When I was in my first year of M.Sc. a professor told me to work on a project for which the main data belonged to him. He had sent me an early draft and told me to translate it into English, so I did along with recalculations and adding some stuff to the paper. We sent the article to a journal and got published there. But a year later the journal contacted me because of a duplication based on a conference proceeding with the professor's name and another student which was from 3 years before this.

As of this moment the journal retracted the article, they didn't charge me guilty at all in my university but they fired the prof because he had multiple other misconducts before that.

Is this the end of my academic career? I am trying to apply for a PhD, does this mean no one will ever accept me?
What should I do when I was not even guilty but yet there has been a retraction based on this issue?

I might really be overthinking this, but I am really scared that nowhere accepts me for future studies.

UPDATE: Thank you all for answering my question.

Unfortunately, I live in a dictatorial country in the middle east. I have told the department head of our faculty but he doesn't AT ALL. I have told my supervisor he said I am sorry but nothing we can do in this situation. I have talked to an attorney he said in a country such as ours that copyright is not a thing these cases don't matter.

I have applied for multiple PhD job positions in European countries but I got rejected from most of them.


5 Answers 5


If I understand your description, there is no finding of academic misconduct against you. You have co-authorship of a retracted article, where the problem appears to have been caused by the misconduct of your co-author, and unbeknownst to you. The incident occurred when you were only a masters student acting under the direction of a professor. If this description is accurate, I do not see why this matter would affect your future research career. I cannot imagine this being held against you by a selection panel for PhD candidature, or later in your career.

To ensure you have evidence confirming your account of events, I would strongly recommend asking the university to give you a formal written finding describing the matter and confirming that you did not commit academic misconduct. (Try to arrange to get this as a formal signed letter from the university ethics office.) You should also ask the university for a letter of reference that gives an account of your abilities, with an apology to you for misconduct of this professor. Bear in mind that the university employed the professor that instructed you in this matter, so they bear some responsibility to you here, and you have some good leverage to get them to give you a formal exoneration. If you have trouble getting them to give you this, I would recommend speaking to a solicitor to look at your options. By taking you on as a student the university had a responsibility to you, and it is responsible if its employee harms your research work through his misconduct.

The academic journal has no corresponding obligation to you, so what I would recommend here is to get your formal exoneration letter from the university and then send it to the journal. Ask them to append a description to their retraction (the online version) noting that you were not responsible for any misconduct in this matter.

  • 11
    The term can also be used as a synonym for 'exoneration', which refers to a finding that a person is free from guilt. To head off any possible confusion, I have edited to instead use the word 'exonerate'.
    – Ben
    Jul 26, 2018 at 2:57
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    Interesting. But I'd still think the default association was with absolution as forgiveness of wrongs done. Maybe that's just me, though. (I guess I associate the term most strongly with RC, but, again, maybe that's just me.)
    – cfr
    Jul 26, 2018 at 3:04
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    What is RC? --- Roman Catholicism?
    – Ben
    Jul 26, 2018 at 3:50
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    @Ben Retro Computing
    – mbomb007
    Jul 26, 2018 at 16:04
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    @cfr Many of people associate the term with religion, but many don't. Is a perfectly normal term to use (i.e., absolve from blame is a relatively common way to use it outside the church). For me, at least, the term not have an unambiguously religious connotation.
    – Misha R
    Jul 26, 2018 at 16:47

Your career as an academic is not over. It is likely that you will spend a considerable time "atoning" for this issue. It is also possible that you will become a better supervisor because of it. Regardless, you will need to manage this carefully and forcefully.

As Director of a Graduate School, this is all I can say: "What a mess."

This retraction is now in the public domain. Let us accept, for argument's sake, that you are being truthful in your description of the events. This means that you will spend precious effort, time and space in convincing potential PhD supervisors to take you on as a student and convincing admissions panels that your role in this is benign.

A few tips:

  1. Address this head on with strong evidence from third parties. Your version of events is hardly convincing without supporting evidence to back you. I can imagine that your application packet will now include enclosures from the university about the case, statements from investigators attesting to your role in the case, etc. Do not try to hide this. My staff are trained to find just this sort of thing. Understand that if you are rejected, you will never truly know what role this information played in the decision-making process. This will be extremely frustrating.

  2. You will need to work harder that most to make up for this issue on your record. Use this energy to prove to others that the issue does not define you.

