Taking your thesis outside the academy

Ashley recently posted about her self-publication of her thesis using Lulu’s print-on-demand service, and I wanted to follow up with my own thoughts on this process. While Ashley’s post emphasized the nostalgic and sentimental motives for self-publishing, I approached my own project from a much different perspectice: career development, personal branding and, of course, copyright.

If you’ve read my gnovis blog much over the past year, you know that I created a website at www.openculture.cc to blog (sporadically) about my thesis while I was working on it, as well as to continue blogging long after. I had also planned, from the start, to repackage my thesis as a book and make it available online, as well. I have now done this, and am in the process of making the book the centerpiece of that site.

My thinking, from the beginning, was largely informed by two decisions about my future career: first, the decision not to pursue a PhD in the foreseeable future, and, second, the decision to continue blogging about topics related to my thesis, even as my career pulls me in different directions.

In both cases, these decisions encouraged me to think about how my thesis (the best and most interesting scholarship I’ve ever produced), could be repackaged so that it could serve me well outside of an academic career.

Packaging my thesis as a book, even a self-published one, obviously enhances my real world cred in multiple areas, even if it doesn’t sell a single copy. While the distinctions between the two versions of the text are largely cosmetic, there is no doubt that, of the two images below, the one on the right will appeal to a much broader and diverse audience.

While these cosmetic differences are, by definition, shallow, they also demonstrate the importance of aesthetics and branding outside of academia. Much like Ashley’s mother, my mother went “Oooooh!” when I handed her an autographed copy, as has most everyone else who has seen it. Perhaps more telling, several have asked me about the cover image, creating an entry point for discussion of the material. In addition to the perks of a tangible, physical book, the new version also has the benefits of a well-formatted document. My original thesis submission is in the usual, intimidating manuscript form; the new version has a color cover, is single-spaced, and is printed on smaller, more readable pages familiar to casual readers. It’s simply a better product, and prospective readers will appreciate that.

Finally, I wanted to comment briefly on licensing as it relates to distribution. Many gnovis readers are already aware of danah boyd’s discussion of the challenges she encountered when she tried to attach a Creative Commons license to her dissertation. While I was initially tempted to follow in her footsteps and try to get a CC license on the version of my thesis that I submitted to the graduate school, I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the effort (although I did shell out the extra cash to make it Open Access, even though ProQuest will probably make more money off that fee than they would have made off of sales).

Instead, I decided that the best way to get a CC license on my work was to stamp the CC license on a new version and promote it from my own website, which will almost certainly have higher search rankings than the PDF hosted by the GU library. All that remains is to hold to my decision by continuing to blog about my thesis. Which is arguably the hardest part.




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Brad Weikel

Brad Weikel received his MA in Communication, Culture & Technology (CCT) from Georgetown University in 2009. His thesis, "From Coding to Community: Iteration, Abstraction, and Open Source Software Development" argued that programming practices, particularly iterative workflows and abstraction models, can help explain both the success and struggles of open source software. His work was a technocentric complement to prior explanations from economists, lawyers, and political and cultural theorists. While writing his thesis, Brad blogged about his topic at OpenCulture.cc, where he has since continued blogging, more broudly, about collaborative production and the commons at large. Brad was Managing Editor of gnovis during the 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 school years, and Creative Director in 2006/2007. He is currently the Web & Communications Coordinator for EarthRights International.