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A person I know cheated through most of their science classes while an undergrad. They literally had someone else take the exams, write reports, and do most of the homework. They then took their stellar GPA and not so stellar GRE score and got admitted to a not so great PhD program.

A new significant other at grad school wrote a lot of their papers. This person ingratiated themselves with the head of the department – they are a schmooze king. They gained favor by doing physical work that very few of the other grad students would do. Their doctoral thesis was weak and the defense round wasn't difficult. They were awarded their PhD. Mind you, they still can't explain to me nearly anything about basic chemistry, organic chemistry or biochemistry concepts. I'm talking like sn1, sn2, benzene rings, buffers, etc...

This person now has a job with a pharmaceutical company doing anything but real science. They're basically a pharmaceutical rep out selling drugs to various physicians in a territory.

Do I tell their employer? Do I tell the university? Do I let it go? I have no way to prove anything. I'm sure none of those people that took the tests in their place will come forward and tell the truth. This has gotten away with fraud.

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    Answers in comments and general life advice has been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Apr 24 at 8:36
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    What is your interest in the thing? What do you expect for you, in case that you inform someone or don't do anything? I think it is unclear in the question, why you are asking this (now) and how you're involved in it. – allo Apr 24 at 9:10
  • the whole academic and work-life process is like distillation, where ultimately all the partial products reach their own levels. If they were 'involved' in all that process at least they'll know what the words mean, so it sounds like a position in sales may well be a good match. Everybody has talents - maybe they have found theirs? – Philip Oakley Apr 26 at 19:36

10 Answers 10

135

He literally had someone else take the exams for him

If you wanted to speak out, that was really the right time, not so many years later when damage is done and every accusation is virtually unprovable.

His doctoral thesis was weak and the defense round wasn't difficult.

There are many weak PhD theses around, and it's up to the universities and to the defense committees to decide which level of weakness is acceptable before rejecting a candidate (gosh, if we were to object to any "weak" degree...).

Do I tell his employer? Do I tell the university? Do I let it go?

You let it go because, as you said, you've nothing to prove your accusations (and the university would have no interest in undertaking an investigation after such a long time without any evidence to start with). And he is now in industry, and it's up to his employer to decide whether to promote or demote him according to his work performance and to decide whether the PhD title is just a vacuous document in his hands.

Different is the case where, for instance, you can prove that a student cheated by plagiarising other works. Here, there is evidence that can be used to revoke a degree, as it happened in some cases.

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    @JefferyThomas Time to stop being jelly and focusing on him and start focusing on you. Schmoozing one's way up the ladder has been standard business procedure since the beginning of corporate ladders. Socializing is a legitimate skill that has legitimate uses, including getting yourself better jobs. Unless you have something actionable and provable right now, you've missed the train on holding him to account on your allegations. That's your failure, not his, and what his problems and failures are are not your problem or responsibility. – zibadawa timmy Apr 23 at 17:55
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    Oh, man! If anyone asked me about my defense, I'd say it was a fiasco, especially the questions Dr. Li asked. Um, you may call me Doctor Brown, by the way. – Bob Brown Apr 24 at 1:49
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    @Jeffery Thomas: Doesn't work that way. Heck, give him a couple of decades, and he could be President :-( – jamesqf Apr 24 at 3:49
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    @jamesqf At least if he becomes president OP may get their 5 minutes of fame on a talk show during the election campaign, relating their memories of grad school (and then be sued). – gerrit Apr 24 at 7:13
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    @zibadawatimmy Socialising is an even more important skill, if your job is selling stuff to people - he might acutally be good as his job. And not the first sales rep who has not the slightest idea about what he's selling – Christian Apr 24 at 9:14
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You should stop beating the horse, because it is dead now. You had a chance but you lost it when you were in school and when something could have done about it. Right now, I believe you don't have any option other than letting it go. I can imagine your frustation in seeing him moving up the ladder (probably higher than you). If you didn't say anything when it actually could have changed anything, you should make peace with it now.

