Friday, May 23, 2008

The Open Source Dissertation

My university has done a wonderful thing, in accepting only PDF files for deposition of a thesis or dissertation with the graduate school. Gone are the days of printing 5 copies of a 300-page document on acid-free paper that costs 20 cents a page (and then finding out that one of the margins is 0.1" too wide, so please correct and resubmit before the deadline in three hours). The transition is a wonderful step forward, and also means that it is much easier to distribute the dissertation.

As a proponent of free and open source software (having made the big switch about a year ago), I wanted to do as much as I could within the realms of that universe. This posting summarizes the software I used, with the hope of inspiring others to follow a similar path (whether in whole or in part).

Data visualization: I processed all of my CT scan data in 3D Slicer. For segmenting structures, generating surfaces, and measuring volumes, look no further! [I still need to do a more complete post on this one.] Additional analysis was done in ImageJ.

Data analysis: Initial data entry in's Calc, with analysis primarily in R and an occasional venture to PAST.

Figures: Raster image editing was done in the GIMP, and line drawings or composite figures were assembled in Inkscape.

Word processing: All done in's Writer. The PDF output function was very nice for sending drafts to committee members and advisors, and the software's Microsoft Office compatibility is such that I could also send and receive marked-up documents (in .doc format) pretty easily. For the final document, I exported each chapter in PDF format.

Referencing: All of my references were sorted, organized, and rendered as bibliographies with Zotero. Along the way, I created custom styles for Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. More on this process in another post.

Document assembly: To assemble all of my dissertation's chapters into a single PDF document, I used Ghostscript. The output was quite pleasing, and easily accomplished through the command line in a matter of seconds.

Presentations: For my oral dissertation defense, I created my presentation using's Impress.

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