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Academic code stealers

Talking from an academic prospective, we work in a research group, implementing distributed algos.One of my fellow workers is doing his PhD, but everyone here knows (except for his supervisor). He is incapable of doing a PhD.
He steals work from others, does not know what a "hashtable" is, and does not know how to even compile a simple program on Unix, let alone working with Semaphores and stuff.Yet hetgets 20k funding per year, while other masters students toiling away gets nothing.He has no self-respect, and begs others for coding help, literally falling on their feet. He copies and steals other people's code when they are not at their workstations, and tries to take credit for this.
But his supervisor somehow believes he is good. We are thinking of making a formal complaint, but my questions is how do these people get into a PhD program?
On paper he looks good with BS and MS degrees from good institutes.

Concerned
Thursday, March 25, 2004

"do these people get into a PhD program?"

How *his supervisor* got to be a PhD supervisor ??????

You should make a formal complaint against him first...

.NET Developer
Thursday, March 25, 2004

Concerned, if this will help you feel better, the person in question will probably fall flat on his face at the first 10 programming-intensive jobs he'll be accepted at--especially if these companies are top notch.

Li-fan Chen
Thursday, March 25, 2004


If he made it thus far without getting caught at those good-on-paper places (unless he lied about them), he must have been one heck of a con artist.

On the flip side, it could also be that the people who evaluated him did not take the time to research his background, make sure his resume is real, and that he is capable of being part of a research team, maybe you shouldn't be there. Or perhaps they are parasites themselves who are incapable of doing what they are supposed to be able to do.

Assuming that the fact that he is there is just a glitch in the system and that you are at a decent place where you are not wasting your time, why does he concern you? Is he a threat to you in any way? Is he going to cost you your PhD?

...
Thursday, March 25, 2004

not a threat, but a drain on my time and resources, coming to me every few hours for help, I can help him, but not 10 times a day, every few hours, over simple C questions, that is expected that a PhD should know this.He says he has 8 years C and Oracle experience, go figure, he's just a laughing stock in the group

Concerned
Thursday, March 25, 2004

I experienced the same during my PhD. He was no good, he could not nest two loops. I took over his project and I have never such a mess in my entire life. He now is a full professor in Information Systems, it seems still taking credit for someone else's work. Formal complaints and legal action did not work when he provably plagiated someone else's work. His current employer is afraid of the negative publicity.

Look out for other work, I did. The supervisor is probably involved, one hand washing the other. When you complain they will consider you the jerk. Quit, fight openly or make his life miserable so that he leaves, but do not complain. If the supervisor  has a half brain no is aware of the situation.

Take all your computers, sources, articles home and write in a language that he does not understand. More or less saved my arse.


Thursday, March 25, 2004

When he asks for something, simply refer him to google.

Engineer
Thursday, March 25, 2004

"how do these people get into a PhD program?"

How did the OP get into a PhD program with these writing skills?

bob
Thursday, March 25, 2004

Just as in software, quality varies a lot in PhD programs too, for all the same reasons.

I've seen people (men and women) getting funding for projects that were solved seven years ago, or that don't contribute to the discipline or any discipline. I've CS seen lecturers who couldn't design a safe web site, let alone anything more complicated.

For your problem, I would write a formal description of the candidates' weakness and submit it to the Dean of the body that would ultimately grant his PhD.

echidna
Thursday, March 25, 2004

welcome to the world of higher education.  :-D

vince
Thursday, March 25, 2004

See if you can get him to make his help requests to you via email.  Tell him you'll be glad to help later, but you're in the middle of something right now, so could he just send you a reminder?  Either he'll stop bugging you entirely, or you'll develop a lovely paper trail.  Either way, you get what you want.

Sam Livingston-Gray
Thursday, March 25, 2004

You never know, he may fall flat on his face trying to defend his thesis.  If he's not really sure what he did or how he did it, I don't see how he could possibly survive close scrutiny from his peers.

Elephant
Thursday, March 25, 2004

I have seen exactly the same people you describe

1)As someone said, refer him to google. Tell him politely, but very firmly that you cant help him.

