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Why I Don't Mind Publishing My Thesis Online

November 28, 2011

Dave Meyer
Why I Don't Mind Publishing My Thesis Online

I’m almost done with my thesis. Wow. That feels amazing to say. I’m writing this article as my “pre-final” draft prints out--just one more read-through for grammar and typos and it’s done. I drafted the first words on October 27, and one month later I have about 30,000 of them. <-- world’s nerdiest brag

What happens after I hand this treasure to Elizabeth Morgan on Monday? I get to post it on the internet for everyone to see. And while I’m aware that some or many of my peers are concerned about this, I couldn’t care less. Here’s why:

1. I feel like I owe it to the academic world. It’s easy to forget, but we have had better access to academic resources than any CMC class ever. The thousands of man hours necessary to assemble a resource like JSTOR or Google Scholar or EasyBib or any of the other resources everyone depends on required a commitment to improving the lives of students like us from people that probably had better things to do with their time. You could say that we pay student fees and tuition, part of which goes to the libraries who then pay subscriptions for these services. But I, for one, cited dozens of working papers, reports, panel contributions, and dissertations that hadn’t (yet) found their way into a peer-reviewed economics journal yet added greatly to my thesis. So if one poor soul trying to learn something about regional economic growth stumbles upon my thesis online and can find something helpful, I will feel like I’ve given back to those who have gone before me. If you’re not the kind of person who feels compelled to give back to a wider community from which you’ve benefited, you’re probably also the type of person who doesn’t plan on donating to CMC after you graduate. I’m the type of person who doesn’t plan on being friends with people like you after I graduate.

2. Wake up and smell the 21st century. You’re living your life online, why shouldn’t the biggest component of what you presumably have spent the last four years of your life doing (obtaining a college education) be part of your online life? Online publishing is not something that you do in addition to printing out your thesis--it’s part of finishing your thesis now. It’s not like musicians are going “above and beyond” when they put their music online. The world is online and just as we wouldn’t expect to have to go to the library to read an article we want to cite, we wouldn’t expect to have to go to the reading room to skim through someone’s senior thesis (yes, you can do that). Another example of how things have changed: on Thanksgiving I was talking to my Dad about how I had written the first drafts of my thesis in Google Docs and how I thought it was incredible that with modern technology, I was able to write the entire thing without ever clicking a “Save” button. He reminded me that he never had to hit the “Save” button either when he wrote his doctoral dissertation... because he wrote it all by hand. This is a different world we live in, for better or for worse.

3. Finally, to those of you who are concerned about your thesis being discovered later on in life when you’re running for office or something, I have two questions. First, if you’re writing something that you’re concerned will prove embarrassing or damaging in the future, then why the hell are you writing it? Write something else, or stand by your opinions. And if you don’t plan on standing by your opinions later in life, or at least explaining why you’ve changed them, then you’ve already lost my vote. Just like this guy:

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Second question: do you honestly think that not letting your thesis go on a website that’s only accessible from campus is going to be effective in preventing your work from getting out if someone wants to hunt it down? In how many Senate confirmation hearings have you heard someone say, “Jeez, we bet you wrote something while you were in school that we could really give you a hard time about, but we can’t figure out a way to track it down...” No! If you write it, then it will get out. So if you’re that concerned, write something else. Otherwise, just suck it up and publish your work.

And then congratulate yourself. Because writing a thesis isn’t easy, and you more than likely worked your ass off. Nice work. See you in the fountain.

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