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I partnered with my former professor to establish a social research-based organization. We had a plan to pursue a federal grant. In pursuit of the grant, we brought some volunteer RAs on board to help us with some of the work. The research focus was suggested by my co-PI and I looped in one of our RAs to do a literature review write up to hone in on the research question, which was my idea.

My RA offered to take on the full literature review, despite my offer to split the work with her. I had other projects to work on so I gave her permission to move forward with the literature review on her own. Long story short, my co-PI is taking a leave of absence and wanted to put the grant proposal on hold so he suggested that perhaps I could partner with our (now former) RA to take our literature review and see if we could submit it for publication. She and I agreed to move forward with it based on the large body of work she did, and I offered to have her as first author, and myself as second author, because of all the work she put in.

Over the last couple of days, I have been doing a lot of editing on the manuscript and putting it together so that it would make the best package for publication. Part of my due diligence was to submit it for a plagiarism scan and it came back with a 75% similarity report. It would seem that she didn’t understand what I was looking for when I requested a literature review and essentially copied and pasted information she thought was relevant into a document and submitted that as the review.

Based on this, I told her that we would not be able to move forward with the publication plan, as I had hoped. One, because I don’t have the time to rewrite what I thought was already written, and two, because at this point, I have lost some trust in working with her. She said she understood and today she emailed me and asked if it was OK for her to take the idea and pursue publication. I am inclined to say no because the project was spearheaded by my co-PI who is currently out on personal leave and I don’t want to bother him with this and also because the research idea was mine. Am I wrong?

To clarify, when I approached her about plagiarism, she shared that that’s what she understood a literature review to be. She was educated outside of the US in the medical field. Is it possible that’s how she was taught? I don’t know, but her intention now is to use the research she did for her version of a literature review and actually write a paper for publishing.

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  • Would it be enough to put all of the copied text in quotation marks? Oct 9, 2023 at 5:44

2 Answers 2

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I don't think that there is an "idea" you can rightfully feel protective of in suggesting a literature review. It isn't that you had an epiphany or scientific idea that she's running with -- she did a routine part of scientific work that you suggested to her but that contained no intellectual contribution. As such, I don't think that you own any intellectual credit for the outcome. You do deserve intellectual credit for whatever writing you did, and she cannot use that. That might be worth pointing out to her.

But I feel like she's asking the wrong question. You don't want to go ahead with publication because you don't believe that whatever the text is right now follows academic ethics. It cannot be submitted until the problems with plagiarism are resolved. This is the point you need to impress on her: That she cannot just go ahead and pursue publication of the current state. If she fixes the issues, then the result might be publishable, and that you're happy to contribute to the project again once she has addressed the (legitimate) issues you found.

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The issue here isn't who came up with the idea for a lit review. The issue is that this RA doesn't seem to understand that nearly the entire paper has been plagiarized (intentionally or not). The fact that she wants to continue to pursue publication after you explained the issues could indicate that maybe she didn't actually get what the issue was or it could indicate that she does understand but wants to learn. It sounds like this is not a university lab situation though i.e., you are not a graduate student, post-doc, or professor who is responsible for teaching her.

I've encountered plenty of students (and research assistants) who don't know how to conduct a publishable lit review. I understand your hesitation to work with her further and the temptation to "ban" her from further developing the paper. It can be a slog to teach someone else and is almost always more work than doing it yourself.

So what you do next depends on how invested you are in her and her growth and development. You can take time to explain the issue, why you are concerned, and how to rectify it. Then let her know you will support a publication if she approaches it properly. This will undoubtedly take effort as it sounds like her understanding of how to conduct original research is lacking. I suspect that she will need some babysitting. Without babysitting I think you will have nagging doubts about the quality of the work.

If you're not interested in this, I don't think it's unreasonable to say that you do not have time and will not support the paper moving forward. Make sure she understands that she cannot use your work. Then end the collaboration. What she does from there is up to her. I don't know how this would go over with your co-PI but you should consider that.

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  • You can allow her to use you work. I am not sure whether you are giving that much up compared to just throwing it away. I would be more concerned, that she puts you as second author or in the acknowledgments, submits the paper and it is detected as plagiarisms with your name attached to it.
    – usr1234567
    Oct 7, 2023 at 6:12
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    That is the concern and the reason I suggest not allowing use of the OP's contributions. If they did any substantial work on the paper they should be listed as an author and things get a little messy.
    – sErISaNo
    Oct 9, 2023 at 20:44

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