Whose Work is it?

Student Neo is a PhD student who has just decided to do her dissertation work with Dr. Molecular. She enters the lab at a time when there are two postdoctoral fellows and another graduate student, Student Veteraneran, who is an MD/POD student in the process of completing the experiments for his dissertation, so he can get a defend in time to begin his clinical clerkships on schedule.

Dr. Molecular, as is his usual practice, encourages Neo to start work with an initial, small starter project before trying to develop an idea for a longer term dissertation project. In view of the tremendous pressure on Veteraneran, Dr. Molecular in fact suggests that Neo help with the final experiments, so Veteraneran can get on with the dissertation and his clerkships. Neo, who is happy to learn the relevant techniques from Veteraneran, works at first with him, and then completes some experiments that he needs and a few additional ones while he was writing his thesis. Neo is pleased to have the opportunity, as a result of this work, to be the middle author on a paper by Veteran (his third paper from his dissertation work) and Dr. Molecular. Neo then begins to formulate her own line of work in the lab.

Veteran actually completes the dissertation and defends it; as is his subarea's practice, he uses the full formal format rather than a compilation of his published and submitted papers. As Neo leafs through the dissertation, she is shocked to see incorporation of actual tables and figures of data that had been gathered and put together entirely by herself, some of it while Veteran was writing the thesis. Although there is a thank you in the acknowledgement for her "assistance with some of the experiments in the last section", she is dumbstruck and filled with a feeling of betrayal. She goes directly to Dean Libra.

The Dean insists that Neo must learn to address issues such as these, at least in the first instance, with the parties directly involved in the alleged grievance. Together, they go to talk with Dr. Molecular and Veteran. Dr. Molecular protests that this kind of help from the neophyte to the Veteraneran student is standard practice. Veteran admits that he felt somewhat uncomfortable, had considered just referring to the results that he had not actually obtained himself, but then pointed out that he was already delayed in his entry into clerkships beyond the time frame that he had more-or-less been promised by Dr. Molecular when he had been recruited into the lab.

by Terry Ann Krulwich, Dean of Graduate School

Cite this page: "Whose Work is it?" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 5/25/2006 National Academy of Engineering Accessed: Thursday, July 24, 2014 <www.onlineethics.org/Topics/RespResearch/ResCases/msindex/mswhose.aspx>