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I am about to begin my hunt for post-doc positions. As such, I will be discussing my dissertation work in some detail with potential post-doc advisers.

I am currently in the data collection phase, and none of this research has been published. I am somewhat worried because, as a requirement for my PhD, I have to contribute novel research to the field. I hope to submit a part of my dissertation to a conference; however most relevant conferences are not until next summer, and submissions are typically due early next year. In other words, this research will not be published for a while.

Is it appropriate to ask for some discretion when discussing my dissertation with professors who do similar research?

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  • If you're looking for post-doc, you're near completion of your PhD, and thus your results will be published soon, as you will have to write (or have already written) your thesis (and possibly defend it). Or are you in the system where the thesis is not public? – F'x Oct 3 '13 at 21:18
  • i hope to graduate roughly a year from now, and its been suggested that now is a good time to look for postdocs. writing time for the phd is minimal in my field. where i am, students are not expected to publish their dissertation until after they defend. at that point i hope to already have a post-doc position. my thesis will absolutely be public, but not for another year-ish. – Tom Oct 3 '13 at 21:57
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    As a converse to this, one could ask whether it is ethical for a researcher to make use of non-public information learned from a job candidate in the context of an interview or application. I would say "certainly not". – Nate Eldredge Oct 3 '13 at 22:08
  • Thanks Nate. So I guess the answer is that it's implied, so I shouldn't have to say anything. – Tom Oct 5 '13 at 21:07
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I think the following won't apply to you, but may be useful for people in other fields with the same question.

If you work in a field where putting preprints online is an accepted practice, then write up your work and upload a preprint. In this way you clearly establish priority without needing to wait for the article to be refereed.

For instance, in Physics, CS, and Math, most researchers put preprints on arXiv.org.

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  • Note this is only applicable once the project is finished. In this question it is still in data collection; much too early even for arXiv. – Nate Eldredge Nov 5 '13 at 13:36
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You are right to be cautious. better safe than sorry. But as Nate said there is an ethical responsibility on the side of the recruiter to keep things you said during the interview confidential. And since you are considering working for him, you surely do not have reason to doubt his honesty, or else you would have ran away!

So: you should speak about your unpublished work and results. Be careful to mention that it is unpublished, though, to be sure they get it and do not mention it inadvertently to someone else.

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Is it appropriate to ask for some discretion when discussing my dissertation with professors who do similar research?

Sure, why not. The correct answer is "certainly". If it doesn't come, run away.

On the other hand, to me it sounds extremely early to look for a postdoc job when you do not yet have any publications about dissertation project (and while you are still collecting data).

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