A colleague/friend has asked me to review his application for a very large grant, which appears to resemble my PhD thesis.

The backstory is as follows. My PhD thesis was the first detailed study of Phenomenon X. My colleague works in Context C. Phenomenon X is present in Context C.

Three years ago, while we were both PhD students, I suggested to my colleague that we put together a postdoc grant proposal to study Phenomenon X in Context C. We talked informally about being co-PI on the project but made no agreement.

Two years ago, my colleague told me that it would be better if he worked on the grant with someone more senior because we would have less chance together as two fresh PhDs. The idea was that I would be written into the project. My colleague asked me to send him a literature review on Phenomenon X, which I did.

Now, my colleague has sent me the draft of his grant application asking for some assistance and comments. The research questions in the application are nearly word-for-word the same as those in my PhD thesis and the application claims that Phenomenon X has not been studied before. My PhD thesis on Phenomenon X is not mentioned, nor is other relevant work. The literature review in the grant application uses the same sources as my PhD literature review. My name does not appear anywhere in the grant.

What are some appropriate courses of action here? My idea at the moment is to give my colleague the benefit of the doubt - maybe it was unintentional oversight or he had planned to add these details later. I would respond suggesting the grant application includes other work on Phenomenon X, including my PhD thesis, and to make the research questions more original. But I'm worried this will seem too territorial.

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    Hard to imagine he has bad intent if he asked for your assistance. Is it something you want to work with him on and get in on the grant?
    – Buffy
    Sep 27, 2019 at 16:17
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    @Buffy Yes, I agree that if he asked for assistance, it's difficult to imagine that he might have bad intent. But a friend suggested that either he may not be consciously aware of what he is doing or, even, may be seeking to 'get a pass' from me. To your second Q, no, I am no longer interested in being on the grant. Sep 27, 2019 at 16:32
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    Have you published any of your PhD work? Did you publish the thesis itself? In both cases he would obviously have to cite it. Sep 27, 2019 at 16:33
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    @lighthousekeeper In my country, all PhD theses are published by the universities. My thesis is available online in open access. Sep 27, 2019 at 16:34
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    If it's published, suggesting to cite it and to find more independent research questions would have nothing to do with territorial behavior. It would be an unavoidable requirement for a grant application, which, in the end, should justify a project that will produce new research. Sep 27, 2019 at 16:39

3 Answers 3


I suggest three things. First remind him of your dissertation and send a link to it, noting that there is similar wording that might become an issue. Second, I would, under the stated circumstances, offer to help in the application. It seems like it might be an attempt to extend your work, rather than to plagiarize it. That is always appropriate. And you could also assure that you aren't plagiarized if you are in the loop throughout.

But, if you have the time and energy, I suggest that you offer to be a consultant on the grant as it progresses. This would get you named specifically in the application, at least. Your actual participation could be minimal, or not, but you could at least see how the work progressed and get more involved as time went on. It might not be impossible to be paid a bit for consulting work, depending on the agency and its rules. Consultant on a grant is a CV line, if nothing else.


The lack of acknowledgement and the sense of disrespect from your colleague and fellow PhD student seems to be the heart of the issue here.

Your colleague may not realise that not acknowledging and situating your PhD is essential to the success of your grant. Grant reviewers will likely and should find your published PhD which sounds like much of the grant. Finding such your work will definitely reduce the chances of colleague obtaining and becoming successful with the grant. No grant reviewer will fund for work that has already been done, especially work already done from their own institution.

On a more personal level, it is worthwhile to reach out and spend more time with your colleague. Find a casual setting to chat about your work and the emotional aspects of the grant. Escalating and not checking the level of his level of understanding of your work will likely damage your working relationship.


I would reply as a reviewer of the grant who knows about your work and is just reviewing the grant application. If this would be the case I think you would not have any doubt of giving the feedback required, i.e. the grant agreement cannot be submitted as it is now because of X, Y, Z, and the evidence is this, this and that, and you can suggest ways to upgrade/fix such issues, just as any academic review/feedback.

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