Dissertations and Research in an Era of Change

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                                                                                       in an Era

                                                                                magine sitting in a room, awaiting the arrival of three or four experts
                                                                                who will determine your future, specifically whether the results of
                                                                                your graduate research efforts pass muster. The dreaded “final
                                                                                oral” has been the nightmare of grad students for more than a cen-
                                                                           tury. The results of that 1- or 2-hour “grilling” are either a sheepskin —
                                                                           the golden ticket into academe or maybe a lofty research position in
                                                                           the private sector — or a call back to the drawing board for revisions.
                                                                           Worst-case scenario, it might mean failure. Graduate education easily
                                                                           represents an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars and years
                                                                           of hard work in a very competitive environment. The purpose for these
                                                                           oral examinations is to establish that the candidate can defend his or
            Nancy K. Herther                                               her dissertation or thesis — making these documents the centerpiece
            Anthropology/Sociology Librarian
            University of Minnesota Libraries                              of any successful graduate experience.

            22        SEARCHER ■ The Magazine for Database Professionals
and Research
of Change

     Given the pressure, what do grad students do? They work      of each candidate for advanced degrees — ultimately judg-
 like crazy and hope their dissertations adequately meet the      ing their abilities as reflected in the research and writing of
 accepted norms for their fields. They look carefully for top-    their dissertations or theses.
 ics of interest, and enough novelty, to help create an open-        The individual angst created by these situations is some-
 ing niche for them once they get their initial professional      thing for a different article. My goal is to explore how the phys-
 positions. They keep their ears to the ground in terms of        ical products of this process — dissertations and theses — can
 selecting the best people for their oral committees. They net-   be immeasurably valuable to the rest of us as well — for
 work, following the lead of others ahead of them, looking for    research, information, and discovery. Today, these tremen-
 trends, ideas, advice, or signs of caution. They obsess over     dously useful documents are radically changing in structure
 their research — especially their secondary or background        and presentation. We also have unparalleled new opportuni-
 literature reviews and in their consideration and choice of      ties for finding and accessing them over the internet.
 research methodology — since these set the stage for their
 own unique contribution.                                         The Classic Dissertation
     In the nearly 25 years that I’ve worked in academe, I’ve        In a document entitled “The Role and Nature of the
 spent a significant portion of my energy working with stu-       Doctoral Dissertation,” the Council of Graduate Schools
 dents as they progress through their graduate programs. Just     describes the dissertation as “an intensive, highly profes-
 as an athlete’s mettle is tested on the playing field, grad      sional training experience, the successful completion of
 school tests the endurance, intelligence, and academic skills    which demonstrates the candidate’s ability to address a

 www.infotoday.com/searcher                                                                                        March 2010    23

major intellectual problem and arri
Description: OA for dissertations and theses has proven to have the same benefits as for journal articles. , Computer Science Professor at Virginia Tech and one of the founders of the global movement to bring dissertations into OA, notes that "most of the basic research and substantial applied research in the U.S. is done at our research universities, and one of the primary publishing sources of this research [is] theses and dissertations." The traditional bound paper versions are "relatively inaccessible."...
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