Actually, it doesn't feel like the best form of flattery.
August 12, 2011 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Creepy? Flattering? Both? Neither? Young co-worker is now using content I give to her in conferences and on the 'net, often without attribution, in a field where ideas are valuable to building reputations and getting work. I don't know how to process my urge to feel self-protective. Examples and long explanation to follow.

I'm a Lecturer at a pretty well-regarded university. I do not have a PhD, but I do have a couple of decades of experience in a field that is an unusual hybrid, which happens to have gotten very "hot" and is getting a lot of attention in the media (the field, not me). I have no budget and no staff, but I love teaching and I invest my time in a specific start-up, university-affiliated, national organization (let's call it "BOBBIN") because it is an opportunity to collaborate with a professor/friend who is the founder; do research and publish my work; gain wider credibility for my work and--hopefully--more opportunities to apply it elsewhere; and build my practice and reputation.

For the last year or so, I've been working with someone new at my university in this organization. She's a bright, charming, young, recent graduate from a respected undergrad program in our field, and VERY PR savvy and well connected in social/regular media. She became interested in BOBBIN. She was young, but motivated and we hired her for logistics and coordination of the organization. Seemed like a win!

Then she became interested in the field that I work in. She began to take classes in a program where I teach. Okay, great! Happy to help.

She had a lot on her plate in the first year, and no local contacts in the field or who could provide non-profit resources. But I did, and I saw how her lack of connections could hurt the forward progress of our organization, so I shared my contacts with her gladly in order to facilitate getting things done. Those contacts have helped her to really move things along and look very good in her role.

During a conversation with her, I shared a model that I was working on as I was explaining to her how I was applying that model to the strategy of BOBBIN. Weeks later, it showed up in an article that she written in an online magazine, slightly changed, but yes...there it was. I called her on it, She explained that she did not remember our conversation at all and did I have photos of the whiteboard where I remembering having the conversation with her? I showed her the notes and diagrams that I was sharing with the Director of my program, I was steamed, but eventually let it go. I hadn't published it yet. She denies having seen it.

Then another colleague sent a link to an interview to me of her during an online video podcast talking about BOBBIN, repeating almost verbatim my explanation to her about the theories I was applying within the organization to development. My theories? No, theories of others which I teach in my classes (she has not taken any class with me) but applied in a specific way and context, and which another colleague and I were using as the foundation of an article for a peer-reviewed journal submission. Our article was accepted, final version just submitted. But it is now months later because that process is SLOW and her interview has been out on video since last Spring. Lovely.

I became wary. I had a frank conversation with her about my need to feel comfortable with sharing information in her presence if I am working on it elsewhere. She acted hurt and defensive, but agreed to be more careful with attribution. I also had a conversation with her boss at the university (remember, it's a hybrid organization and does not stand on its own yet). He is very short staffed and completely scrambling to cover work already. Unless she knifes someone, he's not going to let her go right now. The Dean LOVES this organization, and we can't slow it down. Her boss is aware of this and concerned, but conflict-averse. She is doing her job otherwise.

My faculty colleague in the organization and I are then copied on a presentation that she gave at a conference that we weren't told she was attending. Again, more talk about our work framed in such a way that we are not very strongly connected to it. It's there, but as a tiny footnote really. Frustrating, but she did include us. Kind of. The implication was that she had MUCH more of a role in it than she did. And she gave herself a title during the conference without conferring with any of us. A C-level title. Interesting.

She was asked by her boss and my colleague to drop the C-level title.

Last week, I received the proof for a new print publication that is being distributed soon and, although I lent content from other work I've done with other clients and elsewhere, it wasn't attributed to me (although others' attributions WERE included.) I just sent back feedback on the document and neutrally included my request that the attributions be included. (As in, "p. 32 -- please change it's to its. p. 33 - Please add "Used with permission from [Anon]". She complied without comment.

During our last in-person meeting in July, I explained to her how I was working on something for our organization from my domain of expertise that has a very specific term. Let's call it "the higgetybottom of hossenfeffer." It was impossible not to disclose this, because she is responsible for executing a lot of things I develop for BOBBIN.

Soon after, the tagline on her Twitter profile was changed to "Creating Higgetybottom of Hossenfeffer to Optimize BOBBIN!"

Um, what?

Today, got the mock-up for the website and the last line of her bio that outlines her interests has been changed to read as identical to the first line of my bio on the university website and in my LinkedIn profile.

I can't tell whether my buttons are being pushed on purpose or if this woman is incredibly obtuse. She's young, fresh out of college, tends to overstate her experience (seems to be typical in the group of students and grads she runs with).

She's also incredibly media and 'net savvy with more time on her hands and more connections than I have currently. She's a high-octane, self-promotion machine. I work p/t, I'm a WAHM with children, I've never been someone to self-promote. And did I mention that this topic is hot right now? I've been working since 1996 waiting for this topic to hit the headlines and now I feel like I'm being elbowed in the gut by this woman on her scramble past me. I own those feelings of jealousy, so I've tempered my reaction to her or my taking action on this by discounting my own feelings with "Maybe you're just jealous of her self-promotion ability, and her connections." But now I wonder if I have waited far too long to address this, as she is building quite a rep and brand for herself with ideas and words that I feel she has cribbed directly from my notes.

