3

In a graduate course (master's level), during topic assignment for coursework, I mentioned that I came up with a research idea of my own. The professor asked me to present it in front of the class. Afterwards, he encouraged me to write my final thesis on it, but assigned me one of the predetermined topics for the course.

Now I'm worrying that my idea is turned into a paper by one of his research assistants present during the session (who works in that field and valued the idea) before I can write my thesis.

Is this concern justified? Should I mention it in my next conversation with this RA and ask him if it is understood that I have the priority on this idea given that it's a product of my intellectual effort?

2 Answers 2

5

Is this concern justified?

Yes, your concern is justified. If someone from the audience decided to work on the research question you proposed you would have no real leverage to prevent it.

Should I mention it in my next conversation with this RA and ask him if it is understood that I have the priority on this idea given that it's a product of my intellectual effort?

The idea might be a product of your intellectual effort, but that does not give you priority to expand on the idea. By presenting it in a more or less public setting, you released the idea and everybody is free to work on it. In case the work is done without you and a publication follows, some sort of (minor) credit to your contribution might be necessary, of course.

But certainly yes, you can try to convince others that it would be the right thing to let you do the work.

2

If people act ethically, then it shouldn't be a problem, provided that you take some action. Write up your idea in rough form and attach your name to the document. Tell the prof that you will, indeed develop this for your thesis and give them a copy of the doc. Keep a copy of it in hard copy form as well.

It would then be plagiarism for someone, seeing your document, to "steal the idea". Not everyone behaves ethically, however, but your professor has an interest in ethical behavior. He should guide his assistants to other topics.

Note that I'm not suggesting publishing it on arXiv or elsewhere. And also note that you don't "own" ideas, and if you don't follow up then others are free to do so.

Finally, note that collaboration on developing the ideas is another possibility, though I don't know how that would work for a thesis at your institution.

2
  • 3
    Concerning the first paragraph: This won't stop anybody to build upon the idea, will it? I do not see how it would be plagiarism to do so. OP's part could easily be acknowledged in a publication (without OP being a co-author), but that is a poor consolation if you are scooped this way. Nov 4 at 20:39
  • @Snijderfrey, you are likely correct. Note that in most places plagiarism is a social issue, not a legal one. And one can build on the ideas of others without issue, though the origin of ideas needs to be acknowledged, as you say. But a professor should have a higher than minimal ethical standard and give the student time and space to develop the idea as long as their intent to do so is clear.
    – Buffy
    Nov 4 at 20:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .