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Friday, November 4 • 3:15pm - 4:05pm
Opening the Dissertation: Exploring the Public Thesis Spectrum

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In North American higher education, the doctoral thesis process has long been acknowledged as isolating and private: a vaguely defined series of milestones witnessed and assessed by a small number of faculty (Katz, 1997). Although the close nature of the process can be mutually rewarding for students and faculty mentors, it has also been known to mask highly idiosyncratic pedagogical demands and abuses of power. Even within the same programs at the same institutions, Ph.D. candidates may have very different experiences in terms of their research, writing, and defense processes. Furthermore, the conventional closed door format can make it difficult to assess or alleviate inequalities or to establish terms on which changes might be understood as productive or desirable.

However, the last decade has brought challenges to the closed nature of North American higher education. "Open" practices, in terms of information sharing, transparency, open educational resources, and open scholarship have begun to permeate multiple disciplines and levels of the academic hierarchy. Benefits of open educational practices, including sharing iterative work and building connections and audiences via networked public platforms such as blogs and Twitter, have been articulated and found to be particularly strong among graduate students and early career researchers (Stewart, 2015).

These changes have begun to impact the Ph.D thesis process, if only in an unevenly distributed fashion. For example, in 2014 HASTAC hosted a "Remix the Diss" seminar in which five recently graduated or soon-to-be graduated doctoral students and their advisors led a full room in questioning the conventional models of doctoral research and defense as the "gold standards" of scholarship (Davidson, 2014). While participants used novel formats or media to represent their work, many of these formats had an underlying public or open quality and would not have been feasible in private forums of traditional academe.

This panel presentation illustrates some ways in which the doctoral thesis/dissertation process can be opened so that the research, writing, and defense components might be shared and experienced with a multitude of peer, faculty, and other community voices. The panelists will draw on their own experiences as recent graduate- and faculty-participants in open dissertation processes. They will describe it as a spectrum of expression and practice, pointing to "granular options" along the way and how those points impact the risks, benefits, and experience of the process. Then they will answer questions related to why a student or faculty member might or might not want to engage in an open doctoral experience. Finally, the panelists will reflect on how experiences such as theirs might impact the future of the PhD and the academic community as a whole scholarship.


Davidson, C. (2014, August 24). What is a dissertation? New models, methods, media.

Retrieved from:


Katz, E. (1997). Key players in the dissertation process. New Directions for Higher Education,

99, p. 5-16.

Stewart, B. (2015). Open to influence: What counts as academic influence in scholarly

networked Twitter participation. Learning, Media, and Technology, special issue: Critical

Approaches to Open Education, 40(3), 1-23.

avatar for Bonnie Stewart

Bonnie Stewart

University of Prince Edward Island
Bonnie Stewart is a writer, educator, and researcher fascinated by who we are when we're online. She explores the intersections of knowledge and technologies in her work, taking up networks, institutions and identity in contemporary higher education. Published in Salon.com, The Guardian... Read More →

Friday November 4, 2016 3:15pm - 4:05pm EDT