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Issues with another PhD student using my work

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Lurked on this forum a lot back when I was applying to Master's programs 2 years ago, but this is my first time posting - any advice is appreciated, just need some objective thoughts.

Completed my master's back in October. As part of my thesis, I was comparing data from two populations to generate risk differences. However since these two populations had very different age structures, part of what I was doing was age-standardizing one data set to match the age distribution of the second data set. My supervisor and I knew from the outset that figuring out how to do this in a valid, statistically rigorous way was going to be one of, if not THE major challenge of my thesis. (I know this may not sound complicated but since both data sets are weighted to be nationally representative, and thus have complex, multi-stage stratified collection methods and also have differing variance structures it was - but I digress). I did a TON of research, contacted a lot of people doing similar research, and after running into a lot of dead ends finally got in touch with some researchers who were doing something similar to what I wanted. From several email conversations with them I was able to modify an existing bootstrapping program that was available with one of the datasets to create the estimates and 95% CI's I needed. 

To this day, I do not believe that my supervisor really understands what I did or why it took me so long to code which is FINE because it's my thesis, and I didn't expect her to hold my hand and do my work for me. After I defended, I agreed that I would place the modified program in our project drive in case she, or any of her future students wanted to repeat the project using future data. 

Using this program I did some analysis for a lab mate of mine who was working in a related area and felt that a comparison between these two data sets would add some weight/credibility to a paper he was producing as part of his PhD. I recently found out that he published 2 papers using the analysis that I had done as a key point in both papers. Graphs I made myself are in his papers. I was not listed as an author on either paper, or informed that they were to be published, though I am acknowledged "for assistance with data analysis". Not sure how to feel about this - I did not write a substantial amount on either paper, but I did provide the pieces in the methods section about my analysis, and offered limitations on my method (also in the paper) and would have been happy to contribute more. Honestly, I am annoyed but am willing to let it go since it will stir up bad feelings with my former lab mate who is, in general, pretty nice.

This is getting long and I apologize, but the back story is important. Now, I get an email from ANOTHER PhD student in the lab asking if he could have my analysis output. Since this a totally different project then what I did (not the one I had agreed to sharing my code/analysis for) I replied that the program is located in the shared drive - it is the publicly available version with a few modifications. NOPE - then he needs MY ENTIRE code that I used for my thesis (cleaning, organizing data, etc.) since he isn't familiar with coding and the two datasets and all of their intricacies and (I quote) "This objective is my first objective and I have two more objectives; this one is the easiest one". 

Further conversation with him only revealed he hasn't done the slightest bit of research into this part of his theses (didn't even know how to access the data sets). At this point I do not want to send him what I have done so that another lab student can piggyback off of my hard work. 

What do I do? I'm sure he will tell my former supervisor if I don't help him and I don't want to burn any bridges.

 

TL;DR - feel like my work has/is being copied (plagiarized?) by another student in the lab for his PhD thesis 

 

 

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From an outsider, it sounds like a frustrating/annoying situation. What I'm going to say, sucks, but in the end its the truth. Even though you were the one that collected the data and made the program and coding etc. All of that property does not belong to you, it belongs to the lab supervisor that you worked in. Your supervisor can do whatever he/she wants to do with it, whether its giving it to a different student, or use your program (unless you patented it independently) as they wish. Now, you most definitely have an argument that you should have been included as a co-author if your data and figures have been published. However, some supervisors have different standards for co-author inclusion...its sounds like you MIGHT have a case for being a co-author, but its hard to determine this with so little information. Some supervisors are very lenient with authorship inclusion, while others are more strict. 

From everything I said above, that student has every right to use your entire code that you used for your thesis, but you might be able to use this to your advantage and talk to your old supervisor and question if this now means inclusion on the forthcoming publication. 

Also, I didn't see whether or not you are pursuing a PhD or any career where it helps to have publications. If you are not in need of publications, its likely not worth your time to fight with your old supervisor. If this is the case I would just send the coding over to your old lab supervisor and call it a day, don't put in any hours (unless compensated for) helping them out beyond this. 

Just my 2cents!

