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As an undergraduate I submitted a paper of mine to a reputable journal. Fearing that I would be desk-rejected for simply being an undergraduate, I stated in my submission bio that I was a PhD candidate. It turns out the paper is going to be published and I am curious if there are any long term repercussions or ethical concerns to be worried about on my end. Is it worth issuing a correction or is it statistically unlikely the EIC will even care at this point? Equally as important: would relaying such information result in the paper not being published?

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    Would you be willing to share your paper with a fellow undergraduate; I would be very interested to see what you have done :) – Luke Taylor Jan 1 '17 at 17:03
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    Congratulation for the writing of the paper. Don't be afraid to admit the error to the editor. Even if this paper will not be published by this journal, you can try another publication venue. The experience gained with this paper worths more that the paper itself. However, for the future I recommend also to find a research group and to collaborate with them. Also, please update with further details regarding to what happened. – Mikey Mike Jan 2 '17 at 17:11
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    one more thing to think about - if you aren't yet in a phd program and plan to apply to one, you'll probably want to mention this paper in your application. This would lead to uncomfortable problems if anyone on the committee looks at it. – Joel Jan 2 '17 at 17:31
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    @Joel has a very good point. Publishing the article with a lie attached would put a land mine into your career. – Quora Feans Jan 2 '17 at 19:06
  • I wouldn't worry about it. – Jacob Murray Wakem Apr 1 '17 at 1:23
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It's maybe too easy to offer advice on such matters when one doesn't have to live with the consequences, but for what it's worth: for your own peace of mind, and to minimize the risk of long term consequences (while possibly increasing the short term risk, though not by much I hope), I think you should send a contrite email to the editor explaining what happened and apologizing. Although there is no telling for sure what the editor would do, considering that your bio status is immaterial to the acceptance decision, I doubt that this will cause them to unaccept the paper. In any case, it's the right thing to do. And if you decide to stay silent and keep your deception a secret, you will have to spend the next few years worrying that it will be discovered, with potentially worse consequences for your career. Nip it in the bud is what I suggest. Good luck!

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    That is the only acceptable way to pursue. Admit your mistake now, before it has far wider reaching negative consequences. – Henrik Dec 31 '16 at 9:30
  • Stupid question, but does this make any difference for anyone? Whether he admits it or is found out, wouldn't the consequences be the same? With the 0 tolerance people have towards stuff like this, OP could ruin his career early on with this or not ? – HopefullyHelpful Jan 2 '17 at 10:42
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    @HopefullyHelpful it's not a stupid question at all. I admit that personally I find this a pretty small and forgivable lie, but others may view it less lightly. In any case, admitting the mistake early on shows much more strength of character and is unquestionably the best path towards appeasing those who might view the matter seriously (and the best path for OP's peace of mind and maximizing the personal growth they can derive from the incident). I also think it's very unlikely to be a career-killing mistake either way, but again admitting the error now will make that even less likely. – Dan Romik Jan 2 '17 at 12:08
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As a professor who has trained a lot of graduate students (and someone who still recalls what it was like trying to get started in research), I would echo the answers by Dan Romik, Laurent Duval, and Chris John. It might sound like a relatively harmless and justifiable fib, but I guarantee you that if discovered later, it will be seen as a serious blot on your reputation, simply because it suggests that you are prepared to lie to secure a publication. You might never contemplate falsifying results, but people cannot know that and suspicion of your integrity can be fatal to your career.

The good news is, that if you own up before publication, and admit it was an error of judgement, there's a very good chance the editor would be lenient to someone just getting started. Everyone makes mistakes and odds are good he or she was once an eager undergraduate too!

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    Welcome to the site! Could you edit your answer so it doesn't refer to "the answers above"? Answers here get re-ordered depending on voting and user preferences. As I'm looking at the page today, I see only one answer above yours and I've no idea whether it's one of the answers you're talking about. Probably best to just remove the reference to other answers, since they don't really affect what you're saying. – David Richerby Jan 2 '17 at 18:11
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Scientific conclusions in papers may turn untrue, models or data can be wrong. But at the heart of research, intellectual honesty seems to me to be a core value. One should not state something he knows is false. @Dan Romik gave the sounder advice.

Lies are "a little" like bank accounts. Sometimes they get unnoticed in offshore paradise islands for a whole lifetime. Sometimes they get unveiled with compound interests and the necessary prejudice. A little lie at one time turns into tremendous cheating after a few years.

