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freesoft's avatar

How much can you help with someone else's thesis (without getting credit)?

Asked by freesoft (61points) August 17th, 2012

I have been working in the same lab for two years now (as an undergrad) and have just begun as a masters student. Today in a meeting with my supervisor, he wants me to collaborate with another one of his masters students in order for her to be able to graduate in time (she is nearing the 3 year limit imposed by the university). He said the word “collaborate” and so he expects me to implement the algorithm (its a simulation type thesis so you code an algorithm, simulate it and then analyze the results and compare with other algorithms).

However, I’m already helping the other student out considerably with setting up the simulation scenario and by the looks of it I will also have to help with analyzing the results (she always comes to me to help her figure out what her results mean and what she has to do next). To me, this seems to be one sided helping since I can’t see what I get out of this “collaboration”. Furthermore, I’m afraid of doing a lot of work and seeing her get a masters for it. My supervisor’s justification was that my thesis will be an extension of hers so helping her finish is what I want but personally, to me it just seems like I’m on the hook for two masters thesis and I’ll have to make her graduate before I can even work on my own thesis.

So the question is, are my beliefs/fears correct or is this common practice in labs? Further, how much help can you ethically give for someone else to complete their thesis if you are just a younger student starting your own masters (i.e. where do you draw the line at help before it becomes your own work)? And, if my beliefs are correct, how should I procede? Any suggestions/advice would be much appreciated.

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4 Answers

6rant6's avatar

First off, get agreement that any publications beyond the printing of copies for the dissertation process will include your name as co-author. And that would be an agreement in writing, of course.

You should also make sure the professor involved in this dubious adventure can’t snake credit for it in his publications.

nikipedia's avatar

Talk to your adviser. Tell him your concerns, without blaming or accusing anyone. Ask him to help you outline the specific projects that will be in your thesis and in your colleague’s thesis, and write out in some way what each person will be contributing.

Once it’s on paper it should become apparent if your concerns are valid or not.

CWOTUS's avatar

Welcome to Fluther.

I never went the graduate route; I left college nearly 40 years ago without even getting my BS, so my advice may be meaningless. However, I do have a lot of experience since then in how the world works, and… this seems to be out of kilter.

In the first place, if she’s coming to you for this much help, it seems like she is not even qualified to be in the masters program, or at least not qualified for her particular area of study. (Don’t feel that you need to comment on that; what you posted in the question speaks for itself.) Added to that, the fact that your adviser is explicitly requesting your close assistance to her… I would be very curious if he doesn’t have some sort of close, personal relationship with this student that he absolutely needs to maintain at arm’s length for his own academic / ethical security. Otherwise, isn’t this really in his area of responsibility as an adviser? The adviser’s role in scholarship really isn’t to put the arm on other students to complete the work for unqualified students, is it? Hell, maybe it is. I have never been a big fan of life at the university (outside of the dorms and student apartments), and that was just at the far-less-political undergrad level.

I think if I were you I’d be looking seriously for a change of advisers. Even though that might be somewhat upsetting to the progress you’ve made to date, I see far more roadblocks and delays to you if you proceed along the current route. Changing advisers would be a one-time hit to your current schedule. Staying with this adviser and his insistence upon your “collaborating with” (let’s be honest and call it “involuntary servitude to”) this student is going to be an ongoing challenge, as you have already noted.

If you get any grief about the adviser change request then it may be time to do some personal snooping around to see if my own thesis above is correct, and you may be able to confront your adviser in such a way to get him to request the change.

nikipedia's avatar

I should have also mentioned in my above comment, I don’t know what your program is, but in my experience “credit” mostly depends on intellectual contributions. If the work that you’re contributing is useful, but basically busy work that an undergrad or tech could do, don’t expect credit. If you have made an intellectual contribution—coming up with the experiment, contributing in a meaningful way to the design, etc, that warrants credit. Just working on the project, even if it ends up being a lot of hours, usually doesn’t.

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