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I plan to obtain a recommendation letter for PhD from a recommender with whom I have worked a lot during the course of my bachelor's. However when I accidentally typed her name in Google, a copyright violation notice by IEEE in her name shows up (sample). It identifies the paper that included the copied text, says something like

After careful and considered review of the content and authorship of this paper by a duly constituted expert committee, this paper has been found to be in violation of IEEE's Publication Principles.

This paper contains portions of text from the paper(s) cited below. A credit notice is used, but due to the absence of quotation marks or offset text, copied material is not clearly referenced or specifically identified.

and specifies the original source of the copied text. This violation has nothing to do with my work with her.

I am afraid this shall reduce the credibility of my work. Besides, I am loath to approaching other professors because I have worked much less with them and do not know them as well as this recommender. What should I do? Go ahead with her recommendation despite, or seek another recommender?

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    Are you sure it is the same person? – Patricia Shanahan Feb 18 '16 at 18:44
  • @PatriciaShanahan: Of course yes. Her name and the violation notice show up in a simple Google search within a quotation. – Bravo Feb 18 '16 at 18:55
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    This is a plagiarism violation, not just a copyright violation. – ff524 Feb 18 '16 at 19:02
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    When did she write the plagiarized paper; and do you have, or could you get, a feeling for how well-regarded she is in her field? If this happened in the past, and she's now an established, tenured (say) researcher, then probably even her own field has taken the incident as not representative for her. If it's recent and she's very early assistant professor, I wouldn't touch a recommendation of your mentor with a ten feet pole. Yes, it matters how well a professor knows you; but it matters at least as much (and in my opinion more) how your letter-writer is regarded in their profession. – gnometorule Feb 19 '16 at 0:17
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    @Wolfgang: I think this is only an example for the type of notice - in any case, I hope so: identifying the mentor in public would not be a good idea. – gnometorule Feb 19 '16 at 7:19
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I assume that because you write "for PhD" that you are currently an undergraduate applying for graduate school.

In that case, I think there is relatively little guilt by association. Some people reading the recommender's letter might discount it because the person is discredited, but I don't think anyone will blame you in particular because we assume undergraduates don't often have a choice of which lab they work in, or any knowledge of the shenanigans their advisors might be engaging in.

Her letter might not be as strong as if she didn't have this cloud hanging over her, but I assume that in it she spoke to the quality and diligence of your work and your suitability for graduate studies.

Things might be different if you were a doctoral student in the lab and applying for postdocs or jobs. In that case, there might be stronger guilt by association, especially if you had authored papers together. But you're just an undergraduate so I wouldn't be worried.


Anecdote: As an undergraduate psych major at a R1, I worked in the lab of a psychologist who worked on ESP - that's extra-sensory perception. He only hired undergraduates because he knew of the taint that would be associated with this work for grad students. I was quite happy with the money, it was fun work coding people's free-associations due to supposed psionic powers, and it didn't hurt my graduate career in any way.

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Unfortunately, yes, this might put a small seed of doubt in people's minds about you, by association. Was the recommender the first author of the paper in question? If they were neither the first author nor the lab head, any reflected doubt is much smaller.

What are your other options for a recommender? A recommendation from this academic is still a positive in comparison with a recommendation from someone who doesn't really know you, or is outside academia. If anyone stops to think about it, they will realise that you are so junior that you couldn't possibly be implicated, the only negative is that it may pass through their mind in the first place.

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