2)Lock your workstations and ask your friends to do the same.

3)Dont complain. IT might get him expelled and will ruin his life. Let him improve.

Just ask him to get lost if he keeps pestering.  Forget about him taking credit. This sort of situation is normal in academics. Its your soul that counts.

Karthik
Thursday, March 25, 2004

It's pretty easy to demonstrate his incompetence, really.  We had someone like this in my research group who was leeching off everyone else in the group every chance he could.  We decided it would be good for the group to have a weekly meeting with each person cycling through and giving a brief presentation to the group as a whole describing what progress they had made since their last presentation, and asking other people for suggestions.  The advisor was in on all the meetings, and we carefully arranged it so that our leech went dead last in the cycle.  After everyone else had presented their work, his presentation turned out to be an exact duplicate of the previous person's presentation.  I deliberately asked some stupid questions and asked him to help clarify things for me, when I clearly didn't understand what he was saying.  He couldn't fall back on "This was covered last week" without making it even more obvious that he was stealing research.  He tried to insult my intelligence rather than answer the questions - I knew the answers, but acted like I was merely asking for his help - but he could not help me.

At the end of the summer after I graduated he was booted from our research group, and from the university - he had apparently been passed from group to group and we had been his last chance.

The key to this is that when he's asking for help with his help, explain that you are really stressed about getting your own presentation together and don't have time.  Then lock your PC when you are away, as previously suggested.  Let him flail.

Aaron F Stanton
Thursday, March 25, 2004

Oh, one other thing.

I disagree with Karthik on one thing.  Complain.  Let him get booted out.  I'd rather see a leech's life ruined than have him get away with continually ruining other people's lives.  Unless he is stopped, he will get a high paying job and/or a tenure position without earning it.  People will continue doing what they are rewarded for, and your inaction is rewarding him.  He'll keep getting away with it, and he'll just learn to intimidate people into keeping quiet about his theft.  This kind of crap should be stopped at every opportunity.

Aaron F Stanton
Thursday, March 25, 2004

Karthik seems to be saying:

Yah sure he's a scum bag.  Don't encourage him but you should still allow him his livelihood, the poor sop.

There is something somewhat transcendental about a metered respone like that, especially when it's entirely justifiable to flip out on the dude. 

I second Karthik's advice, plus it helps your sanity to not be the world's policeman.

lumberjack
Thursday, March 25, 2004

> Just as in software, quality varies a lot in PhD programs too, for all the same reasons.

So, ahh, jeez I should post under a different name here. 

Can anyone recommed a respected, but third rate, PhD degree mill?  The way things are going it can't hurt to have another degree.  And Gohd knows I'm not dedicated enough to actually earn the damn thing.

Snotnose
Thursday, March 25, 2004

... and this is why, when I hire someone, I don't look at his studies.

He may be a mechanical engineer, yet be an excellent developer.

He may not have a BS degree, yet be an excellent developer.

Hr may have a PHD, and be an extremely lousy developer and person.

Max
Friday, March 26, 2004

Max, you made exactly the point I was going to, though I was going to make it from the other direction. Just because he can't write code does not mean he can't do a PhD. Look at physics where there are experimentalists and theoretical physicists.


Friday, March 26, 2004

Stealing code is what we all do, its called reuse.  Unattributed theft of code is beyond the pale but almost as prevalent.

Stealing of entire applications, suites of code and claiming them as your own is another thing entirely, such as MS-DOS 1.x.  Oops hush my mouth.

Simon Lucy
Friday, March 26, 2004

He sounds like he is cutout to be fasttrack professor material. No seriously.
Academia is like politics, but more "petty" and intense because it is a more close quartered fighting arena. Perception is all that counts, and only the perception of those that have influence counts.
Besides, the only thing that he seems to be doing "wrong" is not giving out the credit. Since you describe yourself and your collegues as "interns" this does not matter much. In most places he would be allowed and even encouraged to have his "technical" work farmed out to your team, and the best you would hope foris an "aknowledgement" in a paper.
Yes, I know there are places where tech. skills are required of the PhD candidates, and that even give co-authorship to the tech team (the interns) in publications, but this isn't the rule by a long shot.
I'm cynical in these matters, but I suspect the only real result of a complaint (appart from maybe some shadow fights) would be that the supervisor would think he has the right attitude to survive in the vicious world of academia.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, March 26, 2004


Dang, it's annoying when people come around with such interesting dilemmas, and never update on what happened.

