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The supervisor for my PhD thesis has recently published a paper with another student. In this paper, the other student has replicated one of the chapters of my PhD thesis for publication.

For reference, after completing my PhD I moved into the public sector and did not publish my thesis work myself, due to concerns with the underlying methodology.

However, of the five figures in this new paper, two figures have been taken directly from my published thesis. This is very easy to prove, as some of the figures are photographs and are identical to the work published in my thesis. My thesis is available as a digital download online at the same research institution my supervisor currently works at.

I wasn't consulted regarding the publication or use of my research, and was not listed as an author on the new paper (or even in the acknowledgements). The figures they have published were produced solely by myself, without assistance from my supervisor or the other student.

This finding makes me question whether they did indeed repeat the initial experiment, or whether they instead used the leftover materials from my research (specifically, extracted RNA/cDNA) to re-run a handful of analyses and republish my thesis chapter without me.

I have contacted my supervisor by email for clarification, but my questions are:

  • Is this academic misconduct and/or plagiarism?
  • If so, what is the appropriate avenue to follow to correct/resolve/dispute this? (e.g. is it appropriate to contact the journal or my supervisor's university to report this? What are the first steps?)
  • This question is probably a duplicate. The problem is, these questions tend to be really long. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/118512/… – Anonymous Physicist Nov 20 '19 at 5:40
  • Were you involved in the design of the experiment? In this case, aside from the reuse of your figure, it may be plagiarism because they used your intellectual contribution without crediting you for it. – lighthouse keeper Nov 20 '19 at 11:41
  • Do I understand correctly that you are out of academia and had no intention to publish your work (more specifically: the work you did in some sort of collaboration with your former supervisor)? – Mark Nov 20 '19 at 21:16
  • Yes, I am outside academia. I would have been happy to publish my work in conjunction with my supervisor if I had been approached to do so. My former supervisor apparently chose instead to use my photographs (which, according to the law in my country, I own the copyright to) without my permission and without attribution/citation. – academiaTA Nov 21 '19 at 0:45
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is this academic misconduct?

That depends. Your thesis is published, just not in a journal. It’s published as part of your alma mater’s repository and anyone can access it, your advisor in particular. Regarding the figures: it really depends on how they did it. If they copied them without citing your thesis that’s pretty clear cut plagiarism which is wrong under any standard of academic publishing. If they cite you (saying something like figure taken from X), that should probably be okay. This is especially true if your advisor helped design and generate these figures (they’d be a coauthor of sorts). Again, you should be credited regardless, and if a citation is missing it should be noted. I’d be extremely surprised if your advisor wouldn’t be willing to cite you, my guess is that the student who wrote the paper forgot to (remember hanlon’s razor!).

what is the appropriate avenue to correct this?

You could first try and reach out to your former advisor. Ask them. Maybe there’s a simple misunderstanding here. If there’s a dispute the most direct course of action is reaching out to the department head, or vice dean of research and inform them. If you have contacts on the department (a trusted professor who’s sufficiently senior), might be good to hear their opinion on the matter.

Contacting the journal or anyone external should be a last resort I think. But if you feel like you’ve exhausted your options with the department and nobody’s listening, it may not be a bad idea. Again, expect a laconic response: some journal editor will be extremely hesitant in dealing with such cases, especially since the paper is out.

Good luck!

EDIT: I missed this part

the other student has replicated one of the chapters of my PhD thesis

That is unacceptable plagiarism even with citation. Lifting entire chapters (even paragraphs) is never okay. The figures are a much more minor issue. Start with that!

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    Thank you for this information. My thesis was not cited or referenced in the manuscript. I am fairly certain (knowing my former advisor) that this exclusion was intentional -- but I'll wait and see if I get a response. I'm just not entirely sure what to do if I don't get a reply. – academiaTA Nov 20 '19 at 1:37
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    “I’m just not entirely sure what to do if I don’t get a reply” Escalate by contacting his bosses, and then contacting the journal if that doesn’t work. – nick012000 Nov 20 '19 at 1:47
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    Yep, better to get credit and an apology than starting a war, but don’t let people take credit for your work! – Spark Nov 20 '19 at 5:17
  • "The figures are a much more minor issue." That might be true in some cases, but it is not always true. Often most of the value is in the figures, not the text. – Anonymous Physicist Nov 20 '19 at 5:38
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    Ah, in that case scratch the last part, they should cite the thesis though I’d theyre repeating something from there without you as coauthor – Spark Nov 20 '19 at 11:11

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