Even if you tell his employer now, what proof do you have to prove your allegation? University probably won't have any interest in pursuing this now. Honestly speaking, I sense jealousy in your post that he is doing good after all this. What you call "schmooze king", is actually a desirable skill in industry. More connections you can make, better are your chances to move up the ladder faster. So I would say, stop being obsessive with his success (with fraud or otherwise), and focus on your career.

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    +1: "I sense jealousy in your post that he is doing good after all this." – Roboticist Apr 24 at 17:07
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    +1. The guy is in a sales job. That sounds like a perfect match for his talent. The fact that he was able to sell his weak-ish PhD indeed is a positive. – MSalters Apr 25 at 14:19
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    -1. I don't sense jealousy in the OP. I sense defence of schmooze kings in you. – Helen - down with PCorrectness Apr 26 at 11:15
  • What is it that makes you think I am defending him? I simply stated the fact about a skill that is known and desirable in industry. – SinghTheCoder Apr 26 at 16:51
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Relax. His cheating has earned him nothing except a worthless piece of paper. He knows he doesn't have the skills to do scientific research, and most likely his employer has worked it out too.

All he's done is waste a number of years when he could have been climbing the corporate sales ladder. Someone with those smoozing skills and lack of ethics could have started as a commission-based shop assistant, moved to used cars or real-estate and then a big corporate sales department, or even politics. He'd be a lot richer and more senior if he'd concentrated on the things he was good at.

I wouldn't even worry about his clients. No one expects a salesman to be particularly knowledgeable in their field (or they'd be in research or operations rather than sales) or to be particularly honest.

Be happy that he's found a job that suits him, and for all the research scientists who don't have to work with him.

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    You are right. But it is problematic in several other ways. It decourages other students and erodes the value of the degrees mentioned. It is problematic for those on the pulling end of PhD degrees if real skilled students start to hop off their studies because they see that cheaters get through. If they aren't going for a postdoc any longer, then how are we going to manage to attract them to the right positions we have planned for them? Postdoc is often a really great stage of knowledge and competence for "drafting" talent. – mathreadler Apr 24 at 20:29
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    @mathreadler That's a hypothetical situation. Has any PhD gave up because they heard of a random dude that cheated through it? And then ultimately became a salesperson with a PhD? If I heard of a pharmaceutical sales person with a Chemistry PhD, and he couldn't talk science out of a wet paper bag, it is unlikely I would write off ALL PhD students, nor would that discourage anyone. – Nelson Apr 25 at 5:43
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    @Nelson I know several who have. Quite skilled too. – mathreadler Apr 25 at 6:19
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I agree with others generally regarding your specific question about telling the school(s). You missed your chance to really stop him when you should have, at least if you cared about him not getting undeserved degrees.

However I strongly disagree with some of these "let it go" answers, at least in terms of their lack of concern. An unqualified chemist who doesn't know the fundamentals (that their resume claims they know) can literally kill people. Stories abound of such idiots in chemistry-related industries. As for the answer extolling "hard work". A person who worked hard to be a fraud sounds like a more dangerous type of fraud to me.

A pharmaceutical rep shouldn't be in a position to do any damage, if everyone else does their job properly. But with those credentials he is especially dangerous as people might be more trusting of a phd's claims. And let's not forget this is a guy who doesn't care about silly things like "rules" or doing things the right way.

Your concern needs to be about the damage he can do now. And the people who would care about that are his employer. However this is beyond the scope of this forum and I really don't have an answer how to address that. It is much more specific and legal question to your situation. Generally, others are probably right that there's not much you can do at this point from afar.

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    Yes, incompetent chemists working in healthcare is scary -- OP should have stopped this back when they had the chance. But now OP has no way to prove these allegations, so they have no choice but to let it go. – cag51 Apr 23 at 21:32
  • @cag51 fair point. But what I meant was this is not really for a bunch of academics to advise about. I'll edit a bit to clarify this. – A Simple Algorithm Apr 23 at 21:37
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    Hmm, I still don't think it's fair to say that the other answers demonstrate a "lack of concern." We are all academics, and many of us have taught the types of classes that this guy cheated his way through. Many of us would love to punch this guy! At least if the facts are as OP says. But concerned or not, there is nothing to be done here -- no evidence. – cag51 Apr 24 at 2:49
  • @cag51 If the dude is really incompetent in his job, then there is a chance that his employer notices it and doesn't need any evidence of his earlier wrongdoings. And there might be a legal way to help the employer notice it, no evidence needed. – JiK Apr 24 at 10:33
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    @JiK Without evidence it could count as defamation or slander. Now I am no lawyer, but as far as I know it can be a criminal act to talk shit about people without proof. – mathreadler Apr 24 at 20:51
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I have no way to prove anything.

