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Monday, June 13, 2011

The Dissertation Problem and ProQuest's "Legitimacy" Lie

I located a great dissertation that I'll have to cite in my literature review for my own dissertation-in-the-making. While finding it thrilled me, it also completely crapped on my parade. The dissertation is not interlibrary-loanable, since the degree-granting institution has the only paper copy. And to get a pdf copy of the work from ProQuest? Will cost me $37.00.


I am now looking at this in light of comments my advisor, who is teaching one of my doctoral classes this summer, made. He said to a group of us who were talking about the dissertation in a discussion board that the dissertation is essentially a dead end research exercise - nobody reads them when you're through with writing the damned thing, it just provides a platform for your future research agenda.


Well, HARRUMPH, doc.


*I* read them. The useful-to-me ones, anyway. That is, if I can get access to them. The problem - as it always is - is access. How on earth is a dissertation supposed to be cited by others when access to it is so heavily restricted? It makes me wonder how much research is lacking because of the prohibitive cost of getting access to the research. It also makes me gnash my teeth that institutions awarding doctorates aren't fighting for the right to keep their students' work freely available in their own catalogs in digital format...even though digital format is how more and more graduate schools are accepting their theses and dissertations from students.


What really got me hot, though, was the phrasing on ProQuest's page for authors on why they should choose to publish their thesis or dissertation with ProQuest. (If it's even a choice - many graduate schools actually require this of their students.) On ProQuest's "Why Publish With Us" page for authors, they state:
"Publishing your dissertation or thesis with UMI provides you with a legitimate citation for your curriculum vitae and for other scholars who refer to your work. ProQuest's dissertation research tools have been the primary sources used to cite published dissertations and theses for decades."


Actually, having the school accept my dissertation as acceptable for the awarding of the degree provides me with a legitimate citation. Per Purdue Owl, in APA you would cite it as: Lastname, F. N. (Year). Title of dissertation. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Name of Institution, Location. ProQuest doesn't legitimize anything. If I find it in a database, I have to note the database and accession number, but there's no more - or less - legitimacy granted than if I had a paper copy in hand, or found it through the University's repository as a .pdf file.


I wonder how many students finishing their theses and dissertations are actually taken in by the legitimacy argument, and how many are just snowed under by the giant small-print forms they have to sign granting UMI? ProQuest the right to their hard work. Ah, well. I suppose that'll just be practice for when they sign away all of the rights to to their other research once they want it published in a journal, right?


/stabbity

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