Tinker, Tailor, Mentor, Thief: academic plagiarism

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Tinker, Tailor, Mentor, Thief: academic plagiarism

Postby Bill L. » Tue Dec 14, 2004 4:05 pm

By the way, community members,

The Chronicle of Higher Education's Colloquy section this week is on academic plagiarism. Highlighting the case of a plant biologist, his mentor, and lifted sections of a publication, the articles and online discussion address the issues surrounding the uneven relationships between PIs and their grad students/postdocs, and the ethical line between collaboration and stealing. They even touch upon authorship issues, some of which we've been discussing in the thread below.

The link and blurb are below.

It's at:

In many cases of plagiarism, scholars blame sloppy work by their research assistants. Far more common, however, are cases in which graduate students quietly fume about their work's being swiped by a mentor. One reason for the silence is fear of retribution, given the power that mentors wield over their students' careers. Are the students wise to keep quiet? Has this ever happened on your campus? In a collaborative relationship, are cases of plagiarism really that clear-cut?
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Tinker, Tailor, Mentor, Thief: academic plagiarism

Postby Anonymous » Wed Dec 15, 2004 1:03 pm


I'm really in a difficult position because my advisor has taken an idea that I came up with and presented it to a company that he consults with. While (at least in his slides) he used my name as a co-contributor, this may result in some financial gain for him that surely won't be shared with me. No mention has been given of whether this idea is worth pursuing in collaboration with that firm (would need large external funding), and yet I've overheard him talking about it with the company via phone.

I'm seriously wondering if I've been given the shaft here. Previously, I've had rather good relations with him. Am I being paranoid?


Tinker, Tailor, Mentor, Thief: academic plagiarism

Postby Val » Thu Dec 16, 2004 2:01 am

> ... my advisor has taken an idea that I came up with and presented it
> to a company that he consults with.

You are not the first and not the last in such a situation. You have no power in resolving the situation to your favour if your supervisor borrowed your idea. In such a situation, I learnt to look at the bright side: if the idea gets funded, this means further employment for you. If you have not made a fuss about your idea been borrowed by your supervisor and are still on good terms with him, he might appoint you to be responsible for that project. Learn to live with it. Look from the other side at the borrowing situation: if he did not borrow it, your idea would be left unimplemented. At least, someone will be using it !

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Tinker, Tailor, Mentor, Thief: academic plagiarism

Postby Alex » Thu Dec 16, 2004 9:36 am

The fact that he has already used your name as a contributor in the slides is a very big positive. I think he is cool.

In my view, if this is an idea for an experiment or line of research and he gets paid a flat consulting fee by the company it's basically up to him to "reward" you somehow. If this involved new technology that will be transferred to the company from the University, the Tech Transfer office will be very legit and ask for a list of inventors. They have to be very honest about this.

Tinker, Tailor, Mentor, Thief: academic plagiarism

Postby Alex » Thu Dec 16, 2004 3:08 pm

Just to clarify, I definitely believe he should reward you for your idea if he reaps benefit from it (economic or otherwise). What I meant is that for practical purposes it is probably up to him and something like this (an idea for an experiment) would be hard to prove and enforce.

However, when it comes to a specific new technology or reagent that gets patented and licensed to company X for Y number of shares, things are more black and white. There are lab notebooks that show when things were invented and by whom, and Tech Transfer offices will assign % inventorship to the PI and others involved.

you may be interested in reading this:

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