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Editing my doctoral thesis on stem cells in a blog: Why not? by attilachordash

Note: The following text actually exposes some of the anxieties in academia about blogs, and their effectiveness as valid research tools.

Image and text source: Pimm

June 4th, 2007

OK folks, after reading the official rules about how to get and manage a doctoral thesis, and after speaking with my supervisor asking for his permission, I’ve decided to edit my ongoing doctoral thesis in Pimm. Or at least the introduction of it, which is intended to be no other than a review-like summary of some current results in the stem cell biology of different tissues, organs. What will remain hidden in the first round (but can follow later): the data-heavy yet unpublished results and the discussion, conclusion session. Objectives, Materials & Methods: we shall see it. Sounds like there are complete parts of the thesis, but that’s dead wrong, at this time my doctoral thesis is in an embryonic form. Also no idea on how challenging, meaningful this project, a sub-series in Pimm, will be.

What I know is that continuous experimentation with genres and frames is the essence of free blogging!
After all, what do I risk here? If someday I’d like to write a review out of the published introduction, can this cause a publishing problem? According to Maxine Clarke, Publishing Executive Editor of Nature (i.e. peer review and publishing policy expert) the status of a thesis is: “No, a doctoral thesis does not count as “previously published” and yes, you can submit work that was part of your thesis, with an appropriate citation.”

I also asked Maxine by mail and she was kind enough to enlighten me: There is no problem with you publishing your thesis in this way, so far as consideration for publication of any part of it for a Nature journal is concerned (or any NPG journal). We encourage communication between scientists via discussion of work and unpublished drafts in the form of theses, meetings, preprint servers, online scientific forums (between scientists) etc.

What we don’t allow is active solicitation of the media by scientists of work that will be or is submitted but not (yet) published in a Nature journal. So, in this case, if a journalist were to approach you because he/she had read part of your thesis on your blog and asks you about it, if this part of it is something you wish to submit for publication, you’d need to say to that journalist that you could not discuss it yet as you are planning to submit it to a journal, but that you’d be happy to talk about it when it is published. This is standard practice in most journals and journalists (reputable ones) are all aware of this type of policy. In our case, the policy is there to avoid “media hype” before a ms has been through peer-review.

Looking for a similar attempt I turned to Jean-Claude Bradley, whose Useful Chemistry is a pioneer website in open source science. Mr. Bradley mailed me:“If your advisor is fine with it I think it is a great idea. If you plan on submitting the work to a specific journal check with the editor as well. My student, Alicia Holsey is writing her entire masters thesis on our wiki“

Update: The “live” thesis building blogxperiment: progress through little steps

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