I've never run into this before in my 23 years post-undergrad. (I guess I should feel lucky!) On one hand, I feel like I should be protecting "something". On the other, I keep thinking, "Well, what do I care? I know I'm the one saying or doing this."

How to deal with this? It is quite maddening and, frankly, demotivating. I like working with this organization but I'm tired of having to second guess everything I say in her presence or share with her in an email because I'm wondering how she'll be using it at her next conference talk which will get put on the 'net long before I ever crank out my next article.

Is there something I can say or do to get this nonsense to stop or at least slow it down? Avoiding her entirely AND still continuing to work with the organization won't work, because BOBBIN is incredibly small and our work is integrated.

Or should I chalk it up to, "Well, that's the self-promotion game"?

Damn. And right before vacation, too.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (62 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
What's to stop you from publishing brief or redacted details on the net? Some of her actions sounds like plagiarism, or very close.
posted by scruss at 3:44 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


You could try a nice, friendly* sit-down with her, in which you explain that her inability or unwillingness to give proper attribution will harm her reputation and once one has a reputation as a thief or plagiarist, even if it's done out of ignorance or accident, it can be very difficult to get rid of it.
posted by rtha at 3:48 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is there any actual reason why you can't grip her warmly by the throat and tell her to cut the plagiarism?

If I were you, I'd go directly to her boss and complain that she is engaging in borderline plagiarism.

If you can drum her out of BOBBIN, do so. On the slim chance that she is really that dumb, that will teach her.
posted by tel3path at 3:49 PM on August 12, 2011 [19 favorites]


Does your university have an ombudsperson you can discuss the matter with? If not, is there a formal grievance procedure you can use?

I've never been someone to self-promote

Well, you should. But plagiarism is not self-promotion, and it is not excusable.

Avoiding her entirely AND still continuing to work with the organization won't work, because BOBBIN is incredibly small and our work is integrated.

Maybe you can't avoid her entirely, but that doesn't mean you have to help her with anything or share your private ideas.
posted by grouse at 3:53 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


You have to get past her age and assumed inexperience and recognize her as a snake. That's the first step.
posted by milarepa at 3:53 PM on August 12, 2011 [84 favorites]


I'd say include every new thing you are working on in your personal webpage, maybe as drafts, so there is enough scope for polishing to justify publication. I don't know how copyright works, but could you have copyright on such web-publications? Including strategies/processes outlined in your writings. Or figure out other ways in which you can prevent her from being the first one out with one of your ideas - get in touch with local media or someone on the web, and do pretty much what she does, BEFORE she has a chance to attach herself to your stuff. If you are afraid that you won't be able to publish later, just make sure to keep it general enough so you don't double-publish, but detailed enough to sabotage her attempts.

Alternatively, if you are afraid of being scooped that way, would it be an option to withdraw from the organisation you work for? Even if only temporarily?

Her behaviour sounds abnoxious, and it is entirely unfair that she gets the credit for your work, your energy and your creativity.
posted by miorita at 3:54 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, so sorry you have to deal with this. It sounds like she knows exactly what she's doing. I could almost buy the first event, where she claims to have forgotten your conversation. But there is clearly a pattern. She seems to have no problem stealing the work of others and lying about it, and I don't think she's likely to change since her tactics seem to be working very well for her. Despite all her better qualities (that you have gone out of your way to describe), this is not the kind of person that is good for a small, serious organization.

If you can't get the other members to agree to remove her, could you take a hiatus from the program and work on your own for a while without having to share your work?
posted by Glinn at 3:57 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, so I didn't read the whole thing, but I stopped at 'she didn't remember that whole conversation we had but still used the concept' thing.

Because, right there, red flag says - she knows she's playing you.

If you can, I would slowly back away from her.

But, more than that, you need to self promote - this is what happens when you don't. By being overly humble, you're letting other people come along and steal your ideas. And they don't care if they do it, they just want to get ahead. You need to push your ideas out there more as your ideas because they are yours.
posted by mleigh at 4:00 PM on August 12, 2011 [13 favorites]


IMHO, you HAVE to do something about this. I may have cut her some slack, but the Twitter thing is blatant and almost reads as an challenge - a "look at this, I've copied you, you know it, I know it, and I know you won't do anything about it!" You are going to need to learn to self promote if you want to get her to stop. Can you go to these conferences and present your ideas instead of giving in to the "well she speaks at the conference long before I can crank out another article" dynamic?
posted by coupdefoudre at 4:02 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seconding Glinn. I think you're giving this coworker far too much benefit of the doubt. She is using you and using your work to promote herself.

You need to carefully document every interaction you have with her from now on, and be guarded. Confronting her will just lead to more denial. This is an issue to bring to her superiors, but you need evidence or else it will just be your word against hers.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 4:02 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


She went to a conference and presented on someone else's research without having the courtesy to notify them first? And her boss's response was to note that she misrepresented her credentials? At my alma mater this would be grounds for serious reprimand (actually it wouldn't have occured in the first place - someone would have either notified you or put a stop to the presentation).

