Friday, October 30, 2015

Trick and TREAT Yourself to Some Support!

As Halloween arrives, and as you hand out candy or get dressed up for the holiday, think about giving yourself a real treat: find a writing partner or another source to help keep you on track for your study.

In the MOOC “How to Survive Your PhD,” developed by Dr. Inger Mewburn and the Australia National University Online team, the moderators begin the course with a discussion into why PhD students quit (applies to thesis writers, too). As expected, “intellectual isolation” and “stress/exhaustion/mental health issues” were among the several reasons given for quitting. Other reasons, such as “mounting debt” and “being made to do non-thesis work,” were given, but the first two I mentioned can be addressed with a small amount of effort.    

If you are reading this, you probably know that the Thesis Office tries to help with isolation through our Facebook group (NIU Theses and Dissertations) and this blog. However, I’m of the opinion that nothing beats face-to-face interactions, at least occasionally!

And not long ago, a colleague, who recently earned her PhD (congratulations, Professor Probst!), offered me a related piece of advice for making progress. Dr. Probst said she found it very helpful to have weekly meetings with a partner. Here’s how she describes her experience:

“A fellow Ph.D. candidate and I decided to dissertate from afar while we assumed full-time positions. We understood the challenges of writing a dissertation being removed from constructs, particularly peer support, at the university. We planned to continue our regular writing sessions that we began at NIU, but difficulties in arranging our schedules to make time for our dissertations presented themselves. Our weekly meetings held us accountable to write regularly, one of the most important habits for completing the dissertation. Rarely did we review each other’s work—that is not the support we needed. We needed consistency, and a guaranteed weekly opportunity to write meant we had to prioritize that work over other tasks or interests. Furthermore, our meetings encouraged us to write and revise outside these sessions because our writing mindset never lapsed, however tired and discouraged we sometimes felt. We learned that allowing too much distance from the dissertation would make returning to it more challenging. Additionally, the emotional struggles of writing a dissertation are real and can be detrimental, so the emotional support we provided to one another often was more important than carving out time in our schedules to write.”

Wow! I think Dr. Probst’s words offer some good advice!

If you cannot find a partner or cannot work out the logistics, though, NIU offers other resources that might be of benefit.

For instance, if you are experiencing stress, anxiety, or any other condition such as depression, NIU’s Counseling and Consultation Services, located in the Campus Life Building (corner of Lucinda and Normal) Room 200, offers free groups and programs for NIU students. One of their offerings is a “Mindful Monday” group, which meets from 12 – 12:45 for meditation and relaxation, thus reducing stress while offering camaraderie.

They also have therapy dogs every 2nd Monday from 6:00-7:15 pm in Stevenson Hall. See one good dog in the photo to the right!

NIU counselors can get you to an appropriate anxiety/stress management group by referral from a walk-in appointment, available Monday through Friday from 11:00 – 3:30. For more information, see their website or call them at 815-753-1206.

Finally, don’t forget about us, the Thesis and Dissertation Office. We are here in Adams Hall 104 Monday through Thursday from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm, and we have a quiet workshop area in our adjoining room (AH 103) where you can work anytime we are open. Stop in, call us (815) 753- 9405, or email We will be glad to help in any way we can.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Open Access - TED Talks

Once I woke this morning, I reached for my iPhone - my technology addiction may just be a potential topic for a future blog post (i.e. when to stop researching on my laptop and go get lost in the stacks at Founder's Library). I opened my podcasts app and  . . . lo and behold, NPR TED Talks has a new episode devoted to Open Source.

For those of you who are interested in learning about how Open Access (or Open Source) impacted the genesis of the World Wide Web, you should check out Tim Berners-Lee's talk:

If you are studying history or, like me, you are fascinated by history, there is a TED Talk with Clay Shirk about how Open Access started . . . in the 17th century!

If you are studying political science, you may find Pia Mancini's talk interesting. She used Open Access to try and change democracy with the mobile platform Democracy OS:

If you are studying art and architecture, Alastair Parvin has an intriguing talk about WikiHouse:

Finally, for those of you who are engineering students, you may find David Lang's talk about relying on Open Access to build his own underwater robot to go hunting for buried treasure:

Each of these talks are accessible from the TED Talks website.

On the other hand, if you are not sure which talk you may or may not be interested, I can definitely recommend NPR's TED Radio Hour with guy Raz abridged version of the talks (click here).

As always, if you have any thoughts or concerns or questions about Open Access, please feel free to share them by offering a comment on our blog, or post a comment on our Facebook group page.

