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I am graduating with my Ph.D. very soon. In addition to my thesis and published journal papers, my supervisor required me to copy all my work—code, figure files, data, etc.—to him before my leaving. However, all the works during my PhD have been done by myself from scratch, including the ideas and research gap searching, although he was the co-author of the papers. And my scholarship has been provided by the university. So I feel this requirement is not reasonable.

In fact, my supervisor didn't like my research topic and we had very little communication during my Ph.D. study. He gave me very little help on my work and was also never interested in my work and research field. In this case, could you suggest me on the following two specific questions:

  1. Should I share all my works with him? If yes, why and if no, how to negotiate with him?

  2. If I can only share partial works with him. What is a good strategy?

  • 44
    Presumably your supervisor is a co-author on your papers. He or she may therefore be protecting themself from potential future problems if, for example, someone questions something in the paper in five years time and you have gone on to an industry job and lost touch. – JenB Jun 24 '18 at 8:34
  • 11
    If it is published, it now belongs to the public -- share it with everyone. Your issue was with adding him as a parasitic author, and now you're seeking some revenge on sending a wrong (though easier) message. – Scientist Jun 24 '18 at 13:37
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    Does the university scholarship give the university any rights? If so, the professor may be exercising those rights on behalf of his employer. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 24 '18 at 13:50
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    @captainobvious that might not be true. It's pretty common that anything that you produce in your PhD belongs to the university, especially if they pay. – DSVA Jun 24 '18 at 23:48
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    Probably the worst way possible to start your career off is by getting a reputation as someone who clings to their research and won't share any info. This is the wrong battle at the wrong time - let this slide and give the university the information. – StephenG Jun 25 '18 at 1:20
6

It is highly likely that you have a clause on "inventions" and/or "invention disclosure" which you may have signed during your admission process. If you still have it, refer to it to see what it says. In most cases, the ownership of the IP and any related materials belong to the University and so your supervisor is supposed to have a copy of your work for archival purposes.

If you do not have it, the admissions office of your department/university may have a copy of the official policy which you can refer.

  • You may still be entitled to being credited as a named inventor on inventions. – ChuckCottrill Jun 25 '18 at 23:35
89

I think you must give your supervisor all your "code, figure files, data, etc" pertaining all paper you have published together, as your supervisor is a co-author of your publications. Co-authors should have access to all relevant material behind published research under their responsibility, particularly corresponding authors.

And preferentially when you do so, share all of that in at least one data repository such as FigShare or Dryad, linking the raw material to their pertaining papers. If you have published research, make it public, so that everyone can benefit from your work. Scientific research equates with reproducible research, which heavily depends on transparency.

I believe you have an issue with having included your supervisor and perhaps some others as honorary/gift authors to work which was solely done by yourself. You should have objected to doing that before. Running away with important background scientific data will not send the right message nor mend this flaw.

  • 8
    I think your assumption about co-authors in your last paragraph is uncalled for and not relevant for the question. You also do not state why OP is obliged to give all his data to his supervisor. Even if it is trivial, you should give the reason, e.g. university rules of conduct, transfer of intellectual property etc. – Ian Jun 25 '18 at 13:59
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    @Ian Thanks for the heads-up, I have clarified the main point (i.e. supervisor is a co-author, and presumably corresponding author) and official references. At least in biomedical research authors are expected to provide data upon request by readers, thus logically a co-author should have access to everything. I am talking about scientific research though, which might be different from published reports of other spheres. – Scientist Jun 25 '18 at 14:19
51

You may indeed have an obligation to share the work because of policies requiring data retention and sharing on the part of financial organizations sponsoring the research.

For instance, NSF requires grant applicants to specify how their work—including analysis tools and data—will be shared and disseminated. While it may be your work product, your advisor and the institution are the ones obligated to retain and share the work.

24

He is most likely interested in handing it to another student to build on. And frankly, unless you have a good reason to keep a monopoly on your research project (i.e. you are continuing with it or starting a company), this is something you probably should support. Just blocking him out of spite does you no good. In fact it hurts you if it costs your paper some citations.

But assuming you have your reasons, if you were not ever an actual employee then the school only owns what you give them plus what he contributed. He is better described as an advisor rather than a supervisor.

The "ideas", such as for patents or whatever, are probably owned by the university by virtue of your adviser's name being on the papers combined with his employment contract. You wouldn't have much of a claim regardless of what really happened, as people would tend to believe a professor over his student regarding who deserves credit for a jointly-published idea.

The text in the papers which have his name on them are legally his work product too. You should give the that to him. Even if he didn't actually contribute, you publicly said he did contribute at least somewhat to the text, when you gave him co-authorship.