I wonder if there's a bit of a culture clash going on - if you are in academia and she is working for a private company. It's pretty common in the corporate world to treat fields of research as being sort of owned by the whole company (rather than being owned by an individual), but even in this it seems to me like she's stepping out of bounds.

If you haven't been keeping a log, you should be.
posted by muddgirl at 4:04 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This isn't a matter of internal BOBBIN politics; she's playing on a bigger field than you are, and nothing she's doing is accidental.

You might consider contacting as many colleagues as possible outside BOBBIN, and warning them about her. This will have the salutary side-effect of getting you networking.

As a side-note, my guess is that she doesn't really care that much about the subject matter-- she just spotted a niche with some room to advance quickly.

Pushback hard enough-- not through her, but through others-- and she may well move on to a different niche entirely.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:12 PM on August 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


You're getting played by an organizational vampire. She is likely getting ready to stab you in the back somehow when you blow her cover, so prepare for the worst. Nthing keeping logs.

If you can, invent some obscure terms that she is sure to plagiarize (I've used nonexistent programming languages in the past) and wait for the inevitable surfacing of your new term on her Social Media 2.0 empire.

If you don't do something about this now, she'll be running for the Senate in a few years.
posted by benzenedream at 4:14 PM on August 12, 2011 [42 favorites]


I heartily concur: she is actively stealing your work and exploiting what she sees as your passivity ("Well, if Anon doesn't get what BOBBIN can be, it's not my problem. I know how to run with this topic."). And, you need to sit down and document everything -- your BOBBIN history, what's happened since she's come aboard, everything. Then take meetings with whomever you need to and present your case, pronto.

I can hear how hard it is for you to accept that this is actually happening. It is. I don't mean to sound dramatic, but I think you have to put everything else aside and protect your work, your career, yourself. Good luck, and I'm sorry you have to deal with this.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:22 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you are being way too nice and diplomatic about this. She is taking advantage of you and BOBBIN, whether she's 'aware' of this or not. (And if she isn't clued into how absolutely inappropriate and unprofessional her behavior has been, that's a huge problem unto itself. Because really...you've got countless examples here and she's been told more than once. And it's all just wrong, in so many ways.)

I'd go to her directly first. Don't hedge, don't downplay; be frank. She needs a wake-up call and it needs to be said. I personally think she also needs punishable action. Perhaps don't threaten to force her out or go above her head or anything. Maybe from just the direct conversation, she'll leave. If she's smart and has any social networking sense, that's what she'll do. If she doesn't, she's gotta know that it ain't going to be pleasant to stick around, even if there's nothing really she can point to, other than lots of politely closing doors all around her as she carries on. But maybe she doesn't care about that; maybe she's too shrewd, savvy, egoistic, whatever. So be prepared for that too.

The other nice thing about this is that you can do whatever YOU'RE comfortable with. People like this...they just up the ante for themselves when they climb up that way, fooling themselves into thinking its all ok by everybody they've stepped on. In other words, somebody with more power, later, will let them fall. Its a much longer way down by then. She's screwing herself and doesn't know it. So you do what will make you feel content with this mess...you don't have to teach her lessons; she'll get them sooner (easier recovery) or later (the hard way).

But protect your work in every way possible. She doesn't get any more info nuggets. That will have its own negative effect when there's a marked differenced between then and what she can produce now, on her own (or latching onto the next...one more person in the field that she'll trample).
posted by iamkimiam at 4:28 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fire her. Immediately.

Cite plagiarism, and take screenshots. Report her to the dean, then stop talking with her.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:29 PM on August 12, 2011 [25 favorites]


Fabricate stupid things and throw it to her. Make the signal/noise ratio so high that she will run into problems.

A good idea may also be to encrypt your work using truecrypt. Just for the case...
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Additionally, rescind all contacts you've provided her. Your friends deserve to be warned about his snake-like behavior. Make it clear that she is not welcome.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2011 [20 favorites]


*her snakelike behavior, sheesh
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:31 PM on August 12, 2011


I think she thinks that (a) all content is there for the taking and (b) since you're not publishing, tweeting, blogging, conferencing about BIG SUBJECT, she's free to fill the void.

Stop her now. She'll end up padding her resume with your work. And jump on the social media stuff yourself (or hire someone to do it for you, if you can't/won't.)

She thinks that this is all okay because that's what she did in undergrad.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:49 PM on August 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


1. Innocence is the favorite mask of the female snake. Don't be fooled by her big-eyed "Oops!"ing, SHE IS PLAYING YOU.
2. As others have said, she needs a wake up call - but not so much about the plagiarism (she knows damn well she's doing it) as putting her on notice that the days of passive Anonyperson are OVER. Let her know that this behavior is flat-out unacceptable and as of this second, every instance of appropriation will be documented and submitted to authorities. And DO IT.
3. Copy all your notes about everything you're working on, plus copies/references for everything that you've got in published or public, to a CD. Send that CD to yourself by registered mail, and don't open it. If this ever goes to a higher authority, they can open the sealed, dated package to see your notes.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:54 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


1. No more conversations with her about your work. None. Zero. Zip. Nada.
2. Lots more conversations with her about outdated literature and unsexy topics, with possibly some made-up terms of art thrown-in.
3. Pay money to someone to create "YourName.Com" which will have, along with other relevant details of your professional life (which sounds really stellar, and which you should be both proud and protective of), a section called "Research In Progress" which will have blurbs like "Higgetybottom of Hossenfeffer: Optimizing the Beeble in the Organization BOBBIN. Research drawing on my work with beebles, bopples and widgets (see Fancy Journal Dec 07) to discuss organizational structure in Big University's BOBBIN. Summer 2011."
4. Add a section called "Published Research" or "Forthcoming Research" with an abstract to your journal article that she stole from you. Last line should be "submitted DATE."
5. Add a link on your website to your Twitter account, which you Tweet from once a day, over coffee, with relevant stuff about BOBBIN.
6. When the asp comes to you wondering why you aren't giving her contacts or research or why her stolen-from-you-she-thought presentation on 20-year-old bopple research didn't fly, cock your head at her and say, "Oh, did we talk about that? I don't recall."

This all sounds evil. But I'm feeling evil on your behalf, I think.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:00 PM on August 12, 2011 [37 favorites]


I have to agree that she is playing you. No matter how long she is with you, she will constantly be stealing ideas from you and others. I don't care if people see potential or whatever... she's going to be trouble down the road. When she is done draining you of your ideas, she will find new prey.

I doubt this is the first time she has done this. Maybe all her undergrad accomplishments where actually other people's first. I have learned never to trust people like this the hard way.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:01 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


In other fields--government, corporate--this sort of thing is known as espionage.

Do not communicate with this person AT ALL unless absolutely necessary. Loose lips sink ships!
posted by Sys Rq at 5:15 PM on August 12, 2011


If you do need to communicate with her, do it by chat or email only, and keep the logs.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:20 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Get good at social media and self-promotion.
posted by anildash at 5:22 PM on August 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Everything except for item 2 on Snarl Furillo's list sounds great, IMO. Not evil at all. Do it.
posted by millions of peaches at 5:28 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


If there's a higher authority you can take this to, do it. Document everything you can. As everyone else has said, she is playing you and she knows it. Shame isn't going to work. Ideally, if she does really have her own original thoughts to contribute to BOBBIN, somebody with the power to hire and fire can put the fear of God into her and make her play by the rules. If she doesn't have original thoughts or won't play nice, she needs to go and the word "plagiarism" needs to be attached to her name in official records so she won't get the chance to land someplace else and start over.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:44 PM on August 12, 2011


People like her count on people like you to let them walk all over you to get ahead in life. I don't think you can beat her at her own game, especially since I bet she's good at kissing the right people's butts and making them think she's great, which only makes you look bad when you complain to them about her.

If no one's willing to get rid of her, is there a way to get her to sign some sort of legal agreement that makes it explicit what sort of information she can and cannot share, in what way credit must be given, etc? At this point she probably just thinks you're all pushovers, but if a legal document is brought into it, it may give her pause.
posted by wondermouse at 5:47 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not the first time she's done this.

Gather up everything she's produced that you have access to and run it through a student cheating detecting service.

Bet you'll get a lot of hits.
posted by jamjam at 6:02 PM on August 12, 2011 [20 favorites]


She's a narcissist. Don't play her game, you'll be fired and/or have your life ruined, in ways you cannot imagine, within a year if you do. That's how they roll. You can't fire her or have her fired, no matter how hard you try. They're damned good at what they do, which is drain the lifeblood of the smart and unconnected while schmoozing the shit out of higher-ups. I have no advice, only sympathy.
posted by Yowser at 6:17 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am thinking about this more, and I want to address something else. There's an undertone in your question that sounds a little apologetic. You say you aren't a PhD, you don't have a staff or budget, you're mostly just helping out at Bobbin, you didn't go to this one conference, you're a part-time professional and mostly you're a mom and...

I feel like you are saying, "Maybe I misunderstood. Maybe it's right for her to steal my work, because she's so much younger and more ambitious and outgoing. Maybe I'm just too sensitive."

Please listen to what I say now. Ignore everything else, if you want, but please listen to this:

You are valuable. Your work is valuable. You deserve honest, truthworthy colleagues who want to work with you to further your career, not against you to further their own. This woman does not deserve one second, one iota, one atom of credit for your valuable, expert and professional work.

I think you could ignore every piece of advice in this thread if you believe the paragraph above and make sure that every action you take is in keeping with that belief. This woman would drift away like so much dust from your line of sight.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:22 PM on August 12, 2011 [42 favorites]


now I feel like I'm being elbowed in the gut by this woman on her scramble past me.

That's because you are.

"Well, what do I care? I know I'm the one saying or doing this."

Bump that. Acknowledgement for your work and achievements is awesome. There is nothing wrong with wanting that.

