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telkanuru

PhD Horror Story

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Yikes.  

You'd think that even if the university didn't want to do anything, posting both papers on a blog or sending the correspondence to the journal would leave enough dirt to accomplish the same thing.  

Once the decision to leave academia was final, anyway.

Edited by Concordia

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6 hours ago, telkanuru said:

https://www.allisonharbin.com/post-phd/why-i-left-academia-part-1

Quite the read, and a fairly concise statement about how intra-university politics work.

I have been paranoid about even talking with much detail regarding my master's thesis because I want to continue with the topic into my dissertation. However, it was other graduate students I was concerned about, not professors. How do you get the help you need as a grad student, if you become paranoid about your ideas and work being stolen?

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1 hour ago, cowgirlsdontcry said:

How do you get the help you need as a grad student, if you become paranoid about your ideas and work being stolen?

Very carefully.

I wish I had a better answer.

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Sadly, as the author of the linked post writes, this does happen fairly often and at various levels. The bright side is that a case as egregious as the author's is quite rare: I don't know anyone in the same position but I have heard of several in just as bad situations. And the common thread is that the University resources often are much more concerned with protecting the University than helping the student. (And that for students close to the PhD, there is just so much power held by faculty and committee members). 

Since my dissertation will be online about 6-12 months before I expect the final stuff from my PhD work to be published (or at least accepted for publication), I left out a ton of stuff in my dissertation. A project that I had been working on for 2 years (not exclusively) was relegated to only 5 pages in my dissertation, describing it only in vague terms. I know that most students in my field rarely put unpublished materials in their dissertation (my field is one where you publish first and then write the dissertation instead of the other way around). Still, I am a little wary about some of my ideas being copied (intentionally or not). I had been speaking about one research idea I have last year and during the job application season, I saw that someone was hiring a postdoc to do exactly what I had said I would be interested in doing. I don't think there is anything nefarious going on in this case, since I don't know the person (although we have mutual professional contacts) so it's more likely that we just came up with the same idea. I'll take the optimistic approach by seeing this job ad as demonstrating that I am coming up with ideas that are "good enough" that someone will want to hire someone to do it! However, I am now extra motivated to work on this idea before the other group beats me to it (not sure if they were able to hire someone or not).

Finally, I strongly agree with the author's fourth and most recent post on the topic, where they encourage students to know what their rights are and what they should expect from their advisors and their committee. It's helpful to fight for better student rights on campus through affecting policy changes. For example, at my PhD school, the "thesis advisory committee" (the faculty that check in on you each year and ensure you are on track) and your "thesis examination committee" (the ones that sign off on your thesis) are two potentially distinct sets of people. Furthermore, your advisory committee can change from year to year as you change your direction of research (or as new people come / old people leave). Typically, your examination committee is the same as your advisory committee, but if there are issues like in the author's case, the student can simply not ask one of the advisory committee members to serve on the examination committee. The really nice part is that your examination committee does not have to be finalized until 2 weeks prior to your defense date. Practically, you need to inform your committee much earlier for scheduling purposes, but the names are not set in stone until 2 weeks prior, leaving you plenty of time to adjust if necessary. As such, it's often recommended to students here to have one more faculty member than necessary on the advisory committee, so that if someone can't make it to the final defense due to some last minute thing, you can just drop them from the examination committee!

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I think STEM in general is a bit more complex, and harder to "steal" ideas- since you also need the facilities, money and expertise to set up the experiment and collect the data. 

I know several cases, but none are advisors to students- they're all senior faculty to junior faculty. Someone with the lab and status to throw money at getting results faster on the same idea than a junior person can. 

I also think there is a lot of unintentional theft, or gray areas, in academic relationships. The case in the article is black and white, but there are a lot that are fuzzier. 

I see it in STEM labs where the PI gives general ideas and guidance to grad students, who then talk about more refined versions of those with the PI. Both have ownership, and there are often times where either one forgets exactly what e other told them and when. It's one of the reasons notes are so important. 

I also see it with colleagues and collaborators. We'll be batting about ideas, and later on someone will honestly think they came up with and idea that I had proposed. It's not intentional, they don't always remember the seed idea that got planted when we were talking. 

IMO, the solution isn't to stop sharing- I've seen that happen, and it leads to bad places. It's to build good relationships with people you trust, and share within those bounds. Follow your instincts- the article in the OP, the writer says she'd gotten bad vibes off this person for years, and others had told her he was using her. That's not the person you share a manuscript with. You won't always be right, but you stand a lot better chance!

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At the point where she had been made to go through all of this hell and was doing the last submission things, and one of the deans scolded her because she forgot to fill in a line, I cracked up because that is exactly the kind of insanity and disgraceful behaviour that I have witnessed.

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Oh, yeah, I read this elsewhere. Horrific. 

