Contacts in the Graduate School

John Eaton's vision in pursuing this ETD program is tied directly to the quality of the scholars matriculating at VT. In an era when the majority of current TA's and tenured/non-tenured faculty in the Humanties are frequently behind the students in tehir classess when it comes to technological skills, Eaton's endeavor is to give graduates--and the faculty on their committees--competitive expertise. He se sees two major issues in the ETD project:

  1. The entire ETD project involves not a simple change in presentation mediums, but in the very way scholars think and research--a vision vividly correlated by Ed Fox and Neil Kipp.
  2. Preservation and access are often competing claims. A study at VT showed the average hardcopy dissertation is used 2-3 times (checked out) in the first 4 years, then virtually never. Their ETD's--even the least accessed among them--are receiving 10's and 100's of "hits" (web accesses-- in some cases this is also more indicative of actual use: if a student checks out a hardcopy you don't know if they read it. Most ETD's are in several files, and the times they're accessed indicate deeper reading).

Significant for Iowa current plans, Dr. Eaton noted that VT first had a voluntary submission program. No significant questions or issues arose (e.g., prior publication, patent security, and basic technical skills needed by students) until the ETD's were mandated. The attendant problems which arose were as follows, primarily with Chemistry and Biotechnology:
  1. research is done in groups over several years, wtih several students matriculating with research done on the same project (solution: witholding release to either VT only, or completely as with patents)
  2. Dr. Eaton suspects this is also due to fierce competition for grants, such that professors do not want their students' work seen b/c it gives an inside edge to competitors for money and benefits. Eaton specifically commented that "this is in direct conflict with our mission [to advance knowledge]."
  3. in the Humanities, there is the issue of book publication of a dissertation (limiting/delaying access addresses this). However, York University and University of Toronto have studied this, and articles or books based on dissertations in the Humanities are consistently very different from the dissertations on which they are based.

Their FIPSE grant enabled the hiring of one additional staff member, N. Kipp, for technical development. Otherwise, this program was fused into existing personnel structures. Membership in the NLDTD facilitates problem-solving and resource-sharing among members. Eaton noted that members currently have not aggressively involved themselves in ETD acceptance procedures at their own insititutions.

Dr. Eaton underscored that at the core of the VT initiative was the team work between technical personel (Ed Fox), Library (Gail McMillan), and himself. A service-oriented attitude is vital. Though he underscored, at the end of the day, one can't let it cause one "to loose sleep." On the lines of security, he did note that they had a breach of an ETD in the biotechnology field. The departmental system of a faculty member on whose system the student did a great deal of work was breached--not the library/NLDTD archives! In other words, the problem came from systems other than those related to the ETD's. He also noted that some exceptions--as in the School of Architecture--were necessary such that dual paper and electornic submission was allowed (at NC State, he noted that Biotech has the same scenario).

Gwen Ewing is their thesis checker. All electronic theses and dissertations go to the main library server from which the NLDTD will eventually access them. The initial destination is a secured directory to which only she, John Eaton, Mary Hansbrough, and Neil Kipp have access. She walked me through the checking of several ETD's. She notes the chapter/page correlations, spot checks links (do the HTML links work), and such things as readability of graphics (can you see them, are they garbled), equations, and font consistency.

When problems are found, she emails the student and their committee chair. 70% of problems are solved by Gwen referring them to the online www help files VT/Neil Kipp has made.