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I start my master's degree in this lab in September. After accepting my offer I found out that an ex-PhD student has been spreading rumors that the supervisor is publishing fraudulent data, going back many years, basically suggesting her whole field of research is a lie. The ex-student was very insistent to let me know about this and encourage me to not go into that lab. I think he is even trying to get an official investigation into her research to get the paper(s) retracted.

I'm worried that this will affect my career in academia, especially if the research for my master's thesis is based on falsified data. The ex-student apparently got his career ruined as well by the supervisor because he refused to put his name on the paper(s) and she made some calls that resulted in him not getting a post-doc. But I am only hearing one side of the story and I'm not sure what to believe. She is pretty well-known in her field for her research and from my personal interactions seemed nice. I'm scared if I ask her or her other students about it directly it could ruin our relationship before I even begin working there.

From my understanding my acceptance into the master's program is to the department and I could request another supervisor, though this would definitely make things awkward and there's probably limited options at this point for profs that can accept me. I'm not sure how I should proceed.

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Find a new supervisor. Even if the ex-student is dishonest or mentally ill, this seems like a bad situation.

I think you should be quite open about your problem. The more people know you have changed supervisor because of "future supervisor's" reputation, the more scrutiny will be cast on the situation, and the sooner the truth will get out. Make it clear you do not know who to believe, and that you are just avoiding the situation. Then nobody will blame you.

Also, contact some other ex-students and ask them for advice too.

  • What's a good way to find other ex-students? – acadthrowaway Apr 17 at 16:16
  • Ask the supervisor for a list of their previous students. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 18 at 7:09
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With no further information available, this seems like a situation to avoid. If you have time, and if the resolution of the case seems imminent, then you could wait, but otherwise you would be good to protect yourself. Protect yourself from the turmoil that seems inevitable to come as well.

One way to proceed is to go to the head/chair for a sit down and ask for advice. If the advice is to stay with this professor, you want some assurance that you will be allowed to succeed even in the worst case for the professor.

The charges might be false, of course, though the professor sabotaging another student would be equally serious, if that is what actually happened. But make sure that you aren't just being driven by rumor here. Make sure you have accurate information.

The head or another senior professor is likely to have better information.

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    "if the resolution of the case seems imminent" There is no way an investigation will take less than a year. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 16 at 22:50
  • "The charges might be false, of course, though the professor sabotaging another student would be equally serious." - that statement is misleading, without that, I would have upvoted. Namely, if ex-student brings up false charges on the falsification issue, is is quite possible that they are equally mendacious on the sabotage by the professor (or the professor quite justifiably warned off his colleagues from a dangerous candidate). I agree that trying to get a second opinion is a good idea. Everything exists, from The Superviser from H*ll to the disgruntled research group poisoner. – Captain Emacs Apr 17 at 0:53
  • @CaptainEmacs, I guess that's why I also recommend not acting on rumor. Sometimes the truth is hard to get at. – Buffy Apr 17 at 0:56
  • @Buffy Yes, that's what I wanted to give the upvote for. I find the aforementioned statement simply confusing/misleading, not wrong. In my experience, people who lie drastically on one thing do not much hesitate to lie on its consequences. The truth value of their statements is not statistically independent ;-) – Captain Emacs Apr 17 at 0:57
  • Generally is it acceptable to go straight to the head/administrator and ask to talk confidentially? – acadthrowaway Apr 17 at 3:19

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