Mapping the UK thesis landscape

Phase one of Unlocking Thesis Data is complete. You can read about the work of the project in the past three months in our report

Grace, Stephen and Whitton, Michael and Gould, Sara and Kotarski, Rachael Mapping the UK thesis landscape: Phase 1 project report for Unlocking Thesis Data. Project Report. University of East London, London. (10.15123/PUB.4307).

The report covers the background of community interest which led to the project, and analyses the survey responses from EThOS contacts we previously mentioned in the blog. It then summarises the six institutional case studies looking at thesis-related processes in detail at a range of universities (East London, Southampton, LSE, UAL, Bristol and Leicester). The case studies showed a wide variety of approaches in processing and making available theses, and this insight will help us ensure that we consider solutions that work for the widest possible range of universities. Each of the case studies required interviews with staff involved in processing theses, by a combination of Michael Whitton (University of Southampton), Sara Gould (The British LIbrary), Rachael Kotarski (The British Library) and me. Many thanks to Michael, Sara and Rachael for working with me on the project.

Subject to further Jisc funding, we hope in the next phase of Unlocking Thesis Data to address the following five recommendations from the report:

  1. Hold at least three thesis clinics to investigate opportunities and barriers to assigning DOI and ORCiD identifiers in UK universities
  2. Engage with system suppliers/vendors to identify opportunities for enhancing software with required PIDs
  3. Consult with EThOS formally to understand what needs to change in EThOS systems and processes to harvest and display PIDs and related metadata for theses and their data
  4. Evaluate approaches to updating UKETD profile, initially in EPrints, before planning software enhancements
  5. Investigate requirements and solutions for those institutions that use EThOS as their first-point repository

You can find links to all the case studies, the survey and the phase one report at


University of East London case study available!

The UEL case study, written by Michael Whitton and Sara Gould is now available at this DOI: 10.15123/PUB.4301. UEL currently require both print and electronic versions of theses. They currently have separare publications (ROAR) and data (data.uel) repositories, both using the EPrints software.

Key recomendations:

  • DOIs for Theses can be minted in ROAR, using the DataCiteDOI plugin in the EPrints Bazaar.
    • Using DOIs incorporating the Student number (e.g. 10.15123/THESIS.123456) would allow the DOI to be included in the Thesis itself.
    • These could be assigned when the student registers, but only activated on publication of the thesis in ROAR.
  • DOIs for Data are currently being minted in data.uel using the same plugin. The Repository links plugin in the EPrints Bazaar allows the Thesis to be linked to the associated data.
  • ORCiDs can be promoted shortly after the student registers, so they could use it if they publish.
    • Registration forms could be sent to the Repository Manager, who would apply for an account on the student’s behalf.

Welcome to Unlocking Thesis Data

Unlocking Thesis Data (UTD) is the short name for a project with a long title and a big ambition. “Unlocking the UK’s thesis data through persistent identifiers” will explore how the application of persistent identifiers, software and metadata enhancements, and guidance to institutions would kick-start a more widespread sharing of data generated in doctoral-level research in the UK. Here’s our project summary:

Unlocking Thesis Data (UTD) is a community-driven project to promote the use of persistent identifiers for theses, their underlying data and their authors. By their very nature, PhD theses break new ground and advance scholarly knowledge. Most make use of newly-created data but these data can be trapped in an appendix or DVD – either unavailable or not suited for reuse. UTD will make data more discoverable and citeable, thereby offering incentives to students to share their data in more appropriate formats, in the context of a sustainable national thesis framework.

Funded by Jisc, UTD is led by the Universities of East London and Southampton and EThOS (the UK’s national thesis service at the British Library). Phase one will explore current thesis practice through an online survey to EThOS member institutions, and individual case studies looking at the issues in more detail – including how institutions might apply DOI and ORCID identifiers. The survey and case study findings will be combined into a report with recommendations for further phases of the project. These are expected to enhance metadata and software for applying DOI and ORCID identifiers, to test them in live settings, and to offer comprehensive advice for institutions to adopt them. By summer 2016 we expect to have a sustainable infrastructure covering the whole UK, driving the wider availability of research data and introducing doctoral students to new norms of scholarly communication.

The first phase of the project runs from late April to mid July 2015, and has three components

  • A survey of EThOS member institutions on their current practices with regard to PhD theses and their data
  • Case studies in individual institutions digging into the details and seeing where DOI and ORCID identifiers could be assigned
  • A summary report synthesising the survey and case studies, with recommendations for next steps

We look forward to building on the national EThOS network with a robust and sustainable thesis infrastructure adapted to the new norms of data sharing. Subject to continuing Jisc funding two further phases will deliver working services that meet the needs of students, their institutions and all those interested in the data generated in PhD research.