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Someone close to me (let's call her Natalie) recently completed an undergraduate degree in Preschool Education. Her thesis was by research; she did the field study and the majority of the theoretical analysis, and her supervisor (let's call her Betty) helped with the latter. They are now to present the research at a conference. Betty claimed she should be first author, which Natalie felt was unfair, but agreed to. Now that the conference is drawing close and they have created the presentation, Natalie realises that it contains no reference to her thesis, and is afraid that the fact that this was her thesis will not be mentioned at all (they are presenting it together, but Betty has the introduction and closing). How should she handle the situation?

It should also be noted that after this presentation they aim to publish the research either in the conference proceedings or in the conference organisers' journal.

  • I'm not sure why you suggest the supervisor isn't giving proper credit. Are you guessing that will happen in the future? In some fields it is natural for the advisor to be "first author" on a joint work and means little about who actually did the work. – Buffy Nov 24 '18 at 15:49
  • Even so, I find it alarming that the thesis is not mentioned at all in the presentation. – user447648 Nov 24 '18 at 16:06
  • Many people disregard the first author as it is likely they did not do the actual work... But do like the credit... – Solar Mike Nov 24 '18 at 16:06
  • What is the problem if the student will also be speaking? Is she forbidden to say things? – Buffy Nov 24 '18 at 16:26
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    not practically possible — Huh? All she has to do is speak the sentence "For more details, see my thesis or our upcoming paper." – JeffE Nov 24 '18 at 16:59
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I wouldn't particularly expect the thesis to be mentioned in a presentation, and I certainly wouldn't find its omission "alarming". In academic research, a thesis, especially an undergraduate thesis, is a sort of "second class citizen" and is usually considered a much less important type of writing than a peer-reviewed publication. (This is why you normally try to "publish your thesis" by writing papers with the same content as your thesis.) Natalie did the work that's contained in the paper, and she's getting credit by being an author of that paper (ignoring issues about author ordering); whether the work was part of a thesis isn't seen as especially relevant.

Now, if the thesis contains additional information that is directly relevant to the paper, then the paper certainly ought to cite the thesis, but one should keep in mind that people may take it less seriously because it hasn't been peer reviewed. However, if the thesis only contains basically the same content as the paper (or a subset), then in my experience, the usual practice would be to not mention the thesis.

Natalie is certainly free to mention, in her part of the talk, that the work being presented was part of her thesis, but this isn't really relevant information to the audience. If there are places where the thesis contains discussion of relevant topics that are not in the paper, it could make sense to mention it ("see my thesis for further details"). But it's not inherently necessary.

Added: You say Natalie is worried that Betty will be angry if Natalie mentions the thesis in the talk. I don't see why she would be angry, but if Natalie is worried, she can discuss it with Betty beforehand. It sounds like she's observing that "Betty didn't plan to mention the thesis" and inferring that "Betty strongly objects to having the thesis mentioned at all", but I don't think that inference is justified. I think it more likely that Betty simply didn't plan to mention the thesis just because she didn't think it was important or relevant (for the reasons I stated above). But if Natalie does think that it would be relevant to mention the thesis, and if she can articulate her reasons (beyond "self-promotion"), then I wouldn't think Betty would object to having it mentioned. At the very least, I wouldn't think she would object to discussing the possibility of mentioning it.

  • Thank you for your detailed reply, which I may eventually accept as a final answer. I am a little confused, however, by the part where "people may take it less seriously because it hasn't been peer reviewed". Surely if something is acceptable as an undergraduate thesis then it can't be worse than something that has not been accepted anywhere in any capacity. – user447648 Nov 24 '18 at 17:01
  • @user447648: I would put an undergrad thesis somewhere lower than "preprint" and higher than "random PDF on someone's website". With a preprint, although it hasn't passed peer review, there is at least the fact that some researcher with a track record has written it with the goal of having it eventually be reviewed and accepted. So the author knows what standard is required, they've shown they are able to reach that standard in general, and you trust that they are making an effort to reach it in this case. [...] – Nate Eldredge Nov 25 '18 at 19:40
  • @user447648: An undergrad thesis is typically written by a student with no track record and no experience of the necessary standard for publication, and in many cases there is no intention that it will ever attain publishable quality. Natalie's thesis is rather exceptional in this regard, but this will only really be recognized when its content is published as a paper instead of as a thesis. – Nate Eldredge Nov 25 '18 at 19:43
  • I will accept your answer, but for the sake of completeness I want to mention how it eventually went down. On the day of the conference, Betty approached Natalie and instructed her, in case anyone asks whether this was something like a Master's thesis, not to say that it was her undergrad thesis and to say instead that this was just some research that the two of them did. Natalie objected on the grounds that it would be dishonest, at which point Betty said that the research would be taken less seriously if it was mentioned that it was an undergrad thesis. Natalie still refused, claiming [...] – user447648 Nov 26 '18 at 22:29
  • (cont) that someone might want to take a look at the data and also that she had already told a lot of people about it. In the meantime, Natalie placed plants in the audience that asked her about her thesis during question time, so she had a chance to say it at the conference. – user447648 Nov 26 '18 at 22:30

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