This post related to Research Integrity & Ethics. I work for a P.I. in a project. I was initially funded by my hosting organization to write a project proposal for a funding dedicated to supporting postdoc researchers with innovative research questions.

I wrote the project proposal (am the first author), in which figures an hypothesis that we may call "A", and stated that all research activities would develop on that hypothesis. After writing the project, the mentor was so excited about the project, that he proposed to be entitled as P.I. of the project so to give a bursary to a doctoral student of his/er, yet the postdoc would lead the project. The postdoc said "ok". The project passed an international review and got funded.

After one month since the beginning of the project, the postdoc started to work on hypothesis A. The P.I. stated that hypothesis A was stupid. To be more specific, s/he said that it did not hold the fundamental prerequisite for being taken seriously in a scholarly context. The P.I. removed hypothesis A from the project - and there is evidence that for more than 1 year, the concepts at the basis of hypothesis A were never mentioned. He set the postdoc to work on another (slightly similar) project.

Since the grant application was written by the postdoc for an innovative research, and that research was funded, while the P.I. chose to remove it, is the postdoc entitled to work on his ideas during his work contract?


1 Answer 1


I assume you have a contract and that the PI is, in some sense, your employer. You work under their direction and have duties that they specify. But, they don't "own" your thought process. You aren't a machine. As long as you fulfill the contract, you can think as you like.

It might be a mistake to try to publish anything until after the postdoc ends, but you can spend whatever unassigned time you have thinking whatever thoughts you like.

It doesn't seem that in your field the research requires equipment and such that it might be improper to use for other purposes, though some fields do. It would likely be improper to repurpose that equipment, though there is some controversy about using institution-provided laptops for such things.

But, you aren't paid 24/7. And it is unlikely that your contract requires you not think about stuff. The mind is funny that way. Sometimes it just thinks what it wants to think. Even when you are engaged in another task.

Some contracts, though more likely in industrial settings, require sign-off for anything published by employees and such things show up occasionally in academia. You need to know whether you are so bound. It would probably be impossible to sanction you, though, if you publish things after the postdoc ends.

Any researcher does well to keep a notebook of ideas that pop up in the course of research. These start out as stray thoughts and can be refined over time, perhaps resulting eventually in publications. In your situation I doubt that the notebooks could be claimed by the PI, as they might in regular employment.

But, such questions aside, you can use your own time to think about your own thoughts. Just fulfill the contract stipulations and keep the PI happy with your work.

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