Happy Open Access week, everyone!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Open Access: Creative Commons Licensing

Attention would-be December 2015 graduates! October 30, 2015 is almost upon us! This means -- for those of you paying close attention to the Graduate School's deadlines calendar -- that the last date to submit the postdefense version of your thesis/dissertation fast approacheth! Well, that and ... it's almost Halloween.

You should know that ProQuest -- the electronic repository for the postdefense PDF version of your thesis/dissertation -- has updated its website. How does this apply to you?

During the (what many NIU grad students have described to me as tedious) process of submitting your postdefense graduate work, you will come across a section having to do with copyright and licensing. As explained in a previous blog on open access philosophy, you will have two options when it comes to publishing/copywright: traditional or open access. For those of you who know that you will be selecting open access, ProQuest will then prompt you to decide on your licensing rights. This is where Creative commons licensing comes into play.

Creative commons offers four options when it comes to licensing your work: Attribution (a.k.a. BY), Share-alike (SA), Non-commercial (NC), and No Derivative Works (ND).  Well, technically, there is a fifth option: public domain.

When you choose Attribution, you are giving your audience the right to copy your work, distribute your work, and build upon your work -- this latter part is especially relevant in the case of scientific research. The person(s) who do any of these actions are required to give you, the original author, credit. They are not permitted to simply pass your work off as their own.

Share-alike means that if anyone copies or builds upon your work (which you allow them to do in accordance with the open access philosophy), then their work is required to have the exact same license that you chose for your own work, which would be the original research in this scenario.

A Non-commercial license stipulates that you agree that the reader can make copies of your work, distribute your work, build on your research, and even display your work (on a website, a poster, a YouTube video, etc.). However, you draw the line at them making any money off of your original research.

Finally, No Derivative works stipulates that the reader has your permission to copy, distribute, and display your original material. However, they may not modify the original materials in anyway. In other words, the individual who reads your work cannot adapt your work into a top 40 hit single or an Emmy winning HBO miniseries. Your work is your work.

You may also choose Public Domain, which simply means that you are allowing your work to be freely available to everyone to do with as they choose - there are no restrictions being placed on the material.

You should know that the ND licensing option is very controversial in open access circles. Many open access devotees view ND licensing as antithetical to the core mission statement of open access publishing. The whole purpose behind open access is to make research widely available to the public and other researchers in order to further scholarship. One way to accomplish such a feat is to empower researchers and laypeople to read your original work and then build off of your theories. On the other hand, many academics and researchers feel that too much liberty is being taken with their  original research. There have been instances where someone's research has been plagiarised or the original author has not been attributed in subsequent derivatives of their original research.

Be aware that even though there are five licensing options, these options can be combined in a variety of ways depending on how "free" you want your original research to be. The most common  combinations include:Public Domain on its own, Attribution on its own, Attribution AND Noncommercial, Attribution AND Share-alike, Attribute AND No Derivatives, Attribution AND Noncommercial AND Share-alike, and Attribution AND Noncommercial AND No Derivatives.

If you believe in open access publishing and you wish to opt for open access publishing when you submit your thesis/dissertation, please please please . . . take the time to review your licensing options. Make sure that you are receiving the credit that you are due. After all, you are devoting a large amount of time to researching and writing your thesis/dissertation. What you need to decide is, how available do you want to make your work to the public and other academics. One issue that may influence the license you choose is whether or not you intend on patenting your work.

Before you submit your postdefense work to the NIU Thesis and Dissertation office, sit down with your director and discuss the best licensing options for you and your work.

A short video explaining Creative Commons licensing has been attached to this blog. It was created courtesy of the Creative Commons organization (click here to visit their website).

Remember, open access and creative commons is not an exclusive publishing domain for students and academics in the sciences. Open access and creative commons can impact and be beneficial for those of us in the humanities. 

Creative commons licensing has become a very prominent legal issue recently. In an age where everyone posts their academic research or creative work on social media websites -- especially, YouTube -- a debate is starting about what belongs in the public domain and what is, or what should be, or what remains protected by strict copyright laws that many people argue have become obsolete in the 21st century. This debate will apply to you. Maybe not now, but in time it will. Remember: your thesis/dissertation represents a significant contribution to academia and some day someone may want to build on your original research.  

As this debate in creative commons continues to receive significant news coverage, our office will try to keep you updated with links to articles on the issue.

