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Two years ago, I collaborated* (briefly) with a professor (whom I will call Professor Jim) on some research in mathematics. At the time, I was a PhD student and Prof. Jim was on my dissertation committee. I now work full time outside of academia and Professor Jim is looking for a new position. (Prof. Jim was denied tenure last year).

Because Prof. Jim is looking for a new position, he is interviewing for numerous positions around the United States. As part of these interviews, Prof. Jim gives a seminar talk on research. The only issue is that, instead of presenting research he performed himself, he is presenting research from my dissertation as if it was his own. No attribution is given to me on his slides (which are a direct copy of the slides I presented at my dissertation defense).** I feel that this is a clear instance of plagiarism.

My question is as follows: Should I contact the universities where Prof. Jim presented this research? Professor Jim has ignored my emails on the matter for three months now.


*I use the term collaborator very loosely here. Prof. Jim provided a data set for the data analysis. This was not a data set he himself had collected. Rather, it was a data set from the National Institute of Health (NIH) that he had been granted access to. Prof. Jim also attended (while nodding off to sleep at times) some of the early meetings where I presented my thoughts. He gave a few points of feedback and wedged his way onto the associated unpublished paper as an author. (Easy to do when you can leverage your authority over graduate students). I would not include him in a million years if I was in my current, unleveraged, position. The only published source of this research is my dissertation. He does not cite my dissertation in his presentation. In at least one seminar, he made no mention of either me or another colleague who actually did substantive work. (This is according to a contact I have at said university).

**Many universities publicly announce seminars on their website. Professor Jim has a rather unique real name and Google finds him relatively easily. I have traced several instances of Professor Jim presenting at seminars. Departments are usually happy to send you materials from old seminars if you just email and ask.

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    Yes. And you should also contact him and ask that he gives you credit in future talks when appropriate. – Andrés E. Caicedo Apr 8 at 21:54
  • @JeffE sure advising is not a sufficient contribution for co-authorship, but he is a co-author so presumably there was a sufficient contribution (or at least Prof Jim believes there was), at which point I don't think the argument that well he shouldn't have been a co-author holds weight anymore. – StrongBad Apr 10 at 21:01
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Short Answer

No, you should contact Prof Jim and request that he properly acknowledge the source of the work that he is presenting as being your dissertation research.

Longer Answer

You state the work is from your dissertation. You state that Prof Jim was a committee member, meaning he was not your primary advisor. Finally, you claim that Prof Jim is presenting your dissertation work as if it was his own. Let's leave aside how you know this.

First to the case of plagiarism. At its core, this will mean that Prof Jim is giving you absolutely no acknowledgement at all for the work AND that he is claiming explicitly that the work is his. This is plagiarism. What does absolutely mean? It means, not only do you not have any written notice on the presentation, you are not given any verbal acknowledgement during the presentation. Are you certain that Prof Jim does not start or end his talk with a verbal statement such as this: "All of the work that I am showing today was done by Vladhagen who was a graduate student at the time"? Alternatively, are you absolutely certain that Prof Jim is saying something such as this: "To explore this problem, I did this type of study". Absent such evidence, you cannot conclusively prove plagiarism. You can only state that Prof Jim is negligent and thereby potentially engaging in plagiarism.

In summary, your feelings aside, this is NOT a clear instance of plagiarism.

Your case is solely that Prof Jim gives no written acknowledgement anywhere in his written slides for your work. This borders on being dishonest to the extent that Prof Jim was not your primary advisor and the work was your dissertation research. But then, Prof Jim is co-author on a publication. So, Prof Jim does have a right during his presentation to demonstrate the work because it was done in collaboration and is already published as such.

Your case is therefore solely that Prof Jim is taking a negligent approach to acknowledge in writing in his slides that the work is your dissertation research.

At this point, your first approach must be to contact Prof Jim for clarification. You are at an equal footing here as a colleague. You need only state two things.

  • I know that you are presenting the research work that we did in collaboration for my dissertation during your interviews.
  • I am aware that my contributions to the work are being mis-represented because a written acknowledgment is not given on the slides to state that I was the principal contributor on the work.

You have already contacted Prof Jim by email and he has not responded. What does that mean? You have a responsibility now to contact him by phone or visit him directly. In addition, you might engage your primary dissertation advisor. He or she can apply a counter pressure to Prof Jim to drive the point home further. He or she should also be in the better position to inform the universities as needed when the contacts continue to go unanswered.

You are also within your bounds to ask for an official copy of the written presentation, since it represents work that you did.

Finally, as someone on the other side (responsible to do faculty interviews), I can say that faculty are not oblivious to cases such as this. When we interview, we have a CV that lists publications. We hear an oral presentation. We pay attention to whether the presentation fully acknowledges the records in the CV. When they do not, we ask questions. Specifically, when I hear an oral presentation that does not have a concluding list of students who contributed to the work, my alarm bells immediately start ringing. This is NOT NORMAL! In other words, rather than rushing to contact faculty for what you believe could be true, trust that WE will contact YOU should the case reach that level of seriousness (i.e. indications of plagiarism).

