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I was looking for mentions of my work on the internet and I came across a seminar series in which a graduate student had given a talk using an abstract of mine. It is unpublished work which I posted on a preprint server. There was no mention in his talk announcement of who did the work, but it was unmistakable because it was in a very specialised area and got a fair bit of media exposure.

On the one hand, I think it is shoddy to give a talk about someone's work without mentioning them in your abstract. The student also never contacted me to ask if he could talk about my work or to get further information etc.

On the other hand, it seems unlikely that the student wanted to pass the work off as his own because, as I said, it already appeared in various newspapers and blogs with my name attached to it.

I thought of contacting the student or his advisor, but it seems a little heavy-handed, I don't know what I should say, and my default behaviour is just to do nothing.

On the other hand, I have been stung before by ruthless people in academia and I feel like I should be protecting my turf, particularly since I am not currently employed by a university.

Best case: it was an innocent misunderstanding, my work got some extra publicity because this student thought it was cool. Worst case: he makes some minor changes and publishes it under his own name and I am once again a doormat.

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    What kind of seminar series? Is this like an internal grad student seminar series where they take turns presenting papers, or did this student present the work at another institution? – ff524 Jan 27 '15 at 5:21
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    @Flounderer Maybe this was just an internal journal club. For these kind of things, it is expected that you talk about the paper of another researcher. Just contact him, there's a good chance that there is nothing to worry about here. – xLeitix Jan 27 '15 at 7:15
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    The student also never contacted me to ask if he could talk about my workGood for them. if you didn't want people to talk about it, you shouldn't have made it public. – JeffE Jan 27 '15 at 9:36
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    "had given a talk using an abstract of mine" -- presumably you don't want to de-anonymise this student by linking to the details, but what do you mean by "using an abstract"? You can see his slides online, and one of them quotes your abstract without attribution? All you know is his presentation title mentions your work, like "Summary of recent news reports regarding result X", without mentioning you? The latter extreme might be nothing (the presentation itself might attribute properly), whereas the former is certainly something even if it's a smallish thing. – Steve Jessop Jan 27 '15 at 11:21
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    @SteveJessop the student just literally used my abstract from the arXiv as the abstract for his talk, without any mention of where it came from. I don't know anything else about the talk. – Flounderer Jan 27 '15 at 19:56
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I think there are basically two cases here:

  1. The student is presenting or leading discussion on your work as part of a "journal club" sort of series, and the abstract is your abstract because they're talking about your paper.

  2. The student is baldly and ridiculously plagiarizing.

I think a good way to approach this is to assume case #1, and make contact with the student. You might email the student (paper trail), cc'ing both their advisor and yours, with something like:

I noticed online that you gave a presentation on my paper [preprint link]. I'm interested to know how it was received, and if there was any interesting feedback. Would you mind sharing your notes?

Now, if it's case #1, you've made positive contact with a possible fan and collaborator, and something really nice might come out of it. If it's case #2, though, you've established a paper trail and made certain that the relevant supervisors on both sides are aware of it, so that if any incident happens in the future, your position is exceedingly clear and strong.

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    This is a great and well thought out approach. I have had classes before where we have simply discussed various topics and gave a brief presentation on them - without actually doing research or writing formal papers. The general idea for those classes was just to get a general idea of innovative areas of research and methodologies as a way to brainstorm for ideas we may want to research more in depth. – Ramrod Jan 27 '15 at 7:14
  • @Ramrod: That may be the general idea, or even - as this might explain (yet not excuse) the lack of sufficient attribution - just to practice giving a presentation on an arbitrary topic without necessarily having a particularly deep interest in that topic. – O. R. Mapper Jan 27 '15 at 8:58
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    @O.R.Mapper: an excellent opportunity to also practice giving correct attribution in a presentation when you refer to someone's abstract ;-) – Steve Jessop Jan 27 '15 at 11:16
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    @SteveJessop: Not necessarily; if the presentation was meant as a "simulation" of talking about one's own results (by students who do not have any own results yet, and hence need to be given someone else's results so there is something to talk about), it would be reasonable not to provide attribution. In that case, the result should absolutely not be publicly accessible online, though. – O. R. Mapper Jan 27 '15 at 12:18
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    The first scenario sounds rather likely. At our group we do a similar thing: we announce the next session on a blog giving the next speaker and the abstract of the paper to be discussed (usually with a link, but it might get dropped unintentionally). – E.P. Jan 28 '15 at 2:48

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