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I recently finished my undergraduate thesis in philosophy. It came out to about 60 pages/16,000 words. Now that I'm done, I'm wondering what I should do with it - if I should send it somewhere for publication, or if I should just leave it be.

I would like to get it published. A lot of work went into it, and the way the thesis component in my program works, the only person who ended up reading it is my supervisor. I'm also starting a masters program next year, and would like to have some publications under my belt when I apply to do my PhD.

The only issue is the awkward length. I think it's much too long to submit to a journal. I could break it up into individual chapters, which come to about 4,000 words each, but then of course every chapter builds on the next and they don't necessarily work as stand alone pieces.

Any advice on what to do here? And when I'm applying for PhD programs, will it look weird if I wrote an undergraduate thesis and didn't do anything with it, or is this pretty much par for the course with these sorts of things? Thanks so much!

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    What did others at your university do with their undergraduate theses, now and in previous years, especially those who applied to graduate programs? Surely you've already investigated this, so mentioning in your question what you learned about undergraduate theses at your university (especially those in philosophy) would be helpful. Also, it would help to provide a country tag (presumably Canada, by your screen name), since for example in the U.S. those desiring a Ph.D. almost always apply to Ph.D. programs directly from undergraduate, so a lack of publications is not much of a hindrance. Commented May 26 at 14:02
  • I'm also starting a masters program next year --- My previous comment did not take this into account, namely the fact that you are already planning to get a Masters first. In your contact with people associated with where you will work on your Masters, did you ask any of them about your undergraduate thesis? Or have you not had any nontrivial contact with anyone there? It would also be helpful to include information in your question about which of these situations apply in your case. Commented May 26 at 14:40
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    What did your supervisor say when you asked them about the possibility of publishing it? (And if you haven't asked them yet - do.) Commented May 26 at 15:43
  • @Nate Eldredge: your supervisor -- In my earlier comments I overlooked this action, which probably should be the first thing to do, although in my case (thinking back when I was an undergraduate, although I did not write a thesis), I suspect I first would have asked some of my classmates. In fact, I probably would have already known what had become of previous years theses, but maybe people talked to each other more when I was an undergraduate (lack of internet so more interpersonal communication, especially with recent issues for COVID getting in the way of conversations with classmates). Commented May 26 at 17:26
  • Did you want to publish in hardback, electronically (PS? PDF? HTML?) or both? For the purpose of getting cited? (Does it have anything novel? Or mainly vanity?) Obviously, check your copyright regulations and ask your supervisor. Presumably if permitted, you could self-publish electronically (HTML is good, if you want each chapter/section to be indexed well and hyperlink to its citations). Also, you could simply walk into the college library and ask the librarians if there are other undergraduate theses published (in hardback).
    – smci
    Commented May 30 at 0:31

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You should be discussing this with your supervisor who is there for the precise purpose of guiding you through the academic questions like these. If your supervisor isn't doing a good job at this, you can reach out to someone else in your department.

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Undergraduate work is seldom publishable except in specialized journals as exist in some fields. It would need to be exceptional to sufficiently extend the state of the art. “Interesting” isn’t enough.

On the other hand in some places such as the US neither publications nor a masters is necessary to begin doctoral studies.

However, look for such a specialized journal which might be an offering of a professional organization in the field. Then follow their guidelines.

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You could upload it to an academic archive site like ResearchGate or Academia.edu; or some other online site. Even your own personal web site could host it.

Then you could ensure that a search of Google Scholar or a similar site would index it. That way other researchers in the future could find it and cite it if it was relevant to their needs.