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Ask yourself:

  • Did Prof Jim have a significant role in the design, planning, or execution of your research?
  • Did Prof Jim engage in longer discussions with you on how you will perform the research and/or did he give qualified feedback on your research?
  • Did he possibly interact with your (main) supervisor about it and made a significant contribution by this way?

If he did then it is most likely OK to talk about your research as long as he gives sufficient credit to you with phrases like "the student X under my co-supervision did ...". Some professors even make a game out of it putting pictures of their students on the respective slides in their presentations.

More senior professors will not have their "own" research at all as they work fully in research management (getting grants and hiring+supervising people to do the research).

Before you take action (plagiarism is a very serious accusation):

  • Investigate if he gave credit to you for your work or not. If he presented it really as his own without credit to you this is certainly not ok. I am just not sure that he would really do this as at his career stage it might even be more beneficial to him to show that a student of his did great work than that he did some work by himself.
  • Maybe ask your main supervisor for his opinion before taking action
  • Contact Prof Jim directly and ask for his point of view (in friendly words)

If this does not lead to satisfying results for you then you should contact the universities.

One more note on this: To defuse such problematic situations many fields have introduced the concept of first-author (the student who did the actual work listed first) and senior authors (the professors listed last). At least in a journal publication it is then clear who did what.

UPDATE: As the question was now edited and it is stated that Prof Jim is co-author on a paper that presents the research in questions the situation changes: Even if he didnt give you enough credit (which he should have done!) it is not plagiarism and you will have little ground to file a complain.

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Once he wedged his way into authorship, the battle is essentially lost unless there is a section that makes the individual contributions of authors clear. As an author he has ever right to refer to the work and while he should acknowledge co-authors (and provide a citation) at worst this would be a case of self plagiarism.

On the concept of wedging his way into authorship, students often under estimate the impact that advisors have on their work. It is quite possible that the professor thinks he made substantial contributions to the work. Unless you have had a discussion with him about the relative contributions, going around his back with an accusation of academic dishonesty seems out of place.

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    It is academically dishonest to mention joint work as if it were work of only one of the authors. Isn't this exactly the situation described in the question? – Andrés E. Caicedo Apr 10 at 19:40
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    No, I disagree. We can twist it and say these are different situations, but they aren't. – Andrés E. Caicedo Apr 10 at 20:26
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    @AndrésE.Caicedo it is not twisting anything. You interpret no attribution to mean the presenter is the sole author and I interpret it to mean involved in. I don't see how one can argue that failure to cite yourself (and co-authors) is anything but self-plagiarism, but lets find out... academia.stackexchange.com/questions/127898/… – StrongBad Apr 10 at 20:56
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    If you fail to cite a work of which you are co-author, you are failing to cite the work of one or more other people (your co-author(s)), thus denying them the credit that they also deserve. – shoover Apr 10 at 21:25
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    @StrongBad This is not just an issue of not citing a paper. The paper is not yet published. The only citable work that Prof Jim could use would be my dissertation (of which he is not an author). He cites nothing. He stripped my name off of my dissertation slides and is presenting them as his own. – Vladhagen Apr 11 at 20:35
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Yes! I think you should tell the university that he is literally presenting your work as his. It would have been different if you and he worked on a separate paper together while you were still a PhD student, that way, it could be that he saw you as a research assistant and didn’t think your name should go on it.

As it is, he is LITERALLY stealing from you. You should tell this university and then go to your university where you submitted this dissertation and let them know what is happening. Maybe they can help in some way, because even though neither of you is at that university any more, a student of theirs is being exploited by one of their hires.

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I can't tell from your question what you're saying he's actually doing, so I don't know to evaluate whether it's unethical or not. It would be great if you could be more precise in your description.

If he is mentioning results from one of his papers during a talk and passing it off as though it's single-authored (i.e. writing only his initial next to the theorems) that's clearly unethical. If a talk is solely about a particular joint paper, then the collaborators are typically mentioned in the abstract ("this is based on joint work with X,Y,Z") but sometimes people forget to do this and I'm not sure I'd say it's unethical to leave them out of the abstract if they're properly attributed during the talk. If a talk is based on many papers with many collaborators, then I wouldn't expect all the collaborators to be mentioned in the abstract, just in the talk.

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    Prof. Jim's talk is directly taken from my dissertation slides, but with his name and not mine on it. He would have had to actually delete my name from the slides on purpose. He has removed the sentence from my defense slides that says "Joint work with < >, and < >" and replaced it with "From research I conducted while at <University>." It sort of seems like he is omitting the fact that there were some authors who did leaps and bound more work than he did. – Vladhagen Apr 11 at 20:32

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