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I have been a newly appointed lecturer (18 months). Within my first 6 months I have advertised a PhD subject in order to recruit a good student. The specific project was advertised a year ago. I completed the recruitment of a very promising PhD student that started about two months ago.

In the meantime one of my colleagues that belongs to the same research group, has an already established collaboration with a company. After a brief discussion, my colleague informed me that the company is open to new ideas and that we could collaborate on a similar idea, which was not specified at that point. After a month, my colleague sent an email saying that they are going to submit a project for funding but again, no specifics were given.

I have asked to check the application (as I was included, but my colleague was the lead) and see the objectives/deliverables/commitments etc. I highlighted the fact that we will need to avoid any potential conflict of interest, but received no reply. After checking with my organization's research team I found that the project idea was based on the subject of my PhD student. However, I do not have a copy of the application to understand the extent of overlap, just the summary of it. The whole process was dodgy and I have lost trust in my colleague.

I found out later that my colleague is known for such tactics but at the same time has the support of a senior member of the group that has the power to block me from pursuing my research plans. I am not sure how to manage the situation and would appreciate any advice on the matter or if you could share similar experiences and how you handled them.

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    I’m voting to close this question because it is a complaint and not a question. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 23 at 22:51
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    Probably a rephrasing of the question is required. If there are no answers, I would like to see what strategies readers have if they are placed in a similar situation. I'm sure we have all experienced colleagues who steal ideas. Personally, I keep the most interesting ideas to myself and make public other ideas; if any of these other ideas catch on, great... I've got plenty more ... Also, I work on problems that are deep and require in-depth and specialize knowledge. So even if colleagues know what I am working on, they have little chance to follow what I do. – Prof. Santa Claus Jan 23 at 22:56
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    This is a question about what to do when scooped by a colleague (or so I read it). I don't see how it’s a rant, and so far couldn’t pull up a duplicate (older questions about scooping seem to be mostly about “when under review at journal,” “when too slow,” and such). So this should stay open, in my eyes. Having a next-door colleague act like this is a delicate situation. – gnometorule Jan 23 at 23:35
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Let’s start with one simple fact. On paper, your colleague didn’t do anything unethical. Perhaps they were thinking about something similar and you happened to as well, it’s not unheard of. So I don’t think that there’s much you can do apart from noting a colleague who’s not a very good collaborator.

If this is a pattern, then perhaps a discussion with a more senior person is warranted. I’d suggest you focus on getting more than one person to attest to this behavior and perhaps back it up with evidence e.g. email correspondence or the like.

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  • "On paper". Yes, things like that are hard to prove, but for a young researcher, this can be quite frustrating. OP should better protect their ideas in the future, e.g. by keeping them to themselves. – Captain Emacs Jan 24 at 2:35
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    I don’t know if this is good long term advice. Unless their department is a cesspool of misconduct, hindering collaboration due to one bad apple will hurt them academically. – Spark Jan 24 at 12:24
  • If someone with lots of threads of research, loses one thread to a scooper it's not a major issue, if annoying. However, if one has few, crucial lines of research (which is more likely for young academics) and the scooper indulges in a systemic appropriation of other people's ideas, then I quite disagree with you. In the worst scenario, the scooper could actually accuse OP of plagiarising them, trying to lock OP out of their own field. This is not a theoretical situation. I am the first to acknowledge parallel discoveries, but this case here smells bad ("known for such tactics"). – Captain Emacs Jan 24 at 16:02
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    Perhaps I should partially agree with Spark and should make my statement more precise by not saying not to share at all, but to be careful who to share with and to keep good ideas to only select few trusted people. The department structures seem to sail precariously close to possible misconduct ("has the support of a senior member of the group [with] the power to block me"). This is not enough evidence for systemic violations, but the scooper seems to have got away with a history of such tactics. Care is advised. – Captain Emacs Jan 24 at 16:06

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