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I am an Indian student and studying in the USA away from home and family. I am writing my master's thesis in a private University and we were two weeks away to submit the final version to the committee and I was about to start my PhD in a public state university. I was working in math and proved some original result with some different proofs and I also read a paper and elaborate the proofs in my own language. I admit that I took the statement of the theorems word by word and some discussions as well.

I was unaware of this serious plagiarism before as in my undergrad I didn't have idea of writing a thesis. I first wrote my understandings on paper and then tried to type this in overleaf. I am pretty bad at reading pdf files from computer screen and can't do it for longer and after typing a bit I went to another state to my relative's house and got stuck in Covid19 and I lost some major details of my paper. I was panicked because of family's health and my health. I also consulted with doctors as I have anxiety and insomnia problems which includes some short time memory loss. I don't know how to express this that I forgot to put a citation of that corresponding paper. I cited a ton of other papers in my thesis and even other papers of those corresponding authors. I even thanked some of my friends and my students whom I give private tutions with whom I discussed in my papers. I also said my advisor that I am reading one paper and elaborating it and asked whether it is okay or not and his reply was it is ok if you give proper citation and still I missed that particular paper. Now my advisor has taken an academic dishonesty action against me as last week we were discussing about one definition and suddenly I recalled that I wrote a particular section of my thesis from a paper and although we were out two weeks away from my submitting it he complained against me.

I have an anxiety feeling and guilty feeling because what is happening with me these days. I am student with good academic understanding. I never wanted to make this happened with me and I want to confess when I am now reading about plagiarism I feel that it is a plagiarism but I was unaware of this fact before this severe consequences. I remember I asked my professor whether my thesis will be published or not and he said that it won't be published. I have few questions:

  1. How severe the consequence of plagiarism in masters thesis if it won't get published?
  2. Can I appeal to make changes as I have one week now in hand?
  3. Should I say the reasoning or rather accept my guilt and say that I have done this willingly because in one article it is written that accepting is a better solution.
  4. How should I defend myself? I have my defence on Monday. I am the first scholar in my family so I don't have any guidance on how to say it precisely. I can also have paid guidance if someone wants to guide me. I can't afford much I think I should have one. Moreover, I often feel that I am a Bengali so my English is the very weak to express what I feel and the committee members or the teachers sometimes get bored with what I say. Partially this is because of nerve problem as well.

Clarifications / details / updates:

  • I did find the citation in the bibliography, so the only problem was the lack of an inline citation.
  • My advisor and I discovered the issue during a final review. I mentioned in the discussion that a citation was missing. The next day, he canceled a meeting with me and I was informed that a misconduct hearing had been scheduled.
  • In addition to the mental health issues, I also have some physical health issues that could be relevant (B12 deficiency, etc.)

Further edit

As suggested I am confused with some comments as some people are claiming that I can't have oral defence before submission. Let me add timeline details:

17th of April: I have mentioned all the citation of the corresponding paper and after that, we have almost met 30 times on reviewing the thesis. Most of the discussions were till section 5 and I overlooked that I missed the citation on section 6 and was the major citation that I am realising.

12th of July: I have sent my thesis for review to the thesis committee.

16th of July: One committee member made some comments on half portion of my thesis and asked me to correct it( didn't have any information regarding plagiarism) but stated that in this current format the thesis is unacceptable.

17th of July: My defence scheduled on 24 by my advisor.

17th of July: Another committee member made some comments on one third portion of my thesis and asked me to correct it( didn't have any information regarding plagiarism). Some comments were common with the first committee member.

17th of July: My advisor emailed me that we need substantial improvement in the clarity of the writing to accept the thesis for graduation. Committee members will get comments to me by early next week. I should go through the comments as a high priority and send to me a new version. He will go through that new version again and mark any places that still need improvement. We will then go through those places together until they are acceptable. This final version will be returned to the committee for a final look. My advisor is away August 4-9, so this must be completed before he is out of communication.

This does not all need to be completed before the defence but does need to be completed before the format meeting with the graduate school. Note that the latest version you sent still has overruns into the margin which will cause the graduate school to reject your thesis. ( didn't have any information regarding plagiarism).

20th July: I was done with the part one comments of the 2nd committee member. 21st July: We had a meeting regarding defense.

