I am really frustrated, I have started my research for my master thesis 6 months ago and I have to submit the final draft after 2 months.

I was interested in a specific topic and I looked for a supervisor with the same research interests.

I was looking for something related to internet security (Botnet Detection); luckily, my supervisor gave me a research plan exactly about what I wanted to do. However, a month later and after I submitted the proposal and started to read deeply about the topic; I found that exactly the same research had already done by another two PhD students and what I was supposed to do was 100% repeating what they already had done 2 years ago.

I directly contacted my supervisor explaining to him the situation. I discovered that my research plan is exactly the same (word by word, someone copied from other). Moreover, the topic itself is very specific and is not easy to build or modify on it, he said "No problem, you just repeat it and we will try to slightly modify something.", then he added "If you can not do that, it is enough to repeat it." and I just agreed (trying to be positive and avoiding problems).

Now, after I started my writing I found myself repeating the same ideas and the same experiments, the same statements and the same conclusions. Later on, I discovered that this research supposed to be done by adviser with the group who already published the work and for some reasons they excluded him.

In short, the supervisor did not mention that this work is already published and did not mention that he was team member with them.

What I shall do?

Now I feel this work is 100% not original and I will not add and contribute anything. I am not feeling happy by wasting my time doing something like that.

Shall I escalate the story to the general adviser for master's students? Should I change the topic or should I continue and defend others work claiming that this is my own work?

I am not scared of rejecting my thesis, I am totally not satisfied about what I do write now. I am doing my masters to add something to my knowledge, experience and to feel really I will be one step a head.

Note: I work in industry field and I have no experience in academic and research fields.

  • 5
    What's this "research plan" you say is copied - could that have come from a grant proposal your advisor was a participant in with this other group?
    – ff524
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 13:15
  • You say in the title that your advisor already knew that the topic had been treated before, but there's nothing in your question to back that up.
    – Sverre
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 17:40
  • 1
    this title has been modified by someone else.... Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 17:49
  • If you're not sure, you should definitely find out for certain whether or not your advisor knew before suggesting the topic to you, that the work had already been published by someone else.
    – ff524
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 18:09
  • 9
    Is this a "taught masters", where you take classes for 2-3 semesters and then do a final project, or is it a "research masters", where pretty much all you do is research (aside from perhaps a class or two)? If it's the former, then what you have described may not be an issue.
    – mhwombat
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 19:22

3 Answers 3


Note that there is no way anyone knows about your precise situation, except you and your advisor, so I am making some wild guesses on what actually happened.

Perhaps your advisor is hoping to have an efficient implementation of the ideas / algorithms already expressed on the past paper, with the notion that he (or you and him) may later build on your implementation to create something new. In order to create anything new, you have to compare with existing approaches and therefore you still have to implement previous methods. He has given you two options a) Try to expand the ideas of the past paper b) If you cannot do that, just creating a NEW implementation of the original paper is enough for him. This is a MSc thesis and not all MSc theses lead to publishable results. But it still seems like an important project and as such, it seems it could still turn out to be a good MSc thesis and you will have a lot to learn from it.

So, your main problem is that you think that you cannot expand the original paper to new directions. But if you want to do research this is exactly what you are going to have to do. You should find a topic that interests you ("my supervisor gave a research plan exactly about what i want to do"), study previous literature (which you should have done before choosing the topic) and then expand on previous ideas. Note that since you have worked in industry, you may as well be a better programmer than those 2 PHD students and therefore your implementation might be much more efficient than theirs. This is still a significant contribution which may eventually be published.

My advice:

  • Talk to your advisor and state your doubts and clarify the situation.
  • Implement the paper's ideas as fast and efficient as possible
  • Compare your implementation with the paper's results. You should at least aim for a more efficient implementation
  • Check related literature that cites this paper. Is this paper, still state-of-the-art? Is this paper cited by anyone? This will show if this project has been picked up by anyone. If it is not, it is reasonable that your advisor wants to build upon the previous paper to further expand it. If someone has extended it or applied it to other use-cases, your assumption that it cannot be improved is wrong and you should think what you can do to further expand it. Either way, you will have an answer about how to proceed.
  • Think of any other possible improvements, what else could be done better, in a more efficient way or how this idea could be used in other use-cases.

Also, you have learnt a valuable lesson. What you want to do in research should correlate with what is already been done. You should study previous research very carefully and exhaustively. If you believe that previous works have already done everything to perfection (which BTW is rarely the case) then you should choose a new topic. Otherwise you are the one that should think what can be improved. I think you pretty much expected that your advisor had a new research idea waiting just for you and all you needed to do was just to implement it. But this was really an unrealistic expectation on your part.

  • 36
    Your answer seems to sidestep the issue that the OP's advisor may be committing some kind of academic fraud: e.g. he provided the OP with a research plan that was copied word for word from a preexisting research plan and did not mention this to the OP. It seems to me that any good answer to this question should engage with this point (more than just admonishing the OP to check the literature more carefully: he did check the literature, which is how he found out about this). Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 12:44
  • 1
    @PeteL.Clark That is why I propose to clarify the situation with the advisor. Is there anything else anyone can do? Or do you directly suggest that he selects another advisor and a new topic?
    – Alexandros
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 12:49
  • 1
    I don't know: it's hard to argue against tying to clarify the situation. But you give a lot of specific ("spastic"??) advice to the OP about how to carry through this project, and to me it seems totally unclear whether he should continue to work on this project and/or with this advisor. And you seem to want view the OP as being at fault here: I also find that less than clear. If we suspect that the advisor may have done something inappropriate, shouldn't we discuss that explicitly? Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 12:55
  • 2
    I do not say that I need something ready to implement. I can easily re do the same implementation and do or even fake some slight modification, then it will be fine. the main point is that not what i was looking for and now I have to accept less than what i hoped. plus why the adviser did that? my feeling from the few discussions with him is that he is trying to use me to carefully study their research in order to find something wrong in that paper or maybe what i notice is that he is very busy and he wants to give something almost ready so he will not spend much time with me Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 13:50
  • however, this is could be wrong, and maybe he did not know that the paper is already published. Now if I want to change the topic I have to extend my master one more semester (another 6 months). what I will do now is something I do not like which make my performance very low. thanks Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 13:53

For a master's thesis it is nice but not completely essential to do something original. I'm sorry that it feels like you're rediscovering what is already known.

Now that you're in that situation, though, the best option is likely to write your results as a test of the published results or a comparison between the published results and something else. For example, you can use different data, compare some aspect that wasn't covered before (resource usage?), write more of a review or try to get different other partial/possible solutions running to compare against. Is the other code open source? If not, open-source yours (assuming your advisor is okay with it). Are there missing steps that are important? Describe them well.

Also, although it feels like a waste of time to repeat the same stuff (and often it is), there is a benefit to thoroughly testing out and verifying what is supposedly known. Just because something's published it isn't necessarily true or useful or accurate. In this case from what you've said it sounds like it is--but if you believe this was useful work for someone to have done, it is also useful for it to be independently verified, which you have done. I wish this were done more in academia, honestly. Too much poorly-verified and over-hyped stuff gets through. But it's hard to publish a paper saying, "I checked important result X and yep!...it was right on target."

It's harder to know what precisely to do about the academic honesty issue. You may wish to discreetly contact whoever is in charge of administrative ethics at your school (preferably some sort of grad student ethics advisor, so they can advise you on whether this sounds like a big problem). But if it's a problem it's a problem for your professor; I wouldn't let it derail your thesis unless absolutely necessary.


In mathematics it's often OK to have a master's thesis be expository, of course as long as it is clearly indicated that it is expository, and it is (of course) written in one's own words, well-referenced, etc. Usually in this case it's better if the expository work provides either a new proof of a known result, or a new perspective on the old result.

I'm sorry if this doesn't answer the academic honesty concerns, but is there any way you can take this spin?

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