Integrity risks in PhD researchDoctoral regulations Erasmus University Rotterdam


There are many kinds of risks for integrity in PhD research and trajectories. We summarise those under three headings:

  • Deception: means to ‘deceive’, to mislead. This can take various small or big forms but all come down to pretending your CV or your research or your writing or something else that is relevant to your PhD is better than it really is.

  • Plagiarism: means literally to use another person's words or ideas without giving credit to that person. It can also take the form of bad referencing or patch-working, i.e. cut pieces of different texts and collate them in a ‘patchy’ way.

  • Fabrication: refers to all cases in which you make something up, this could be a non-existing piece of literature, but in the recent past a number of senior academic researchers have been found out to fabricate their data and suggest they have done real research.

Deception, plagiarism and fabrication can occur in all phases of the PhD research. But they take different forms in each phase. Below is a list of possible risks for each phase.


When preparing your PhD trajectorypossible risks are

  • When you have to make your own research proposal

    • Deception: Getting disproportionate help from supervisors or other senior academics in writing your proposal;
    • Plagiarism: Using someone else’s idea without consent, without giving proper acknowledgment or without proper reference;

  • When you apply to an already defined research project

    • Deception: falsifying diploma’s and/or embellishing one’s CV
    • Deception: offering incentives in exchange for the PhD position.

When you are doing the literature reviewpossible risks are

  • Deception: when you claim that you have read something that you haven’t
  • Deception: when you consciously ignore literature that does not fit your argument
  • Deception: when you consciously misrepresent an author’s work
  • Fabrication: when you insert a reference to a work that you have made up

When you are collecting datapossible risks are

  • Deception: cherry picking, only search for data, respondents or cases that will support your argument
  • Deception: changing data so that outcomes are better
  • Fabrication: making up interviews, survey results, experimental outcomes and so on

When you are analysing datapossible risks are

  • Deception: Data dredging: running analysis until you have fund a significant outcome (only for quantitative research)
  • Deception: Cherry picking: only reporting analyses that suit your question or argument (for qualitative and quantitative research)
  • Deception: Willfully ignoring outliers and other incomprehensible or inconvenient outcomes

When you are writing down your manuscript or separate articlespossible risks are

  • Deception: using a ghost writer
  • Deception: using a language editor who also contributes substantial changes and improvement
  • Plagiarism: Copying texts of others without proper referencing
  • Plagiarism: Patch working with the texts of others to compose one’s own text

Collegial behaviourProfessionalism and integrity in research

The way you interact with your fellow PhD candidates, your supervisors and the support staff of the university, is also an area where you can behave with more or less integrity. In general, treat others like you would like to be treated yourself, i.e. kind and supportive.

When a fellow PhD candidate or other colleague who is not part of your supervisory team helps you with a good idea or close reading of your text, make sure you acknowledge that in a footnote, or in the acknowledgement paragraph of your manuscript. Acknowledge also the role of your supervisor(s).

When in doubt about co-authorship or other issues with your supervisor, check the relevant guidelines and procedures established by the Graduate School.