1) Like others have said, learn how to self-promote. There has to got to be someone in your contacts who knows how to self promote and is social media savvy and can show you the ins and outs.

2) Get other people to promote you. Call any of your contacts who are remotely trustworthy and tell them the deal with Snakey McPlagerist. But also tell them that whenever Bobbins or Higgetybottom of Hossenfeffer comes up they should mention you and how awesome your work is.

3) Is there any reason you can't write articles for online magazines or do video podcasts? Academic articles are nice for academic rep, but outside of academia the popular press is where it's at.

4) Anytime you start doubting yourself or think about giving her the benefit of the doubt, watch "All About Eve".
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:22 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


So here's the thing about social media. In any given field, the B-list is full of lazy, vapid self-promoters like your co-worker. But the A-list tends to be people with real, useful information to share.

You sound like someone with real useful information to share. Not just a one-line tweet like "Creating higgitybottom of hossenfeffer" — but a whole article's worth. "Let me tell you what we learned from the higgitybottom hossenfeffer project," or "Here are some common pitfalls that inexperienced people run into when they're hossenfefferizing their first higgitybottom," or "This is how you tell whether your hossenfeffer needs a higgitybottom or just a hepplewonk." You could throw posts like that together off the top of your head, I'm guessing — and your asshole co-worker couldn't.

One of my favorite academic bloggers regularly solicits questions from his readers. I've written in with questions a few times — and the answers have been solid. Not flashy or buzzwordy or whatever, not all self-promoting, not hip and media-savvy, just clear and helpful. The upshot is, now I trust that one blogger a heck of a lot more than just about any of his competitors — including some much flashier, trendier, network-i-er writers who haven't demonstrated that sort of substance.

Anyway, all I'm saying is, if you wanted to start blogging about your work, or tweeting news updates about your field, or whatever, you would completely kick your poor dumb co-worker's ass at it.

You could also, I guess, start lying to her or hiding your work from her or whatever. But those strategies seem like a lot of work, and they don't improve your own career any. Writing a blog on your pet topic could be fun, exciting, and career-boosting — and coming out ahead of this asshole would just be the icing on the cake.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:30 PM on August 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


You have two routes open to you. One is to deal with this as a situation between colleagues, albeit one junior and one senior. The other is to deal with this as a teacher at a university where your junior colleague is enrolled as a student. The second route is more valuable to you right now. And if I were you, the first thing I would do is look into the procedure for formally alleging plagiarism against a student.

Then, with your colleague, I would pay a visit to the University's Personnel Office, and speak with them in confidence.

You have already followed the proper procedures for addressing plagiarism by a colleague. First you spoke to the "forgetful" perpetrator. Second you spoke to her boss. Now, armed with information about filing grievances against student plagiarists, you should get Personnel's advice on how to proceed.

In the meantime, yes, I would do as others have suggested, and start making a point of promoting your work, and clearly and very publically attaching your own names to it.

Finally, yes, I agree with the commentator who homed in on how much you are downplaying your own rank and situation, and giving your "junior colleague" far too much credit for innocence and charm. Forget all that. There have been four incidents, and that's no accident.
posted by Violet Blue at 7:39 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


The other is to deal with this as a teacher at a university where your junior colleague is enrolled as a student.

The "junior colleague" appears to be staff, not a student.
posted by grouse at 7:47 PM on August 12, 2011


You know what? This is all irritating as hell, and I honestly think that not doing anything would probably encourage her to more of the same to other people. I've been teaching for awhile now at the college level, and I've noticed that every year, there's less respect for other people's research and a lot more instances of plagiarism. When students are caught, there's also a lot less shame involved when fessing up. There are some very awesome people coming up the ranks in the academy who know how to do genuine research, and these people are an absolute pleasure, but they are becoming more rare. So this is not a universal statement; but I'm afraid that what you are seeing in this case is becoming more indicative of the brazen attitudes that see "borrowing" other people's research and passing it off as their own as not being that big of a deal. There is also a lot of intentional "forgetting" going on, as well, regarding where information comes from when called on it. For some reason, the same culture that sees plagiarism as okay also seems to think that those who don't approve of it are pretty dumb when it comes to spotting this kind of thing.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:19 PM on August 12, 2011


Please check with your university affiliate to see what their bylaws are regarding plagiarism. Most places take this very seriously, and I'd imagine doubly so when it involves cutting-edge and highly public research. You already have some evidence that your work has been published (albeit not as widespread as an online interview). It appears that your colleagues and contacts know your work and could possibly support you if anyone ever seeks to question the source material.

What I don't know is if your young new coworker is versed enough in the research to answer "tough questions." It's one thing to tweet/blog/interview about something new, but an entirely different beast when it comes to supporting it. If it came to close scrutiny by other experts in your field, can she hold up or will it become increasingly obvious that she's claiming credit for other people's work?
posted by CancerMan at 8:27 PM on August 12, 2011


I liked the advice to rescind every contact you've given her. Along with all the rest.

