This week in class we were talking about authorship and Dr. Depauw mentioned that she believes that you have only earned a degree if you are the first author on the thesis or dissertation that got you that degree. I was caught off guard by this comment because I was not aware that some students have other individuals as authors on their theses/dissertations. In my Master’s program the student does their own research and is the only author on their thesis when they are done; their committee members are acknowledged, but the student is the sole author.

This conversation on having additional authors made me wonder how much freedom these students have in choosing what they want to study for their thesis/dissertation. The amazing thing about my program is that I was given the freedom to study whatever I wanted as long as it related to communication in some way. My program advisor tells grad students that we are should find something that we are interested in, and even if there isn’t someone in the department who specializes in that area the faculty will do whatever they can to find individuals who can help them throughout the process. This freedom that I was given is one of my favorite things about my program and I can’t imagine having felt pressured to study a topic that fit with a particular professor’s area of research.

I am taking a course this semester that involves completing a research project/paper, and while trying to get my topic for this project approved I continued to be met with pushback from my professor any time I made a suggestion that was too far from her own area of research. I have been extremely annoyed at the limitations this professor has placed on the students in this course, so I cannot imagine having to feel this oppression when completing one of the most important projects I had ever worked on.

Not only would working on a professor’s project as part of a thesis or dissertation decrease their control over the situation, but could also open the door for ethical issues to arise. The Office of Research Integrity posted a case on their website where a former graduate student at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine fabricated and/or falsified data in three publications and four meeting presentations. When graduate students are caught fabricating data it makes me wonder what the reasoning behind doing so was; were they being pressured by professors or other researchers, were they simply eager to have significant findings so that they could get published, or was something entirely different guiding their actions? 

I am very interested to hear from all of you on this topic. How much freedom did you have in choosing your own thesis/dissertation topic? For those of you who might be in a program that allows for less freedom in choosing what you research, how do you handle these limitations? Has anyone ever stood up against this restraint, and if so, what happened? Have you ever felt pressured to act unethically in a research setting, or have you ever had to deal with a professor using unethical practices?

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