I don't know how to ask this so please forgive my ignorance and lack of vocabulary. Consider a case as below. I just would like to know.. :

Can a PhD student who just defended their thesis, but is accused of plagiarism the day after that by his own advisor, be denied the right to correct/revise/resubmit/etc. the PhD thesis?

I think it's unfair that the student is denied the opportunity to correct/revise/resubmit/etc. with the reason being "there's no time". Long story short, the part covered by the accusation is only related to the explanation of some previous research (with difficulty in English) and the result of the defense was Successful. At least the advisor (and we generally as people in academic world) should help - at least give him/her a chance/right of resubmission/etc., not denying the student's hard work, worth and right. Many other people got the chance to at least resubmit/redefend/etc.

Any advice on what can be done also is very much appreciated.


On this page, it's said that the Materials and Methods part is often given a high similarity score in plagiarism checker software. What I understand from the link is, a situation like this is acceptable; not considered as plagiarism. I wonder if this is also true for other/most universities/institutions?

  • 8
    I don't see how the thing about similarity in "Materials and Methods" is relevant; you said the part that was plagiarized was "the explanation about a previous research," not the methodology section. Plagiarizing in the related work section indicates bigger problems; if a student who copies parts of this section from the papers describing the related work probably isn't contributing their own analysis and insight to that section, and isn't properly contextualizing their own work.
    – ff524
    Jan 20, 2016 at 17:55
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    You seem to have a misunderstanding of what plagiarism is. A high "similarity index" is not the same as plagiarism, although it is often an indicator.
    – StrongBad
    Jan 20, 2016 at 21:41
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    The fact that the advisor of the student was the accuser and nevertheless after the defence, gives me the impression that there are severe underlying problems. Isn't there an ethics committee to decide on these issues at the university? Most of the times it's not a black&white situation.
    – electrique
    Jan 20, 2016 at 22:03
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    @electrique in my experience with academic misconduct by students it is generally pretty blatant (i.e., black and white).
    – StrongBad
    Jan 20, 2016 at 22:28
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    To your additional question: Any software index is a hint only! It always should be confirmed by human who reads the texts and judges their actual similarity. Jan 21, 2016 at 11:23

4 Answers 4


There are a handful of issues here. First, an accusation of plagiarism does not make it plagarism. There is most likely a formal policy for cases like this. Things get messy if the work has already been graded and accepted. Many university polices allow retroactive punishments and universities can even revoke degrees. If, after the procedure concludes, and possibly your appeals have been exhausted, you are found to have plagarised, a penalty will be applied.

That penalty can vary substantially from a warning to expulsion. The academic misconduct panel I served on took an exceptionally harsh view of academic misconduct by graduate students and a exceptionally lenient view towards undergrads. Our university policy would not allow us to expel a student on a first offense. In the case of a thesis, we would be allowed to apply 3 penalties. The most lenient we could be would be to evaluate the thesis with the plagiarized material removed. If this caused the student to fail, they would be allowed to revise the thesis. The most harsh we could be would be to require them to submit a new thesis with entirely new work. This means an entirely new thesis project with all new writing, data collection, and analysis. In the final case, for localized plagarism, we could require the student to generate a new chapter or literature review.

My advice to you is to talk to student services ASAP about the university rules and getting independent representation. Most universities prohibit using lawyers in the process. Additionally you need to know why the accusations have arisen. Did you plagarise? Did you not understand what plagarism was? Did you make a copy and paste error? Maybe it is you who have been plagarised. Finally, setup a meeting with your advisor and another with your department chair. You need to know if your advisor and/or department are backing you or not.

