as the URL will be yourthesis.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 more quickly.
  • 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 misappropriation 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:

  • Your work may be plagiarised – but this is a risk for all online content.
  • Your work is sold on Amazon or eBay without your knowledge – and again, this is a risk with all online content.
  • You will get harassed by predatory publishers to publish with them. Use your information literacy skills and investigate them and please, don’t give your intellectual property away.
  • You won’t get known for the great researcher you are if your work stays hidden!

As you can see from the list there are more advantages to making your thesis openly available than there are disadvantages. Given the rate at which scholarship is produced and available on the internet, you may want to re-consider an embargo  – 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 congratulations, for you have now contributed new knowledge and, it is available for the rest of the world to read!