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So, I re-read the story yesterday and I had nightmares. I don't know if this happened to you, but as I read I remember thinking "this won't be me, I can trust my advisors". And I dreamed I started crying because everything is too damned overwhelming. I saw myself in a PhD-related desperate situation that I couldn't handle. I saw it, and hence it is possible, and thus it is scary, and thus, nightmare. I wanted to share that with the grad school community because we think sometimes we are alone both in thinking we won't make it or in thinking we actually will. The dream hit me hard because what the author describes (plagiarism, robbery, violation, isolation) can happen to anyone, including me. Including me. It was only yesterday when I read the four posts (the last one wasn't out when I first read it) that this can happen in any other form. Nightmares. 

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On 8/6/2017 at 2:11 AM, TakeruK said:

Since my dissertation will be online about 6-12 months before I expect the final stuff from my PhD work to be published (or at least accepted for publication), I left out a ton of stuff in my dissertation.

I'm curious: couldn't you have put an embargo on your dissertation so that it can't be accessed online? Or is this timeline including the embargo? I'm in a book field and embargos of about 4-5 years are quite common, while the author expands the diss into book form. 

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Terrifying - one of my absolute musts for a program was that my potential advisor(s) had to be well-reviewed by senior students. I received that at my department, but one always wonders if other students left without saying anything, or if I could be the first...

Do you think one of the problems in the humanities/humanistic social sciences might be over-emphasis on sole authorship? It wouldn't explain any single bad actor, but I do think it provides the backdrop against which a person might develop unhealthy habits and find them minimized or even encouraged. Rather than being checked hard by external constraints, elements of our system might promote toxic behaviors that in cases like this one develop into full-blown intellectual abuse. There is one senior professor in our department (which is absolutely not a co-authoring kind of place) who co-authors with students and post-docs all the time (and almost always gives them first author). Everybody including me thinks it's a very strange habit, but I've also been wondering for a while whether it might be a salutary one.

Edited by hats

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7 hours ago, Bleep_Bloop said:

I'm curious: couldn't you have put an embargo on your dissertation so that it can't be accessed online? Or is this timeline including the embargo? I'm in a book field and embargos of about 4-5 years are quite common, while the author expands the diss into book form. 

Depends on the school. My school had a max embargo time of 2 years, and even that required some special hoops. The default embargo time if you needed it was 1 year. 

1 hour ago, hats said:

Terrifying - one of my absolute musts for a program was that my potential advisor(s) had to be well-reviewed by senior students. I received that at my department, but one always wonders if other students left without saying anything, or if I could be the first...

This is something I think people don't rank importantly enough. You can see in this story that people told her over and over that she shouldn't work with him, that he was taking advantage of her- to the point where she stopped talking to friends about him at all. It doesn't seem like this was someone with a sterling reputation and this a one-off case.

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15 hours ago, Bleep_Bloop said:

I'm curious: couldn't you have put an embargo on your dissertation so that it can't be accessed online? Or is this timeline including the embargo? I'm in a book field and embargos of about 4-5 years are quite common, while the author expands the diss into book form. 

My school just very recently changed its embargo program because too many students were just embargoing their theses indefinitely without actual progress towards a publication or a patent. This defeats the purpose of a PhD, in my opinion (and apparently, in the opinion of those who championed the change) because it is supposed to be new research that is widely and openly shared with the world. Basically, too many people were just embargo-ing things just because they thought it was better to do so.

So, the new policy is that everyone can have 6 months of embargo if you have a legitimate reason (e.g. preparing a paper or patent). This embargo only applies to external users....campus users can still view your dissertation. Students can apply for an exception (either extend beyond 6 months or embargo even on campus) under special circumstances. Exceptions are normally only granted if you already have a paper in review or a patent in review (plans to submit do not count). If you apply for an extension, you are granted 6 more months and you can continue to apply for exceptions as necessary.

Almost all graduate students on campus are not in book fields where I know it's common to take many years to turn a dissertation into a book. Instead, we are generally in fields where we publish first and then put the publications into our dissertation. The expectation is that most of us will have 2 or 3 peer-reviewed papers that make up our dissertation. It's a lot more work for the student when they have to write material not already previously published!

I do have some concerns about the new policy because it could encourage students to either leave important things out of the dissertation entirely (and defeats the purpose of the policy, which is to share info) or pressure students to delay their defense so that they can work on one more project while their methodology is not yet widely known. However, I think the harms introduced by the new policy is much less impactful than the unnecessarily large number of embargoed dissertations, some dating back decades.

For me, the project I left out of my dissertation was not yet complete when I left and it was not necessary to complete my PhD. It was a side project that I plan on finishing as part of my postdoc. It also would have felt very much just "tacked on" to the coherent story told by the other chapters in my dissertation! So, instead, I framed this side project as "future directions" because while there are some good connections, I think it fit a lot better as "the next step" instead of "another thing I did". I feel like in my field, it's common for students to 1) not include all of their work into the dissertation, just the ones that are most relevant** and 2) start side projects near the end of their PhD so that they have something to give themselves a head start going into their next position.

(** My program in particular requires you to do two very different projects in your first year, kind of like rotations, so even if people end up publishing a paper on the project that doesn't evolve into their dissertation work, it might not get included in the dissertation since it's so different)

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