Yes. This really is happening. You're not crazy.
posted by jbenben at 8:33 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This girl sounds pathological, and I don't think there's really anything you can do about that. Limit access and information to her, as she will steal it every time. If you want to play frisky, feed her false data then watch her make a fool of herself. By all means, don't believe anything that comes out of her mouth. This does not appear to be a person that can be trusted.
posted by Gilbert at 8:57 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe it'd be useful, and certainly satisfying, to start rumors about her, but it's not professional by any standard. This is an institutional issue, and it should be dealt with by the institution. If Personnel's not helpful to the OP, I agree she should take the issue to the Dean. The key point is, she needs to come at from a position of strength, and not look petty, threatened, or underhanded. By talking to both the colleague (junior staffperson/student), and the colleague's supervisor, OP has behaved extremely professionally thus far.

Now, she and her fellow teacher/friend need to continue in that same vein, confidently and assertively. That means an informed chat with either HR--or the Chair, the Dean--whoever supervises the supervisor or has power over the situation--in order to assure effective action is taken.

p.s. @ Grouse: Respectfully, she's both according to the OP: "She was young, but motivated and we hired her for logistics and coordination of the organization. Seemed like a win! / Then she became interested in the field that I work in. She began to take classes in a program where I teach."
posted by Violet Blue at 9:13 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really like this question because it is nuanced.

I popped back in to say that it is not "starting rumors" to notify contacts that X person you previously endorsed has since plagiarized you here, here, and here. That's actually smart business and I had to do it last year with a chef I worked with on a catering gig she was heading but I was managing - I hooked her up with a ton of my vendors who she didn't pay on time and such. I covered the bill, but let them all know exactly why I would not recommend them to work with her in the future. She broke the rules. It would have damaged my good standing if I had not spread the word.

Just because this chick is on a different playing field in some respects, doesn't give her license to steal. I don't know the politically correct wat to handle this, nor the safe way if this girl has been plotting against the OP, but stealing can not be tolerated.

So there ya go. Don't let it go. Proceed with strength and caution.
posted by jbenben at 9:53 PM on August 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Feed her misinformation. Document your conversations by sending yourself a summary e-mail after each meeting. Gradually ratchet up the magnitude of the misinformation. Wait for her to do something unmistakable, then send a report to your collaborator, her boss and her graduate supervisor. Don't bother giving her a heads up.
posted by SakuraK at 11:31 PM on August 12, 2011


1. Do not share ANY more data, ideas, or work with her. Ever.

2. Stop giving her the benefit of the doubt. She is a sneaky thief and will eventually turn backstabber unless she gets caught and fired. Do not feed misinformation, do not engage, just avoid her.

3. Talk to the your department head, ombudsman and/or dean about suspected plagiarism. There are official channels for how these sorts of issues are dealt with- use them.

4. Get as much of you work published in peer-reviewed journals or as official conference abstracts as you can- yes, it's a slow process but in most academic fields that is the absolute foolproof way to own your work and get recognition for it. Putting it up on a personal website is not the same- she could easily copy it and then claim that she had come up with the idea first and you stole from her. If it's an official published article or abstract with your name as an author, there is no way she can ethically use it without citing you, and if she pulls her typical shady idea stealing from a published work, she will not get away with it.
posted by emd3737 at 11:50 PM on August 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


She explained that she did not remember our conversation at all and did I have photos of the whiteboard where I remembering having the conversation with her?

Holy crap. She knows she plagiarized you and she knows you know. She's just checking whether you can prove it.

So in addition to all the great advice above, you need to keep records of what you tell her so you will be able to prove it in the future. The best thing would be just not to tell her anything except false information, but if you absolutely have to tell her something you need to record the conversation. Get one of those mini-tape recorders and tell her you're recording the conversation "for training purposes" or "for your records" or whatever. Smile fakely as you say it - she'll understand exactly what you're doing and why. Get her to agree on tape to being recorded. Also be sure to ask her whether she has any insight she'd like to add to your explanation. Get her on tape floundering with nothing to say. And take photos of anything you write on the whiteboard.
posted by hazyjane at 11:55 PM on August 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


BOBBIN needs an intellectual property policy like right now. This shit should be explicitly disallowed, and there also needs to be procedures in place to screen and approve anything coming out of the collaboration before it's made public. If she's making press releases or interviews or whatever about work done with BOBBIN it needs to be clearly branded as such, and anything with that branding needs to be signed off before it goes out. I know this is unwieldy, but it's the only way that it's safe to share your unpublished work inside a collaboration (because of people like her basically). It also has the side effect of making sure that any message put forward by the group is consistent.

All the places I've worked so far had a science management team or publications officer who did this screening, but there are various ways to set up an approval process. She'll probably argue that it's stopping her from networking. Therefore approval needs to be fast and relatively easy, but it also needs to be able to pick up deviations from the IP policy such as her presenting your ideas without your input or agreement. Making sure the actual policy about how and when everyone can use ideas generated within BOBBIN in the first place will make this a lot easier, and is really the only way I can see to stop her pulling this shit.

