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I have a fairly unique situation going on that I'm not quite sure how to handle. A colleague of mine completed her PhD two years ago on the topic of arts and the local community. Since she was computer illiterate, she hand-wrote her entire thesis. Her advisor delayed in reviewing her work, asking for money from the student before beginning to review but she refused to pay (according to her). After a while, the advisor told my colleague that he would take care of having the thesis typed up himself, and did so. She paid the typing and printing cost. (Also, for context, it's fairly common not to know how to operate a computer in my region.)

At that point, this advisor asked for my PhD thesis, which I had recently completed. I handed him a soft copy.

Recently, my colleague and I were reviewing our theses, we noticed blatant plagiarism between the two versions. My colleague then remembered that her advisor has mentioned that he "edited" her thesis to "make it more informative". She immediately informed the university about the plagiarism and has put in a request to rescind the degree, as the no longer feels she deserves it. Unfortunately, the press found out about this story, and it's now in the public eye.

My question is, what can I do to protect my reputation at this point? I've since done some research and believe I have found other examples of this advisor both demanding money from students before graduating them and plagiarizing work on PhD papers. I've presented this to the Vice Chancellor, and he seems to believe the evidence, as we're not the first ones to complain about this type of behavior from this advisor. Still, with all that said, is there anything I can do to clear my name and expose the advisor?

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    I'm just staring at the screen saying "What? What?! WHAT?" I can't decide which is more ridiculous: A PhD student who can't type, a PhD student who is willing to let anyone else change the content of her thesis, a PhD student handing over a handwritten thesis to anyone without making photocopies first, an advisor who's willing to type (let alone "finish") his students' theses, an advisor that asks for money to review his students' theses. This is a circus. Get out. – JeffE Oct 21 '15 at 9:33
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    I live in Taiwan. Yes, I do understand what South Asian mind is (there are plenty of South Asians in Taiwan around me). Let me be honest with you. I do think Tara should take the responsibility. The reason I am saying this is beacuse: She should realize that part of her PhD thesis was not her writing when she got it back from her advisor. And she should have said that when she had the oral defense. So, she has least 80% fault because it is her thesis, not anybody else's. – scaaahu Oct 21 '15 at 11:08
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    Given that English is not your first language, I've completely rewritten this question to both make it more concise and to highlight the more salient points. This is a very large rewrite; please either edit or call out in the comments any inaccuracies introduced by my rewrite. Just trying to help, I do apologize in advance for any mistakes I introduced. – eykanal Oct 21 '15 at 13:17
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    @eykanal Thank you so much for the editing. I think it totally sums up what I wanted to say. I wrote too many lines making it complicated. – Mahmid Oct 21 '15 at 17:35
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    I've cleaned up a lot of the comments and integrated them into the question itself. Please let me know via a comment here if I deleted something you'd like restored (make sure to include @eykanal in the comment). – eykanal Oct 21 '15 at 18:13
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Your colleague handed her hand-written thesis to her PhD advisor. She couldn't graduate without bribing him. He should have had it typed out as-is, but instead he took the liberty to edit it, and added plagiarism from your thesis, then published it.

He is behaving wrongly on many levels:

  • He should not ask a bribe.
  • He should not edit her thesis text.
  • He should not have sent in her edited thesis as her authorship.
  • He should not plagiarise your thesis.

The people involved:

  • The advisor is engaging in severe misconduct and should be fired and criminally prosecuted.
  • Your colleague has been uncareful to not have complete documentation. She must retract her PhD thesis, because she did not approve the final text and should not bear responsibility for its contents. She is a victim of the advisor but she is at a large risk of being accused of plagiarism and bribery herself, which makes her situation tricky.
  • Your PhD thesis still stands. For you, it should be easy to provide evidence of plagiarism and evidence that you were the original author, for your PhD thesis was already published a year earlier. The damage to your reputation is much less than to the other people involved, as you are exclusively a victim.

What to do:

  • Make sure you keep written copies of everything you do.

  • She has apparently already spoken to the Vice Chancellor, who believes her. That is good. Go there together, along with anyone else who has been wrongly treated by the advisor, and ask what formal steps you can take to make him face consequences.

  • If the vice chancellor is unwilling to proceed, you might threaten with publicity, but I would not do so before.

  • She needs to retract her PhD thesis because the text is not her responsibility and she did not approve the final version.


P.S. The advice above may be naive. I am from a society where corruption is not considered normal (when it does happen, it is considered a scandal) and where a situation such as you describe would be unheard of in a university. I hope the advice is still useful and perhaps the follow-up to these incidents can help improve academic culture overall.

P.P.S. If you know anyone else who hand-writes their thesis, strongly recommend them to contact a computer-literate friend to scan each page soon after it is written and keep this backed up in a safe place.

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I think your reputation is not ruined at all. You completed your PhD thesis before your colleague sent her thesis draft to the advisor for review. As long as you can show this time-line to the Vice Chancellor, the investigation committee (if there is any) and the public, you are clean.

In my opinion, your colleague will have hard time to prove her innocence. She needs to prove that her advisor edited her thesis to add materials from your thesis without her consent.

It can be reasonably concluded from your question that the advisor is in this plagiarism scheme based on the fact that you gave him the soft copy of your thesis. I cannot say he did it on his own because lack of evidence. How do we know your colleagues did not pressure him? (Why did he type her thesis in the first place? Whose idea was it?) But, he is the advisor who does have responsibility to ensure his student's thesis meets the academic standards. In that regard, he failed to be an advisor.

Again, based on your question, I do not have enough evidence to say that the advisor is corrupted. To say that he is corrupted, you'll need more concrete evidence. Just a few people say he took bribes is not enough. So far, your colleague said she did not pay him the bribe. Others say the advisor demanded money, would they come forward and testify against him? You'll need to take the case to the authority and let them figure it out as this is a serious accusation and it’s crime in many countries (It would be a crime if the advisor works in a public university in my location and takes bribes.)

P.S. I believe that there are many people in the world who are computer illiterate. I myself don't use smart phone. But, I don't think this question has much to do with computer illiterate. Your colleague really should photocopy her thesis draft before she handed it to her advisor.

  • Regarding photocopies: Honestly I'd never have thought to photocopy my thesis draft before handing it to the advisor because I don't trust him. Can't imagine what I'd do in her situation. OTOH, if anybody else typed up my thesis, I'd be responsible to fix any mistake, and I'd have to actually check because typos are likely. – Blaisorblade May 21 '17 at 14:37
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    @Blaisorblade I suggested photocopying because the OP's colleague hand-wrote the draft. In these days, almost everybody uses computer to write the thesis. Everybody would have the draft on her computer, no need to photocopy. The suggestion was for this case and others in similar situation. – scaaahu May 21 '17 at 14:45

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