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I encountered in a Master's thesis some of my original and important findings. I finished my experiments and left the lab to home to write and while I was writing my supervisor put my data into someone else's thesis.

Funnily enough the data is also in my thesis but masters thesis came earlier. Even though, I am the original observer, I have the position who did plagiarism.

What is the best action to take?

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    Could you clarify what you mean by "I have the position who did plagiarism"? Was the other thesis published before yours, and have you been accused of plagiarism? – Anyon Sep 3 '18 at 14:38
  • yes it did published before mine. I wasn't aware that that thesis was including the data. However, no one accused me but I feel responsible. – ozzy Sep 3 '18 at 15:50
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    Did you talk to your supervisor about this? It looks like they are the first person to talk to. The other student should probably cite your work, maybe in the form of "....., to appear" – Erwan Sep 3 '18 at 17:02
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    Let’s be clear here. If your description is accurate, then it is absolutely the other student who plagiarized, not you. The fact that their thesis was published before yours is irrelevant, and your statements “I have the position who did plagiarism” and “I feel responsible” are misleading. Of course, the order of publication means that outsiders may have the perception that it was you who did the plagiarizing. But they would be wrong, and you need to have a clear idea of who is actually the guilty party here, and be prepared to defend yourself if you get accused of any wrongdoing. – Dan Romik Sep 3 '18 at 17:28
  • I don't know what field you're in, but this would be totally fine in mine, as long as you were properly cited. You don't say whether or not the second thesis cited you correctly, or whether that student claims they collected that data (which again, wouldn't necessarily be needed in my fields). – Azor Ahai Sep 3 '18 at 21:43
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In a case like this, the most important first step to take is preserve all written records. In particular, you need to have the proof that you were the one who collected the data—perhaps it’s in the form of laboratory notebooks in your own handwriting, emails showing that you were the one who collected the data, or anything else that unambiguously shows that you were the data collector. This protects you from any charge of wrongdoing.

The second step is deciding if you want to take action in this matter. If you feel the use of the data is sufficiently problematic and you are willing to deal with the fallout of reporting your advisor and a fellow grad student for plagiarism, then you should cautiously proceed. However, if no one has raised any issues and you don’t want to make an issue out of it, it is understandable that you might want to wait until you are no longer directly part of the group before taking any action (or doing so anonymously).

  • Many thanks for the answers. I have the photocopies of my lab notebooks. I am curious if this has any ethical implications on me for the future if I do not speak about it now? Or what can be the ethical implication of this situation to the group leader and the master’s student? – ozzy Sep 3 '18 at 19:47
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What is the best action to take?

It depends. What problem are you trying to solve? What goal do you want to achieve?

As your question seems to imply, you are concerned that the data you obtained in the experiment were analyzed in the publication of another team member in the same research group. This may or may not be an issue, depending on how you answer the questions below.

  • Are these data "yours" or "group's"? You obtained the data, that's great. But did your superviser contributed to designing the experiment? Who is responsible for setting the research aims and formulating the problem? Who financed the lab, got the correct equipment and performed the risk assessment? These are non-negligible tasks, and that's why in many labs the obtained data belong to the PI's group, not the person who first observed them. For example the team in CERN responsible for collecting the data and eventually "observing" the Higgs boson includes 200+ researchers.
  • Are results the other student published exactly the same as yours? The same dataset can be analysed differently, with different goals, methods and approaches, leading to different results. Some classical datasets are used as benchmarks and analyzed in hundreds of papers, without constituting a plagiarism.
  • Well in my opinion, this data belongs to me and the PI. Initially, PI designs the project and in meantime I contributed by designing the details and actual experimental work. If contributions wouldn’t matter, what is the matter of being involved in research. If all data belongs to PI what happens to the rights other experimenters, basically you can work like a slave and PI can decide who will be recognized for the hard work. – ozzy Sep 3 '18 at 22:04
  • About the second question, yes they are totally the same. Basically they are the partial repetitions of my findings. – ozzy Sep 3 '18 at 22:06
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You didn't mention anything about discussing the problem with your supervisor. In my opinion your first step should be to ask them about this, and request to have your work duly cited. The fact that your work is not published yet is not an issue, it can be cited as a work "to appear".

I think this is essential even if you think your supervisor will not listen: making a formal complaint without giving them a chance to fix their mistake could be construed as disrespectful and hostile, given the potentially serious consequences.

  • My supervisor can not duly cite this as he made repeat my experiments partially(by using somethings that I already created) and they put the same findings directly to the results section of the masters student. – ozzy Sep 8 '18 at 14:26
  • This does not change the fact that you are the original author of the work: repeating an experiment done by somebody else using the same or a similar method (and especially if using something the original author created) requires a citation. I don't understand why you consider that your supervisor can't cite you, and I understand even less why you can't ask him to do so. In my opinion, If you don't even address the topic now, he can easily pretend later that it was a simple mistake and that you should have told him. – Erwan Sep 9 '18 at 0:24

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