My adviser is stealing my project!


Alice and her friends answer questions that you don’t want to ask your preceptor, peer, or colleagues regarding your career in science.

Dear Alice,

“The project is really mine, so I feel it would be wrong for the professor to do this. What can I do?” —Pete

I am a graduate student, and I expect to get my degree this coming June. I have made an important discovery and want to continue to work on it after I leave the laboratory. However, my professor has asked me to teach an incoming student all the techniques I use, and I am afraid that my professor will continue to work on the same problem. The project is really mine, so I feel it would be wrong for the professor to do this. What can I do?

– Pete

Dear Pete,

I asked several professors who have extensive training experience to share their views about your situation. Some guidelines emerged. If the problem you are working on is part of an ongoing project in the laboratory and fits the lab’s general goals, then the professor has every right to continue to work on the discovery. Even if your discovery arose from a project you introduced to the laboratory, your adviser can still legitimately claim some ownership. Of course you, too, have a legitimate claim. So, both you and your adviser have a right to continue the work. Ideally, you should decide together which aspects of the project each of you will work on, but this seldom happens. If you end up competing with your former graduate mentor, you’ll have an advantage because you are more familiar with the details of the work than your adviser is.

– Alice

Elsewhere in Science, 28 November 2014

The Paula T Hammond Lab