Wednesday, 9 October 2013

High time to revise the PhD thesis format

Before the electronic age: Henry Wellcome's dissertation from 1874
I don't know how it works in other countries, but in the UK, if you agree to examine a PhD thesis, odds are you will receive a bound document of some 250-400 pages to evaluate. You are not supposed to write on it. You may be explicitly forbidden to obtain an electronic version of the document.

There are ways of dealing with this: the most useful one, taught to me by Uta Frith when we co-examined a thesis some years ago, was to make ample use of post-it notes. However, this is still pretty tedious. What I want is a loose-leaf document that I can write on. I want, when travelling on a train to be able to take a chapter or two with me.

Please, can somebody fix this?


  1. i've always asked for a pdf copy directly from the student. never heard of no electronic copies, but maybe I didn't read the rules properly.

  2. I seem to recall that at Brunel phds are submitted entirely in electronic format. Examiners get digital copies and no hard copy is ever required. So it can be done.

  3. "You may be explicitly forbidden to obtain an electronic version of the document."

    Seriously? What on Earth could be the intended goal of such a prohibition?

    1. I guess they want to ensure that the copy that ends up in the library is the one that was examined.

  4. I also really like the Australian system, where students can either write a traditional thesis, or get the PhD degree through publication. If the latter, then the thesis consists of a collection of published papers woven together by an introduction that covers the major issues in the field. Does anywhere in the UK allow this?

  5. I did my Ph.D at the University of Portsmouth. There's no formal degree-through-publication route (at least, not that I know of), but my dissertation was five of my papers concatenated into a big PDF. (At the time I submitted it, one of the papers was published, two were in press, and two in review. They're all published now, though both of the in-review ones ended up in different journals.)

    It all felt very civilised to me. The publications and in-press acceptances didn't constitute the degree, but it would have been hard for the examiners to argue that work accepted at international journals wasn't up to scratch.

  6. Very useful article thanks for sharing..

  7. Really nice post that you have shared with us.Thanks a lot.

  8. In Nigeria, hard copies are submitted to all the supervisors in the supervising committee and they are allowed to write on it. Maybe you should present the matter to your graduate school board. Have a great day