I worked under a PhD stundent's supervision during my master thesis. After I finished my thesis, I continued working at this lab on the same project however just as a "research assistant" and not as a student. Now, the above mentioned PhD student is graduating and HALF of the dissertation is the project I did in my Masters and that I still work on until this day.

I must say that this PhD student does not know how to do the techniques that I used during the project and to this day he still asks me for figures for his defense presentation ( that I myself do from the data analysis that I know how to do). He helped with patient recruiting and some statistical analysis.

Our PI never talked to me about the situation and that is why it hit me until now that this student is using all of my work and presenting it as his PhD work!

What should I do?

  • 4
    What should I do? — What does your advisor/PI think?
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 20:58
  • 4
    It is possible that this is plagiarism. It is also possible that it is a valid extension of your work if so presented and you are credited. Say more.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 21:02
  • 1
    I would stop providing any data at all until the issue is sorted out. If he requires data for his defense then that is for him to work on.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 21:38
  • 2
    @SolarMike, sounds like a good way to end a career.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 21:49
  • 3
    "Well my supervisor knows this": Did you actually have a conversation with them starting with "Hey I'm worried I am not getting proper credit for this project"? Did you at some point have a conversation about what your role was, what your project is, and how you would be recognized for that role and that project?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 22:00

1 Answer 1


There are two dimensions to this problem and both matter:

Ethical dimension

  • If this PhD student is passing a work in which you had a significant contribution (let alone if you are the main author) as their sole achievement, then it is plagiarism. However it is not plagiarism and it would be ethically acceptable if this PhD student is presenting the work as a joint work, since themselves also contributed to it. In this case they can also legitimately use the work in their PhD dissertation, provided that you are credited as co-author.
  • In case it is actually plagiarism, if your advisor is knowingly covering or even encouraging it then they are at fault as well, and it's potentially even more serious for an experienced researcher: their duty includes ethical supervision of their students, and that would be a clear failure on their part.
  • There is an important caveat that I think is worth mentioning: as a master student and then as a research assistant, there might be some level of ambiguity about who is the main author of the work. In particular in some fields a research assistant job might not be considered as original research work by itself, in the sense that the research assistant can be seen as providing some kind of technical expertise necessary for the research. This is a potential source of misunderstanding, especially if the technical expertise is outside the skills of the lead researcher. Depending on the specifics of the case, it might be important to consider the possibility that such a misunderstanding happened and clarify it with the supervisor.

Pragmatic dimension

Assuming that all the conditions for plagiarism are met, what you should do next is ultimately your own personal choice and you must be ready for the consequences of your decision. The academic system is not perfect, and sometimes a perfectly legitimate claim for credit is not the best course of action for your career. If you hope to continue in this research group and especially with this supervisor, it's clear that accusing them of plagiarism could seriously damage your chances. Even if you don't plan to continue in this particular place but somewhere else in academia, it's difficult to anticipate the consequences of an open conflict with a researcher in the field.

If you decide to move forward, the first step would be to try everything reasonable to convince the student and/or the supervisor to include your name in the work. It's usually much better for everyone if it can be solved internally. If they refuse, then you can seek the advice and possibly the mediation of somebody else: director of research, ombudsman or any other person in the institution with this role really.

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