Then it is unclear to me why you are asking years after you could have done something,
like tipping off people who would be involved in his defense.

He has gotten away with fraud.

A lot of people do.
A friend of mine is a laughing stock within his family because it took him years longer to finish his degree than his cousin who did it in four years (plus summer school).

Except that the cousin didn't finish in 4 years, in fact he didn't even finish.
Their university allows people to "walk" in May if they can graduate using summer school.
He registered for the summer school courses, invited his family to see him walk, walked (with them watching), dropped the courses, and got his parents money back.

He doesn't have the degree like your relative does, but since everyone in his family thinks he does it is kind'a the same thing.

Let it go.

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I have no way to prove anything. I'm sure none of those guys that took his tests for him will come forward and tell the truth. He has gotten away with fraud.

If you have no evidence of wrongdoing then, even if you decided to do something, there is really not much you could legitimately do. Allegations of the type you are making are serious, and would require evidence. If you are confident that you would not be able to obtain corroborating evidence of your assertions, then there is really no reasonable prospect of any successful action against this person. So yes, in the absence of any evidence of the asserted wrongdoing, he has gotten away with it.

As to the possibility of telling his employer, if you make adverse allegations in this way, and they cause this person employment damage, this could potentially give rise to a legal action against you for defamation. There is a "defence of truth" in such actions, but this requires to person making allegations to prove these on the balance of probabilities. If you are considering doing this you should first seek legal advice.

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If he was capable of getting both a masters and a PhD by ingratiating himself, going the extra mile and convincing others of the quality his not so good work - being a sales rep at a pharmaceutical firm sounds like just where he should be. He took his meager skills far, well done to him. Stop being a child, mind your own performance, mind your own path. Where do YOU want to go?

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I mean there is nothing actionable you have now, but this dude clearly doesn't care about rules, and I'm sure he cheats in some capacity again, so you catch him in his most recent round of cheating (seems like a lot of work) or you just reveal his basic lack of chem knowledge somehow (also seems like a lot of work).

1

I think an important point is clearly missing in the other answers:

If the goal of a PhD is to make science going forward, he reached the goal ! Perhaps in a non standard way and, in my opinion, by far not the easiest way. Nevertheless research went (a bit) forward thanks to his ability of making other people work for him.

So, not only you should let it go, but I think you should also respect the fact that he could "cheat" a whole study plus PhD which sounds like an almost impossible task for me.

Maybe you should suggest him to do a degree in management. Sounds like it would really fit him.

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First, at this point you could only tell his employers. Imho this would be commendable. But I'm bitterly afraid that pharma companies do not expect anything good in terms of morality from their reps, so you'll probably only help in promoting him.

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    Second, please do not listen to the people here who try to diminish you. Your question is of value and those people are of questionable use to science, to put it earnestly. Making you their target instead of the described person is just ... well, I'd better stop my tirade here. – Helen - down with PCorrectness Apr 26 at 11:22
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    If the most probable out come of telling the employers is him being promoted, then how is telling the employers commendable? – sgf Apr 26 at 12:49
  • @sgf the second part (getting promoted) is what I'm afraid would happen, but I'm not sure about it. View it as irony, albeit it's a very probable outcome... – Helen - down with PCorrectness May 23 at 20:57
  • By the way I regret looking at this question and answers again ... I have rarely come against such a bunch of "academics" "in the know" who give so offensive advice to a person who is on the right side. Telling someone who is right that he is childish instead is deplorable. Telling someone that there's nothing they can do and asking him to stop caring is totally different. OP, even a youtube comments section might have been more useful to you than this bunch. – Helen - down with PCorrectness May 23 at 21:05

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