Unlocking the knowledge contained in doctoral theses

In most cases, it takes anywhere between three and five years to write a doctoral thesis and a lot of the content is original research. But until recently, once finished, bound, and the degree has been awarded, the doctoral theses would end up inaccessible to most potential readers.

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So where are all the theses?

At City, the theses would be catalogued and then taken to the library store. The theses would be locked away in this store, which is in the university’s basement, and it would be necessary for them to be requested in advance and brought up to the library by  library staff in order for them to be read. Obviously, the potential readers would have to make a trip to the library.

But then, in 2011, with the launch of City Research Online, our institutional repository, things changed. The bound theses are still stored in the basement, but electronic copies of the theses are made available through City Research Online.

Has it made any difference?

A quick scan of the available data shows that in the past 10 years, the most popular print thesis was requested 37 times. This is in stark contrast to the most popular electronic thesis, which was downloaded over 7000 times in just over 5 year period. Our theses have been downloaded by readers across the globe, and I am doubtful that a reader from Estonia or Zimbabwe would take a trip to City to access the print copy.

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The figures also show that only 48% of our print theses have been requested to be read, whereas all our electronic theses have been downloaded at least once. Even if we assume that those downloaded once only were viewed by a librarian, this figure is still below 2% of all City theses available online.

To browse theses in City Research Online, by school or by year, click on the theses icon and discover the amazing knowledge they contain.

Theses button in CRO

 

 

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Creative Commons licenses made easy

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Creative Commons licenses enable sharing of and access to creative works, such as images, scholarly literature or music.

Creative Commons in numbers

  • The American non-profit organisation providing Creative Commons licenses was founded in 2001
  • 1.4 billion works were available under a Creative Commons license in 2017
  • 56% of all works available under a Creative Commons license in 2014 didn’t restrict commercial use or adaptation

Where can you find works shared using a Creative Commons license?

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Creative Commons symbols, what they mean and what they allow or restrict

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The benefits of Open Access

The principle benefits of open access were first enshrined within the visionary Budapest Open Access Initiative statement released on 14 February 2002, and are still very much alive 16 years later.

The convergence of research sharing with technological distribution via the internet, it declared, would create an “unprecedented public good” by facilitating free, unrestricted, access to information for academics, scientists, students and the general public.

“Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge” (Budapest Open Access Initiative, 2002).*

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As well proving an invaluable asset to society, open access publishing has specific merits for you as an academic researcher.

  • You gain more exposure for your work

The traditional publishing route often means work is locked behind a paywall resulting in knowledge for those who can afford it. When publishing open access, your work will be widely discoverable, and freely available, for anyone regardless of ability to pay.

  • Professionals can apply your findings in their services

Free and unrestricted content enables professionals outside of academia, such as medical practitioners, to obtain access to up-to date research and information they can use for vital decision making processes, and influencing service development.

  • You can achieve higher citation rates

As Open Access scholarship increases the visibility of your work, studies have revealed that open articles can receive as much as 18% more citations in other academic papers. The more your work is cited the more likely it is to be read.**

  • Your work can be access by the general public

Publishing research in openly available format will allow access for anyone with an interest in your subject. This provides the potential for your work to become the foundation for future innovative research that can yield greater societal benefit.

  • You can achieve compliance with funding rules

In light of more and more funders mandating open publishing as a requirement for grant allocation, making your work free at the point of access is an easy way to ensure you are complying with rules associated with your financial support.

  • You can give taxpayers value for their money

With the majority of research being supported by public funded research councils, choosing open access publishing routes ensures you are giving back to the taxpayers who made your research possible in the first place, and have a vested interest in the results.

  • Your work can reach researchers in developing countries

Escalating journal costs underpin a glaring inequality in access to  vital information for developing countries who may have difficulty in affording the subscriptions. Making your work open access is crucial for allowing them to access up to date knowledge for research development, at the same time, whilst increasing global visibility of your research.

* Budapest Open Access Intiative (2002) Available at: https://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/ (Accessed: 16 October 2018).

** Piwowar H. et al. (2018The state of OA: a large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articles. PeerJ 6:e4375.Available at: https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4375 (Accessed: 16 October 2018).

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ACT on ACCEPTANCE: make the REF 2021

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What is Act on Acceptance?

From 1st April 2018, changes to HEFCE’s open access policy require researchers to submit their work to City Research Online within 3 months of acceptance to be eligible for the next REF.

As soon as you know your research will be published in a peer-reviewed journal, or conference proceedings, Act on Acceptance and make your research open access.

What do you have to do?

  • Upload your publications to your Publications profile as soon as possible after they have been accepted for publication.
  • Make sure it’s the accepted manuscript and not the published version: the accepted version is peer-reviewed but not typeset for publication.

What happens next?

The Publications Team will check your deposits to make sure they are compliant with the HEFCE policy, and the publishers’ terms and conditions regarding copyright and embargo periods. Once these checks are complete, they will make them available in the City Research Online repository.

What if you need help?

If you need help with depositing papers, or have questions about the open access policy, you can consult the City Research Online and Publications library guides.

Alternatively, you can contact the Publications Team who will:

  • Answer enquiries by telephone and email.
  • Meet with you in one to one appointments.
  • Help you understand the HEFCE open access policy.
  • Help you upload your papers to your publications profile.

