Once I published a few math papers which contained new ideas in a new direction. This was closely related to my usual field of interest, but went somewhat beyond it. It was not obvious to me how many people in my field would be interested in it. Anyway I naturally wanted to promote my ideas to as broad community as possible.

I was invited to have a talk at a conference of a different community. There I met a person from my usual field. They said (if I understood correctly) that the fact that I visit this conference creates a competition. I feel they were unhappy about it.

Assuming that I understood the remark by my colleague correctly, was it a bad idea that I came to this conference? Is it unethical?

ADDED: I was told that in some scientific schools it is typical to consider some topics as belonging to the school, and others should not work on them. I am wondering how popular is this point of view.

  • 6
    What sort of a competition? Between conferences?
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 15:34
  • 8
    Doesn’t he like competition? I don’t like you competing with me, but everyone else does. If he doesn’t like you stepping on his toes, he can either run or buy steel boots. Here’s a word for him with five letters: Tough.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 15:59
  • @Buffy: I think, between the different communities.
    – user65203
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 16:10
  • 4
    You were invited to talk at the conference. One expects the conference organizers to be competent (not always the case, but we always expect it!). If they felt you had something to offer, then you belonged there.
    – Auspex
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 13:56

2 Answers 2


It's true that some research communities can be territorial, but I wouldn't necessarily assume that's the case here.

The fact that someone from this community invited you to speak at a conference is fairly concrete evidence that you're not being shunned. Your colleague telling you something vague about people maybe being unhappy with you sounds like comparatively weak evidence (based on what you've written here, at least).

Competing with other researchers is perfectly ethical. It is often considered bad etiquette (not bad ethics) to knowingly work on the same problem as someone, and doing that would be a good way to ruffle feathers and may lead to your work not being received as warmly as it otherwise would. But simply working in the same broad research area as someone isn't the kind of competition that would ever violate this etiquette. Attending a conference, even less so. I wouldn't put much stock in your colleague's remark.

Edit: I ought to emphasize, there are research areas that can get unpleasantly political. But if you get on the wrong side of a group like that and they ignore/downplay your work for political reasons, they are the ones being unethical, not you. The best way to avoid/mitigate this sort of thing is to get to know a reasonable, reliable person who works in the area in question (the subject area can't be entirely full of mafiosos) who understands the political situation and can give you advice.


Certainly there was no ethical problem. In fact, I think your acquaintance was off base. Spreading knowledge between communities is a good thing, actually.

Unless there is something not said here, such as a conflict of interest of some kind or a predatory conference, I think it was the other person who is off base. And I also wonder why they were even present with such an attitude.

Do good work. Spread the word.

  • 2
    Thank you. May I add that I was told that in some scientific schools it is typical to consider some topics as belonging to the school, and others should not work on them. I am wondering how popular is this point of view.
    – user65203
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 16:46
  • 14
    @user65203 Wildly unpopular, I would say. My initial reaction to your description was "this would only happen in dystopian fiction". If there's a massive failure of clear communication here, and they meant something like "there are a lot of complex subtleties and obscure but important literature in this field that non-experts and those not guided by one would likely miss them and so make errors of fact, or embarrassing omissions or failures to understand the actual difficulty, novelty, and importance of their own work", then that may make a little more sense. Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 0:18
  • 6
    @zibadawatimmy: that miscommunication is easy enough to imagine, though — someone says something like “You can’t really work on topic X unless you’re at institute Y”, meaning “institute Y have such a strong established expertise/infrastructure on topic X that if you’re not at Y, you’ll have a near-insurmountable amount of catch-up work to reach their level”.
    – PLL
    Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 13:30
  • @PLL I can image what you say. Thus, I would expect them to offer collaboration, wouldn't you?
    – usr1234567
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 11:54
  • @zibadawatimmy You're right that it could happen but if in fact this person is suggesting the OP may have made such errors, the place to state that is in rebuttal to the published papers
    – Auspex
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 14:01

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