The only situation that could save a little is: would you be a PhD candidate when the paper is published? I believe as @Dan Romik that a status should not be an acceptance reason. But then your bio would be factually correct. And for the sake of honesty, a footnote under your name stating that:

"the author was an undergrad student at the time of submission"

would be nice addition. Indeed, papers written by undergraduates can get noticed, because it can mean early orientation toward research.

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    There's no way the OP could manage to become a PhD candidate at the time of publishing. At least not as I understand the term 'candidate.' First he would have to become a PhD student, complete the course work and an examination. Only then he would be a PhD candidate. The whole thing would take him at least 2 years. – Quora Feans Jan 2 '17 at 18:57
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    Could the term PhD candidate depend on cursus/location? See for instance PhD candidate vs PhD student – Laurent Duval Jan 2 '17 at 19:16
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    There's some variation in the use. But it's not enough to join a PhD program to be a PhD candidate. – Quora Feans Jan 2 '17 at 19:46
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    @QuoraFeans: At latest when you consider translations from other languages, the use of "PhD candidate" indeed extends to the interpretation that joining a PhD program is what makes you a PhD candidate (see the question linked above by Laurent). – O. R. Mapper Jan 3 '17 at 9:56
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Dishonesty like this, if discovered, will cast immediate doubt on the quality of your research. If you are prepared to lie about this what else have you concealed or fabricated?

I would tend to agree that your best bet is to come clean immediately and admit that it was an error of judgement which you now regret. Even if this results in the paper not being published it should at least defuse what might otherwise be a ticking time-bomb for your future career and you can at least truthfully say that you acknowledged and corrected your mistake before you gained anything from it.

Having said that it is not a huge deception and not particularly relevant to the content of the paper. As an undergraduate you probably stand a good chance of being forgiven and having it put down to the inexperience and enthusiasm of youth. Especially if you own up before you get caught.

3

Get it fixed asap. As others have stated just write to the editor. Even if they reject the paper due to the 'error' this will be the end of it and you'll still have an opportunity to publish in a different journal.

But if this is not corrected then it is not only a problem for your career in academia.

You can't go into politics with something like this over your head.

In Germany, as an example of one jurisdiction, it is a serious offence to misrepresent your title or degrees.

And do not forget about visa trouble. You really do not want to try to explain to an immigration officer why you lied about your degrees on a paper 10 or 20 years ago.

If it is not fixed it does not go away. There is a very permanent record of wrongdoing, how small it may seem.

1

As a starting point:

Dear Dr. Name-of-Editor,

I was thrilled to receive notification that my submission (title of article) has been accepted for publication. However, I must make one very important correction. When filling out my submission bio, I described myself as a PhD candidate. Actually, I am currently a senior [junior] in the Name-of-Field program at Name-of-University, hoping to begin my PhD studies next fall. I sincerely apologize for the untruth. I hope this does not compromise my submission.

I have explained the situation to my dean of undergraduate studies, Dr. Name-of-Dean. If you would like to contact him/her, here is his/her contact information: (email) (phone).

Sincerely,

(name)

Instead of the dean, you could provide the name of a mentoring professor.

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    What's the point of mentioning a dean or mentor? The first paragraph seems sufficient to me. – Jim Conant Jan 2 '17 at 21:51
  • @JimConant In case the editor wants someone to vouch for the OP, and confirm his student status at the named program. – aparente001 Jan 2 '17 at 21:57
  • @DanRomik Your wiktionary link says "to make a statement that is in error, to say incorrectly, have a slip of the tongue. Implies an unintentional error in speaking rather than an intentional lie." Contrast that with, for example, Collins: "A misstatement is an incorrect statement, or the giving of false information. [mainly US] ⇒ He finally corrected his misstatement and offered to reduce the fee. [+ of] ⇒ While this booklet has become an official source of information, it is filled with misstatements of fact." (collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/misstatement) Maybe... – aparente001 Jan 3 '17 at 2:37
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    ..."misrepresentation" would be less prone to different interpretations? "Untruth"? I don't think it's necessary to say "lie" in the email. – aparente001 Jan 3 '17 at 2:37
  • @DanRomik - I find that describing an approach to drafting an email or a letter is not as effective in getting across what one has in mind as showing some suggested text. Since my draft bothered you so much, I suggest you add a draft or a portion of a draft to your answer. That would make your answer clearer. // Your comment showed me that the word "misstatement" can be taken in different ways -- which I hadn't realized when I wrote it. Live and learn; I will be editing my answer. // It was not my intention to obfuscate or be crafty. I did try to convey that the lie wasn't ill-intentioned. – aparente001 Jan 3 '17 at 2:57

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