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I left academia back in 2013, after completing my PhD. By chance, I've recently stumbled across a paper, published by my former lab group, whose central premise is rooted in experimental work I conducted.

I'm left with a vague feeling of injustice, but I'm not sure a) if any wrong has actually been committed, or b) what recourse I can seek.

Some notes:

  • The first author was a peer whilst we were both pursuing our doctorates.
  • The last author was our mutual supervisor and head of the lab group.
  • Their paper was published in 2017, four years after I passed my viva.
  • The findings are presented as novel (and, indeed, they were).

Whilst the paper goes further than my experimental work, I would argue that the central premise was my discovery. Yet, despite this, my name only appears when my other papers are cited - I am not listed as an author, nor is my role in the initial discovery acknowledged.

Am I being childish to feel annoyed by this? Or, on the other hand, could this be considered a form of plagiarism?

Finally, what action should I take? Write an awkward email to my former supervisor? Or the first author? Or the university or journal? Or just let sleeping dogs lie?

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    First of all, consider whether you want to post this publicly with so many details, and your name and picture. Second, to clarify, was your discovery published in one of your papers that were cited?
    – Anyon
    Sep 15, 2022 at 23:39
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    @Anyon That's a fair point about anonymity and perhaps I should have created a throwaway for this question... To late now! To your question - no, the results were published only as a chapter in my PhD thesis, which was not cited.
    – Tom Wright
    Sep 15, 2022 at 23:49
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    @TomWright - not to late, you can still change username and picture
    – Sursula
    Sep 16, 2022 at 6:36
  • related/duplicate. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/143775/…
    – Sursula
    Sep 16, 2022 at 6:38
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    You can get this post dissociated from your account, if you contact Stack Exchange.
    – wizzwizz4
    Sep 16, 2022 at 13:07

2 Answers 2

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It's not unreasonable to feel aggrieved about the issue. At the same time, there is a difference between feeling annoyed and actually doing anything about it -- and the difference is that when you are about to do something about it, you should clarify for yourself what it is you want to achieve. In other words, how does a good outcome look like for you? And how much is that outcome worth to you?

Since you left academia some ten years ago, I suspect that you have found a career elsewhere. You may have started a family, and simply moved on. Your current work and position in life is no longer predicated on having one more publication -- there will be no pay raise for you if you were retroactively made an author, and your partner isn't going to love you more for it. Your kids aren't going to look up to you any more than they are anyway. Your parents aren't going to be prouder than they already are about their PhD son.

In other words, I suspect that there isn't actually much to gain for you. Is that worth your time, effort, and emotional energy? You might have every right to be aggravated by the situation, but my suggestion is that it might not be worth the fight.

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    Even if it's not worth the fight for personal gain, it may be worth punishing people that violated your rights somehow. Only if for the feeling of "I'm the hand of God" or "haha, morons, they thought I'll let it fly".
    – user162756
    Sep 16, 2022 at 23:49
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    Having one more authorship doesn't hurt one's resumé, either, even if one is no longer in academia.
    – kaya3
    Sep 17, 2022 at 2:35
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A PhD thesis is a publication. Thus you have published your results and anyone can build and extend it. Only real issue that the authors has done is not to cite your thesis. Therefore, I do not think there is an actionable issue here apart from a missing citation.

However, I do understand you would like to receive a recognition for your work, which you probably should have, since, they probably obtained more than what is published. But for that to happen you should have kept your ties with the research group and at least have some hand in the construction of paper.

Please understand this, if a research track should be stopped because a student is graduated/left, progress of scientific discovery will be slowed down. It is quite a common practice to give the topic to some other person if the previous person shows no interest to continue the work. And when you have no direct contribution to a particular paper, you cannot be granted authorship.

Biggest problem on their part is not to at least give a heads up about your work is being continued and asked if you would take part in it. Probably knowing you are no longer in academia your advisor thought you will not be interested.

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    It depends on the formulation. If they write "as descried in [1]" or "based on [1]", and [1] is the PhD thesis, your answer is right. Often this is not so clear and the authors present themselves as if they conducted the experiments themselves.
    – usr1234567
    Sep 16, 2022 at 9:46
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    @Cem such a "citing" issue is egregiously bad. To present work that was done before by others as your original work and as the first discovery is very bad. To do it knowingly in a case where it is clear you were aware of the previous work it is really really bad. "Only real issue that the authors has done is not to cite your thesis. " does not do the situation justice. Forgetting a citation would be mentioning that it was found by others but not explicitly including the citation. Acting like you were first when you were not... if you do that you should not be a scientist.
    – Kvothe
    Sep 16, 2022 at 14:08
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    In this case a thesis was published so it could have been cited but at worst if you are using results by someone who has left the field you can still cite it as private communications or private notes and give the credit someone is due. You definitely don't think "well good thing this guy is no longer around to complain I am now going to pretend I did all the work he did".
    – Kvothe
    Sep 16, 2022 at 14:11
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    OP says "my name only appears when my other papers are cited" so it may be the case that the discovery was initially published by the OP in an early paper during the course of OP's Ph.D. research. i.e. OP is cited, but not OP's dissertation.
    – shoover
    Sep 16, 2022 at 16:03
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    I don't want to say this; but it is possible that you are overestimating the competency of the person who is writing the paper. When the supervisor asks have you cited what Tom has found, having cited all Tom's papers (not the thesis though), new student could have said yes. It could have been like you said, but, what I am trying to say is it might just be an oversight. Sep 17, 2022 at 17:20

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