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On Thursday, May 23, a Symposium on Electronic Theses and Dissertations was held at Purdue University. Ashlee Messersmith, manager, thesis/dissertation, The Graduate School at Purdue University, and Michael Witt, associate professor, Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies, organized the event, with support from the United States Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Association (USETDA).

By Michael Witt, Head, Distributed Data Curation Center (D2C2), and Associate Professor of Library Science

"Purdue Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Policy Changes: Giant Leaps Forward" at the Symposium on Electronic Dissertations and Theses May 23 in Purdue's Wilmeth Active Learning Center.

Ashlee Messersmith (far left) and James L. Mohler, deputy chair, The Graduate School at Purdue, and professor in computer graphics technology (CGT), presented “Purdue Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Policy Changes: Giant Leaps Forward” at the Symposium on Electronic Theses and Dissertations May 23 in Purdue’s Wilmeth Active Learning Center.

The presenters at the Symposium on Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) highlighted a wide variety of creative works produced by graduate students in earning their degrees, such as:

  • a newly discovered chemical structure with directions for building your own model of it using a 3D printer;
  • training materials for board game designers to help them write better instructions for teaching people how to play their games; and
  • an online map of the state of Indiana with embedded ecological data to improve natural resource management.

Graduate students will typically prepare and defend a written thesis, even if their research can be communicated in a more meaningful or impactful format than a document. There are other examples, such as software source code and research data, videos and photos from exhibits and performances, mixed media, dynamic websites, and much more produced by students; but this type of content is often left out of a traditional thesis.

Professor and Dean of Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Martin Halbert addressed the landscape and life cycle of electronic theses and dissertations, as well as the ETDPlus resource Symposium on Electronic Theses and Dissertations on May 23 at Purdue University.

On May 23, Professor and Dean of Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Martin Halbert addressed the landscape and life cycle of electronic theses and dissertations, as well as the ETDPlus resource, at the Symposium on Electronic Theses and Dissertations at Purdue University.

In some cases, these non-traditional works could be considered as the primary product of the students’ scholarship — without the need for a written thesis.

Recent changes to the policies of Purdue’s Graduate School reflect a progressive approach and support for non-traditional theses, embracing both the opportunities and challenges they present for the Purdue’s faculty, thesis office, and libraries.

“As emerging technologies continue to influence higher education, we needed to set a precedent through which students are permitted to express their creativity,” Messersmith explained. “Exploring these influences and their implications was the focus of the symposium, which was held in the Wilmeth Active Learning Center. We invited experts to share ideas and brainstorm with participants who supervise theses and manage the processes and platforms for producing and archiving them.”

Guiding Graduate Students in Data Management in Practice

Michael Witt presented “Guiding Graduate Students in Data Management in Practice” at the ETD Symposium May 23 at Purdue. Witt’s presentation covered the Purdue University Research Repository (PURR), which helps university researchers plan and implement effective data management plans, share and manage their data with collaborators while the research is taking place, publish their data in a scholarly context, archive data for the long-term, and measure the impact of sharing their data.

The opening keynote presentation by Professor and Dean of Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Martin Halbert addressed the landscape and life cycle of electronic theses and dissertations, as well as the ETDPlus resource.

The closing keynote, delivered by Jean-Pierre Hérubel, professor, Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies, dove into the history and culture of the doctoral dissertation, as well as variations and transformations of its purpose and form.

Other presentations from Purdue faculty and staff explored issues related to student perspectives, digital humanities, graduate college policies, research data management, digital preservation, and scholarly publishing. Throughout the symposium, participants discussed important questions related to sharing current practices; interfacing with faculty to observe and respect local cultures related to credentialing students; identifying concerns and opportunities for graduate colleges, libraries, and technology providers; and increasing collaboration within the University and among universities. A lively round of lightning talks in the afternoon featured specific examples of theses that challenge conventions from other universities.

Presentation slides and collaborative notes from the symposium are available on Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies’ e-Pubs repository at https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/etdgiantleaps/.