Last year, I applied to a university which is in Europe so a research statement is a crucial part of the application. I was interviewed by two faculty members and then finally got a rejection letter.

In my research statement, I had a particular idea and described a roadmap for it, though I did not get into technical details. But the idea was there and clearly stated. Recently, I came across a publication where the title is the same as my idea (wording is a little bit different) and is co-authored by one of the members of the interview panel.

The publication has technical details which were not part of my research statement.
I believe there is no clear proof here whether my ideas got used or not.

My questions are:
is this suspicious?
is this valid and acceptable?

  • 7
    Definitely bad form. – Dave Clarke Dec 13 '12 at 21:05
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    Can you contact the department chair, who is likely to have access to your admission materials? Taking this kind of thing lying down would only encourage this further IMHO... – TCSGrad Dec 13 '12 at 21:07
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    No, but that would serve as a warning flag, even if he got away - the chair would be unlikely to forget, and pass off a second incident as "coincidence"! – TCSGrad Dec 13 '12 at 21:21
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    @TCSGrad I think you could turn that into an answer. – gerrit Dec 13 '12 at 21:32
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    It's unclear anything would come of reporting to the chair though, since these things are very hard to verify. And why would the chair even take your word for it ? – Suresh Dec 13 '12 at 21:58

There is of course the possibility that the person you've accused actually had the same idea independently. It's certainly suspicious, the moreso if when you were interviewed that person did not say "I like your idea and have actually been working on something similar". I agree with the suggestion that you contact the chair and raise the issue, but be polite and nonconfrontational about it. If you say "I think this guy stole my idea" it could be less effective than "I came across something similar to what I had proposed ... since Prof X didn't indicate he was working on this, I found it interesting that he published something so similar to what I proposed."

The thing to keep in mind is that it is a very gray area... this person might have come across your idea, forgotten about it, and later decided to pursue this idea without actually being consciously aware the idea came from your proposal. And, you say much of the work goes beyond what you actually proposed. So I think the chair should be informed, but I wouldn't expect much to come of it unless he's known as a repeat offender.


Contact the department chair, with a well-documented chain of events, and ask him to verify using the admission materials you ahd submitted to the department prior to the interview. Even if the plagiarist got away this time, he would know that he/she could not pull it off again, as people around him/her had gotten to know of this - and no one would want to work with someone who can potentially steal your ideas, right?

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