It's also likely that this level of plagiarism is against University policies (stealing your linked in profile, really?), but she's doing a good job of keeping it just low enough that you're second guessing whether you should get upset. It will be hard to get action through those channels. This is why having really clear policies within your organisation is necessary. Until it's in place she no longer has access to your unpublished work and ideas. Too bad if it makes her job harder or if that means you need to do some stuff for yourself, right now the setup of your collaboration is such that you're losing all ownership of your own work as soon as you mention it out loud. This is an organisational problem rather than a personal one, so fix it at that level.
posted by shelleycat at 1:43 AM on August 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


She's a narcissist. Don't play her game, you'll be fired and/or have your life ruined, in ways you cannot imagine, within a year if you do. That's how they roll. You can't fire her or have her fired, no matter how hard you try. They're damned good at what they do,

Well, yes and no. Ruthless covert connivers get away with stuff because they are willing and able to connive ruthlessly and covertly. It's essential that you not underestimate what you're dealing with. However, it's equally important not to project superpowers onto people who are just as "only human" as we are. Magnifying them into powerful supervillains is just another way of doing their PR for them. These people do slip up, they do get overconfident, and they do get caught - but always by people who have the power and who are willing to use their power.

It sounds like you're in a pretty good position to strike back here, provided you're careful how you do it. Don't say anything that you can't back up with evidence and, to support that, gather evidence every step of the way. Be very very aware of what you can get away with, because rest assured she is. Read literature about self-assertion and psychological manipulation: start with "In Sheep's Clothing" by George Simon and "Emotional Blackmail" by Susan Forward, followed by "When I Say No I Feel Guilty" by I forget who. But these are good primers for starting to learn how ruthless connivers think, which, it seems, so far you've never had to do.

Just remember, you're not crazy, this is happening. And whether or not you have a PhD is irrelevant to whether someone is allowed, in principle, to fuck you over. In practice, it may have some relevance to how likely they are to get away with it depending on the reality of how your organization tends to handle these things. But if there's one thing these people are good at, it's sniffing out trends and what's important. You must be important or she wouldn't be leeching off you like this. Lose the modesty, it's not doing you any favours and in fact is causing you to let your organization down by being passive about this kind of exploitation.
posted by tel3path at 8:38 AM on August 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think it's a bad idea to try to feed her bad or old information. By doing that, you would run the risk of making yourself look bad since if anyone were to tell her the information she's spreading around is obsolete or wrong, she'd just have to say that she learned it from you, at which point people would either think you're not so smart or that you're trying to sabotage her. This is too big a deal to try to win by playing mind games with her, and that would have too big a chance of backfiring on you. She just needs to do her PR in a way that doesn't diminish your work and efforts.

She needs to understand that you aren't screwing around and that there are repercussions to her actions. This is an unfortunate side effect of working for a place that started off small and nice but then started to gain status and esteem. That always attracts a different kind of personality. It's time for BOBBIN to come up with an actual policy to protect against things like this. shelleycat said much better what I was trying to say earlier.
posted by wondermouse at 8:59 AM on August 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


What wondermouse said.

Don't kid a kidder, don't sike a psychopath.

Instead, learn to think every move through to the end. Wondermouse has given you an example of how that's done.

If you're not sure you can build a case against her this time, don't worry. It will only embolden her so she really screws up somewhere else in the future, in ways she won't be able to deny. Also, if you have a case but aren't sure if you can take action on it now, always remember that her ass will be just as suable in six months or a year as it is today.
posted by tel3path at 9:13 AM on August 13, 2011


I think it is time for you to watch the movie All About Eve.

There is a reason this woman is making you wary. SHE IS TAKING ADVANTAGE OF YOU. She it trying to steal your hard work and get all the credit.

Don't become like Betty Davis. Set boundaries now. Stop trying to help her, or you will help yourself out of a job. It's that serious.

(Document what she is doing. Tape record your conversations. Back-up all your emails. Mail copies of documents you are working on to yourself and don't open them--the date stamp is as good as copyright for works in progress. Don't discuss your work with her, and when she pitches a fit, stand your ground, and say that you are under no obligation to share your research until it is published. Stop being NICE. She is using your generosity to screw you.)
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:05 AM on August 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


also remember that your organization's name is associated with this woman. Specifically, her shoddy habits towards other people's intellectual property. So she might not be the only person hurt when she inevitably gets burned.
posted by _cave at 11:45 AM on August 13, 2011


She knows exactly what she's doing. She asked if you had photos of the whiteboard? That's another way of saying it never happened unless you have proof.

In the meantime, she sounds like a great person to observe and imitate as far as interpersonal skills and self promotion go.
posted by variella at 1:32 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Plagiarists are thieving vermin, not flatterers. Shut her down. By any (legal) means necessary.
posted by Decani at 1:37 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Woman, find a (well-recommended, well-trusted, known-to-be-on-the-up-and-up) rock star social media consultant and hire that person to get your own ball rolling! You should be getting all the credit you are due and there's nothing that should be stopping you.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:53 AM on August 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I also wish I had 50 favorites to give jamjam for this comment.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:54 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


And she gave herself a title during the conference without conferring with any of us. A C-level title. Interesting.