  3. You need to incorporate this into your future dealings with people. You must use this to become a better supervisor when you have students of your own.

Good luck to you.

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    I especially agree with point 3. If the negative experiences in science motivate us to become better scientists (including all roles) then there is even some merit in these horrible experiences. Let us become stronger and better persons.
    – user93911
    Jul 26, 2018 at 6:33

I think you are in a tough place, but it also seems like nothing you did caused the problem. It is all on your prof. Hopefully you will be able to explain that and the only effect is that you will have an interesting story to tell to your grand-children.

But you should do what you can to get others in the university to write you letters of defense and to assure that the history of the event is retained in institutional memory. Find a mentor for yourself who knows the story and will champion you, not just defend you.

It is even possible, though unlikely, that editors of the journal can be convinced that you were a victim. After all it isn't your place, as a student, to know everything yet, so it is easy to be misled.

Basically, you need allies at this point. After a while, if you can get in the door, the memory of the event will fade and your reputation will be more properly based on your own work.

  • ' After all it isn't your place, as a student, to know everything yet, so it is easy to be misled. ' This makes it sound as if anybody not a student would be expected to know enough not to be misled. While I agree that more experienced researchers should manage to avoid more pitfalls, not even the most experienced can reasonably be expected to avoid every such pitfall. If colleagues and co-authors engage in academic misconduct, you may or may not be in a position to know that.
    – cfr
    Jul 26, 2018 at 1:48
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    @cfr It sounds nothing like that at all. "X implies Y" does not mean "not X implies not Y". Jul 26, 2018 at 3:09
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    Obviously, it doesn't mean it, but it strongly suggests it, given standardish conversational norms.
    – cfr
    Jul 26, 2018 at 3:14
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    @cfr But the OP is a student, and Buffy's reply is perfectly in line with the question. Your comment is irrelevant to the question, and to Buffy's answer.
    – Graham
    Jul 26, 2018 at 17:35
  • @Graham The conclusion may be right, but the reasoning is misleading insofar as it suggests that the OP has done nothing wrong because the OP is a student and played no part in the misconduct. It is the didn't know, played no part and could not reasonably be expected to know that justifies the conclusion. That can be true of experienced staff just as much as students, although the bar for not reasonably being expected to know may differ.
    – cfr
    Jul 26, 2018 at 18:15

You should be positive about what you did, rather than over-worry about the failings of others. It will be important to take half a step back so that you can extract the good parts (where you were competent) from the bad (where you were, essentially, duped).

In many areas of technical work, we study hard and do our best, but at the end the 'project' is canned (often funding dries up) and we have to move on, remembering and learning from the good parts, and putting the other bits behind ourselves, in a (fairly) open and honest way.

Remember it was the professor's paper. Your contribution was: translation, some additional calculations, and some additional paragraphs. The retraction was that the professor had multiply reported their previous work, hopefully not that your contribution was also a repeat (unknowingly) of some other co-authors previous work.

Work with your strengths, not the weaknesses of others. Be clear as to the separation of the two.


I do not know about how other see this and which country you are in. But in some western countries research integrity is highly stressed on students. The student has responsibility on maintaining research integrity. I personally would not accept to add my name in an article which I do not know where the data, literature, how all the work done.

You say:

and told me to translate it into English, so I did along with recalculations and adding some stuff to the paper.

And the work you did in my humble opinion does not qualify co-authorship. A co-author, specially first co-author has scientific contribution to the materials. I do not see where your scientific contribution is? translation and recalculation is not!

The most important thing is to take the lessons from this incident. As a Phd. student no one will listen to you if you said my supervisor said or told me to do this then I did it. You have to reason and do the research by yourself and know what you write and talk about.

  • 2
    What about "adding some stuff to the paper"? You left that out of your list of things that don't merit coauthorship. Jul 27, 2018 at 20:58
  • Yes probably I missed this. But the whole story reflects that the researcher did not read the literature. If he did, he should know whether he adds something original or replicated form another study. If someone is doing original research even if the idea exist but some novelty there like new dataset or changes in the methodology it would not have been redacted. Redaction for clear copy/paste-like. This could not have been the case if someone added new stuff. Jul 28, 2018 at 5:47
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    @user9371654 No that is simply wrong. If 3/4 of the paper is plagiarized but there is a new, novel calculation or theory with intellectual merrit, it could still be retracted, even if the small new calculation was worthy of co-authorship. Jul 29, 2018 at 9:39

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