I am looking for international standards that speak specifically of a professor taking the thesis work of an ex-student that they had supervised and publishing a journal paper on that work (and just that work) without the student's name.

This relates to a specific case that I am aware of where the official university finding essentially admits that the aforementioned incident did indeed take place (it is largely undeniable), and quotes some generic definitions and policies regarding plagiarism, but finds that the aforementioned incident does not imply plagiarism and/or academic misconduct (due mainly to a supposition that the student did nothing more than grunt work, which I don't believe to be true at all, which contradicts the university's own expectations for the academic title obtained by the student, etc.).

The finding is an obvious attempt to sweep the case under the carpet.

However, the fact that this is clearly a case of plagiarism is sort of "folklore" to me and I cannot find something authoritative to back it up (lots of blog posts, etc., but no statement that speaks specifically to this sort of case written by an authority that an official from a well-respected university would be reluctant to explicitly discount or contradict).

Aside from my gut, my question then is: does this sort of scenario constitute plagiarism and/or academic misconduct with respect to some specific international standard?

(I would very much appreciate answers with pointers to a statement from a well-known professional organisation, reputable university, high-profile journal, etc. The specific area is Computer Science, just in case.)

  • The fact that the university expects students to do more than just grunt work to obtain an academic title does not imply that a student who obtained an academic title did more than grunt work. I have no doubt that there are MSc and in particular BSc theses where more or less every non-trivial result has been supplied by the supervisor. Supervisors and examiners may be a lot more generous and compassionate than you assume.
    – Uwe
    Commented Apr 6, 2020 at 12:28
  • Presumably you mean published standards. You won't find any. In fact, in the US you won't find even a national standard as we have 50 states with their own standards and thousands of independent universities that may or may not have thought to have a standard. There is a general moral sense, of course, but even that isn't universal and many people will disagree. What you want, is your own, published standard, based on ethical principles. Yes, the ethical principles exist and are widely, if not universally, shared.
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 21:59
  • It is hard to prove the non-existence of something, but if there is a lack of international standards, I would be happy with "the next best thing", including, for example, the standards published by reputable universities, publishers, journals or organisations that speak specifically to this case. (If the ethical principles exist and are widely shared, then it seems likely that there must some sort of paper trail to evidence that.)
    – badroit
    Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 22:27
  • academia.stackexchange.com/questions/147320/…
    – user122447
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 5:19

4 Answers 4


There is no international standard because authorship practices vary.

COPE is the closest thing to a standards organization, but they do not publish authorship standards, or any other kind of standard.




Academia varies more than you think it does – The Movie (why there are no standards)

Publishing a student's thesis without their name is certainly unethical.

  • COPE is a useful pointer, thank you. I don't find any concrete documents that speak to this particular case, but this is precisely the type of organisation I am looking for. They also allow for submitting cases to be publicly adjudicated, which might be a direction to pursue if all else fails.
    – badroit
    Commented Apr 6, 2020 at 15:08
  • If it ends up that you do not agree with the university's standards, the publisher or journal may also have their own ethical guidelines. A publisher may not really have the power to independently investigate the case, but to me it sounds plausible that publishing a student's thesis work as the PI's sole work may be a violation. Commented Apr 6, 2020 at 19:23
  • 1
    If the student contributed anything non-trivial to the paper, then there is no doubt that he/she has to be a (co-)author. Every good scientific practices document I've ever seen agrees on that (with the caveat that the meaning of "non-trivial" depends on the subject area). But the crucial point is that the university claims that the student did not contribute anything non-trivial. Now suppose this is true. Is the student then still entitled to be a co-author? BTW, it would be very useful to know more about the type of the thesis (BSc, MSc?) and the grade (above or below average?).
    – Uwe
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 11:30
  • @Uwe, it was somewhere between BSc and MSc. I don't have access to the grade, but we could assume a perfect grade.
    – badroit
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 3:07

Journals/conferences or arXiv and other repositories may have explicit rules regarding plagiarism. Since you mention that the field is computer science, the list below has a few pointers.