  • 2
    I'm familiar with cases in which a student retained legal counsel to help with a disciplinary hearing (including attending the hearing).
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 21, 2016 at 0:55
  • @DanRomik And it is also common for universities to prohibit legal counsel at all in disciplinary hearings as mentioned in the answer (mine included). If criminal charges are involved, the university hearings will often wait until the conclusion of the legal portions just so they can prohibit counsel from attending. So it comes down to what is in the student code of conduct and what procedures are outlined, but banning counsel is not uncommon.
    – tpg2114
    Jan 21, 2016 at 22:40
  • @tpg2114 the real issue is that universities often let someone accompany the student and if that person just "happens" to be a lawyer then it is difficult to not allow the person to attend.
    – StrongBad
    Jan 21, 2016 at 22:50
  • @StrongBad Yeah, we have language specifically to prevent that. Ours specifically says that you cannot bring somebody who is licensed to practice law in our definition of "adviser" that a student can bring to a hearing.
    – tpg2114
    Jan 21, 2016 at 22:57
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    @tpg2114 maybe the solution is not to have such a stupid rule in the first place. Just saying.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 22, 2016 at 0:31

I think it's relevant what kind of plagiarism this is.

If it's serious plagiarism, such as quoting large blocks of text without proper attribution, then that can be a serious academic offense. Asking why you can't just change it and re-submit is like asking why you can't just re-take an exam if you're caught cheating or why you can't just give the item back and forget everything if you're caught stealing.

Depending on your institutions procedures you might be allowed to resubmit if it's found that the plagiarism was minor, accidental or not actually plagiarism but I suspect you're missing the point.

Plagiarism in a submitted thesis isn't like a simple technical error to be corrected, it's potential wrong-doing or dishonesty to be investigated.

  • 16
    The problem is, I may add, that a PhD declares the candidate to be a "full" member of the scientific community, and to adhere to certain standards. In other words, by plagiarising the candidate has demonstrated that he has little respect for the rules of science (it's not lack of knowledge anymore, at PhD level, the offence level can be assumed as well-known). It remains with the board responsible for PhD awards to decide whether this offence can be put to rest. Jan 20, 2016 at 16:22
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    I think the student just didn't do well in paraphrasing that part. By the way, from [this link](a), it's said that Materials and Methods part often give a high similarity in plagiarism checker software. From the link, situation like this is not considered plagiarism. I wonder if this is also true for other/most universities/institutions?
    – kate
    Jan 20, 2016 at 16:36
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    @kate that's exactly what I meant by saying it's relevant what kind of plagiarism it is. An accidental bit of self-plagiarism or a few non-notable sentences isn't a big deal but would likely still need to be investigated to decide if it's a result of dishonesty. On the other hand notable chunks of text without attribution would be a big problem.
    – Murphy
    Jan 20, 2016 at 16:59
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    @kate In math, verbatim repeats of standard definitions for self-containedness are normal. Nobody expects you to invent a new definition for vector spaces. In a way it's a bit like a library import in software. This is not plagiarism, as long it is not claimed to be the candidate's own invention. I should believe that this is not the type of plagiarism that triggered the advisor's response. Jan 21, 2016 at 16:54
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    @kate A high similarity index is just cause to investigate. A high similarity index can never be considered plagiarism by itself. Jan 21, 2016 at 21:01

As a senior university academic, I would say that there is not really enough detail of the alleged misdemeanour to judge the severity of the case. However, if the fundamental research is unique and valid (as the successful defence of the thesis would imply it was), and a robust understanding of the area was demonstrated, then resubmission with ironing-out of over-similar sections would seem an appropriate outcome. If this is at a UK university, approach your Students' Union for support, they will understand the norms and Regulations and have a mandate to represent you.


The answer will depend on the rules and regulations of the university in question.

However, I would be surprised if the regulations gave the advisor total power to adjudicate such disputes. Usually such matters are referred to a committee at the department level or [in Europe] may be elevated to the university senate. There is usually some kind of process that tries to be fair and impartial in resolving these matters and usually the people will take it quite seriously.

The first thing I would do is read the regulations carefully, and seek advice from the head of the department or the chairman of the research student committee.

  • 2
    I doubt that the name "university senate" is something used across all of Europe.
    – user9646
    Jan 20, 2016 at 15:41

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