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    This of course depends on the field but in maths/ theoretical physics/ computer science uploading to arxiv.org is also a perfectly reaasonable approach.
    – quarague
    Commented May 28 at 7:43
  • @quarague I was threatened a ban on arxiv for uploading a self-sufficient chapter from my PhD thesis. They only require things publishable as journal papers. But "Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi." and it seems that in some subjects like HEP they can upload whichever summer school lecture notes they create. Anyway, I thought me to ignore arxiv for future. Commented May 28 at 12:13
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    @VladimirFГероямслава My masters theses is on arxiv, as is my PhD thesis, both clearly stating that these are masters/ PhD thesis. The PhD thesis lead to an article published in a peer reviewed journal, that is also on arxiv.
    – quarague
    Commented May 28 at 12:22
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    @quarague Good for you. As I wrote, in subjects like HEP it seems they can upload any crap they can think of. I received "Your submission has been removed. Our volunteer moderators determined that your article does not contain sufficient original or substantive research to merit inclusion within arXiv ... Resubmission of removed papers may result in the loss of your submission privileges." This was a chapter in the form of a technical report with original simulation results and their analysis that others were interested in and requested that I share them. Commented May 28 at 12:29
  • @VladimirFГероямслава that is extremely unusual. I have never seen, or had evidence of, anyone having their work removed from arXiv. I don't doubt your experience, but it seems like the exception. Perhaps it was because it was a chapter of a larger work, and they felt it was not as self-sufficient as you thought? Commented May 29 at 13:20
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In general, nobody can tell you what to do with your thesis without knowing exactly what is there and without being an expert in the research subarea you are working in. In other words, as others suggested: talk to your advisor.

On the personal side: I am a mathematician. My undergraduate thesis was about 30 page long and I published two research papers (each about 5 page-long) on the basis of this thesis in a very good math journal. The rest (which was mostly background material and some details of the proofs which professional mathematicians could easily "fill in") I never published in any form. I know of other work by undergraduate students in math who published their undergraduate research in first-rate math journals, some of this work is highly cited. But this is very rare. Most undergraduate dissertations in math are worthless and, accordingly, are not published. (The situation is quite a bit different in "lab sciences.") I do not see why philosophy would be much different from math regarding publishability of undergraduate research. For instance, some of philosophical work is close to logic and I expect that a high-quality undergraduate research in such area would be publishable in the form of one or several shorter research papers.

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    I would add to this that, while there is a not a lot of "respect" given to undergraduate theses, they can be incredibly valuable as an uncited resource. As a graduate student I was once quite confused on a particular topic (I don't recall the details now); I found a paper on it, but it left too much unsaid. I found a PhD thesis on it, but it was still too difficult, since the material was unfamiliar. I then found an undergraduate thesis written on the basics of the field, and it was one of the most readable pieces of mathematics I've ever come across, and a huge help at 'getting in the door.' Commented May 29 at 13:22
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    @RichardRast: Agree. Some REU write-ups are amazing even if unpublishable (due to lack originality). I especially like what Peter May does with undergrads from University of Chicago. Peter keeps these texts on his homepage. Commented May 29 at 21:22
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Other answers have already given great tips about asking your supervisor about publishing and its potential benefits for your career. I'll just address some things you'd need to consider if you do decide to publish, also to give you a realistic view of what you'd have to do to address the "awkward length".

Theses are for students to show what they know and often they include some quite detailed definitions and descriptions of concepts and methods. However, the target audience of a specialized journal does not necessarily need a detailed description of the history of theory X. Thus, shorten or omit any literature reviews that might sound new to an undergraduate student but would seem "obvious" to the target audience.

Omit any descriptions not directly relevant to your topic: if you focus on theory X, there is no need for an extended description of related theories Y and Z. If you really need to address theory Y, keep it concise or refer readers to sources where it has been discussed in greater detail (e.g. "For an overview of theory Y, see Smith (2010)...").

When it comes to reporting your own arguments, focus on the important stuff, the "beef". If you have, say, 1 main argument and 2 less important arguments, consider focusing on the most important one. Do not squeeze in too many ideas into a 8-10k words article as you won't have enough space to discuss them in detail, leading to a superficial analysis. Having many arguments may also make the article feel unfocused, which could likewise easily lead to rejection by peer-reviewers. Turning your well constructed thesis into an equally well constructed article is not a matter of copy-paste: it would mean a lot of rewriting and restructuring, so consider whether it is worth the effort. Note that an academic might be inclined to split 3 arguments into 2-3 articles to give each idea the space it deserves!