24th July: Defended my thesis and did it successfully but was informed that current state of thesis is still concerning. Plan is to sit next week every day for hours and fix it and return it to the committee at the end of the week and upon satisfactory re-read the recommendation for conferral degree would be submitted.

27th July: Done with most of the comments of all committee members. 27th July: We first discover the citation problem in the thesis and my advisor told me that he will inform on how to fix it next day once he will read the other paper.

28th of July: My advisor cancelled the meeting stating that he will be in touch with me. By that night, I didn't hear back from him and asked whether he is ok or not! I was worried about pandemic going on in the states.

29th of July: I heard from my instructor that academic dishonesty report has been filed against me. I was also advised to inform the counselling centre as the proceedings will be very stressful.

30th of July: I have heard from the departmental head about my hearing is on Monday.

Is it called submission that I have done on 12 th of July because the committee sent me several comments to improve and I was improving that?

Further edited:(Missed one comment) My thesis has 6 sections in the first 5 sections I have given some new proofs of some known result and the last section I actually discussed someone's paper entirely. I did copy-paste the definitions the statement of the theorems, lemma and corollary directly like a verbatim in my undergrad I was advised to remember the theorems, lemma et all exactly and I tried to write the proofs in my own language.

**I am also wondering one thing that I completed my writing with a citation by 17th of April. Does any advisor check for plagiarism after that as we were doing grammatical and mathical corrections after that. Now after being reported I found that in see **

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    "I have one week now in hand" - does this mean you have yet to submit? If so, now is the time to get off SE and start fixing your thesis! – David258 Jul 31 at 13:32
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    Protecting, as this question has attracted a number of unkind answers and comments. While it is natural to be outraged at academic misconduct, please recall our be nice policy and keep this constructive. – cag51 Aug 1 at 21:04
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    Hi, I have edited with timeline deadline. The health part if that is unnecessary then can be ignored as some of you advised me to ignore that. – Ri-Li Aug 2 at 5:35
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – cag51 Aug 6 at 4:59
  • Also - your question is far too long. I don't think your "further edit" section is necessary, and suggest deletion. The judges in your case may benefit from your hour-by-hour timeline, but this forum requires/allows a brief summary only. – cag51 Aug 6 at 5:07
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This answer does not respond to subsequent edits to the question.

If you submitted a thesis with plagiarism, the typical consequence would be expulsion. You would not get a degree. The good news is you didn't submit it yet, so there might be no consequences.

Can you still change your thesis? You need to ask your supervisor.

You have admitted there was plagiarism in the draft. Stick to that. Just make sure there is no plagiarism in the final version. Your defense should that you did the wrong thing in the draft and have fixed it; the final version does not contain plagiarism. You will still look bad, but I think avoid punishment.

Health problems are never a defense against charges of plagiarism. Continue to get treatment from health professionals.

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  • "Health problems are never a defense against charges of plagiarism." I think that's something for the university's disability office to decide, since it would potentially open them up to lawsuits for ADA violations. – nick012000 Aug 1 at 4:41
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    @nick012000 No. There is no disability that causes people to plagiarize a master's thesis. – Anonymous Physicist Aug 1 at 5:35
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    What I don't understand is why did his/her advisor didn't just resolve this with him/her and filed a claim? The advisor is equally responsible. – dusa Aug 1 at 16:56
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation (about health as an excuse for plagiarism) has been moved to chat, and new information from the OP has been edited into the question. – cag51 Aug 1 at 21:21
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    I do not have any further advice for you. – Anonymous Physicist Aug 2 at 5:58
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This answer does not respond to subsequent edits to the question.

Have you submitted your paper yet?

If you have not yet submitted then you haven't done anything wrong (yet!) and you have time to change it. If required you may have the option to ask for a deadline extension, given the current exceptional circumstances and your own health issues.

Reading your question I'm not 100% clear what you've actually done or how much of your thesis could be considered plagarism.

  • If you've failed to attribute a couple of theorem definitions then this should be easy to fix; either re-write them in your own words, or quote them, and cite all sources properly*.
  • If you've copied (even in translation) large portions of discussion and analysis then you'll have more work to do, but it's essentially the same job as you've had throughout your thesis: You need to express these ideas in your own words and convey your understanding of them.
  • If the writing is your own, but you are worried that the ideas are not as original as you have portrayed then you may not have such an issue. Provided you are submitting your own work, then a masters thesis does necessarily not need to contain entirely "new" proofs or results. If this is your concern you should talk to your supervisor and understand their expectations (and the marking rubric) for a thesis, if they have read your draft and are broadly happy then you may not need to do anything further.

