Final Academic Paperwork Done

I sent in all of the forms for depositing my thesis with the appropriate parties today. This is the last paperwork I needed to complete for my program.

The school library will be keeping a copy of my thesis but a copy is also sent to UMI. For those that don’t know, UMI (formly University Microfilms) acts as the archivists of the theses and dissertations for graduate programs across the country. Generally, if you want to find if someone has done a dissertation on a topic, you look in their databases because most dissertations are not ever published as books. They claim to have more than 2.3 million theses and dissertations.

When you send in paperwork to them, UMI will register your copyright on your thesis for you and then handle the printing of copies (and the fees for it) for you. You can’t really opt out of it. There was no way for me to have my thesis accepted and to be awarded my degree without UMI getting a copy of it. In principle, that’s a good thing since there is a real value in there being a central archive but I do kind of dislike being told that you will pay X dollars without any options to not do so. It feels like a bit of a nasty monopoly.

In my school, we had limited online access to UMI through the library. This access allowed me to see every filed copy of a Master’s thesis from my own program for the last twenty or so years. This was actually quite helpful when I was doing my initial thesis planning because it showed me what work others in the program had done, both in the range of topics and in the depth that they covered their topics (as well as thesis length). I’ve read most of the theses focused on religion or philosophy in my program this way (including one rather bad one, in my opinion, on Wicca, and one good one on Platonism and Buddhism).

Recently, UMI has added the option for “Open Access” publishing instead of “Traditional” publishing. What this means is that if an author chooses “Open Access” publishing, copies of their thesis or dissertation will be made available to the public for free. Generally, this is through making a PDF file available. For the “Traditional” publishing, the work is only available for a various set of fees in order to get print-outs, bound copies, or microfilm.

In the spirit of the Internet, communication, and things like the Creative Commons, I chose to publish my thesis as an “Open Access” thesis. That means it should be available for searching in the UMI database within six months of their receiving a copy of it. I did notice a trick that UMI has pulled, at least from my point of view. If you choose “Open Access” publishing, you more than double the fees that it costs to send your thesis to UMI. They charge $95 just to make your thesis available as a free download (they will still sell print-outs, bound copies, and microfilm as well). This is in addition to any other fees for working with UMI (normally just $65 to register copyright). How many graduate students are going to plunk down nearly a hundred dollars just to make their work available to other students with no strings attached?