What’s a Grad to Do…With Open Access?

I guess I should start by saying that I really didn’t know what people meant when they said “Open Access” before, so Peter Suber’s book has been extremely helpful for understanding this idea and the complexities within Open Access. I guess some of the main surprises I had early on were: 1. That Open Access is not at odds with peer-reviewed (or toll accessed) journals and 2. That OA isn’t necessarily about “bringing access to lay readers” (25). These points interested me because I had originally thought of OA as the means through which arguments are made to wider audiences in hopes of reaching beyond the distinctly scholarly crowd. (I’m not implying that it’s wrong if OA does not do this though.)  And I had it in my head that OA somehow meant lower standards, which I realize is not actually the case. In any case, Suber surprised me in his chapter “What Open Access Is” when he explains that often times journals or articles that are OA are cited more frequently than those that aren’t. Additionally, he stated that OA is largely geared toward scholars—as opposed to lay people—because “scholars’ careers depend on access” (25).  What I got out of these passages was the realization that OA isn’t necessarily about pushing the boundaries of who has access to be authors but rather who can have access to ideas.

I’d really like to talk about opinions on making dissertations or theses OA. In a way, I think this is a really exciting idea and something that can really foster new ideas in a more exigent way for up and coming scholars. I could be wrong here, but from what I’ve witnessed, it seems as if a dissertation is often just a means to get something “real” published—hoping for it to be part of a first article or perhaps a book, etc. However, I don’t know much about what a dissertation (as a product) really does in terms of knowledge creation and scholarship. I’ve come across a few (very few!) dissertations in my research that seemed relevant to what I was doing that was the only piece of scholarship from that author. What I mean is, most of the dissertations I came across were by scholars who had more recently published ideas. So, where do dissertations go? In the time that it takes between writing the dissertation product and then another piece of work (article or book or otherwise), who sees that writing beyond the 3-5 person committee? (This relates to the “low visibility” factor that Suber uses. Again, I’m not at the dissertation stage, so I could have some of these structures misunderstood. But, I think that if we, as writers and authors of ideas we care about, are interested in sharing our work and getting feedback and creating dialogue, making dissertation projects a part of OA seems pressing and important! Would we (or should we), as beginning authors, risk the potential for future publication of these documents? Suber says that this fear is has minimal evidence (105). As for me, I think that making dissertations public is perhaps what needs to happen if we want to be more attentive to enabling graduates to participate in the scholarly conversations. I’m curious what others think though. Is OA a means of empowerment for graduate authors? 

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