If your thesis has been recently submitted then you should talk to your supervisor as soon as possible and explain clearly what has happened. It may still be possible to retract you thesis and further you may be able to talk to your academic institution and arrange for an extension and re-submission date when you can submit a plagiarism-free version. This will be a discussion between you, your supervisor, and your academic institution, the outcome of this will depend on the precise details of what has happened at what stages.

If your thesis has been submitted and plagiarism has subsequently been found during the marking process. This is a very different situation from the above. You should read up on the policy of your department and the broader institution. You may wish to edit your question/ask a new one in order to get more specific advice, you will need to provide further details as to how much was plagiarised and how exactly it was copied (short phrases with minor changes or entire paragraphs etc.).

General advice on discussing health and it's impact on your work Current issues surrounding COVID and your personal health are not an excuse for plagiarism, but they may be a valid reason for delaying a submission until you can remove the plagiarism and submit a legitimate thesis.

*Edited for clarity, you should always cite sources properly, not just when quoting!

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    "either re-write them in your own words, or quote them and cite them properly"—the source likely should still be cited if you're rewriting them in your own words. Especially given the circumstances here, it would probably best to get advice, preferably in writing, before deciding that a paraphrase of something doesn't need a citation (e.g. that the theorem is common knowledge). – Zach Lipton Jul 31 at 19:38
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    Citing a source is nothing bad. I've got the impression that he may think you need to do more original work by rewriting the theorem. This is not needed and the theorem will not be original work. On the other hand, it is probably not required to have the theorem to be original work, when it is only a perquisite for other parts of the thesis. Most the time you'll rewrite it a bit when using it and cite the original source, sometimes you'll take it as is (maybe changing the formatting a bit) and add something like "we'll use theorem X from work Y: (theorem here)" – allo Jul 31 at 20:11
  • And with most advisors, good work does not mean complicated work. An easy result does not mean you didn't work enough, but that you're able to express the idea and result in simple terms, what is a good thing. One doesn't need to add complicated own theorems like the one that was not cited correctly to impress anyone. Most works are not about quantity or having many complicated formulas. (Disclaimer: One may have an advisor who thinks otherwise. But this is a problem with the advisor). – allo Jul 31 at 20:13
  • It hasn't got published or submitted yet but in the oral defence talk, I haven't mentioned their paper while taking portions from their work, I blindly followed what I have written in the thesis. The problem is I asked my professor that I am reading a paper and elaborating it. He said it is ok in master's thesis but you have to cite that. I have thanked my friends and put many other citations and mentioned the name of that particular paper in reference but I don't know how I skipped putting \cite. – Ri-Li Aug 1 at 0:40
  • Then we were doing a final review and I said that I made a mistake and a citation is skipped. He said we will meet tomorrow and then he cancelled the meeting and said that I am charged of plagiarism under section B and I have to face a departmental and academic hearing. I have taken the statement of the theorems and example from that paper and tried to write all the proofs in my own word. I am willing to rectify all the work and I could have done it in the mean time when I have to face two hearings and time is running away. – Ri-Li Aug 1 at 0:41
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Admitting your mistake is the 2nd step in fixing things (finding the mistake is the 1st), and the 3rd step is making sure the mistake doesn't become a problem by fixing he mistake. There are lots of minor steps (which usually change based on the situation), but I've found these are the 3 major steps to get a situation back on track.

We're all human and can rush through even important things. Use this as a learning experience to prevent doing it again.

You shouldn't defend the plagiarism, just admit the mistake and correct it, which it sounds like you are willing to do, if you haven't fixed the issue already.

The things that caused you to make this mistake can all too often be used maliciously as excuses for bad behavior. Don't fall into that trap. Even if they are true, it'll likely be taken as an excuse, rather than a good reason. We've all been affected by changes in our lives due to Covid-19, so there's a little more leeway for things like this getting in the way, sometimes. But that's still not a good reason for making career ending mistakes.

