I keep seeing my graphs all over presentations and proposals that is presented to companies for funding. There is no part that cites my name, and it looks like it is my professor who is doing this work. They will also send my ideas and work progress to another student in the group who will then make the idea their own and then get credit for it. I feel completely used and I've gotten to a point where I'm not going to share any of my progress to my supervisor and if I do (from necessity) then I'm going to put watermarks on it.

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    Are these graphs part of joint publications? If they are, then I think it is legitimate for all authors to use them. Dec 24, 2022 at 20:29
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    Who got the funding for your projects and stipend? Based on what?
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 24, 2022 at 21:39
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    It's not an answer to your question, so I make it a comment instead. The relationship between you and your prof is clearly suffering quite a lot. It should be based on mutual trust and respect, which is manifestly less than it could be. You should be thinking carefully about your next actions, hopefully to find a path to a happier situation.
    – BillOnne
    Dec 25, 2022 at 6:59
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    If the figures and graphs are presented in the published manuscripts coauthored by you and your advisor, then your advisor can use them for seeking funding. Dec 25, 2022 at 7:09
  • This is not plagiarism, but i wouldn't want to work with that person. What you do next is up to your consideration.
    – Ambicion
    Dec 25, 2022 at 20:02

4 Answers 4


Is it plagiarism if my PhD Supervisor uses my graphs and animations (without asking me) in funding proposals and presentations to companies?

Probably not. It sounds like this was joint work. Even if you feel that you did all the work and your advisor contributed nothing, it is still probably joint work if you did the work while (formally) under your advisor's supervision.

Moreover, it doesn't sound like these are super-formal documents like peer-reviewed publications or important conference talks where you need to be careful about listing all authors and citing all prior work, including your own. Rather, these are designed to showcase the lab's expertise and capabilities. It may "go without saying" that the lab has other staff and collaborators and some of the results were produced by others. Perhaps it would be nice if the professor used your name, but this is a judgment call, and I think it's unlikely you could call this plagiarism.

They will also send my ideas and work progress to another student in the group who will then make the idea their own and then get credit for it.

It's hard to judge this case just from a sentence, but I find this to be much more worrying than the above. But we should be clear on what we mean by "make the idea their own." If they are building on your results and going in a different direction, then that sounds fine; different members of the group working together on a common area seems very appropriate. Maybe you'd prefer to work alone and not involve this other student, but this may be your advisor's call. On the other hand, if they are publishing your work as their own, then that is clearly plagiarism. But this case is all about the details.

I've gotten to a point where I'm not going to share any of my progress to my supervisor

This is likely not an option; you cannot unilaterally rewrite the terms of your collaboration. I would recommend humility: ask your advisor for a sit-down meeting, cordially raise your concerns, and let them explain their reasoning. Be open to the possibility that they acted within their rights (e.g., in showing your work to sponsors), and/or they made some small mistakes that can be corrected (e.g., passing your work to other students). If you cannot agree, you might reach out to another trusted professor, or to the ombudsman -- but this is a semi-nuclear option that may result in you having to find a new advisor. If you really trust your advisor so little, then finding a new advisor may be for the best, but unfortunately, this is likely to disrupt your life much more than your advisor's.

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    The student cannot unilaterally rewrite the terms of the collaboration. Important addition: neither can the supervisor.
    – Ambicion
    Dec 25, 2022 at 20:26

There is something totally wrong in the communication between your professor and you. Normally this should go like:

Professor: Hey, you did some interesting work on XYZ. Next week I will give a presentation / sent a proposal / etc where your work would be a good fit. Is it okay if I put it in?

Student: Yes, sure! (super happy that the work gets used)

Professor: Great, thanks! I will make sure that you also get the credit that you deserve for it!

I would assume that the professor anyway has at least some right to use your results as he has most likely had the original idea and got the funding but he should have definitely asked your permission!

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    I realise that the answer by @cag51 directly answers the OP's question, but this answer seems to really cut to the heart of the matter. I can't imagine it really making any difference to the OP's life whether they know that their supervisor's behavior is, or isn't plagiarism, or is, or isn't a breach of copyright. If things are so bad between a student and supervisor that the student has ideas about watermarking their work (!) then actually watermarking the graphs isn't going to solve a d*** thing! ... Student should line-up a serious (and I don't mean blaming) conversation Dec 26, 2022 at 4:04

There are probably two different aspects to the misconduct here. One is not asking you for permission to use your creative work as you have copyright to it unless you have already given it up.

But the second aspect is certainly plagiarism if there are any "ideas" and creativity in the work. If the graphics and such are standard things like plots and such. But animations probably have creative elements - ideas.

Note that plagiarism covers ideas and their misappropriation. Copyright covers expression. Both seem to have been violated, given your description.

The professor may also be leading other students into a plagiarism trap if they appropriate your ideas.

If you have an escape available, I suggest you consider it. You at least need an explanation of why the supervisor thinks any of what you describe is appropriate in any way.


I disagree with some of the advice given here. I like to use Teddi Fishman's definition of plagiarism :

„Plagiarism occurs when someone

  1. uses words, ideas, or work products
  2. attributable to another identifiable person or source
  3. without attributing the work to the source from which it was obtained
  4. in a situation in which there is a legitimate expectation of original authorship
  5. in order to obtain some benefit, credit, or gain which need not be monetary“

It is obvious from the description given that the professor is mis-using his or her position of power over the PhD student. I find it entirely irrelevant that the professor obtained funding or had the idea. Indeed, the ICMJE makes it clear what is considered authorship. Professors should not assume that they have the rights to everything produced in their labs without having to ask for permission and acknowledge the source. We are no longer in the Middle Ages where everything the serf does is considered to belong to the master.

The problem is: what to do. I agree that contacting the RIO (Research Integrity Officer) of the school is a good step to take. Just watermarking the images does not help much, but as others have said: there is a communication breakdown here that must be addressed. It needs to be addressed professionally (i.e. without drama), sort of like the lines of "I've noticed that you are using my #whatevers# in your presentations. Is there any particular reason why you are not mentioning my name?"

As for giving the material to others for them to build on: This is another problem that is unfortunately far too common. There needs to be a culture of communicating, of group meetings where the professor says: "I've seen the work of A on X, it looks so promising. Maybe A and B can get together and talk about it?" And if the professor sees B using the material without attribution, B gets pulled aside and told why we give credit to others.

These are slippery slopes to serious misconduct, and it the responsibility of the professor to get things in order. That's why a RIO may be able to help.

Good luck!

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