I obtained my PhD about five years ago and immediately took up a postdoctoral position at a national lab in Japan to continue my research in computer engineering.

Over those five years I worked with the person who is now my supervisor, and trusted him in the same way I would trust any ordinary person, only to learn (too late!) that my trust was misplaced.

After working on a large project of his for about two full-time years, he forced me to "leave the project". Now that the large project is nearing completion, I have since discovered that he has started to present my ideas and my work as his own.

The administration vacillates between feigning ignorance and admitting there is a problem but then claiming that they are powerless to do anything about it.

What can I do? What should I do - and why?

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    As JeffE would say, Run, don't walk. Feb 21, 2013 at 10:08
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    First of all, you might want to edit your question so that it looks more like a question, and less like a rant. Second, you have a PhD, why don't you leave and find another place to work?
    – user102
    Feb 21, 2013 at 10:08
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    @Charles Morisset: Because leaving would entail relocating my entire family, etc. Not impossible but hardly a walk in the park! Feb 21, 2013 at 11:11
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    Has he published your work, or just presented it? Feb 21, 2013 at 13:39
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    This can be solved. As suggested below, the way could be to talk with him. Another is to write the work up and try to publish it, probably with him as co-author. Feb 21, 2013 at 14:13

3 Answers 3


It is harder to deal with plagiarism in oriental countries than in the western world. It's even harder when your employer is a national lab.

To answer your question, how to encourage the administration to handle plagiarism?

There is something you need to know (I suspect you already know it to some extent), orientals tend to treat their faces much more seriously than anything else. This is the key.

Things may not be that serious as you would think. So far, he only presented the idea and the work as if they were his. But I agree that it's a bad sign. You need to deal with it as soon as possible before he goes any further.

Edit (I would like to argue that we do not have sufficient information to tell if plagiarism will happen or already happened.) End of Edit

From what you described in the comments, your supervisor seems to have personal issue with you. You might have some conflicts with him without you even knowing it. The key word face is the most probable reason I could think of. There is probably some cultural thing buried somewhere you would need to figure out if you want to resolve it. It may not be that serious as you think, could be just misunderstanding.

There is some different thinkings between oriental and western world. In the western world, people take individual ownership for what they think and do. In the oriental world, some tend to think the ideas and the works are products of the whole team/group. Thus, the head of the group would present the idea and the work as the head of the group. This could be construed as plagiarism in the western world

You said they are powerless to do anything about it. This is probably due to that thinking. I must say that changing a culture takes huge efforts and long time. If you want to talk to them to encourage them to handle plagiarism, you need to

Talk to them politely, professionally and discreetly.

  • Wow, just wow. Thank you for this answer, is is completely orthogonal to anything I had imagined. Having said that, I am not sure I fully understand what you are talking about - at least, I'm not confident I know how to deal with the issue! I have, thus far, been dealing with people as politely, professionally and discreetly as I know how, but it hasn't gotten me far. Feb 21, 2013 at 14:12
  • @Lostintranslation I rewrote my answer quite a bit.
    – Nobody
    Feb 22, 2013 at 3:06

As you've mentioned, a paper trail is always harder to deal with in presentations—and taking credit is a lot harder to define than on a paper.

Right now, you have a few key challenges: you will first need to find a new job as soon as possible. Secondly, you will need to establish the paper trail that shows that the ideas and results that you have obtained are in fact yours. This requires having a clear email trail, plus any relevant lab notebooks and supporting evidence that shows such work was in fact yours.

Beyond that, you have already done due diligence in that you have alerted the administration to the possibility of academic dishonesty on the part of your advisor, and you have also informed him of your intentions in this matter (by email, which he has received).

If you have done both of these things, then you should be able, as you suggested, to work directly with the editors of any journals in which your advisor chooses to publish this work without you.

However, one other thing that you could do is write up your work independently. Presumably, you are much more knowledgeable about the specifics of the methods and techniques that you've performed, and would be able to write a better paper on this topic than he can by himself (which he would need to do in order to publish without you). You could then offer him to publish those manuscripts. (Before sending him such a manuscript, however, I would be sure to watermark the PDF, and lock it down so that it can't be printed, edited, or copied. Alternatively, I'd only send part of the paper—by withholding the methodologies and conclusions sections, for instance.)


Let me start with plagiarism/academic dishonesty is a serious offense and it should always be dealt with. You said, "After working on a large project of his for about two full-time years..." this immediately puts us into a gray area. Did you discuss authorship at the start of the project and if so what was agreed then?

When I employ someone to work on a grant, that doesn't guarantee them co-authorship on everything they work on. Often I need someone to turn a crank and there just isn't the opportunity to make a contribution worthy of authorship. Other times I may not trust the person enough to do anything independently enough and therefore spoon feed them. In my opinion the extent to which supervisors "steal" the work of their advisees is often overrated by advisees, especially ones who have had a falling out with their supervisors.

You have a sour relationship with your former advisor and the first thing you need to do is to repair the relationship. Accusing a former supervisor of academic dishonesty by brandishing words like plagiarism is not helpful in this regards. Talking to him and explaining that you need to publish the work is useful.

I would suggest creating a list of all the projects that you worked on while in his group. From this list, you need to identify the publications that you can generate without needing any resources from him (i.e., access to HIS computer/software) and ones that you need to collaborate with him on. The goal is to identify all potential publications and establish authorship (i.e., what should have been done at the outset).

For each publication that does not need any additional resources, write a short description/abstract about the key findings, propose an author list and order, provide a time line until submission. For these publications, you should be the only one responsible for anything on the time line (apart from providing feedback on drafts). Ask him to provide feedback on the key findings, author list, and time line so that you can tailor them to better fit his needs.

For each publication that requires additional resources, you need to remember, he can ignore your previous work and just regenerate it and write the publications on his own. What you are offering is a collaboration. Again, you need to write a short description/abstract about the key findings and the additional work required, propose an author list and order, and provide a time line until submission. For these publications, the more you expect of other and the more resources you need, the less enticing the collaboration is.

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