May 6, 2015

Warn students about publishing their undergraduate thesis

Posted by Laura Guertin

This is that time of year when the semester is wrapping up with final exams, senior theses are being submitted, and students are receiving emails to publish their undergraduate senior theses at “no cost” to them.  Of course, there are costs – and those costs are most likely “hidden” to students, as they are not well-prepared to fully understand and/or enter the world of print/online dissemination.

The purpose of this blog post is not to give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down to having students share their undergraduate research results online – that is between a student and his/her mentor.  But when it comes to copyright issues, ownership of the data to a larger project, etc., we need to have this conversation with our students to discuss “what’s next?”  Students will be approached (some would say “spammed”) by publishing outlets, and students need our help filtering and navigating these uncharted waters.

Even what may seem as a safe/noncontroversial publishing location for a student may become an issue for future publishing opportunities. For example, maybe you have seen The HuffPost College Thesis Project that gives students “a chance to share with a wide audience the fruit of their hard academic work,” a thesis abstract between 800 and 1,000 words.  However, this Inside Higher Ed article details how a student was turned away from publishing in an academic journal because part of his work was already published elsewhere – specifically, on The Thesis Project site.

There are digital libraries that universities have created to archive student theses.  For example, Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College has an Electronic Thesis Library (here are geoscience theses from the archives).  And if requested, the Honors College will restrict access for two years after a thesis is completed for patent or proprietary purposes, but then the thesis is released online to the public once the two-year period is complete.  The theses for non-honors students in the geosciences can be uploaded under a Creative Commons license and accessed in Penn State’s e-repository called ScholarSphere (see geoscience examples).

I recommend departments and thesis advisers be pro-active in alerting students to these potential email requests for publishing and discussing “ownership” of data and research outcomes.  At a minimum, please encourage students to get in touch with you, even after graduation, when they are contacted by a potential source for presenting and/or publishing.



Additional sources for exploration

Collins, C. (2010, June 7). Lambert Academic Publishing Continues to Spam. Not Really a Mainlander [blog post] (Post online)

Levy, F., R. Pyles, C. Szarejko, L. Wyatt. (2012). Developing an Electronic Repository for Undergraduate Theses. Honors in Practice – Online Archive. Paper 160.

Stromberg, J. (2014, March 23). I Sold My Undergraduate Thesis to a Print Content Farm. Article available at (Article online)