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I recently submitted my latest draft thesis to my advisor. I had been having problems with my advisor because I had found him unhelpful, he would not make it easy for me to ask him questions as he would raise his voice and cut me off, and I was confused by the goals/aims of the project and I feel he has misled me.

I had submitted a few draft theses before that the main advisor read, but the co-advisor did not read any of them. The co-advisor read the latest draft in detail and said I plagiarized. I admit that I didn't consider this constituted plagiarism and thought this was just a draft, I was mostly concerned about whether my ideas made sense and I was sure it would be changed because I knew the main advisor wouldn't like it. The parts they accused was plagiarism was in my previous drafts as well, so because the main advisor didn't mention those were plagiarized, I didn't change those parts. I was just hoping to keep the co-advisor. I also never intended to steal other people's work and claim it as my own.

Do you know if there's a good chance I'll get expelled, based on your experience with plagiarism in master's draft theses?

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    Welcome to Academia SE. Your question needs some editing to be a good fit for this site: 1) Can you please reduce it to what is relvant to your question. Your previous quarrels between you and your advisor seem to have no bearing on your questions at all. 2) All three questions in your last paragraph depend strongly on facts that we cannot know, in particular the personalities of the people you are dealing with. Please think about a question that somebody not knowing you or all these people could answer, e.g., under which conditions your case could actually be considered plagiarism. – Wrzlprmft Aug 14 '15 at 21:37
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    I don't know if this will help in your defense, but I am curious why you thought it was OK to "slightly reword entire paragraphs" even with a citation. Would that have been acceptable on an essay in your secondary school/high school? Are you perhaps from a culture which has different views on plagiarism? In your earlier schooling (before college), were you ever assigned a term paper/extended report and taught about citing sources and plagiarism? – mhwombat Aug 14 '15 at 21:51
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    "The dean's office will not investigate ..." doesn't make sense in this context. Is "not"a typo that should be "now"? – Andreas Blass Aug 15 '15 at 0:19
  • @ske - What country or part of the world are you in? That could affect the situation strongly. – aparente001 Aug 17 '15 at 3:42
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    @ske that edit removed some extremely important information. "(I thought just citing the source was good enough, I was unaware rewording sentences/paragraphs even with the citation was plagiarism and I never intended to claim others' work was mine)." Removing this part puts the post in a very very very different light. Poorly formatted citation vs actual plagiarism. – Murphy Sep 16 '15 at 11:28
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According to my own understanding of what a "draft" means, it sounds like you're getting a raw deal here. A "draft" is an informal document that is in the process of being changed and improved. Unless "submitting a thesis draft" is something formal in your program, to me this sounds like accusing someone of cheating for looking up the answers to a practice test. I also view the fact that you included the citations as a key one in your defense: that makes it quite clear that you are not in the middle of a larger plan to steal others' work; you just turned in a shoddy draft.

You do however sound very naive about what plagiarism means and how academic writing works. You don't write an academic document by taking others' words, modifying them slightly, and then planning later to modify them enough to make it not plagiarism. At no point in this are you actually doing the independent thinking and writing that's asked of you. If you want to indicate in a draft that you intend to include standard background material, you could include a section that is almost blank with "[Standard background to be filled in here as from SourceX]". The less generous way to look at your situation is "How did Mr. Ske manage to make it all the way to a master's thesis without understanding basic academic norms? If he hasn't understood these things by now, it's too late."

The other issue is that, sorry to say, the rest of your description of your academic experience sounds extremely (virtually entirely) negative. You have a bad relationship with your advisor -- very bad; he raises his voice at you when you ask questions, and he directly mocked you; both of these are really unacceptable -- you have a coadvisor who didn't read any of your previous drafts and gave you papers that you found "irrelevant" (which they might be, or you might be mistaken about it; either way is bad). Finally, someone who should be helping you out instead reported you to the Dean's office. This is really not good!

