Monday, May 12, 2014

Plagiarizing student

I had a (potential) student who contacted me for a funded-PhD position in my new lab. He contacted me and sent me his CV.

On paper the student seemed to be a good student. He had published several papers, is a MS student in a university and is a lecturer in a university. Also the student is from a third-world country.

Looking at the CV I was impressed to see his publication record and associated activities. Note that I am originally from a third-world country so I know how challenging it is to conduct research in countries who lack expertise, resources etc for doing research.

I interviewed the student online, asked him questions about research, teaching and other activities. I was about to recommend him for the admission and give him funding in my group.

I had read his papers with one paper as a first author and some as middle authors. Before I recommend him for admission, I asked him for his MS thesis so that I can read what he has done on his thesis and have a better idea about what he has really done.

All of the chapter (5 out of 6) chapters of his MS thesis were plagiarized copied verbatim from various sources.

I confronted him about the plagrized content but he was adamant that he has never done it. Although the evidance suggests otherwise. I wanted to give this guy benefit of the doubt (you know like he was not informed/trained properly etc.) but I came from a similar third-world country; had a paper published in a small online community journal and knew about plagiarism. I was only an undergrad.

I do not want to give this guy a position in my group since I do not want to create problems for me or the group/department. I want to go further and block this guy from getting admitted in the department altogether. I am not sure if the second step would be harsh.

How would you deal with the situation?


  1. As long as he is not plagiarizing himself (i.e. his papers), I think your plans are fine. Some universities require the thesis to contain elements of, if not verbatim copying of, your papers while in grad school. I'm assuming this is something else - he copied other papers. And yes, I agree they should know better.

    1. He copied from books that were available online and were not his books or publications. I could see the plagiarized content just by randomly googling parts of his chapters.

  2. Dr. Noncoding ArenayMay 13, 2014 at 3:42 PM

    I think it is reasonable (and also prudent) to inform the department of your observation. I would do that and then let it go.

  3. Plagiarizing from online books for a thesis? I'd second the suggestion on reporting him to the department/admissions committee.

  4. Dr. Noncoding ArenayMay 14, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    I should add that since this person is from a developing country, there is usually a stark lack of training in the responsible conduct of research there. So it is possible that the student did not have malicious intent but was instead lazy and/or ignorant. Obviously, that is not the kind of trainee you want in your lab, but I wouldn't be too hard on him either beyond reporting to the department.

    1. Yes I am taking this into account but the stage that he is at; this is a big red flag for me. He could have been an undergrad who did the same thing and I would have let it go. He has a masters thesis with 8 or so publications.

      Also I agree with you that there is a lack of training in third-world countries. I know this for sure coz I use to be a citizen of a third world country. But at this stage almost every one knows that plagiarizing content is a serious crime. Anyway I will only report him to the department and let the department take the decisions.

  5. sir, you may check his depth of technical knowledge and his vision of research.