If you haven't already, you should apologize to your advisor for the mistake and reassure them it won't happen again. You can state that it was unintended, but unless you can somehow prove it, like you said you could with the reference in the appendix, then it likely won't reduce the lost trust.

This is a case of "take your lumps" and learn from it. It'll likely take less time and energy than anything else. You "did the crime" so you should "do the time". Because it done was accidentally (intention often matters in law) and you haven't submitted this as a final draft, your crime isn't as serious as it could be. Defending it would make it more serious, so just don't do it. The "time" usually depends on the severity of the crime, so you've lost trust from your advisor, which is a lighter sentence than another Answer mentioned about expelling you. Just work to regain that trust, even though it might not ever be regained, and try to make sure you don't give them another reason for them to lose trust in you.

Martha Stewart is a good example of this. She was convicted of insider trading and, for the most part, did her time and got over the whole ordeal fairly quickly. She could have made a huge deal of trying to save her fame and fortune by putting up a massive fight, but instead she only did what seems to be a perfunctory fight against the charges. She ended up doing her time in prison fairly inconspicuously, then her home confinement without making a big deal of it. She might not be as big of a deal or as much of a "household name" as she could have been without the problem, but she's still around.

There's plenty of people who have made a huge deal about charges against them, only to make things worse. Don't do this to yourself.

As for your feelings about what happened, well, you'll just have to deal with it. Forgive yourself if you can, understand that it was a mistake that you fixed, and over time, it'll feel less like you've done something "horrendous". It could have been worse, but it was caught before that happened. Again, use this as a learning experience. You are allowed those. I know what I'm saying isn't exactly comforting right now, but that'll just take time to dull the edge of what happened. That's normal.

It's actually a good thing you are reacting like this, even though it doesn't seem like it right now. Your feelings will help prevent you from making the same mistake later, due to "never wanting to feel like that again". Just take some time to calm down. In a few years, you'll look back at this as a lesson learned and pretty much everyone else will have forgotten about it.

Edit:
I'm not saying to not defend yourself, just defend the correct thing. Don't defend the plagiarism, defend that you did it accidentally and are willing/working to fix it.

Edit 2:
Also, when you go to defend your thesis, don't bring up this issue, as it'll simply confuse your defense. The people on the Board/Panel/whatever, will either know the situation and bring it up, or they won't. If they do bring up the plagiarism, stick to defending the accidental nature of it and point out that it's fixed.

You can say that you've learned you lesson and that it'll never happen again, but that can come off as a simple placating gesture, rather than an actual fact. They've probably heard the same thing from others that end up making the same mistake they promised would never happen again. It's possible to make this type of statement sound real, but it has to be said with real conviction, since the tone of your voice and your bodily actions can speak just as loud, or even more loudly, than your words.

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  • Good edit........ – paul garrett Jul 31 at 19:49
  • @paulgarrett, thanks. When I posted the answer, it felt like I was leaving something out, but I couldn't figure it out right then. It wasn't until after lunch that I realized what I was missing: stating my implied idea explicitly. – computercarguy Jul 31 at 19:53
  • It hasn't got published or submitted yet but in the oral defence talk, I haven't mentioned their paper while taking portions from their work, I blindly followed what I have written in the thesis. The problem is I asked my professor that I am reading a paper and elaborating it. He said it is ok in master's thesis but you have to cite that. I have thanked my friends and put many other citations and mentioned the name of that particular paper in reference but I don't know how I skipped putting \cite. – Ri-Li Aug 1 at 0:42
  • Then we were doing a final review and I said that I made a mistake and a citation is skipped. He said we will meet tomorrow and then he cancelled the meeting and said that I am charged of plagiarism under section B and I have to face a departmental and academic hearing. I have taken the statement of the theorems and example from that paper and tried to write all the proofs in my own word. I am willing to rectify all the work and I could have done it in the mean time when I have to face two hearings and time is running away. – Ri-Li Aug 1 at 0:42
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    Martha Stewart was not convicted of insider trading; she was convicted of lying to the SEC, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to do those things. She probably did not even commit insider trading, let alone be convicted of it. – Michael Homer Aug 1 at 7:12
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Talk to the disability office at your university.

The mental health and insomnia issues that you mentioned in the original post would qualify as disabilities, and the university is obligated under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) to grant you reasonable accommodations. Additional time to correct errors in your thesis paper that arose as a result of your disability would likely qualify.

