Professional ethics: Publishing a student's project

Phillip Bigelow n8010095 at
Sat Jun 24 03:01:51 EST 1995

sam.scheiner at (Samuel M. Scheiner) writes:

>Here is a question on the ethical treatment of a student. I have a MS student 
>who completed a research project almost a year ago. In the last nine months he 
>has done almost nothing to complete analysis of the data or write up the 
>results for his thesis despite repeated discussions with me and his committee. 
>At this point I have serious doubts whether he will ever finish.

>Ethical decisions:

>1. How long should I wait before I simply take the data and publish it myself, 
>with him as co-author of course? What sorts of ultimatums are reasonable?

You should hold-off doing anything until the time-limit (if there is one) has
passed.  If I were you, I would be up-front with the student regarding what
your agenda is.  Tell him you fully intend to publish whether he finishes or
not.  Don't do anything without giving him ample warning.
  You have an additional problem if you act without his consent:  If you go
ahead and publish the results, and *then* your student decides to return and
finish his thesis, you have corrupted the student-teacher reltionship by
"doing" his thesis for him.  An ethics review board at your school would
not look favorably on you for allowing this to have happened (if this does
occur, I hope you have tenure   :-)  

>2. [Just to broaden the discussion] Does the extent of my imput matter? In 
>this case I provided the initial idea, much of the detail on experimental 
>design, and a fair amount of labor both directly and indirectly by hiring 
>extra help. [And you ask, how much work did this guy actually do?] But, can 
>we come up with general principles?

  I don't think your input should have any bearing on this at all.  Your
student is the one doing the project.  The results are his.  Although it isn't
"copyrighted work", it still is his property.  If he burns the manuscript
drafts and the floppies tomorrow, it is not much different than if he burned
one of his text books.  The large amount of *your* input is inconsequential.
  Another way to look at your dilemma is this way:  If this work was so
important to you, you probably should have done the research yourself, and
never given it to a student as a MS thesis project in the first place. 

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