Engineer
Friday, March 26, 2004

It sounds like your complaint is his coding ability, not his intellectual ability.  Not all areas of concentration in computer science require programming ability. 

Please clarify/


Friday, March 26, 2004

The situation is old  as world . it happened everywhere.  To fight or not to ?  it is a question.
most likely your supervisor - is a blind jerk or he pretends to be blind or he just  does not  care.
if  your supervisor is a blind jerk - you will be in trouble as soon you start your fight , not this guy.

The best suggestion is in messages above - Google is the perfect source of information.

LI
Friday, March 26, 2004

Bah, PhDs.  I've known a few, and only one is worth a damn (PhD'd JoSers excluded; wink) and he is a spanish professor (maybe a little harder to fake, eh?).

A couple of years ago I was in a 300 level class called Data Structures and Algorithms in C.  In the first class session the instructor (a PhD candidate) said, "I don't actually know any C; I'm more into HTML."  WTF?!?!  What does one have to do with the other?

No point here; just wanted to rant.

MacSqueeb
Friday, March 26, 2004

Teh problem with computer science and IT teaching at the tertiary level is that salaries were so much better in business that it was incredibly hard for a middle-of-the-road academic institution to hire anybdy any good.

The slump has probably made things a little easier, but not too many of the very best got laid off.

And then factor in the very different personality traits needed to be a successful programmer and a successful teacher.

Stephen Jones
Friday, March 26, 2004

So I dealt with this exact quandary while an undergraduate researcher.  While not the most respectable solution, mine certainly caused him quite a bit of misery:

I made it easy for him to use all my code as his thesis, placing the latest working version of the code in a shared location where we both could easily access it.  Since he wasn't the most technologically on-the-ball, he never made local copies of any of the code (note also the complete lack of a revision control system).  Conveniently, just before a critical meeting with his thesis committee, he said something to piss me off and I up and quit.  I wiped my code from the shared location (although I kept my own copy for prosperity) and stormed out in a fiery rage, never to return.

Being an academic that knew he was in the wrong, he avoided the confrontation he knew would result from approaching me for the code.  His committee cut him apart and he's now started anew with a different group.  Hopefully he's learned the disadvantages of a system with a single point of failure.

Let him burn
Friday, March 26, 2004

---"although I kept my own copy for prosperity)"---

That's the attitude! How much do you think you'll get for it?

Stephen Jones
Friday, March 26, 2004

It sounds like you really have three separate problems.

Regarding your time, it is up to you to decide what to do. The situation would be different if your professor were asking you to sacrifice your time to help this person, but that doesn't sound like the case.

Regarding unattributed copying of the work of other people, that is a problem for the professor. If the work is funded by US federal grants, it is potentially an issue for the institution as a whole, because there are serious federal rules about this, depending on the agency doing the funding. The problem becomes clearest if the person publishes work as his own that was done by someone else. If the professor's name is on the paper, and the unattributed work was done in the same lab, you probably will find that nobody other than the author of the work gets upset.

Regarding the impact of this person on academic computer science, it may be helpful for the world as a whole if this person finds a different career. Hopefully he won't head for medical school as an alternative.

If your professor is clueless about how to deal with this kind of problem, it may indicate that you want to find a better professor.

Dan Brown
Friday, March 26, 2004

> I'm cynical in these matters, but I suspect the only real result of a complaint ...

Actually, accusations of plagiarism have seen very senior academics sacked in Australia. As in the head of at least one university. It was plagiarism that occurred 20 years previously.

echidna
Friday, March 26, 2004

Here it is:

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/07/24/1027497354361.html

echidna
Saturday, March 27, 2004

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