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Other Is using my papers in my PhD thesis plagiarism?

  1. Apr 15, 2016 #1
    Hi, I am writing up my PhD thesis in the UK (Uni of Birmingham) and getting absolutely no guidance from my supervisor or the grad school about plagiarism. I'm being passed from pillar to post as no one wants to give an opinion so I thought I would ask here.

    How much of my papers that I have published during my doctorate can I put into my thesis?
    Can I copy/paste the whole thing?
    Is using the figures ok, as long as I reference them?
    Do I include the paper as a reference in that chapter?

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 15, 2016 #2
    Hi streeters,

    These are good questions.

    First of all, copy pasting entire papers in your PhD thesis is not a good idea, but not because of plagiarism. A PhD thesis must be a fluent, connected piece. It can't just be a disjoint collection of published papers. You obviously need to tell the information that's in your papers, and you need to put it in your thesis. But usually a PhD thesis is something you write for nonspecialists. It's something any physicist should be able to read, not only specialists in your area. On the other hand, a paper is something you write for specialists. So the PhD thesis must have more explanations, a lot of "binding texts", motivations, etc.

    As for plagiarism issues. You can really use everything you want in a PhD, as long as you provide proper references. So if you include a figure from your paper, then reference it. Using a citation? Reference it.

    Sometimes you will want to write in your PhD thesis a chapter which contains nothing new, but which contains a lot of information that you need for the rest. For this a blanket reference must be provided. So in the beginning of the chapter, write "All this information can be found in the books blablablabla".

    Also, be very careful which results you have shown and which results are not new. If you did something new, indicate it in the thesis. Everything that is not new must be properly referenced.

    I'm not claiming to be an expert, but I did go through these processes a few times. If you wish, you can send me your thesis and I'll try to criticize it on terms of references.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 15, 2016
  4. Apr 15, 2016 #3


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    Believe it or not, it appears that Feynman's PhD paper was entirely original in terms of him not citing his previous research papers containing new quantum physics, because there were none!!
    But nowadays people work through grad school and must publish in articles new physics, in order to have bibliography for their PhD thesis. This is actually the normal way. Self-plagiarism is ethically incorrect and the value of a research paper is given by the number of completely external (that is outside of the author's research group) quotations.

    The structure of a PhD thesis I have in mind, were I to write one someday (0,0001% possibility I will), would be: Introduction, Motivation, Comprehensive overview of previous work in the field, actual content = what my PhD paper brings new, insights for future research.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2016
  5. Apr 15, 2016 #4


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    I'm very surprised you're not getting guidance from your supervisor on this. These are questions that are specific to your university. Some schools are very strict on format, others more flexible. I don't know what is common in the UK. If you can't find the answer from your supervisor, it's common for schools to have a thesis manual online. This should provide all the necessary rules about what's acceptable for your thesis. Supervisors should be familiar with it, but in my experience they don't read through it on a regular basis and often this falls on the student's shoulders.

    It's reasonably common in North America to write a paper-based thesis. In this format, the core of your thesis is the collection of published or submitted papers. It's common for the first chapter to be an introduction to the sub-field, and the second to be an introduction to the specific problems worked on in the thesis, a comprehensive literature review, and an overview of the thesis. Each paper chapter would then have an introduction to the paper, stating where it was originally published and giving an overview of how that particular piece of work fits into the bigger picture. The thesis can then include work that is yet to be published and a conclusion chapter. It can also include chapters detailing preliminary work, benchmarking, or the reproduction of results from other groups to validate your methods.
  6. Apr 16, 2016 #5
    Thanks to everyone that has responded so far

    I'm in metallurgy, and this isn't the case in my group, sadly. the past 5 students have had perhaps a common theme (as broad as using the same alloy in all experiments) and have cobbled together the thesis under very broad titles. The last title was "Electrochemical studies of degradation of nickel" which is about as broad as a topic can be.

    I used to have ambition. Now I just want it to be over.

    I'm surprised as well. It was a long shot me getting information on here, but finding an answer is driving me crazy.
    It is a consequence of restructuring at the university. Our department has lost half its non-academic staff and the VC just expects the academics to pick up all the work that used to be done. Academics are phobic about putting anything down in writing that might come back to bite them in the butt so I am continually getting fobbed off. I think the original rationale was to centralise all the admin for the university, but that just lead to administrators who really don't care about the fate of the students and see students as giant babies instead of adults trying to understand an immense and turgid bureaucracy.
  7. Apr 17, 2016 #6


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    Quoth the University of Birmingham Regulations, Section 7 (Assessment, Progression and Award):

    Naturally the University has a Code of Practise on Plagiarism, and you may want to ask your supervisor to (re)supply you with the written guidance required to be distributed by paragraph 3.1.
  8. Apr 18, 2016 #7
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