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Why are PhDs so rarely publishable?

  • 6 June 2014
  • By Nick Hillman

This new Debate section of the HEPI website was established partly to bolster HEPI’s evidence base by giving people an opportunity to submit their ideas and partly to provide a new forum to debate topical higher education issues.

One question we would love your thoughts on is why are PhDs so rarely publishable in the original form in which they are submitted?

  • Why is it that academic institutions need the text in one form in order to award a PhD and publishers so often need it to be rewritten?
  • Shouldn’t it be a positive attribute of a PhD student if they can write in such an accessible way that the publishers are content for there to be limited changes only?
  • Given that many readers of published PhDs will be other people working in academia, why does the text have to look so different to its original form?

There are many PhDs that do not get published because the authors want to move on to something new and don’t have the time or inclination to make the changes publishers demand. There are others that do get published but only after months of additional work.

All this might be solved if you could get a PhD for something that is already in a publishable form but that seems to be quite rare.


1 comment

  1. Ben Pope says:

    I’m sure that many PhD students would love to be able to write their theses as a ‘book’. There are some good reasons for the requirements of the PhD differing from those of publishers – the PhD (as currently conceived) is a kind of apprentice piece, which should demonstrate the candidate’s ability to carry out high-level research. This might sometimes require a different sort of exposition and focus than a book. But I feel that the main reason why so many theses are so far from having a book form is that there simply isn’t time within the funded period, given all of the other training requirements which PhD students need to consider, to develop the research to a truly publishable level. This is not necessarily true of all projects, but all projects do receive the same level of funding – there is no option to make a pitch for extended funding in order to complete a more ambitious project. Of course, we might question how desirable it would be for PhDs to be further extended in any case. So most postgraduates must simply concentrate on demonstrating their own abilities, much as they would like to be making a greater contribution to research. (From my own experience as a PhD student in history.)

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