If you decide to publish, check the journal's submission guidelines for the word count or structure you should aim for. Consider analyzing the structure of a couple of top articles in the journal(s) you want to publish in. Rather than focusing on the content/research, look at the sections and subsections included (whether or not they actually have subheadings): what sections do you find? How do they build on each other? How long are they relative to each other and to the paper as a whole, (e.g. Introduction = 1/20 pages, Core concepts and literature review = 2/20 pages, Argument A = 7/20, Argument B = 6/20...)? This exercise helps you get an idea of what to include and how much space to account for each section.

Finally, you need to have your text revised and proofread before submitting to journal - by your supervisor (if they are willing), by the university proofreading services, or by a proofreader/reviser specializing in academic texts. Many manuscripts get rejected because even if the vocabulary and grammar is correct and professional, the style sounds "immature" in the ears of more experienced academics, who generally have a lot of experience reading student writing. By the time you are doing a PhD and look back at your undergraduate thesis, you'll probably feel the same way (source: personal experience). The problem is, an immature style can make the reviewer feel the text and arguments are trivial and unworthy of publishing. Having a second or third pair of eyes to look at your text before submission can also help you identify unnecessary repetition or unclear ideas.

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When I wrote seminar papers and my master's thesis during my studies, I was very proud of each of them and felt they contained important and original ideas and were excellently written and I urgently wanted to share them with the world. Luckily enough, there was no internet back then and I didn't know how to get them published, so the evidence of my genius remains unpublished to this day. Luckily, because when I reread some of them recently, deep shame filled me and I was exceedingly grateful that no one except my professors has ever read them.

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    "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens"--Jimi Hendrix. Good answer. UV'd!!
    – Fe2O3
    Commented May 30 at 9:44
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You will need your advisor's expertise to determine if the contents of the thesis are publishable. Many undergraduate project are just for training, and may not be really novel enough for publication.

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You say a lot of work went into it. But in my view the correct question should be whether something of value for the scientific community came out of that. If you (and your supervisors) seriously think the community will benefit from your work, try publish it. Otherwise see it as part of your training and leave it be

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I would like to get it published. A lot of work went into it, and the way the thesis component in my program works, the only person who ended up reading it is my supervisor.

There is a reason for that - usually such thesis (up to and sometimes(1) including PhD theses) have zero value. They are here to check a mark in the bureaucracy.

There may be cases when they help you to learn to write. Good for you then.
There may be cases when they are used as an internal reference (for instance when you built something useful). Good for them then.

There is the 0.00005%(2) of cases when there is something remarkable in the thesis, enough for the whole thesis to be published as a book. If you have doubts, this is not you.


(1) benefit of the doubt
(2) source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/238164/bachelors-degree-recipients-in-the-us/, I divided an estimated 1 (one) over a recent number of diplomas

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  • Your university may have a policy of making available submitted theses of students on a university archive website. This is a publication in the literal sense of the word.

  • If not, you could upload the thesis on your personal website, or upload it to arXiv.

  • If you believe that there is some original research that the academic community might be interested in, submit a shorter version of it to a journal (or conference, if you are in computer science). If people are interested in reading the longer version, they could refer to your thesis.

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I suggest you think long and hard about what the real meat of your undergraduate thesis is and check whether you've made any novel contributions to philosophy in the process of writing it. It's normal and important for a thesis to spend a lot of pages introducing historical context, definitions, and any other relevant information that demonstrates your journey from complete ignorance to sophisticated understanding of your chosen topic.

However, you can safely eschew all this preliminary content from a draft you prepare for submission to a journal. Why? Think of your prospective audience: the scholars that an editor would chose to review your paper will already be experts in the field for which the preliminary explanations of the topic are unnecessary. They'll be more interested in your original contribution to the discussion. Similarly, anybody interested enough to read or even cite your paper will have a comparable degree of expertise.

It's important to be honest with yourself and reflect on whether what you've accomplished will actually move the discussion forward. Getting advice from your supervisor on this regard is a good place to start. Whatever the outcome, don't lose heart. A well-written student paper or thesis that demonstrates profound understanding of a topic may nonetheless be unpublishable because the topic has already been written about to death or is not "fresh" enough to keep up with whatever the community is currently most interested in.

Good luck!

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