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passive vs active

aloisia t schmid a-schmi at uiuc.edu
Thu Apr 3 13:52:22 EST 1997

Dear Sabine,

   you wrote:

> Now, here we come to a point I AM concerned about. What I did during my thesis
> work is very mixed - meaning some was real collaborative effort, where it is 
> hard to separate who did what, we really did it together and also wrote the
> paper together, some was mainly mine, and some was mainly other people's 
> work, which, though, is very closely related and where I ended up as an 
> author on the paper  
> Now, I never was fully convinced of what was said in [the first paper],
though back then 
> it was only my intuition that told me "there's something fishy here", but now 
> I know what was wrong there. And I really did not actively do any of the work
> discussed. 
> On the other hand, all the simulations, interpretation, writing, etc. in
[the second paper] were 
> done by me (with some very good comments making the final version more
> by my advisor), while the first author from (1) mainly served as a devil's 
> advocate (since the results from (2) contradict the results from (1),
but only 
> after publication of (2) I realized why this is so). The first author from (1)
> can mainly be credited for coming up with the idea to look at this
problem, and,
> as said before, being a devil's advocate, which made me check everything very 
> thoroughly. The problem is, that people who are not familiar with what really 
> happened, think that HE did much of the theoretical work and
interpretation of 
> results in (2) - which is not true, quite the contrary, he never believed it. 
> Whenever I hear this from someone in person, I contradict it, say what I did 
> and he didn't, but it would be nice to put it down in writing. 
> So, what do I do? Describe the contents of (1) using "they" or "he", though I 
> am an author on this paper? Or stick to "we"? I will certainly use "I" when 
> discussing the contents of (2) to set certain things straight - because 
> actually, I hope some people will actually read my thesis - that's why I write
> it in English and not in German.
> Sabine


O.K.  So here is what I think you should do.  Take it for whatever it is
worth--I am not the best at dealing with these things.  Somehow, I always
think the loyalty I have for my boss should be returned (that my best
interests should be his concern too....), and of course,that is naive and

I think you should describe this series of experiments in a chronological
context.  I think you should describe the evolution of the way you have
come to think about these things.  You should say "we" when referring to
the first (wrong?) paper, and make it clear what your contributions there
were.  How the ideas evolved.  THEN when you get to the second paper and
how things changed, that's when you make it clear where you took over by
using "I" more prevalently, and using "we" only when it is appropriate to
getting the dual inputs across.

For example.  

Observations x,y and z from previous work led us to ask whether or not
Plan A might be possible.  WE performed the following experiments.  I
looked at b,c and d in those experiments, which suggested to ME that Plan
A might be one of TWO possible explanations for what was known at the
time.  Nevertheless, I decided to follow up this work by exploring the
possibility that the alternative explanation, Plan B might,in actuality
account for the same observations as well.  I did experiments d,e, and f
to get at this question, and believe those results support the conclusion
that Plan B is indeed the correct one.  I believe that Plan B acts as

You may even want to include a short section on how the first author from
(1) disagreed with the second series of results, leading you to check
further details, really nailing down the final conclusions.  

As long as you keep everything very objective and matter of fact , I can't
see this as being a problem, unless of 
course (and this is certainly common,let's be honest), this person is
terribly insecure and mean-spirited.  But  if that is the problem, then
pretty much no matter what you say or do, short of praising him for his
genius, will be met with any degree of civility.  Furthermore, if he is
indeed that kind of person, then I think it is your ADVISER'S job to step
in and protect YOUR interests, even if the person (1) is also his
student.  And if he refuses to do that, you are 
completely within your rights to go to him and to say to him, "You are supposed 
to be my mentor.  This is an opportunity for you to do the right and noble
thing.  This is an opportunity for you to make me feel indebted and loyal
to you forever.  This is an opportunity for you to stand up for what is
right for me.  I expect you to stand up for me."  

I never thought you could do those kinds of things, but I have met some
pretty strong and capable women recently and they have done it with very
positive results, because it actually forces the person who is a god of
non-confrontation, to say, "Hmmm.  She's not going to let me get away with
this.  What should I do to come out the best in this situation?"  

Good luck.  These things always seem all-consuming while you are in them,
and then a couple of years later, when you've moved on, the only thing
that will bother you about them is if you backed down.  The rest will seem


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