I had been reading a news article recently about some politicians who had been accused of plagiarizing their master's or PhD theses, and I noticed something that really frightened me.
With some of them, what they did was copy, near-verbatim, passages from other articles or books which had citations in them, and they cited those same citations in the footnotes, without citing the secondary source. FWIW, those officials did so in humanities, law, and/or international relations. In contrast, my thesis was in a STEM field.
I was unaware that this is considered plagiarism, and realized that I had done something similar in my bachelor's honors thesis. I had looked at the thesis of a former student in the lab to get an idea of how a thesis was written. His work was closely related to mine, and as I was short on time, I ended up writing an introductory and methods section that were most likely, in some sections, extremely similar in wording and style. For the introduction, I tried to paraphrase what he wrote and cite the same sources he did (I did check to see if the sources were accurate) on background information relevant to both of our projects, but I'm sure that a side-by-side look would spot the similarity, as the sections were mostly definitions and descriptions of things we work with.
For the methods, as I had used some of the exact same protocols and procedures that he did, I just wrote down what I did but the wording most likely ended up being extremely similar to his, enough to notice, with no citation given for that part because the protocol was just given to me orally by the grad student when I was starting out. I thought this wasn't an issue because the methods section is difficult to phrase in different words if the experimental protocol was the same. I passed the defense and the thesis was approved - my PI didn't notice any similarities.
The parts of the thesis where I branched off in a different direction than that student I wrote without the aid of the previous thesis, and I cited sources as appropriate and reported my own work.
My former PI stores hard copies of his students' theses on a shelf in his lab, and there is another hard copy in the university library, but there are no electronic copies available. I don't have the thesis of that former student with me. What I'm terrified of is that a future undergrad in the same lab might use my and that person's thesis as guides to writing their thesis, notice the similarities, report me to my former PI and/or the honor council, and get my degree revoked for plagiarism. It's been a year since graduation and I'm about to head into grad school.
Do you think I am right to worry? If so, what should I do?