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My advisor gave me a broad topic to research. I found a really good question and have done a big part of the work answering it but, have not finished yet, then applied to a prestigious conference to present a poster and got positive feedback and told him so out of happiness.

Before submitting my work at the conference, I sent my advisor a detailed explanation of my ideas, the key question, the abstract, and the poster for feedback. He gave me none.

I went anyway and did my presentation. And by mere chance now, I found out that he published a paper before me in some journal and he used my ideas in there and even uses my wording but cites different people as if he was the original discoverer. Now I am supposed to submit to him my drafts and I don't trust him anymore. What should I do?

Edit: The paper was accepted and submitted after sending my work to him.

My main question: If I don't trust my advisor anymore, my work is nearly done now. How to get out of that with minimal damage done to myself and my future career?

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I am sorry to hear that this happened to you. Successful academic relations are built on trust and it is awful to suddenly find your trust betrayed by actions of your advisor.

There is clearly an appalling (lack of) communication from your advisor's side here. Having received materials from you, he did not respond with acknowledgement and/or feedback. This is definitely not what you expected from a supervision process and it is not how this process should be handled.

Your post also implies that your supervisor might have committed an act of plagiarism by using your ideas and your wording and publishing them as his own. It is not easy to tell whether it is true or not. Bear in mind that your supervisor is an expert working in this field for many years. The ideas which you (re)discovered by yourself may have been already known and published by other researchers. You mentioned that your supervisor cites different people. Consider studying those references to see if they contain the same ideas you were presenting to him.

You also mentioned that in this publication your supervisor acts as if he was an original discoverer. It might be a bit of an overstatement, considering that he cites some prior work. Please consider reading the cited papers to get a better feel of the history of development of this topic.

Finally, check the submission date of the Springer paper. Academic papers may spend years in review. It might be that this paper was written and submitted well before your supervisor gave you the problem to consider, and has been in review ever since. In this case, of course, your assumption of plagiarism is less likely to be true.

Having said all that, I want to re-iterate that your supervisor was not right to delay his response and feedback to you. I feel that he might have shared his submitted paper with you to give you something to work on and also to mitigate any possible conflicts, such as the one you find yourself in.

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    1. No, my supervisor is not an expert working in this field for many years. He is transitioning and he introduced all of his grad students to the area he wants to go in but, seldom helps any.
    – Nadine
    Feb 24, 2023 at 14:27
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    2. "You mentioned that your supervisor cites different people" - not in the sense that those he is citing "already came out with that insight he includes as his own" but in the sense that makes him the original identifier of that idea.
    – Nadine
    Feb 24, 2023 at 14:34
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So sad you are in this scenario. Not a good space to be in.

Not sure which country this is. Not really relevant.
Since you didn't indicate supervisory committee, we'll assume you have one advisor/supervisor. Probably for masters; could be a doctorate.

Having a frank conversation tends to resolve issues. Parties get to understand where the other is coming from and forge a common approach going forward.

With or without the frank conversation, you can go the 'dispute' route. Most graduate Schools (or universities) will have

  • supervisory policy (or guideline)
  • thesis guidelines/requirements
  • dispute policy/guidelines

You might want to read through them, and then reflect appropriately. If need be, you may take action based on options available to you in them.

Picking at random: McGill has a collation of policies, regulations and guidelines

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The only thing I think might be able to salvage the situation would be if you left some sort of paper trail (real paper or electronic. As long as there's some record of accountability). You mention

I sent my advisor a detailed explanation of my ideas, the key question, the abstract, and the poster for feedback

Was it via email? I'm not sure how it would specifically work at your institution, but you could show that to your department's oversight committee and try to get something started that way.

As Dmitry said earlier, most journals will state when a paper was first submitted and when it was actually approved. That information can help you if it's clear that you developed your work before the first draft was submitted. I would definitely look at the work your advisor cited on the publication and make sure the ideas he cites them for are actually there; if it's clear that your work is main contributing effort and your question has no cross-coverage, then it makes your case all the easier to make.

Good luck. I hope things work out for you.

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I was in exactly the same shoe when I was in my master's. That was a small school in the US, ranked somewhere between 200-250, which is not very good. A lot of faculty members are a little sloppy. I graduated with an M.S. degree. My "advisor" stole my idea and published it in a journal with IF > 4 (without my name), using exactly the same technique. I considered asking the chair but didn't in the end.

A lot of people may approach very differently. More for my case, I felt like I can do more than just 1 journal paper, so I thought my reputation would weigh a lot more than just a stupid paper. That was a hard call, especially at the MS level. If I had done differently, my former MS advisor would not get his current position today, more damages would have been done to others behind me, but from the damage control perspective, it was better for me to walk away instead of making a fuss out of it. Had I made reports and complaints, it would also be hard for me to apply for PhD (none of the prospective professors would take a difficult student).

Now in your situation, given that your journal paper has been published, I suggest you also walk away without making a fuss. It was more like a lesson of trust. People get it wrong all the time, not just you.

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