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This does sound very annoying. From what I can tell, you are mainly annoyed in how people are going about this. I would be too. While you uploaded a public version of your code, did you and your lab supervisor discuss future plans/applications for the WHOLE code or not? I would assume two different scenarios in this situation, but we all know assuming isn't the best. One the lab supervisor saw how much trouble it was to create the code in the first place, so they are most likely thinking why reinvent the wheel. Or two, the lab supervisor doesn't see what the big deal is because it didn't take a lot of intellectual work ethic (this falls in line in what you have mentioned in your first post). So why not save time?

I do think you should get credit for all of your information though. Without it, this PhD student wouldn't be able to move forward with his paper. Thus it is a significant part and deserves at least an acknowledgement if not co-author status. Also the PhD student seems to be awfully demanding of retrieving your work, I believe they went about it the wrong way. By acting so careless and incompetent, you now have the impression that this PhD student doesn't have the respectability one needs to succeed. By that's just me inferring things, so I may be wrong! I see you have three options. Say no to the PhD student and possibly burn bridges at your old lab. Or you require acknowledgement/co-authorship in his paper. Third talk to your old supervisor and see how they view this situation.

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Lab ethics are an important consideration, which I don't know much about.  If it's on the shelf where you once worked, what sort of footnote should you get for re-use?  If it were a consulting firm, probably nothing.  

But if this guy is asking for a lot of your help as well as use of the product, that gives you leverage, assuming there are choices to be made.  You could ask for the mother of all footnotes and an acknowledgement, or maybe a co-authorship if you feel it necessary to make sure your work doesn't get misused.  

Presumably a call to the supervisor to work out a protocol will protect you now and stop too many people from taking unfair advantage, as well as giving you less to think about in future cases.

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This is a super annoying problem that I think ends up plaguing numerous grad students. The general policy at most (if not all) universities is that the university owns all research being conducted by its employees, and PI's are sort of the stewards of the data for the university. So assuming there wasn't a special contractual agreement between you, your former PI, and the university, your PI is allowed to do what they want with the data you collected and analyzed, as well as your code.

That being said, your post implies that PhD student # 1 took graphs you made that are printed in your thesis and passed them off as his own. If that's the case, the PhD student and everyone else on the paper are guilty of plagiarism since you were not consulted about it and your thesis was not cited as the source of the graphs. If reported and investigated, your former lab could be in trouble. If, however, they are graphs that never made it into your thesis, then you're out of luck since they weren't published.

Whatever the circumstances, it was a dick move not to include you as an author on the two papers if you made a substantial contribution to the data analysis (didn't matter if you did much writing or not). However, there's not much you can do without stirring up a lot of negativity in your former lab. It may be worth it, though, to make a case to your former PI to include you on future publications using your code and the dataset you collected.

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On 4/21/2017 at 9:02 PM, MHarry said:

 However, some supervisors have different standards for co-author inclusion...its sounds like you MIGHT have a case for being a co-author, but its hard to determine this with so little information. Some supervisors are very lenient with authorship inclusion, while others are more strict. 

Standards for co-author inclusion are not made by the PI. The standards are actually made by the scientific community and in some cases the journal in which the article was published. Many people in the community have made great strides in determining standards to stop the unethical practices seen in co-authorship practices.

53 minutes ago, shadowclaw said:

If, however, they are graphs that never made it into your thesis, then you're out of luck since they weren't published.

This shouldn't matter. Whether its published or not, it's still plagiarism. 

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2 hours ago, BSB825 said:

Standards for co-author inclusion are not made by the PI. The standards are actually made by the scientific community and in some cases the journal in which the article was published. Many people in the community have made great strides in determining standards to stop the unethical practices seen in co-authorship practices.

 

I'm going to have to disagree with you to a certain extent. Yes, there are standard guidelines for authorship, but this is under the discretion of the PI. For example, if a student comes in and participates in data collection for half of a research project, one PI might think that this warrants co-authorship, another might think that this warrants an acknowledgment, while another might think that this does not warrant authorship since they were absent for half of the project. Some PI's hand out co-authorships a bit more lenient than others. At the end of the day, it's the first author and PI's responsibility to determine what warrants authorship...and this will likely vary from project to project. Everything isn't black and white when it comes to authorship. 