Research resource of the month: Westlaw UK

This month we are focusing on Westlaw UK, which is one of the major legal databases we subscribe to at City.  It is a great resource for researching UK and EU case law and legislation, and for reading legal journal articles and selected practitioner texts.

Here are some key benefits and highlights:

  • Westlaw Insight (available from the Insight tab at the top left of the Westlaw UK screen) is a useful place to start when researching an unfamiliar area of law. It is a legal encyclopaedia which has articles on a broad range of UK legal topics. So if you need the lowdown on such diverse subjects as fracking, internet trolling or food labelling, then Westlaw Insight is a good place to get started!
  • Westlaw UK offers a ‘Case Analysis’ feature which enables you to carry out more detailed research around a particular court case, for example to find out about related cases and to discover relevant journal articles. The ‘Legislation Analysis’ feature works in a similar way in order to provide you with extra information about Acts of Parliament.
  • Another benefit of using Westlaw UK for your legal research is that it contains the Westlaw Legal Journals Index. This means that when you search Westlaw for journal articles, you are able to search through hundreds of English language legal journals published in the UK or Europe. You might sometimes find an abstract of an article rather than the full-text article, in which case just check on CityLibrary Search whether we have full-text access to the journal in question through another database.
  • Westlaw UK doesn’t just offer UK and EU legal materials: it also contains an ‘International Materials’ section (available from the Services tab at the top of the screen) which gives access to primary legal materials, journal articles and books from many other countries. In particular, there is a wealth of US legal information available through ‘International Materials’.
  • One final highlight is the ability to set up personalised searches and alerts. When logging into Westlaw UK, you will see a pop-up box entitled ‘Log in to My Westlaw UK Profile’. Click on ‘Create Profile’, and you will be able to create a personalised account. Once your account has been set up,  you can create regular alerts (based on pre-set legal topics or on your own specific searches) and have them delivered daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly into your City email account.

City staff and students who would like further help with using Westlaw UK can make an appointment with a law librarian, or can book a place on one of our upcoming Westlaw certification sessions or Westlaw drop-in session.

Communicating through research

I have recently  had the opportunity to conduct some research-based practice by undertaking an MA in Academic Practice  dissertation in the Learning Enhancement and Development Department at City, University of London.

This gave me the opportunity to combine two of my interests which are teaching/ training and conducting research. I chose a topic which is related to my role of Research Librarian at City. I used this as an opportunity to engage with students individually, conduct a literature review and to combine my research data with the literature to produce a dissertation. One of the most rewarding aspects of my project was to interview students to obtain a deeper understanding of their research needs, lifecycle and challenges. I can then continue to explore to what extent my research findings can be incorporated into my professional practice.

I would say that professionally this was one of the most valuable experiences that I have had in terms of engaging with and learning from students and enhancing my own research skills at the same time .  You can read an open access version of  my article entitled Communicating through research recently published in the ALISS Quarterly.

 

Choosing a dissertation topic

I have recently completed an MA in Academic Practice degree run by the Learning Enhancement and Development Team at City, University London. The Academic Practice course is a mixture of theory, practice and reflection aimed at internal and external academic staff, professional staff, library staff and some research students who teach.

My particular highlight of the course was the Master’s level module Educational Research Project & Publication. This module provides the opportunity to conduct an original piece of educational research or a small scale research project and either produce a dissertation or conference paper based on this.

specs-on-bookChoosing an appropriate research question is really important and shapes the whole of your research. All that you do is focussed on exploring and trying to answer that question and it affects the research you conduct and the methodology you choose to employ.  I work as a Research Librarian at City, University of London. I work with doctoral students and one thing that I really like to do is to speak to the students individually or in small groups about their research. Some of these conversations have been around electronic resources and the use of digital tools and skills to support the research process. Talking to others and your supervisor is a good idea.  I found it a challenge to find a precise research question so I spoke to an academic colleague who had recently completed a PhD.  We then had a discussion and I decided to focus my research on exploring factors which may influence the digital literacy skills of research students.

It is useful to have an overview of literature searching, different approaches to research and research methods as these all help to address your research question. I found the book Doing your research project: a guide for first-time researchers (Bell, 2014) really useful so much so that I even wanted my own copy. The author is no relation but I found it helpful in terms of the literature review section, ethics, different research methods and writing up and evaluating results. Sometimes an overview of the process can be invaluable.

When choosing your research topic I would suggest choosing something that interests you and that you feel excited enough to research for a year,  a question that intrigues you and that you want to answer.  Also, do some preliminary literature searching to see if your topic is viable and if it has been researched in the same way before. This might also help with how your frame your topic.

Think of the future as well: if you would like to work in open access, consider researching open access, if you’re interested in public libraries maybe research digital inclusion or community partnerships etc. This is then something that you can talk about if you attend a job interview in a particular sector. However, sometimes you have to go with your heart or what you are genuinely passionate about researching as this will also drive your choices.

Read other peoples’ dissertations and theses on similar and different topics might also give you inspiration. Many universities have open access institutional repositories or digital archives such as City Research Online where you can read articles and publications by staff and researchers and also electronic theses. This is also a good way of refining your ideas on what you would like to research.

To summarise, I would take various factors into account and try and find something  a little challenging that interest you and that gives you sufficient motivation to answer questions and complete your research.

Bell, J (2014) Doing your research project: a guide for first-time researchers. 6th edn. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill.