What is it about?

Two very eminent bibliometricians from the medical sciences have responded to the paper we have recently published in Scientometrics [10.1007/s1119 2-020-03483 -9] on the rise of the thesis by published papers in the Humanities and Social Sciences in the UK context. Dr. Breimer and Dr. Mikhailidis note in their letter to Scientometrics their extensive contributions over a long period to a debate which they have been quite instrumental in developing and to which our work is we hope a helpful addition. Dr Breimer and Dr. Mikhailidis' work has proposed and encouraged the use of thesis by papers in the medical sciences and they consider that this form of thesis has a number of advantages. Our paper has noted their extensive contributions to the debate but our concern is to focus a discussion on the introduction of the thesis by published papers in the Humanities and Social Sciences in the UK context. Our assumption, based on personal experience, was that the thesis by published papers was becoming more common and we wished to investigate the prevalence, and we also wished to reflect on why this might be happening, and what issues this raised. We therefore conducted a survey of UK higher education sector and we considered our findings with the help of an institutionalist lens.

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Why is it important?

The thesis by published papers is arriving in the Humanities and Social Sciences in the UK. But its introduction raises questions about the purpose and practice of doctoral education. As we note in our reply to Dr Breimer and Dr. Mikhailidis – and we draw on Chapter Six of Through the Looking Glass to underscore the point - when universities say the doctoral degree can be composed of papers, are they behaving a little like Humpty Dumpty? We make the point again at some length in our original paper with reference to the institutionalist literature. Further, in a thesis that is mainly comprised by papers, how easy is it for the thesis to achieve coherence, in other words, putting ‘Humpty Dumpty back in his place again’?


The thesis by published papers marks a new departure for the Humanities and Social Sciences. We aim to follow up this study and will be conducting further research on the topic next year. To read our reply to Dr. Breimer and Dr. Mikhailidis please follow the link: https://rdcu.be/b5E78 and here is the doi: 10.1007/s11192-020-03623-1

Dr John Rigby
University of Manchester

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Response to Dr. Breimer’s and Dr. Mikhailidis’ letter, Scientometrics, July 2020, Springer Science + Business Media,
DOI: 10.1007/s11192-020-03623-1.
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