To answer your question: accepting everything you've said as an accurate account of the events, I personally find it unlikely that you will be expelled for this. However I am much less optimistic that you can move forward from this to successfully defend your thesis and complete your degree. The behavior exhibited by your advisor and coadvisor could well be gearing up not to accept your thesis. Someone who accuses you of plagiarism is surely pretty close to being done with you whether the accusation is affirmed or not. I'm sorry to say it, but I think you should be looking for exit strategies and considering other options. It is certainly worth a shot to go to your advisor and say "Look, this has been a bumpy road and I acknowledge that. I've been working on my degree for XX years, have spent YY months working on my thesis, and I would really like to finish it if at all possible, even if it is not perfect or what we originally hoped for. I would really appreciate your help in showing me what I can do to make that happen. I know that the primary responsibility is mine, and I'm willing to put in lots of hard work between now and ZZ, but so far I haven't met expectations, so getting more specific direction will really help me through this." Almost all advisors want their students to finish rather than not, so that is a good shot at salvaging a bad situation.

Good luck.

Added: Here is another site on the internet containing some discussion on the issue of plagiarism on a thesis draft. Note that the case in question concerns missing references, which is not exactly the same as yours and to me seems more serious. The overall consensus is that initiating formal plagiarism proceedings for this is so far over the top that there must be something else going on beneath it, which is my thought as well. However they point out that a ruling will depend on the precise plagiarism rules at your university, which (i) of course we can't know and (ii) of course it is your responsibility to know. But again, reading between the lines here, there is something profoundly wrong with your relationship with your coadvisor, so trying to fix that directly has got to be a good idea. The fact that it will not nullify the formal plagiarism inquiry is just an (unsurprising) formality: that's just saying that once something has been started, you can't unstart it, you can only end it. The only person who is accusing you of anything is your coadvisor, so if you can work things out with him, the inquiry will almost certainly work out in your favor. Hinting that you did this because of his bad advising seems like the worst possible strategy to me.

Finally, my talk of "exit strategies" does not mean that you should simply give up: in fact, as I immediately followed, you should have a frank discussion with both of these faculty to see whether the thesis and degree can be salvaged and if so how. But to be realistic, you sound like you are in an unusually bad situation: if you are at a university where master's students repeatedly get turned in by their advisors for what they write in their thesis drafts: yes, consider the prospect of going elsewhere if you can. Starting over is not the end of the world, and sometimes it is the best way to move forward.

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    "[Y]ou mean I should drop out now?" No, that's pretty clearly not what I meant, given that I included a specific plea to try to get things on track with your advisor. However, the possibility that you may not be able to continue in your program is there, and you should face up to that. But you should be considering other options...yes, including changing advisors. If that is possible and if you are in good standing in the program except for the opinions of your current advisors, I think that is a very good idea. – Pete L. Clark Aug 15 '15 at 4:47
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To the mods: I find the details about the quarrel of the OP with his supervisor in the first revision of the post very informative.

To the OP: from what you said, I'm afraid that your supervisor were right about you not understanding the project.

I was confused by the goals/aims of the project

It's like somebody tried to run quickly, but didn't know where he needed to go. Therefore, I wasn't surprised when your supervisor said your results had not been sufficient, when you thought they were. Especially, I find this very problematic:

It turns out that the prof thought I was using a code that performed A when it actually performed B.

Perhaps, the story from your supervisor might be: he wanted you to implement B, and it turned out you implemented A, and he was so frustrated for the time he had wasted for you.

So next time, if you get confused about anything, or you find the theory irrelevant etc, speak out and discuss with your supervisor until everything is clear, and an agreement is made. And this is a commitment that when you have agreed, you need to follow it strictly. You can also write meeting minutes to document that and avoid any misunderstandings.


However, now the damage has been made, and your goal is to fix it. IMHO, accidental plagiarism in an informal document is not a big deal, what to fix is your relationship with you supervisor and co-supervisor.

What you want is their agreement and sympathy so that you can have another chance with your thesis. You can't achieve that by telling them that they were wrong (and I don't think you can prove that in this case, since it is a clear plagiarism to me). Instead, you should sincerely accept your mistake due to your inexperience in doing research, and sincerely apology and ask for another chance. I think the last paragraph in Pete Clark's answer is excellent.

If it still doesn't work, sincerely thank them for their time and guidance, then look for another supervisor to re-do your thesis.

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