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Exploring science at the British Library

10 January 2014

Gathering dust? Opening up access to PhD research

In our first blog post of 2014, Katie Howe explores another of the services that we offer to contemporary researchers - the British Library’s e-thesis collection, EThOS.

I finished my PhD in 2012. Four years of blood, sweat and tears were summed up in one 200 page document neatly bound in blue cotton. But who has actually read my thesis? Well, my supervisor read it very closely, suggesting many alterations and improvements. My viva examiners read it. I like to think that contemporary members of my old lab might refer to it when working on some of the methods I developed. But what about its wider impact? Is my thesis destined to gather dust or simply be used as a bookend?

Theses cropped
PhD theses ready for submission (Photo: Katie Howe)

My thesis is deposited in the UCL Discovery repository and the full text will soon be available via the British Library’s e-thesis service, EThOS, meaning that people will be able to access the information even though much of the data hasn’t been published in an academic journal. EThOS works by harvesting information from university and institutional repositories, thereby creating a single point of access for doctoral theses from across the UK. The EThOS website has records for over 300,000 UK theses and for 100,000 of these, it is possible to access the full text instantly - either by downloading directly from EThOS or via a link to the relevant institutional website. If you haven’t used EThOS before then you can give it a try here. The great thing about EThOS is that it can be accessed remotely, from all over the world. You can use it to search and read theses on your topic of interest, or to research the work of individuals in your field. EThOS can also be useful in finding out how to structure a thesis and some people even use it for leisure purposes in researching their own interests.

As one user noted, “a wealth of primary data is buried in theses, which can shed light on very interesting areas that may have been missed for decades”. PhD theses are increasingly recognised as important sources of information and although the UK’s open access initiatives relate mainly to journal articles, open access to PhD theses has been embraced by UK universities and research councils. Nowadays, many institutions require PhD graduates to deposit their thesis in a local repository and services such as EThOS facilitate access to this material.

EThOS contains records for over 300,000 UK theses (Image: Shutterstock)

Although my thesis might not quite be worthy of a Nobel Prize, having it available on EThOS will undoubtedly increase the visibility of the unpublished information within it. With about 35,000 theses viewed per month on EThOS, hopefully someone will find my thesis useful rather than having it languishing on my bookshelf gathering dust.

Katie Howe


Sounds like EThOS is a great tool; it will give researchers and students access to a vast amount of information and make sure that valuable research will be utilized.

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