Approximately a year ago, I finished a graduate degree under an abusive and bullying advisor. I successfully defended my thesis, and agreed to stay around for a while longer to finish a publication based on that same work, which would have consisted of rewriting a section of the thesis into a form more suited for a journal.

Due to my degrading mental health, and the continuing abusive behavior of my advisor, I strongly informed him that I was no longer willing to work with him, and provided him with my writing so far and all the data needed to finish the paper. My advisor continued to harass me after leaving, and I eventually reported him to the relevant people for his behavior, but I was met with blatant disbelieve and nothing seems to have been done about my complaint.

The paper I started was never published. Now, I discover that my advisor and another graduate student have published a paper which depends heavily on my work, but I am not included in the author list, nor is my thesis cited. Rather, I'm given mention in the acknowledgments section for "helpful discussions and collection of preliminary data."

This was the primary subject of my thesis! It was not "collection of preliminary data." They did gather additional data and do additional modeling, but my thesis laid the basis for this new paper, and they use my experimental designs.

As for my question, is it ethical that I was not included in the list of authors, nor was my thesis cited? If unethical, is there anything I can do about this? I didn't expect to be listed as first author on the paper, but I would like more acknowledgment for my work than a brief mention at the end of the publication.


To clarify some matters in response to answers/comments given below, my thesis was published and has been available online for a bit over a year, whereas this new paper was published about two weeks ago.

I understand that I don't have a monopoly on my academic work; anyone can build on the results of anyone else. I'm also aware that both my advisor and the university have rights to my thesis and any other work performed with university resources. I've been involved in the process of academic publications, ranging from being listed as first author, to being included further down the list as a collaborator, so I have some understanding of how this works.

My complaint is that I'm not given what I think is appropriate credit, e.g., my thesis is not listed in the references despite the fact that they used large amounts of content from it.

2 Answers 2


If your advisor is a well-known researcher in the academic community, it is very unlikely that anyone will believe you. Even if they do, they would prefer their own advantage and prefer not to ruin their relationship with this advisor.

You have two choices: you can move on and forget about it. Or, you can do what you think is the right thing. If you are confident about the story, send an email to the department head, look at the research ethics and IP department in your university and also include them. Ideally, there are written procedures in such department on how to make a complain about such issues. He/she will know about your complain from this department.

  • 4
    The issue as described by the OP has little bearing on the advisor’s standing in the research community. It’s also unreasonable to have a student read through the university’s code of conduct and try to ‘go it alone’. There are appropriate channels whose specifically deal with these cases in most decent universities.
    – Spark
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 8:00

You may not like to hear this, but there’s a decent chance that your former advisor did nothing wrong. If you published your thesis and accompanying data, then anyone can use it, as long as they cite your thesis as a source.

To be absolutely clear, I can come across your thesis which is likely archived by your university and cite it. What I can’t do (and your advisor can’t either), is not giving you appropriate credit.

In the case of your advisor things get even more complicated. They offered you guidance (bad guidance as you describe it, but guidance nonetheless), resources to collect data (access to software licenses, computing resources, an office etc); in other words, they have some rights to the thesis as well. Your question uses very proprietary language to describe your thesis, but what you need to understand is that academic work is a) not really yours if you work as part of an institution and b) even less in your control once it’s published. This is just how academic research progresses.

If you decide to drop out in the middle of an ongoing project (one that your advisor seems interested in continuing from how you describe it), your advisor has the right to continue working on it. They should still credit you (either authorship or an acknowledgement depending on the degree of your involvement as deemed by... them at the end of the day), which they seem to have done.

Having said all of this, abusive behavior in academia is never ok. You can and should report this to someone, if only for the sake of future students they may advise. Does your university have an ombudsman? A student welfare office? A vice dean for undergraduate affairs? All are good avenues to pursue your grievances with. This is, again, a completely different issue that is probably the more serious and substantial issue here in my opinion.

Good luck, and I’m sorry this happened to you.

  • 3
    as long as they cite your thesis as a source. Well, the OP clearly states that they didn't.
    – sgf
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 11:37
  • They also clearly state that they were credited with an acknowledgement. Citation norms vary by field. Could be that the thesis isn’t officially published yet. Could also be misconduct.
    – Spark
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 12:31
  • Could be that the thesis isn’t officially published yet — It doesn't matter whether the thesis is "officially published" yet.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 18:19
  • Well, if it isn’t you can’t technically cite it, which is why the advisor chose to acknowledge the student instead. Again, could be that there’s misconduct, but based on the description it’s not clear cut.
    – Spark
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 22:01
  • Some of your points were addressed in my original statement (the abusive behavior was already reported), and further points (such as whether my thesis was published) are clarified in my edit. As for using proprietary language to describe my thesis, such is entirely warranted: I own the copyright according to university standards and general practice. Other people have rights to it and can use and reference it, but it is still mine. You seem determined to insinuate that I don't understand research or publication, yet you don't seem to have thoroughly read my question before answering.
    – user109222
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 23:36

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