Whoa. Just in case I wasn't the only person who had to look up what a "C-level title" would be--

The highest level executives are usually called "C-level" or part of the "C-suite", referring to the 3-letter initials starting with "C" and ending with "O" (for "Chief __________ Officer"); the major traditional such offices are Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Operations Officer (COO), and Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

She gave herself a title on the level of being a motherfucking CEO??? She actually sounds kind of mental. Sociopathic. It might be helpful to read Martha Stout, she's written a lot about sociopaths in the workplace.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:03 AM on August 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


You're getting great advice above except the part about engaging in some kind of disinformation campaign -- feeding her bad ideas and info. Might be satisfying, but you really have better things to do than passive-aggressively attempting some kind of oblique sabotage.

You do sound apologetic. You need to get over it and own your ideas. The best possible take I have of her actions is this: We are all so Twittered and Facebooked these days that we REPEAT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE SAYING ALL THE TIME and that is A Good Thing. She is repeating what you're saying and she doesn't realize that it's bad. Because really, when you're out and about speaking about your own research, how is that different from what she is doing? It LOOKS AND FEELS THE SAME. The problem is she is violating the social contract that PEOPLE DON'T SELL WHAT THEY HAVEN'T ACTUALLY MADE. She is trying to sell YOUR things that SHE hasn't made, but in her mind, it's not that different from re-Tweeting or Facebook-posting about some cool thing on the Interwebs.

She's trying to get ahead by the best means she can think of -- championing cool ideas and labeling her enthusiasm as expertise. Evil? Meh. Insecure? Yes. Dishonest? Yes, by the social contract rules that recognize intellectual property, but maybe not so much for a generation that is used to viral communication where things like sourcing fall by the wayside. Depersonalize this conflict -- it's a cultural difference, not a personal vendetta. You need to deflect her, not destroy her.

So: Remember that your ideas are not cool Internet memes that can be re-Tweeted. Pursue the plagiarism angle. If thinking of her as evil and manipulative helps to keep you focused on that, by all means do so. But you can also consider this a process of asserting boundaries between information that wants to be free and information that is the basis of your livelihood.
posted by woot at 6:04 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some of the suggestions in this thread suggest approaches that are less-than-straightforward. I'm not sure I agree with the suggestions to "beat her at her own game" or supply her with disinformation. I think being super-straightforward is the best way to approach this.

Treat this like a serious case of intellectual theft. Document everything, write formal grievance letters, bring to the table as much documented proof as you can muster that establishes the timeline for your work. Write a formal letter of grievance against her to your department head, cc the university ombudsman, warn the organizers of any conferences where she presented your work without full and appropriate attribution, write a letter to the editor of any publications where she has misrepresented your work as her own. Seriously, this is war; treat it like one.

You seem to have low self-regard in the sense that you have no confidence that there will be repercussions for her dishonesty. If your program is a serious intellectual/academic enterprise, surely there will be appropriate consequences if her theft is as blatant as you make it seem?
posted by jayder at 3:32 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just another voice for "she's manipulating you" - please, please take this up with whoever will listen. Lay it out like you have here - it's not emotional, and it's all about the work. This isn't about your feelings, nor should it be. This is about her stealing your property and passing it off as her own. That is downright horrfic. I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt after the first incident until the "do you actually have proof" comment. For some people, plagiarism is something that they just don't developmentally "get" until they grow up a little. But that doesn't seem the case for her.

I, also, want you to win. As an English teacher, but also another human being, I find plagiarism totally reprehensible. Shame on her.

Keep us posted.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:55 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gather as much proof into a portfolio as you can - both digital and on paper for your own records.

Record conversations you have with this person if possible - state your full name and purpose before each recording.

but the problem with you giving ideas is that itself does not publish them. In fact its got to be quite hard to simply publish 'ideas'.

but I would find this maddening. I couldn't live with myself if I was impressing people with creativity they thought was mine, but wasn't.

Not that whatever proof you can gather will necessarily be used in court but you can make her look bad for not crediting it back to you whenever you want if you are thorough enough with the evidence.
posted by Hi Dan at 1:35 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Hey Joe, remember that conversation we had last week about X?"

Normal responses: "Hmm... when was that?" "No, not ringing any bells" "Are you sure we talked about this, I can't remember?"

Weasel response: "I do not acknowledge that we had this conversation, do you have any incontrovertible proof that it took place?"

Like hazyjane, this is where my jaw dropped. The implication is crystal clear: that she would deny the plagiarism if called on it, and call you a liar, since she knows you can't prove it. She was testing your boundaries, and banking on your good will and unwillingness to start a he-said she-said shitstorm.

I will echo other advice in this thread: she is doing exactly what you think she is doing, and she is doing it deliberately, for her own benefit, and she doesn't care about you at all. And that you will come out worse if you deliberately try to torpedo her, but you can outshine her when it comes to substance, and you should step up your efforts to get your ideas out there. And that you should banish feelings that this is no big deal, or all in your head, or that it doesn't matter. It is a big deal, it's not in your head, and it does matter.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:04 PM on August 17, 2011


Did you make any progress on this? Very interested to learn how you handled it, and how it played out.
posted by heartsdale at 11:34 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


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