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How do you use PhD theses?

Posted by on May 14, 2014

Dr Katie Howe, research and engagement manager at the British Library, takes a look back at the results from a recent survey with the Society of Biology. This post was previously published on the British Library science blog.

In the British Library’s science team we’re interested in how people access scientific information and how we can facilitate that access. To this end we recently ran a survey in conjunction with our friends over at the Society of Biology asking how and why people use (or don’t use) bioscience PhD theses. Here I share some of the initial results.

We were pleased to receive over 200 responses from bioscientists across all subject disciplines – from anatomy to zoology and everything in between! Most of those who responded worked in academia but we also had some respondents from fields such as science policy and research funding. The largest group of respondents was postgraduate students but other academic job roles were also well-represented, including lecturers, undergraduate students and post-doctoral researchers.

Just over half the respondents told us that they use PhD theses a few times a year, with some people (15%) using theses at least once a month. A third of those who replied said they never use PhD theses as a source of information. The survey results indicate that the main barriers to using PhD theses are that people do not always know where relevant material is located or they cannot find what they are looking for. These problems were experienced by both users and non-users of theses.

We were also interested to find out how people perceived PhD theses as a source of information. Some common themes that emerged were that theses may contain huge amounts of unpublished information and negative data, which could be very valuable for researchers. On the other hand, a small pool of respondents raised concerns about the reliability of the information that lies within a PhD thesis.

Thank you to everyone who responded to our survey and congratulations to Mick Cooper who was randomly selected as our winner. A £50 voucher will be winging its way to you shortly.

The results from this survey form part of a larger project to investigate how researchers use PhD theses and build on our existing thesis discovery tool EThOS – so stay tuned for future developments!

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