Thesis by publication

PhD graduation by preparing and eventually publishing a collection of articles, or thesis by publication (also known as cumulative dissertation, paper-based dissertation, or compilation thesis), represents an important improvement in contemporary PhD programs. Instead of preparing a single thesis (the monograph), in this case, the goal is to publish (or submit for publication) a minimum of three scientific papers (by following pre-determined criteria*), that underwent review process in scientific journals.

In the last twenty years this way of PhD graduation is becoming more common, especially when it comes to more productive universities. We hope that this would become a regular practice in all Croatian universities.

What are the major advantages of the thesis by publication?

  • Material that is published gets additional control of quality
  • Results of PhD research gain visibility
  • PhD students gain experience in the complex publishing process

Scientific journals represent the main filter when it comes to quality. Therefore, the one who is seeking information about high-quality research will reach for the content that underwent rigorous evaluation by other scientists. During publishing process, manuscripts undergo blind peer reviews. This means that they are objectively evaluated by professionals and, therefore, we can have more confidence regarding their quality and scientific value.

The visibility of scientific work is much larger if the results are published in a scientific journal rather than in the monograph (dissertation). While most monographs are nowadays available online, there is much lower chance that readers would read these extensive texts of a length sometimes reaching several hundreds of pages.

One of the main goals for every researcher is to publish the material that was carefully collected and analyzed. Clearly, this might represent a great challenge for PhD students; it might not feel very pleasant when one’s scientific work is criticized or rejected by journal editors or reviewers. However, that is the most important aspect of training for becoming a scientist – to seek, to accept, and to use valuable feedback in order to improve own research. In fact, that is the key aspect of scientific work that is often missing in case of classical PhD theses. By implementing such approach trough work on the thesis by publication, young scientists have the opportunity to experience all aspects of the scientific research process.

Exposing one’s work to review process is useful for the development of research capacities and personal progress. While it might seem that it is easier to write one extensive dissertation (the monograph), and “keep its evaluation within the institution”, for that very institution and for the PhD student this actually means that they are not ready to expose their work to an independent evaluation. By doing this, doctoral students are potentially losing chances to improve their scientific work.

While PhD students are often encouraged to publish the content of their monograph dissertation after the thesis defence, it is important to keep in mind several facts and conclusions:

  1. A large proportion of doctoral students have never published the contents of their monographs.
  2. In case they have published the contents or their dissertations, they did it only partially.
  3. It is reasonable to ask why would PhD students put so much effort into creating an extensive manuscript that not many people would read and afterwards create something that represents a value for the scientific community (and society in general). In other words, why to drastically postpone publishing of one’s work and its dissemination to a wider scientific audience?
  4. Science is developing rapidly. Thus, if we have something interesting and important to show, it is not wise to delay its publication.
  5. Universities are being evaluated largely based on their scientific output quality. In social sciences, doctoral dissertations have lesser scientific value compared to papers in scientific journals. Clearly, classical theses are cited substantially less often than journal papers. On the other hand, each university is interested in increasing the number of publications that will be read and cited. This would increase both quality and visibility of the university.
  6. PhD research is of better quality if it is reviewed by a larger number of experts – reviewers and journal editors – than if it is reviewed by a relatively small number of committee members that have been nominated by the home institution.

A number of our PhD students have already chosen the thesis by publication model, and we hope that this would gradually become a standard.

Finally, it is important to stress that when an initial individual study plan is based on a thesis by publication, there are no obstacles for switching the initially planned compilation format into classical, monograph thesis, in case that the later one becomes more feasible at the particular moment.

* Currently, University of Rijeka has the following requirements for obtaining a thesis by publication:

„A minimum number of scientific papers to be compiled in a doctoral dissertation is three papers in indexed journals, in which the PhD student is the only author or one of the authors, and co-author can be mentor (and/or co-mentor).

Not more than one paper can be published in journals in the Republic of Croatia.”

(We sincerely hope that the requirement regarding the co-authorship would change soon, in that it would be allowed to have more co-authors in addition to mentor.)