I was in a Master's Program and worked on my Thesis. When I began the program, my advisor gave me a list of possible thesis options or I could choose my own. I chose one from the list. I designed the study and conducted every phase of the experiment. I completed the lit review and methods with very little input from my advisor. Then we had a bit of a falling out. I completed the rest of the paper on my own and he avoided even looking at my paper for over 2 months. He finally sent it back to me after he told me to schedule my defense! He wouldn't even give me any feed back on my thesis defense powerpoint. Fortunately, I was able to successfully defend my defense. However, since he was so resistant to assist me, I assumed that he wasn't interested in publishing it.
A year later I got an email from him telling me that he had been working on my paper to prepare it for publishing. He asked me to look it over to make any changes that I thought I needed to make. I did make a few changes and sent it back to him right away. The next day he sent me all the info he sent in to the journal and low and behold, he made himself first author (I was second). I didn't know what to do, because with his temper I was afraid that if I said something he would pull the article and I wouldn't have any published work.
Is what he did plagiarism?

  • 8
    No, this is not plagiarism: your advisor did not copy your work, nor did he fail to attribute. It is still broadly unethical for an advisor to take credit for a student's work, especially if they contributed nothing in any way. Still, in some milieus, the tradition is that the advisor is on the author list. In some milieus, if you were funded by the advisor, then they're definitely on the author list, and, depending on the milieu, maybe first author (or last on a long list). So, no, it's not plagiarism, but is irresponsible, to say the least, if the situation is truly exactly as you describe. Aug 10, 2017 at 22:56
  • Who should be first author varies from one field to another. So, unless you tell us what your subject is, there is no way for us to tell if this is usual or unusual; responsible or irresponsible. (For example, in my field, authors are normally listed in alphabetical order, the the first author is no more important than any other author.) Maybe ask a disinterested third party in your department about what is standard in your subject.
    – GEdgar
    Aug 11, 2017 at 0:22
  • The field is Psychology and my last name is first alphabetically. In our field, the first author is the one who contributed the most work. The body of the work was pretty much the same as my thesis. I think I'm most aggravated because he put his name first and hadn't even told me he was working on the paper until he was ready to send it in. It matters because I was trying to get into a Ph.D. program and not having first author status matters.
    – PJ Alumna
    Aug 11, 2017 at 0:29
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    No, this is not plagiarism, but yes, this sounds grossly unprofessional.
    – JeffE
    Aug 11, 2017 at 1:06
  • It happens all the time though. The difference is that "ethical" professor would have had warned you in the very beginning that his name would go first. That would have given you time to find somebody else with different expectations. In return he should have helped you to finish your thesis on time and get it published. Aug 11, 2017 at 2:51

1 Answer 1


It's not plagiarism but it is fairly unethical.Assuming what you said is true and you did absolutely everything then, at least in my field, you would be entitled to being the first author. However, there is no rule that says you must be first author.

If you really don't want to raise the issue with your old adviser then the best thing that can be done is take it on the chin, move on, and congratulate yourself on doing literally everything yourself with very little input and producing a Masters degree and published work in the process.

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