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During my PhD thesis, I supervised the creation of Bachelor's and Master's theses. The official supervisor was always my own PhD supervisor (since I am officially not yet allowed to do university-level teaching on my own), but in practice I did almost all of the supervision. Topic and technical approach were usually my ideas (and related to my own thesis topic) and I coached students closely during implementation, analysis and writing. These were research-level theses, so the students simply lacked prior knowledge and experience to come up with really useful conceptual contributions.

I am now in the process of writing up my own thesis. What is the correct way to incorporate these results - which have already been written about in student theses but not yet published - in my own thesis? Essentially, all of the relevant technical details were proposed by me, so I really don't feel like it would be fraudulent to include these in my thesis. However, I must, of course, give credit to the students. Would it be fine if I simply add an acknowledgement in the corresponding section of my thesis and cite the student's thesis? I for sure don't want to be accused of plagiarism in the future for doing this.

I'm in an engineering field at a German university, if that matters.

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    I suggest that you treat them like you would any other research papers. Cite them and quote sparingly and explicitly. You might save yourself a lot of grief. – Buffy May 29 at 13:07
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Would it be fine if I simply add an acknowledgement in the corresponding section of my thesis and cite the student's thesis?

If the student's thesis did not explicitly credit you for the topic and/or technical approach, then you may have to credit the student's thesis as if "all of the relevant technical details" were his or hers. I say that because I remember at least one instance where failing to do this had big consequences: A Ph.D. student P was a leading a group of master students. A lot of his ideas went into master students' theses. One master student M later went on to pursue Ph.D. in a closely related field, taking these ideas as the core of a new research. But in the meantime, P also continued development of these ideas. In P's thesis P credit both P and M in the form of "...the author (P) observed that... which was adopted and further developed in [...] (M's thesis)". During P's thesis defense, this issue came up and triggered a messy process. In many research area, tracing the origin of ideas can be difficult and unreliable. This story did not end well.

Of course, the issue may be field related, the above example came from applied mathematics where the origin story of good ideas can be quite messy.

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Be explicit.

Write very carefully what ideas were yours, which experiments were yours and which were not.

So for exapmle:

I observed the results of the experiment, from which I hypothesised that X might be true. Fooing that bars would reveal if this was true. Ms Jane Undergrad fooed 8 bars, revealing an expessed of buzzed widgets in some conditions (Figure Y). In a parrallel approach, 8 nature wotisits were collected and the nozzle lengths measured (experiment conducted by Mr. Bob PGT Masters). I analysed this data using the SuperWiz alogrithm and concluded that the hypothesis was true.

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    What if Ms. Jane claims "I was thinking about fooing those damn bars long before you told me to". If the OP is an established researcher, that may be a different argument, but does OP want to settle this kind of who said what business during thesis defense? – ssquidd May 29 at 16:22
  • The nature of collaborative research is that there are always going to be those sorts of prolems whatever you do, and it is the job of the viva examiners/defense committee to worm out if it is reasonable that the candidate thought of the things for themselves. My work comes from a field where pretty much everything is collaborative, and there is really no such thing as "your" ideas and "my" ideas. – Ian Sudbery May 29 at 16:24
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    "it is the job of the viva examiners/defense committee to worm out if it is reasonable that the candidate thought of the things for themselves" Sure, that could work. But I doubt the OP would want to leave the committee to figure out if he/she has committed misconduct during thesis defense. – ssquidd May 30 at 5:21

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