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29 March 2017

Symposium Explores Potential of Electronic Theses


There is a perception that Canada’s graduate schools have completed the transition to electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) leaving behind the age-old format of paper and print.

That transition into the digital world is far from complete, according to James MacDonald, the Digital Initiatives librarian at the University of Northern British Columbia.

Some Canadian universities still only accept theses and dissertations in print. And there are also concerns about the robustness of current submission systems, MacDonald says.

“I know of at least one very large Canadian university that ran a check of their electronic theses and found that the majority failed simple archival checks,” he says.

Collecting, preserving and providing access to graduate work are some of the high-level concerns that will be addressed at ETD 2017. That’s the 20th International Symposium on Electronic Theses and Dissertations. The event is scheduled for August 7-9, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

MacDonald has a checklist of questions that graduate schools should be asking:

  • Are students still producing a tired PDF or are they integrating multi-media and exposing their data? How replicable is their research?
  • Does the school still require ink and paper signatures from the entire defense committee?
  • Does the institution consider the entire life cycle of their ETDs?
  • What of plagiarism, intellectual property rights, copyright clearances, embargoes and open access?

“Many students use that thesis or dissertation as a springboard into the larger world of research, academia and beyond,” says MacDonald. “It is important to assess how well an institution promotes and disseminates that work. “

The symposium is also a great place to learn about practical details and best practices for electronic and digital thesis.

ETD2017 organizers are also accepting nominations for Innovative Theses Awards. The prizes are valued at $1,000 USD. They are open to students working on, or those who have completed an electronic thesis or dissertation.

“The topic is not important,” says MacDonald. “Rather we are seeking students who have produced an electronic open access version of their work. We especially like those who have used technology to express their work in a unique way such as interesting data visualizations or the incorporation of multimedia.”

Nominations are also being accepted for a leadership award. This is open to anyone working in the world of ETDs and has shown leadership, globally, nationally, or even locally. Information about both awards can be found here.