“Publishing” my PhD


I submitted my PhD thesis in Summer 2008 and am more than a little ashamed that it’s taken me this long to put it up here.

There are lots of reasons for this. Mainly (a) Laziness. (b) A post-PhD feeling of  “Oh this is crap. I have to hide it, and possibly myself, under the largest stone I can find so no one will see how stupid and useless I am”.

It’s also because I was expected to try and get it published as a monograph – bound book in an exclusive handful of libraries – and opening it for anyone to see might compromise the chances of that. The main reason I haven’t sought publication that way isn’t (a) or (b), but simply because I think that it seems so ridiculously outdated and elitist a way to share anything. Yes, publishing it as a book would give it a good edit (though we all know people who simply went Ctrl-F “this thesis”, replace all “this book”) but really, I think I’d get better feedback generated by more people being able to see it. That provides a less-polished product, but overall it’s a greater win for scholarship. I’ve thought this for a long time, I’ve (perhaps stupidly) said so in interviews. It really is just laziness and lack of confidence that has stopped me putting it up here.

So here is it (links to google drive pdf), or at least an image-free version as the full file would be huge and also involves other people’s copyrights than my own. It’s a literary study of the Horrible Science books, in the sociological context of why and how adults write about science for children. Full title: Science as Pantomime: Explorations in Contemporary Children’s Non-Fiction Books. Conducted at Imperial College (2004-8), funded by the AHRC, supervised by Felicity Mellor and examined by David Buckingham and Peter Broks.

I’ve included it and more in an updated version of this blog’s “writing” page. Honestly, I think a lot of my academic work is pretty rubbish. Forcing myself to open it up will, I hope, make me make it better. I can also say that I’ve not published that much since I finished my PhD. This is partly because up until last November when I moved to Sussex, I’ve been employed to teach and do public engagment work, not research. It’s also because knowing that your writing is inaccessible to most of the more interesting people who might read it really isn’t much of an incentive.

We badly need to fix this system. I’m paid to write, but also paid to keep it this writing hidden. It’s stupid.

11 thoughts on ““Publishing” my PhD

  1. Andrew Maynard

    Interesting – the thought never even crossed my mind to “publish” my thesis, which now seems ridiculous when i think about it. Back in 1992 there was no easy way of doing this – but I could have produced the PDF years back, and could even put it out as an ebook now.

    Of course, whether anyone would want to read it is a completely different thing. But interesting idea.

  2. Lucy Gilliam

    Urrgghh. I know I should publish my phd. But can’t quite face it… I’ll digest your bravery and with hope follow suit…

  3. chriskeene

    Hi, at Sussex we started putting DPhil (now PHD) Theses online in 2009. The only exceptions are those with embargoes because they plan to publish (as you mentioned), and sometimes due to copyright/confidentiality.
    The ’embargo due to publishing plans’ is an interesting thing to watch, there’s still no real evidence that publishers are less likely to publish a monograph because there is a PDF online (which may well have a different title and much-changed content) of the thesis it was based on.

    Anyway, you can see and access Sussex theses 2009 onwards here:

    Like many Universities, many of our theses before 2009 are now being digitalised on ethos http://ethos.bl.uk/Home.do

    (University of Sussex Library)

  4. Heather Doran (@hapsci)

    I think this conflict is common with many academics that write in the public eye. The majority that I come across stay away from talking about their own work. Which can be problematic if they are trying to encourage others to talk about their research with a wider audience.

    Personally (as a small time blogger and PhD student) I find it difficult to share my academic work as, like you, I feel that it’s not very good. I think the very process of writing a PhD, where you go over and over your thinking and writing, picking holes and evaluating it gives you a skewed (negative) view of what you have done. Where other people may have a different view point. You are also surrounded by post-docs and professors who have had years of experience and therefore tend to produce better academic work than PhD students. Making the PhD student feel less confident and sure of their work!

  5. Tom

    Completely agree with reason (b). Also despise the (c) academic monograph expectation, and suspect that the interaction between (b) and (c) is rather harmful.

    Also think that comments disparaging other ways of getting your PhD out, such as those by Sir Keith Thomas against PhD theisis being turned into pop histories, are elitist –

    1. alice Post author

      yes, biggest use of my PhD was turning chunks of it into basis of teaching materials. way better than a monograph, but not “impact” in quite the same way…

  6. Jacob Darwin Hamblin

    Unless you have an agent, self-promotion is an important part of academic work. We are all squeamish about it but we have to get over it (in my opinion!). You worked hard on that diss. It’s good to let it breathe!


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