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About four months ago I graduated from a reputable university and received great feedback from the committee who judged my masters defense as well as my thesis. Prior to my defense, I was asked to prepare my paper — not my thesis — within 5 weeks of graduating. There were a few problems regarding the quality and quantity of the data and figuring out the appropriate analysis took considerable time. During this period I wrote and rewrote all the sections that are essential to a paper, keeping in mind that these exact sections would form my thesis as well. A colleague also edited my introduction, at times embellishing my sentences that went beyond what the cited authors stated. The time crunch resulted in lower quality work.

Once the paper was “approved” I was given the green light to work on my thesis, at just two weeks prior to graduating. All I had to do was copy and paste my paper into my thesis document, but I wanted to improve my literature review and make sure all the sections flowed well. In the end, even my thesis document did not turn out to be at the quality I hoped for. It was well received, but I believe that it is highly unlikely my supervisor even looked at my thesis, much less even read the first few pages.

I just re-read my thesis and upon scrutinizing it I have found that I have unintentionally plagiarized from other authors in different areas, including the literature review, methods and materials, and one line in the introduction, all which was likely due to negligence and carelessness (can I call it that given the time I had?) of finishing on time. I didn’t outright copy, but sentence structure and wording are strikingly similar.

My friends (many who are in academia), family, and therapist (psychologist) have all advised that I use this as a learning experience for the future, as the university nor my supervisor would be willing to give me a second chance as such rarely is offered for something of this magnitude.

At this point I’m looking for any sound advice... What do I do? How do I move past this? I worry about my future :(

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    What is your question in a few sentences? – Vladhagen Dec 20 '18 at 21:36
  • @user102204 From what I can tell, it seems like you submitted a thesis that was (inadvertantly) plagiarized and you are wondering what to do now that it has come to light? – Vladhagen Dec 20 '18 at 21:40
  • And is the paper itself (not the thesis) free of plagiarism? – Buffy Dec 20 '18 at 21:42
  • I assume you mean getting the paper published. Yes? – Buffy Dec 20 '18 at 21:44
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While I don't know the policies of your university, nor anything about your advisor, I would suggest that you explore any possible option of submitting a corrected version of the thesis. Explain to your advisor what happened. Be very clear and honest about it. Perhaps they can make an accommodation. The paper, on which it is based can, perhaps, be used to show proper intent.

If you can't substitute a newer version, you will need to create and try to submit an addendum giving proper credit wherever needed.

I doubt that the paper is in any danger of being rejected, since the citations are correct there.

While many might consider this a serious breach, rather than panic and carelessness, I doubt that it would be career ending. Intent matters a lot in such things.

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First off, not having actually seen the thesis, we have no way of objectively knowing what actually was plagiarized. From what I can deduce, it essentially sounds like your thesis is of mediocre quality and you wrote a literature review that borrows heavily in terms of sentence structure and word choice from other papers/publications. Is this even plagiarism? Maybe it is. And maybe it isn't. Writing a literature review that uses some of the same sentence structure and words as other works is perhaps poor writing, but may not even be plagiarism in the first place.

Has the university brought this to your attention? Have you spoken with your adviser about any of this? Ask your adviser what he/she would like you to do. I honestly doubt that they will strip you entirely of your degree and blacklist you for all eternity. That is not how academia works. If you fixed these plagiarism issues in the paper that is being submitted, this shows that your intent is to correct inadvertent plagiarism. Many universities would allow for this. You seem to have nothing to hide. I would be upfront and ask your adviser for an opportunity to correct the plagiarism. He/she likely will actually provide a path for you to correct the work. I would seek to do such for my students.

Overall, calm down. This is not the end of the world or your career. Seek to fix the inadvertent plagiarism and move on without worrying yourself (literally?) to death.

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This strikes me a bit like scrupulosity.

First, did you cite the authors whose sentence structure and wording you borrowed?

  • If so, then I seriously doubt there is an issue. There are only so many ways to rehash the same information; see this question for example.
  • If you did not cite them, then it does seem more likely that there is an issue. Still, consider getting an "unbiased opinion" from a trusted academic before taking any action.

If, after this steps, you're still really convinced that you did something wrong, then I think you should approach your advisor and explain your concerns.

  • If your advisor agrees with your concerns, I expect he will help you submit a revision (and I seriously doubt he will try to revoke your degree).
  • If your advisor says "it's fine, don't worry about it", then things can get a little tricky:

    • As I said, it's difficult to judge ourselves -- you should consider the possibility that your advisor is correct. After all, your advisor knows your work and the conventions of your field better than anyone.
    • But it's also possible your advisor is just being lazy, in which case you may need to insist on submitting a revision, escalating if necessary.

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