Hypothetically: a MS student, and have an offer for an internship related to what I've been academically working on. I know some information on the current projects of the people that work in the same area at the university.

I am aware of academic ethical guidelines. If there is a slight possibility I would be working on something that is related to the current projects at my university, I for sure wouldn't say anything about what I know that is confidential to the university. However, I can't know whether some new projects will be the same.

How to not burn bridges, and how to communicate well? How to make it look less like "betraying" the research group? Is this maybe fundamentally unethical from my side (I am open to reconsidering in that case), or is it normal as a career decision?

  • 3
    This is too esoteric. Explain more clearly please – Buffy Jul 17 '20 at 22:13
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    I'm sorry, but how? I don't want to say anything about the research area. I am satisfied with an answer which explains the possible expectations of the professor and the company, regarding competing research topics and switching teams. – anonymous_student Jul 17 '20 at 22:33
  • ok... so I may have completely misunderstood your question both times... what you are saying is that you are determined to take an internship with an industrial research group that may be directly competing with your current academic group. You are completely okay with the fact that your advisor may not allow you to remain a member of the academic group. You are completely okay with switching MS advisors and starting your MS research over with a different advisor. You just want to know how you can "still be friends" with the students in the current group. Did I get it right this time? – Daniel K Jul 18 '20 at 17:38

Just ask your advisor in a very straightforward way if you should take it. E.g. "XYZ company asked me to do an internship with them, do you think I should take it or not". If he/she says yes then take it, and if not then don't.

If you have any concerns that your advisor might get upset at even being asked the question, then ask another student in your group for advice, e.g. a postdoc or a senior Ph. D. student.

There's really not much else we can say without knowing way more about your research area. You might be in a very collaborative field where your advisor is looking to form alliances and build relationships, and he might see this internship as a good way to build a partnership with this company. Or it might be a very competitive field where he is concerned about being "scooped", and would be afraid that you would accidentally give away some key knowledge. Or it could be somewhere in between. There's no way for us to tell which one you are in.

Edit: in response to your comment:

How to not burn bridges,

but also

it would be dishonest of me to ask for permission if I have already made up my mind.

These seem a bit contradictory to me. If you want to not burn bridges with your advisor, you may wish to consider framing it in terms of asking permission. If he says "No, I do not want you to take this internship, and if you do you cannot continue as my student", then you know for an absolute fact that taking this internship will burn a bridge with him. You don't have to guess if it will burn a bridge, you know. At that point, you still have a choice, you can burn the bridge or not. Now if you go in saying "I am taking this internship no matter what and I don't care what you think", well that might burn the bridge right there. On the other hand, if he says "yes", then you know there's no issue.

  • Yes, this is kind of a good answer. However, very importantly, I'm not a PhD student nor am I employed; doing this internship (or some other internship) is not optional for me financially. So it would be dishonest of me to ask for permission if I have already made up my mind. – anonymous_student Jul 18 '20 at 0:20
  • I am interested in 1) not behaving in an unethical way to the university group, and 2) preferably not competing with them on research topics if I know something. I'm sure the company would understand, it is the same situation as for industry confidential knowledge to them. – anonymous_student Jul 18 '20 at 0:21
  • Sorry, I think the problem is with a different understanding of "burning bridges": I'm OK if a condition for working with the professor is not doing internships in the meantime. Everyone has their rules. Work relationship come and leave all the time. What I want is to remain in good personal relations with the research group and the related people. – anonymous_student Jul 18 '20 at 1:23
  • I mean, if it is indeed the case that I don't work in the group any more, I would like it to be similar to what happens when someone says: "I don't want to do this anymore, will do something else." That would not burn bridges for sure. – anonymous_student Jul 18 '20 at 1:25
  • That would be course of action if the internship was in something completely unrelated. Here, the problem is that we could (maybe, I don't know) be competing now. But people from different research groups don't usually think bad of people from other research groups personally. – anonymous_student Jul 18 '20 at 1:27

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