I had an idea of using a specific type of data in a specific research area (sorry, I realize this sounds vague). No one has used this type of data in this area before. I shared the idea with my advisor. Recently I noticed the advisor and another student published a paper based on my idea. I think it is not fair. What do I do?

Edit: Thank you all for the comments and answers.
To clarify a couple of things: it wasn't just a fleeting conversation or group brainstorming. I came up with the idea myself, did initial work, and shared it with the advisor. I would expect to be at least told they wanted to work on this even if they were to conduct an independent analysis. I do not think the time frame and other factors would allow forgetting where the idea came from. The group works on several topics and my idea was more like a side line project. There is a lot of publications coming from these main topics, so it's not like this specific paper would be crucial for future funding.
I think the worst in the whole situation is that now I distrust my advisor.

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    Are you a part of the group at this point? I will note that, frankly, ideas are easy, doing the experiment/analysis/writing is the hard part.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 30, 2020 at 18:24
  • It is hard to say without details. But you can always just ask the advisor.
    – Buffy
    Apr 30, 2020 at 18:31
  • Yes and it makes the situation awkward. Of course I realize they designed the study and did the work, but they did not come up with the idea themselves. If I were comfortable asking the advisor, I would not be asking here. Apr 30, 2020 at 18:31
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    I disagree with JonCuster, but if s/he doesn't feel uncomfortable excluding you from the project, you shouldn't feel uncomfortable talking about the situation with her/him.
    – Our
    May 1, 2020 at 8:35
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1 Answer 1


It's not clear whether you are still in the same research group. I suspect not, or you would have been aware that another person in the group was doing the work and paper. While it is morally questionable to use someone else's idea without asking them to be involved, there's nothing you can do in the sense of 'getting it fixed'.

But it may be worthwhile sending an email that is not accusing. The adviser may have felt that you were fully occupied, or that the project was too easy for you but was a good training project for a student, or simply forgotten about the conversation or any number of other reasons. An email like:

Dear Prof X - I saw your recent paper Y. As you may remember from our discussion (approximate time frame), I am interested in this idea and the paper looks very similar to what we discussed. I am disappointed not to be involved in the implementation so far and would like to participate in any future work coming out of this paper.

  • 3
    Ideas come up all the time in any variety of ways, often in passing in conversations about other things. There is a huge difference between a 'it would be cool to do...' and 'after this project is done I will do...'. I have absolutely no problem with anybody going off to work on some idea that came up in a conversation. That is what those conversations are for.
    – Jon Custer
    May 1, 2020 at 13:21
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    I agree that I am always passing on ideas etc, but if I was in a research group where I was involved in the conversation about an idea, I would expect to be asked if I wanted to participate in the research coming out of the idea. After all, it's clear I am interested.
    – JenB
    May 1, 2020 at 14:01
  • sure thing, but it depends on the time frame. If the professor turned to the other student and said 'go do that', that is one thing. If, six months later, the professor has some vague recollection of the idea (not the actual conversation), that is a different situation all together. There really aren't enough details in the original question to know, other than the OP feels wronged. Again I've always been happy to let others work on ideas, since there are plenty to go around.
    – Jon Custer
    May 1, 2020 at 14:04
  • fair enough, i have made the draft email milder
    – JenB
    May 1, 2020 at 14:12

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