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I am at an Australian university studying Ph.D. I have written five first-authored papers related to my thesis topic during my Ph.D. candidature. 3 of them are published. 2 of them are under review now. One of the published ones is only a co-first authored paper. There are 3 co-first authors on that paper.

I am unsure whether I could paste most of the content of this paper into the thesis. As far as I know, most of my Ph.D. fellows would do this if they were the first author. I consulted with the university's academic intuition and they told me it was fine as long as I cited this paper at the beginning of the chapter. The other two first authors also agree that I contribute most to this paper.

But I am still unsure. If I am not the sole first author and copied the material, would the thesis examiner outside my university consider this behavior plagiarism? If this is too risky, I would rather not include this paper as a part of my thesis. Re-phrasing the whole paper is too time-consuming for me. But not including this work would influence the completeness of my thesis.

The academic consulter at the university told me that I should isolate my contribution from the others in the paper and only write down my contribution. But the idea of the whole paper is mine. The other two first authors are basically only executioners, so I have no idea how to isolate them...

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    Seems like a local question for your advisor.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 13, 2022 at 13:01
  • This is a rather common problem for a "stapled thesis", and not only limited to papers where first authorship is shared. It is relevant whenever you have co-authors. Our very local solution is to make it compulsory to make your own contribution transparent by including a rather detailed contribution statement. This might work for you, but you have to know your local rules better than we do. Oct 13, 2022 at 13:36
  • I'm curious about the field. Is it applied math? Pure? Statistics? Both "co-first author" and stapled theses seem foreign to me in some of those fields.
    – Buffy
    Oct 13, 2022 at 13:53
  • Note that the outside examiner is supposed to follow the rules and instructions set by your institution. Oct 14, 2022 at 0:12

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This question has only a local answer. In general, though, I'd think it would be fine to include, but the advice from your own institution suggests otherwise.

You need to follow local custom since the "powers that be" control what is acceptable for dissertations/theses at that institution.

Take the advice given. If you have the opportunity to expound on the work as a whole, say in an introduction or summary, then list the additional works there and comment as you think appropriate.

I recognize that if you have a quantity requirement as well as a quality one, this will be a problem. If it is a serious problem then work it out with your advisor and others in power so that it works out for you. But none of us here are likely to have any say in the matter and an appeal like "The internet says it is fine." will get you exactly nowhere.


If you need to separate out some things from the co-authored papers and you are having difficulty doing so, both your advisor and your co-authors might have some useful suggestions.

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  • Thank you... I might go back to consult with my PhD advisor
    – hidemyname
    Oct 14, 2022 at 3:36

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