If you did the figures yourself in some vector graphics editor or such, just make screenshots of the result and give him that (i.e. what he could get on his own from the published paper anyway). Tell him you made them this way if he asks for more. You presumably transferred the copyright for the final bitmap image to the journal and/or school when you did the publication, but the raw editor format that can be used to produce variations remains yours.

Ownership of programming code is different from ownership of the idea it implements. Code is covered by copyright law and you retain the copyright for any code you produced (again, presuming you weren't working under any contract that says otherwise). Remind him of this. Note that if the school owns the idea they can legally block you from selling the code--if they feel like spending thousands to patent the idea and get this done within the time-limit after publication (one year in the US; in Europe I believe an idea ceases to be patent-able when published). They probably won't care unless you start to make real money immediately. But you still own the code even if you can't sell it to anyone else. You can, for one thing, sell it to them.

If the data was collected using university equipment then you should probably just hand it over. If you processed it in some way, give the raw data.

Even if you used the university's computers to generate the papers, say you used your own computer if asked (presuming you can claim this, and it wasn't some supercomputer you relied on). It doesn't really matter, but sidesteps weak arguments.

  • 14
    "And my scholarship has been provided by the university." in the question sounds like the university might have right to OP's work Obviously it depends on the contract, and in that case, OP should ask a lawyer and not Internet strangers, especially if they intend to start a company. – JiK Jun 24 '18 at 18:43
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    This answer seems pretty reasonable until, "even if you used the university's computers to generate the papers, say you used your own computer if asked". If you are having to lie about the situation then you are probably in the wrong to begin with. – JBentley Jun 26 '18 at 0:46
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    @JBentley as opposed to the supervisor, who's involvement is almost a complete fraud. – A Simple Algorithm Jun 26 '18 at 1:17
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    @MateenUlhaq Then the correct response to that is "that is an invalid argument. It was done on university computers != it belongs to the university". If you are right, then you are right, and there is no need to lie. This was exactly my point. If you need to lie to win, then you were in the wrong to begin with. – JBentley Jun 26 '18 at 13:38
  • @JBentley yes we get that. You don't "need" to, but the alternative may require a lawsuit and thousands of dollars. Generally the best way to win a fight is to avoid it altogether. – A Simple Algorithm Jun 27 '18 at 5:21
13

I think it is perfectly reasonable for the PhD supervisor to have a copy of all the materials, many grants these days require that the experimental data be retained at the university for five years in case of any problem.

By refusing your supervisor you will be losing one of the most important friends you can have in your academic life. I would advise you to cooperate as much as you can with your supervisor, leave on good terms and then try to make your own way in the academic world if you want a life in the university sector. If you want a life in industry it still is good for you to be on good terms with your supervisor.

1

While I cannot know the specifics of the original poster's research/domain/future plans, I can contribute to the community here that I first protested and resisted taking steps outlined by my U.S. University when I followed their requirements for invention disclosure from a post-graduate program supported by grants, as I too did a lot of work on my own, but with university infrastructure, and thought that I was the key person (not my advisor).

What I can talk about, is that the process was worth it, significantly, after three years of plodding along. Recently the university sponsored patent has been awarded (yes!), and it has already been licensed to industry, and all parties are happy. I did have to share a majority of the income stream with the University, but without their buy-in, I wouldn't have been able to do anything major. That is certain, as my previous commercial effort to protect/publish/patent with a sponsoring company, failed as it was too much of a burden to take on after a few years.

I would recommend to the original poster, to seek consultation with the university administration pronto to have a discussion and follow best practices.

  • 1
    Please read this. – Wrzlprmft Jun 25 '18 at 5:43
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    This doesn't feel particularly relevant. Laws surrounding inventorship aren't what's being asked about here. – Scott Seidman Jun 25 '18 at 14:20
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Protect yourself by documenting that you are the originator of all things that you were the originator of. Ask a lawyer how. This is only a matter of documenting origination. Send the electronic files to a secure online repository. Send several sealed copies via FedEx and/or other to yourself and at least one other trusted person and retain receipts. Then give him everything. This is a battle you can only lose. Breaking even is not an option, nor is winning. In any event, at least when I was a grad student, the contract was very clear - everything belongs to the University. Everything. Regardless of your advisor's contributions, the university and he/she provided you with a framework and a "home". Without them - you would not have your PhD. I too had an advisor who did not know beans about much and who "forgot" to include me on a few articles that he published without knowing what the heck he sent in (I wrote, he sent). You cannot win here. Protect yourself. Smile. Be polite and go on with your post doc or job and congratulations. It ain't easy, as they say.

  • Not many countries would support a lawsuit from the PI or University in case the OP doesn't fully cope, though. I wouldn't get a lawyer there unless this is the highest ranks of a top uni against a mafiose boss. But I get your point there! – Scientist Jun 27 '18 at 14:38

protected by Massimo Ortolano Jun 27 '18 at 9:07

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