If the university has found that the plagiarism incident took place, there should be emails or other paper trails that document the incident (or the MSc thesis itself). Such document can be shared with the editor of the journal where the work is submitted, even after acceptance or publication. If the editor does not investigate, it would be always possible to repeat with the next editor as new editors may have some power over previously accepted papers. (Of course, in the editor investigates, do not keep sending the complaints to new editors if you are unhappy with the first investigation).

  • For IEEE conferences and publications, the page https://www.ieee.org/publications/rights/plagiarism/plagiarism.html appears to be the official go-to document
  • For instance http://cvpr2020.thecvf.com/submission/main-conference/author-guidelines has a pointer pointing to the link in the previous bullet.
  • the AMS (Americam Mathematical Society) at http://www.ams.org/about-us/governance/policy-statements/sec-ethics has "The knowing presentation of another person's mathematical discovery as one's own constitutes plagiarism and is a serious violation of professional ethics. Plagiarism may occur for any type of work, whether written or oral and whether published or not." The Committee on Professional Ethics of the AMS is a possible body that would deal with plagiarism complaints.
  • https://arxiv.org/help/moderation "Rights to submit material. Submissions to arXiv must be the author’s original work, and users must have the right to grant the rights contained in the selected license. Users must ensure the submission does not, to the best of their knowledge, infringe upon anyone's copyright. Users should not submit comments by referees. Users should not submit plagiarized material."
  • https://www.comsoc.org/publications/ieee-communications-society-policy-plagiarism-and-multiple-submissions "pre-publication author misconduct, such as double-submission or plagiarism, will result in rejection of the manuscript(s) and a minimum 6 month ban on submissions to fully-owned IEEE Communications Society publications by the author(s)"
  • The exact sentence "All those who have made significant contributions should be listed as co-authors" has many matches on google. It may come from a COPE document that is being reused for various conferences/journals ethics document.
  • That last point is very useful, thank you!
    – badroit
    Commented Apr 12, 2020 at 23:40

On top of getting the paper retracted by the editor as explained above, each research institute will have his rules. Most of the time, those rules can be enforced by law.

Look at the good scientific practices document of the university. That will be the official document that a court would have to refer to. There is probably an ombudsman in charge of the first steps, ultimately a lawyer might be involved.



In many fields, the order of authors in a paper indicates how much or how they contributed: The first author usually did most of the work, while the last one is sometimes the supervisor. Other fields order authors alphabetically.

Depending on the field and even the journal, corresponding author can refer to the author who communicated the paper to the journal or the author to whom post-publication communication about the paper by third parties should be addressed (further reading). Among others this results in corresponding authorship being valued in evaluation or for funding (further reading) in some contexts, while this seems bizarre to those used to the other meaning of corresponding author.

In some parts of the world, the PhD supervisor may be the first author even if the PhD student did most of the work.

In some fields, papers with more than a handful of authors are rare. In other fields, one might regularly find papers with dozens or, in extreme cases, even hundreds or thousands of co-authors.

In some fields, the authors’ affiliations on a paper indicate where the work was done; in others, affiliations indicate where the authors can be currently found.

Supervisors should not automatically gain credit as co-authors. Imho, this can even border fraud in a world where publication metrics determine career paths. Authors should be only those who actively contributed text and/or integral analyses for the work presented in papers/books.

Where supervisors discuss or encourage the work, they should be acknowledged. Where the work derives from earlier work of the supervisors, they should be cited. Where supervisors have also written the text or conducted the analyses, they should be co-authors.

  • 1
    The rule is very simple- If your supervisor has contributed with you on a paper, then only he deserves to be an author with you on the paper and if your supervisor hasn't contributed with you on a paper, then he doesn't deserve to be an author with you on the paper. He can not claim to get authorship as a gift for just any paper,
    – user122676
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 12:01

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