Martin Luther King, Jr. Carl Sagan. Avram Hershko. Before they were Nobel Prize laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners, they were humble doctoral students sweating out their dissertations and theses.
What better way to inform and inspire today’s Ph.D. candidates than giving them the opportunity to review the actual dissertations of Nobel Prize winners like Hershko (2004, Chemistry), King (1964 Nobel Peace Prize) and Peter Higgs (2013, Physics); Pulitzer Prize winners like Carl Sagan and many more.
In the past, such documents were stored at far-flung institutions available in a limited way to those with the budget and time to travel. Today, researchers everywhere can easily gain online access to graduate-level material spanning decades and subject matter.
"Being able to search and review published dissertations and theses not only helps to make the research process more efficient, but it also leads to better quality research output." Donna Bentley, Research and Instruction Librarian, University of La Verne
Electronic dissertations – a driver for today’s research
With their deep coverage and extensive bibliographies, electronic dissertations are a valuable tool for scholarly literature reviews, revealing sources and ideas that would otherwise be missed.
Graduate works online enhance the academic community and society as...
> A way for subsequent scholars to review research methods and theories as they have evolved over time;
> Ability for students to search by keyword and identify resources that they might not have thought to consult;
> A key source of metadata for citation analysis for studies of evolving communities of scholars and in the development of theories and research methods;
Clearing the “academic hurdle”
Dissertations can play an important role in advancing scholarship – and launching the careers of their authors – but without dissemination to the right readers, this critical work can also end up being what Joe Moxley, Professor of English at the University of South Florida, describes as just “an academic hurdle – an exercise in writing for an audience of five rather than in making a meaningful contribution to a discipline’s literature.”
Dissertations have the potential – and are designed – to make a critical contribution to the academic discourse.
Enabling extraordinary discoveries
Ensuring the discoverability and access to online dissertations is critical to the academic and library communities. For authors, it may mean the difference between making a meaningful contribution to academic discourse and having no impact at all. For readers, access represents a vital connection to their own research, delivering levels of evidence and credibility available virtually nowhere else.
ProQuest plays a key role in developing sophisticated technology that simplifies worldwide access to scholarly works, supporting universities and researchers in their endeavors to showcase their research and enhance their academic profile.
> The ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global database (PQDT Global) allows fast and seamless discovery of graduate works from a single access point. It enables students to cross-search graduate research with other scholarly material within the library’s own online service.
> ProQuest’s Digital Archiving and Access Program (DAAP) is an easy, cost-effective way to digitize the valuable record of graduate research undertaken at an institution. Digitization increases the visibility of research output within the academic community across a range of dissemination channels. In addition, development of a digital collection of dissertations and theses saves libraries time, frees space for important uses, and reduces costs.
Universities embrace electronic dissertations
Recently, the University of Manchester announced an agreement with ProQuest to digitize 6,000 theses and is the latest in a growing list of prestigious international institutions to join the Digital Archiving and Access Program. By making their dissertations discoverable, the university will improve their usage among scholarly institutions worldwide and preserve them for future generations of researchers.
University of Surrey, which specializes in science, engineering, medicine and business, is another leading UK institution that became part of the DAAP program. In 2015, 2,000 dissertations were digitized, and the project provided invaluable experience to the university. “The lessons we learnt will make life much easier in the future and help feed into any business case for moving to a complete digital environment” said Fiona Greig, Head of Strategy and E-Resources at the University of Surrey Library.
The video below provides an overview of some of the challenges DAAP projects entail. It was recorded during the 2016 Annual Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) Conference in Lille, France.
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 EDUCAUSE Quarterly, November 3, 2001, pp. 62-3 @ http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eqm0139.pdf