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1 hour ago, MHarry said:

 

I'm going to have to disagree with you to a certain extent. Yes, there are standard guidelines for authorship, but this is under the discretion of the PI. For example, if a student comes in and participates in data collection for half of a research project, one PI might think that this warrants co-authorship, another might think that this warrants an acknowledgment, while another might think that this does not warrant authorship since they were absent for half of the project. Some PI's hand out co-authorships a bit more lenient than others. At the end of the day, it's the first author and PI's responsibility to determine what warrants authorship...and this will likely vary from project to project. Everything isn't black and white when it comes to authorship. 

This is absolutely not the case. PIs do not hand out authorship. The first author is the lead in determining coauthorship. Ideally, all authors should collectively agree. I said nothing about it being black and white. 

Edited by BSB825

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8 minutes ago, BSB825 said:

This is absolutely not the case. PIs do not hand out authorship. The first author is the lead in determining coauthorship. Ideally, all authors should collectively agree. I said nothing about it being black and white. 

Well I guess different labs have different methods for authorship. I have worked in labs where the PI makes the overall decision for authorship, where the first author makes the final decision, and usually where both PI and first author makes that decision. Most labs I have collaborated and/or work for involved a mutual decision between first author and PI, but again, every lab is different. 

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OP here - thanks everyone for your replies!

@MHarry I do agree that work done in this lab does belong to the PI of the lab, but I am not sure if I agree with " Your supervisor can do whatever he/she wants to do with it, whether its giving it to a different student, or use your program (unless you patented it independently) as they wish."  If that student chose to copy text word-for-word from unpublished parts of my thesis and incorporate it their own, even with my PI's permission, I'm sure that the faculty would also disagree.

Just to add a little more context to my story: I am planning to pursue a PhD in the next couple of years (working full-time in my field right now) - this was work done for my master's thesis. (I am Canadian and for the particular PhD I am interested in, an MSc/MPH is required). I was actually offered a PhD position within this lab but had to turn it down for familial reasons (husband got dream job elsewhere). So having pubs is pretty important to me - I currently have 3 from my MSc (1 first author) and 1 (basic sciences) from undergrad and am trying to put together another 1st author one.

So basically, I myself will be trying to pursue a PhD in the next couple of years, in the same field as this student. I do not see why I need to give this student handouts to do their PhD. The program I left in the lab is what I agreed to leave, and with some hard! work this student can adapt it to their project. I do not see why I need to provide my own personal notes on the code and how it works. It's the same with my thesis - the final version is publically available, but I am not going to hand out my rough drafts to anyone who asks.  

 There have been similar issues in the past in this lab where my supervisor and another PhD student tried to publish a paper off of a previous students MSc thesis and leave her name off of it. Luckily, she caught wind of this and they were forced to put her on as 3rd author, though it was basically 100% her writing and work. I had a conversation with the student when I provided them with the data that I *thought* made it clear I was doing this with the intention of being included as an author - however, I am fully aware that this is not binding for him in anyway and I cannot prove it. Honestly, it's his own problem now since they will NOT be able to reproduce/explain/defend the results of those papers, as they have no idea how it was done. This could create a very awkward situation for them at their PhD defense if they are asked about that particular piece :blink: (papers are part of integrated article PhD thesis).

Also to what @Need Coffee in an IV  said -  I am annoyed at how this student and my former supervisor are going about this. This was not the only request from the other PhD student - this was after I had sent him 2-3 emails helping them put in their request to access the data source, explaining to them methodological concerns they should consider, explaining to them where they could find my programs and what pieces they would need to alter etc. It was at this point, when they requested my code & output, that I really felt like this was more copying then collaborating.

I think at this point I am going to send an email to the student that says something like "I am happy to share my code with you if you are interested in having me as a co-author on future manuscripts which include any analysis you have preformed using my code, otherwise I am not sure it would be appropriate for me to provide you with this information." 

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I agree with others that the output from the lab belongs to the PI and the lab, and hence the PI can decide what to do with the work. This would include allowing other students to use the output, as I see it. However, it should be very clear that the work is yours, and therefore anyone who uses it should allow you the option to be a co-author on the work (you might occasionally decline, but it's your choice). Certainly if you continue to actively contribute to the design and analysis of a project, you should be a co-author on resulting work. So to me the question is a bit less that your work is being used by others in the lab, and more how it is used, and specifically how authorship is determined. Having your work used by others should help your publication record, not hurt it. Your thesis (or other relevant work) should be clearly cited, and your contribution should be acknowledged. 

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