Please feel free to share any questions or comments about open access and creative commons licensing on our blog or our office Facebook group. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Open Access: A Philosophy and a Publishing Format

This year Open Access week will be celebrated October 19 through October 25, 2015.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the above graphic, it is the official Open Access logo, originally designed by the Public Library of Science.

Even though there are no scheduled events this year about Open Access on the NIU campuses, I believe that it is important to compose a brief entry about the philosophy behind Open Access.  You may not believe this issue is applicable to you, your field of study, or your research topic; however, I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. Remember, after you have successfully defended your thesis or dissertation, the next step is to submit your written work to our office via ProQuest. During this submission process, you will have to choose a publication option for your academic work: traditional or Open Access. Many opt for traditional publication if for no other reason than the fact that it costs you nothing, whereas opting for Open Access publishing does involve a $90 fee. 

Open Access simply means unrestrained access to research -- peer-reviewed and non peer-reviewed research articles, conference papers, theses, book chapters, and dissertations. Much of this research is not available in its entirety to the public. You may come across an article abstract or a preview of a scholarly work thanks to an Internet search, but this is not unrestrained access to the entirety of that scholarly work.

A large number of researchers and scholars receive funding -- some of it via government grants -- to conduct research in their field. Once these academics have collected their data, they publish their findings in scholarly journals. The problem is that access to these scholarly journals may be guaranteed exclusively through individual subscriptions to the journal or through pay subscription services online. In other words, this scholarly research, some of which has been funded by government grants -- i.e. your tax dollars -- is locked behind a paywall. People who subscribe to the Open Access philosophy take issue with this and rightly so.  

These online subscription services might not be an issue for students and academics if they happen to be affiliated with a college or university that has allocated funds for the school library to pay for these subscription services. After all, what lay person is going to devote their time to reading some graduate student's monograph? Then again, people who believe in Open Access make the rather compelling argument that many schools -- across the United States and in under-developed countries -- might not have the funds to pay for library subscription services. Another scenario might be that a college or university has limited funds that allows it to subscribe to some scholarly journals or some subscription databases, but not all of them. In these two examples, this means that future generations of academics will have a hole in their education due to the fact that they will not have access to certain texts. The common retort to this argument is that students and researchers can request materials through interlibrary loan. The problem with this is that an article requested by interlibrary loan might have to be photocopied and sent by post, or it might be scanned and sent via email. Then again, the request might not even be fulfilled. If the literature can be shared, however, time might be an issue for the student or researcher who made the request. Open Access can ensure reliable quick access to research. 

The one scenario in support of Open Access that I do happen to find rather compelling is this: outbreaks of deadly viruses.  When a community of scientists and academics can share their work through Open Access, this guarantees the ability to stay on top of recent findings in the medical field. Thanks to Open Access, a doctor in Africa will be able to learn about an alternative form of treatment discovered in Europe that may prove to be more efficient treating patients suffering from some exotic virus in his part of the globe. This doctor can then build on the European research that he was able to access quickly and easily. 

Elizabeth Marincola discusses how science might be advanced with Open Access publishing in her TED MED Talk:

Then again, who is to say that a lay person is not interested in reading the most recent research having to do with green energy? Or Astronomy? Or Physics? If you are earning your PhD in education, there may be legions of grade school and high school educators across the globe who are curious about successful teaching strategies that they might implement in their own classrooms. They might even wish to keep up to date with recent research related to their subject fields. If the research has been done, many people are asking the question: why can it not be made available to everyone, free of charge, via Open Access? 

There is a great deal more that I could write about with regards to Open Access. For instance, there are two categories of Open Access: gratis and libre. There is "green" access and "gold" access when it comes to making your work available through Open Access publishing. There is even some controversy amongst Open Access devotees when it comes to Creative Commons copyright, which is  associated with libre Open Access. There is also the history of Open Access, tracing its founding principles back to the Budapest Open Access Initiative in 2002.

For now, I simply wanted to introduce you to the philosophy behind Open Access with the intention of inspiring you to consider whether or not you should make your own thesis or dissertation available via Open Access. You may have noticed that a number of the scenarios I have described here relate to the sciences. This is not to suggest that Open Access does not apply to the humanities as well.

In the meantime, if you have questions about the Open Access philosophy or Open Access publication options, keep an eye out for future blog entries or feel free to contact our office  directly ( You can read up on the topic a bit more by checking out and SPARC. I've also taken the liberty of posting a link to a fun video from PhD Comics that is a fairly detailed explanation of Open Access. As always, please feel free to share your thoughts about Open Access in a comment, or post about it on our Facebook group page.