About the first open PhD thesis (english) or how to write a Dissertation as open as possible

“From Open Access to Open Science: About the transition of digital cultures relating to scientific communication” is a doctoral thesis and an explorative study of the concepts of Open Access and Open Science. The paper looks at the context of digitization and the differences between scientific disciplines. The aims of this work are to present, analyze, and discuss the expectations we have of the entire open digital scientific knowledge process.

This website documents Christian Heise’s development of his doctoral research thesis written to be “as open as possible.” The goal of this open approach is to publish everything related to the doctoral study and research process as soon as possible, as comprehensively as possible, and under an open license (see opendefinition.org). It was written in German and is online, machine readable, and available at all times for everyone at live.offene-doktorarbeit.de.

This thesis was submitted in November 2012 and the whole writing process was immediately open. At the start, it was unclear if would be possible to write the whole PhD as open as possible, but in 2013 the PhD commission of Leuphana University confirmed this option. Since then, the writing was conducted openly and the final thesis was handed in for assessment in June 2016. Disputation took place in February 2017, and in January 2018, the thesis was published as a book by the supportive publisher meson press.

You can read more about this PhD project in an Interview for the Helmholtz Association here.

Structure of the Thesis:

  1. Introduction
  2. Analysis of the history of scientific communication and the theoretical basics of Open Access/Open Science
  3. Evaluation of the challenges and debates on openness in science in literature, identifying prospects, drivers and barriers
  4. Concept and methodology
  5. Online survey: comparative study with 1,112 (German-speaking) scientists on digitialisation and openness in scientific communication
  6. Ethnographic research: documenting the process of writing a PhD as open as possible, including analysis
  7. Discussion and Conclusion of the findings

What does as „open as possible“ mean?

A. Planning and developing the scientific research question (exposé) live in a blog.
B. Documenting the research process (writing, survey, presentations in colloquium etc.) live in a blog and on a writing platform, as soon as permission was granted from the PhD commission.
C. Research analysis and evaluation were done in the open, and interim results and raw data were published immediately.
D. The thesis and results were communicated immediately and in open formats (.csv/.tex).

Why is this relevant?

  • There are not enough practical experiments on negotiating openness and its constraints in scientific communication.
  • There’s no evidence if a no-barrier approach to scientific research is possible or useful in scientific communication or qualification.
  • This will facilitate conducting and documenting practical basic scientific research on openness in science.
  • It will embed the demand for openness in the historical context of science communication.
  • The scientific community can evaluate the theoretical interest in openness vs. practical work.
  • It will contribute to the debate on implications and consequences of digitalization in scientific research and communication.
  • It can help evaluate the potential to increase research quality, speed, and circulation; have a higher impact on economic promotion, validation, quality, and reputation; reduce the digital divide while challenging the science communication crisis; encourage collaboration and archiving, and much more.
  • The aim is to clarify definitions and recommendations on open access and open science and to identify drivers and obstacles in regards to openness in science.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Check if openness is allowed, and if not, work to get permission.
  2. Gather technical know-how on the process of digital publishing/research methods.
  3. Carefully choose the software you want to use.
  4. Schedule extra time for the open process.
  5. Don’t expect too much input and be careful with how you use feedback.
  6. Document your work well and make the work and process reproducible.
  7. Use an open license.
  8. Always remember: What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet!
  9. Use your social networks and make the project public.
  10. Always make it clear that your work is a work in progress.

Quick FAQ

Q: How do you overcome the fear of opening up science?
A: Make yourself fully aware of the value and check if truly open access is allowed. Then, just do it!

Q: Are there any obstacles?
A: Yes, a lot, actually. Here are just a few: 1. Organizational & legal: Permission from the university took nearly a year for interoperability with doctoral degree regulations; 2. Social: the fears of making mistakes, of transparency, of idea theft and so on; 3. Technical: methodological issues e.g., Authorea, a scientific writing platform, could not handle the length. These platforms were very rare in 2013 and could not fulfill the requirements.

Q: Do you have any advice about how to tackle those concerns?
A: Sure, you might want to…
1. Talk to your university. Learn patience, and don’t stop arguing for openness.
2. Be mindful of the consequences and be ready for them.
3. Technical: I connected Authorea to GitHub, implemented DataWrapper, built our own software to show .tex from GitHub (authorea-github-tex-reader@GitHub). See: http://live.offene-doktorarbeit.de.

Q: What are some good reasons to open up science?
A: You can help to shape the criteria for the future of science (in a digital world)! More here.

Q: What is in it for me?
A: You can be part of the negotiations for the shape and future of scientific communication. You can help save the principles of academic autonomy and freedom!

More questions? Reach out to christian(dot)heise(at)gmail.com.

Abstract of the thesis

Although open science is currently gaining a lot of attention and the opening up of research is considered an appropriate and trend-setting model for future scientific communication, it is still quite difficult to produce examples of it or to put the principles of open science into practice.

“From Open Access to Open Science: About the transition of digital cultures relating to scientific communication” is a doctoral thesis and an explorative study of the concepts of Open Access and Open Science. The paper looks at the context of digitization and the differences between scientific disciplines. The aims of this work are to present, analyze, and discuss the expectations we have of the entire open digital scientific knowledge process.

This thesis aims to document the author’s process to present his doctoral research thesis in the most open way possible. The goal of this open approach is to publish everything related to the doctoral study and research process as soon as possible, as comprehensively as possible, and under an open license (see opendefinition.org). It was written in German and is online, machine readable, and available at all times for everyone at live.offene-doktorarbeit.de.