Of course, you should also take efforts to correct the mistakes now that you've become aware of them, and to let other people in your department know so that you don't publish your thesis prior to the mistakes being corrected.

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    Suggest you edit this to say "in addition to other actions taken in parallel to handle the problem". OP should not just let things roll ahead while consulting with the disability office. – einpoklum Aug 1 at 8:55
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This answer may be bringing some new points only because, coming late, I've been able to draw from a number of more recent comments, trying to answer (semi-) briefly on select points. Otherwise, as the most relevant points have been discussed in great detail and length, the rest may just approximate some summarizing. But still...

How to defend plagiarism in master's thesis

Do not defend plagiarism. That is, if your wording of your question title is not just a language thing (no offense meant). Plagiarism in itself is indefensible and, as has been broadly pointed out here and elsewhere, is commonly treated as an inexcusable offense (to a point where some may even seem to stop using their brains and EQ to consider and differentiate circumstances. To be sure, neither do I mean to defend plagiarism or any motivation to plagiarize whatsoever.).

Plagiarism is not (seen as) covered by any health or state of mind issues, either (excluding recklessness, which counts as aggravating). There is simply no acknowledged health issue that is seriously believed to bring about plagiarism. (It has been discussed elsewhere on this site that some rare health issues can bring about unbelievable things (like deliberated murder incomprehensible to the victim-perpetrator), but I don't think that helps here.) So as others have said already, you had better not seem like you were trying to hide behind excuses. (The ADA thing may be valid where applicable but surely not for directly explaining plagiarism, as far as your actions are seen as that.)

Though I might contest the idea that no health issue could contribute to a course of things happening that may lead to an effect that, assessed by the rules, amounts to plagiarism -- but be very careful with that, it could count as a desperate attempt at a cover-up, so unless a seriously qualifying and qualified person (maybe at the counselling center or faculty) advised you explicitly and clearly to mention anything in that quarter (and what), or was going to mention it for you, you may be better sticking to cold facts, not including any of this.

(I think, and hope, it may help you a bit that working this QA has made you summarize the cold facts which may help you work from there. Have that timeline handy in the hearing - things now being where they are, help the committee determine the facts by offering up what facts you have - unless advised otherwise, and use as appropriate.)

As a corollary and general rule (though I guess that's not helping you much now, but for the classical step back and for posterity), if you are facing whatever issues that are a risk to your ability to avoid producing plagiarism, it is a very good idea to deal with them as early as possible, doing whatever is necessary. It helps to start building a habit of absolutely producing complete and sound citations from very early on during your academic progress. And rather citing "too much" than too little so in doubt you'll be erring on the side of caution.

Going from that, can you reasonably mention - only as a side point, of course not as a mainline of defense - that your habits of citing everything (which can be seen in action in all other citations you made - if these are high-quality enough to justify saying so), were insufficiently trained (in terms of the training you allowed yourself, not meaning by your advisor and teachers) as this was the first thesis you had to write ever, or for a long time? Beware though, that could be self-disqualifying, too - I'm actually surprised, if I get that right from what you're writing, that you were never before required to write something that required proper citation practice.

The problem is I asked my professor that I am reading a paper and elaborating it.

Not meaning to overdo taking you literally, but that's not a problem. What's a problem (and a big one) is that you failed to expressly cite the specific paper and passage even after your supervisor expressly said you have to cite here.

27th July: ... 29th of July:

Wondering what caused the sudden change of attitude in your advisor (I really do), I'm imagining he suddenly realized that you seemed to have defied his clear order to cite and fell for the assumption this was intentional as he was so clear about it. (In this case, I'll assume this should be taken like an order -not just advice or guidance- because it is advice about really complying with the most basic rules that should be understood to be taken and complied to far earlier than only in one's graduation thesis)

About this being basic - as hinted, until the time you had to prepare a thesis in earnest, you should have trained your very gut feeling to awake you even from sleeping on Valium, and in the middle of whatever stressful work or distraction, to the slightest trace of an omission of citing any old thing, and then make you calmly and automatically and fully add whatever missing citation.

I do think it may be in your defense unless - see next paragraph that it was you who brought up the missing citation to your advisor, not vice versa. I don't dare give advice on this point in your situation but maybe somebody in the know can advise you about bringing that up in the hearing (unless your advisor will claim it's not a fact?) - it could be clear from here that there was simply nothing bad you were trying to do.

