I'm currently applying for PhD positions in the US, having completed a Master's degree in Engineering in the UK and then working in Industry for the past 13 years. I'm a bit confused as to the extent to which (if at all) a Master's thesis is considered to be 'published'?
To my knowledge, my Master's thesis was not officially published on the University website. However, I have seen some cases where Master's theses at some institutions are available online from the affiliated institution's website. To what extent are these 'available online' Master's theses considered to be published?
If they are not considered published then, if someone completes a Master's thesis and publishes it online, but doesn't follow-up by publishing it in a journal (perhaps they don't go on to do a PhD), then what is to prevent another academic taking those results and publishing them as their own? Is that considered 'fair game' in academia?
The background to this on my side is that my Master's thesis was a very successful project and was received very well at the time by the faculty in the Engineering school I studied in. It probably could have been turned into a research paper; however, given that I made the decision to start a career in Industry, I didn't push to publish the results in an academic journal at the time.
More recently, I have come across a paper that was published a few years later by researchers I am not familiar with at another institution, which seems very similar to my Master's thesis (I'd say ~75-80% the same content). Now, I am not accusing them of plagiarism - it's quite possible they may have discovered the same thing independently. However, I am just wondering, in general, to what extent a Master's thesis posted online is considered to be 'published' and how it is perceived in Academia if someone was to 'plagiarize' a Master's thesis.
I guess a follow-on question relating to my situation is: how much of this (if any) should I mention in my applications for PhD programs?