On a math (let’s say, calculus) exam recently, the students were asked to use the definition of a limit of a sequence to prove that the sequence given by 3n/(3n+5) converges to 1. Given a positive number Ɛ, the definition requires proving the existence of some number N such that if n>N then |3n/(3n+5) – 1|<Ɛ.

As a consequence of the definition, once a sufficiently large N is found, any larger value of N will also suffice. Many students set |3n/(3n+5) – 1|=5/(3n+5)<Ɛ to find N, however, the professor decided to include an extra step: 5/(3n+5) < 5/n <Ɛ, which leads to another sufficient value of N.

Although most students gave a correct proof (consistent with the definition in their book), he took off points because they didn’t find the “best” value of N. The lecturer claims that the author would have used some (unnecessary) inequalities to find the “better” N, which is probably true.

When students complain about losing points, I tell them that their answer is correct and that they should seek full credit for their work. The lecturer suggests that I am “putting the students between him and I” and that he’s ultimately in charge.

Who’s wrong here?

For an accepted paper about to be produced (not open access), the author should agree to terms that all illustrations, tables etc. have recieved permissions from the copyright owner. If the author agrees, the paper takes the copyright of the Journal. The question is that, for an inexperienced author, could the journal take up the responsibility (e.g through an office) to take care of issues of permissions etc. before beginning the production process? Thus, they would look into: which figures, tables etc. require permission and they would go through the process. For instance using a Rightslink account etc.

Edit: If not, could they (at least some of them) offer advice on what and what may require permissions from an accepted manuscript?

During PhD admissions, our department assigns each admitted PhD student both a faculty and grad student contact, and we make every effort to express our excitement and enthusiasm about the student joining our program; often the faculty contact is a prospective advisor. Usually there are some nice conversations, which provide a nice prelude to the on-campus visit.

In one or two cases, I’ve had a student simply stop responding to email. In this instance, a student I admitted who was initially glad to talk to me quickly cut off contact with both me and the grad student contact (even before the visit). I am trying to understand if this is a bad sign, or if I’m just reading too much into it. It’s been a long time since I was a PhD student, and I suppose there are a lot of reasons for this behavior. Still, during my own PhD visits I was sure to be very polite and timely with everyone who contacted me.

Question for current prospective PhD students: Why would you give a faculty member the cold shoulder, rather than just replying politely and briefly to their email?

I can come up with lots of hypotheses (busy with classes, overwhelmed with contacts from faculty, or simply not interested in the program), but all I can do is guess. I want to hear from the latest generation of students: what makes these interactions with prospective advisors tough?

A professor casually mentioned that when submitting abstracts to a conference in some fields in Applied Math (such as numerical PDEs), it is highly likely that they will be accepted (unless the work is garbage) – unlike some “other fields” (like computational neuroscience).

By this I understand that those “other fields” are more competitive, but I am not sure if I am interpreting this correctly. In general, how does this affect career prospects on the long run? Will it be likewise a lot harder to get an academic job in such “other fields”?

P.S. I am in a U.S. college.

I have two questions regarding writing of survey papers

Firstly, if one of the technical papers reviewed has a number of figures. Take for example: Figure 4 is “Data model” and Figure 8 is “Mechanism structure”. In the survey paper is it enough modification (for a waver of official permission) to merge these two into one figure and cite. Say, Figure X: Data model and Mechanism Structure adapted from [ref]?

Secondly, in the case when author A proposes “Data model” and “mechanism structure” in paper [30] and [35] i.e four entirely different diagrams. Is it sufficient as modification (for a waver for official permission) if in a survey, all four combined in one figure.

Thanks in advance

I am wondering whether the following research practice is ethical.

A software engineering researcher downloads source code repositories from Github, a large source of publicly available open source code. The researcher searches the git commit logs to find email addresses of software developers who have committed to a project, and uses these email addresses to send them an email asking them to participate in a survey. If the recipient clicks on the link to the survey, the survey contains an appropriate briefing and obtains informed consent. The researcher follows all institutional and legal requirements related to human subjects research. The researcher limits the number of emails sent to only the number of participants they think they will need to test their hypotheses. However, at least one recipient of this email is annoyed that the researcher obtained their email address in this fashion and sent them unsolicited email.

Is this an ethical research practice? In particular, what would be the relevant ethical principles or ethical framework for analyzing this question? I’ve read a bunch of papers and backgrounders on ethics in human subject research and in engineering research, but they seem focused on other issues. Are there accepted norms or guidelines relating to this sort of situation? Has it been considered in other fields, such as the social sciences?

A possible argument that the practice is ethical: The data source is publicly available, and the email addresses were collected from this publicly available data. Developers chose to make their software repository publicly available, and they should assume that any information contained in it are public. Developers who don’t want to be contacted could have configured their git client specially to use a different email address. The research will benefit our understanding of the science of software development. Subjects have an opportunity to decide whether or not to participate in the survey. Participant confidentiality will be protected, and all responses will be treated anonymously. The research complies with all legal and compliance requirements. From a legal perspective, the emails are not “spam”, since the unsolicited email was not sent for a commercial purpose.

A possible argument that the practice is unethical: Software developers probably would not expect someone to scrape email addresses from the git commit logs. Their email address might be contained in a publicly available data set, but some developers might expect/consider the information private, or at least not public and free for unrestricted use. Some developers might object that it is one thing to use email addresses that are publicly listed on their Github profile page, but it is another thing to extract private email addresses that are provided as part of their git configuration, and that their understanding of social norms is that the email addresses automatically inserted into the commit logs by their git client were not intended for this purpose. Some software developers might object to having an unwanted email message in their inbox or find the practices “creepy”.


Please note: I am not asking about IRBs, legal requirements, or compliance. I am super-familiar with those considerations. Assume that the researcher has complied faithfully with all of those requirements that are applicable in their country. I’m not asking about that aspect. In my view, researchers have an independent obligation to conduct research in an ethical manner, and to exercise their own judgement in avoiding unethical behavior, even if is legally permitted or approved by an IRB.

1.) In case the the original paper has a number of figures. Take for example: Figure 4 is “Data model” and Figure 8 is “Mechanism structure”. If I write my paper, and merge these two into one figure. Is it sufficient to cite it as (my review paper) Figure X: Data model and Mechanism Structure adapted from [44]? Is this modification enough as a waver for permission (and its payment)?

2.) What of the case when author A proposes “Data model” and “mechanism structure” in paper [30] and [35]. Is it sufficient if in my own paper, I have all four combined in one figure. Say, Figure Z: Data Model and Mechanism Structure proposed by author X adapted from [30,35]? Does this require permission also.