But considering that the oral defense had already happened and you did use that part of your thesis there with the citation missing, after which you brought the missing citation up to your supervisor later, it seems possible that he reacted to this by seeing it as first successfully trying to slide it by the defense audience then cover it all up by fixing it later in the paper. That would be really wrenched and sophisticated misconduct, of course. Again, I don't dare advise if and how you should react to that possibility but if there's still some time between now and your hearing, you may be able to get some advice about it.

have taken the statement of the theorems and example from that paper and tried to write all the proofs in my own word

That's a double-edged sword - it may be what (you think) you do to show that you have understood and thoroughly thought through all of it. Of course, technically it's also the same thing that the ordinary common plagiarizer would do to hide the fact that they are really just copying someone else's work.

A better approach seems to be to make it a habit to always state (if need be, ad nauseum), so-and-so explain this and that and their reasoning goes thus - recounting all of it meticulously with not ever the slightest of change (and not forgetting any of as many footnotes as may be warranted) - then add "I use this as the basics to do X, changing Y, arriving at Z via R, S and T."

(Once you do this perfectly, you may well be at liberty to summarize the work you are citing, where applicable, but always keep the distinction visible.)

Keeping the clearest visible distinction possible between your work and others' work may save you a lot of misunderstandings (and the immense effort of rewording lots of stuff that presumably has been worded well already, so in fact your rewording could not help rendering the same facts in an inferior way, which is clearly not your goal in a thesis.)

And that could be guidance to rework these parts of your thesis if you get the chance, and it seems not entirely impossible that where you are this could be seen (but you better ask the right people there) as a way to also clear up a methodical fallacy ("rewording is good") and produce a remedied version of your thesis that clearly shows your work and what is the work of others.

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  • For sure I won't defend plagiarism and I won't defend myself as well. I did copy-paste the definitions the statement of the theorems, lemma and corollary directly like a verbatim and I tried to write the proofs in my own language. I admitted that in the comment. It is ok. – Ri-Li Aug 3 at 18:28
  • I do admit that I have done wrong but I know that it was unintentional. In my hearing, I will admit my guilt as I believe it as well. May be I am still missing some points that have been raised. I will try to say my words honestly but really thanks a lot for all your help and advice. Pray for me that I won't any mistake in future. – Ri-Li Aug 3 at 18:28
1

Your edits/clarifications have changed the question substantially, so I'm going to post a second answer as I think the first still holds as general advice

The situation you describe is still confusing to me, I'm not sure I can gauge the extent of the "citation problem". Missing a (single?) in-line citation (which has been put into your own words) is certainly not good practice, but I'm not sure it would usually lead to the reaction you describe. In particular, your advisors rapid transition from "you should probably cite this, let me check the paper" to "This is a case of serious academic dishonesty, I'm escalating it immediately" indicates to me that there is more going on than is given in your post.

Before your department meeting (today!) I would urge you to ask yourself the following:

  • What does your department policy consider to be plagiarism?
    • Is this different from what you think plagiarism is? If so, why is it different?
  • How much of your paper does your department consider to be plagiarism according to their rules?
  • How much of your previously submitted work contains this kind of plagiarism?

Just to add, I wouldn't expect the reviewers of your thesis to date to have spotted plagiarism, the fact it's been seen by several people doesn't mean that any of them would have been the look-out for plagiarism.

Separately, you seem to have an issue with the overall quality if your thesis "informed that current state of thesis is still concerning". I would put that issue out of your mind as much as you can for now as it's not relevant to a discussion on plagiarism.

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-4

A masters thesis in math rarely has any significant original research in it. In fact I know people whos MS thesis in math consisted entirely of citing other peoples results and discussing them in an expository fashion.

As long as you didn't claim an original result from someone else I'm not seeing the problem.

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    While not entirely untrue, presenting others' results without explicitly giving credit is still plagiarism, even if the claim to have established them yourself is only implicit or ambiguous. – einpoklum Aug 1 at 8:56
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    Depends, if the OP states at the start of his thesis that these works aren't original, it's not plagiarism - it's failure to properly cite which isn't the same thing. – FourierFlux Aug 1 at 18:31

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