Monday, July 31, 2017

Three Pitfalls to Avoid in Publishing Your Thesis Research (including notes on ProQuest)

A good way to establish your scientific authority is to publish your research in respected, peer-reviewed journals.  This will open career doors as a practicing scientist.  At this current stage of your career, you will lean on the advice and mentoring of your major research professor.  As you become more adept at thinking, carrying out experiments, and writing, you will need less and less oversight, and eventually be able to publish independently.

A general rule of thumb is: if it is not original, it is not publishable.  For example, a policy from the American Chemical Society, the largest publisher in the field of Chemistry/Biochemistry states:

"The [ACS journal title] considers for publication only original work that has not been previously published and is not under consideration for publication elsewhere. When submitting a manuscript, an author should inform the editor of any prior dissemination of the content in print or electronic format. This includes electronic posting of conference presentations, posters, and preprints on institutional repositories and other Web sites. Any content that has been made publicly available, either in print or electronic format, and that contains a significant amount of new information, if made part of a submitted manuscript, may jeopardize the originality of the submission and may preclude consideration for publication."

In other words, premature release of your research data may jeopardize its suitability for publication in respected, peer-reviewed journals. There is a difference between having your results published in an ACS journal versus having them reported in a supermarket tabloid.  To safeguard the quality of the peer-review process, the following precautions should be taken.

1) Do not post good data on social media. New researchers are often excited when they get intriguing results and hence want to disseminate it.  However, posting data on social media in itself may be considered "already published".

2) When presenting work at a scientific conference, do not make copies of original, unpublished research materials and handing them out to your audience.  This especially true, when the experiments are easy to duplicate.  Unless you are presenting at a Gordon Research Conference (in which there is a signed agreement under penalty of prosecution), there is nothing to stop another researcher from running back to his/her lab, reproducing your results and sending it off to a journal before you have a chance to complete your work. A few years ago, I had a master's student who did this very thing as potential employers (as well as peers) visited him at an informal poster session.  It is ok to distribute research articles that you have already published for job search/networking purposes.  

3)  Don't forget to request an embargo to protect your intellectual property.  MTSU requires that all Master of Science theses to be archived on ProQuest to complete the degree. An important reminder when archiving thesis on ProQuest.  If instructions are not exactly followed, you may find that your independent research that you have worked very hard for to be disseminated free of charge on the world wide web. This could potentially preclude any of your efforts to publish in standard peer-reviewed articles and submission of patents.  

It would be wise to search the web yourself to ensure that your work is not prematurely "published" on the web.  One incident during the 2014-2015 academic year during the week before Spring Break, that every single MS thesis from Chemistry MTSU students who graduated that year was disseminated on the web. Fortunately, this technical glitch was caught and corrected before too much damage was done.  To prevent a thesis to be immediately disseminated on the web (which would preclude publication, patent applications, etc.), the student must request an embargo.  It is not automatically given.

Link to ProQuest:

The standard options allow graduate students to select up to 2 years wide dissemination of their thesis/dissertation (see image below).  

There is an option to do an indefinite embargo by leaving the end date space blank.  However, this option is hidden from view to the student. The student must ask the ProQuest technical support to unhide this feature to take advantage of it (see hotlink above).

Only students are able to change their embargo options.  To do so, they must contact the ProQuest Publishing Group. Their phone number is 1-800-521-0600  ext. 77020, and they are open from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Eastern. Their email address is disspub (at) proquest (dot) com

If a student is concerned about their document's inclusion in the JEWL Scholar database as well (s)he can change their options in ProQuest, which will carry over to JEWL Scholar.  And then, the student can contact the library's Dean, Dr. Bonnie.Allen (at) mtsu (dot) edu to request the removal of their document.