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I've worked with a student who produced some very valuable results. This would be a great paper to publish. The work was my idea and I provided a lot of guidance to the student. Also, the interpretation of the data is mainly based on my work. The student did a lot of lab and computer work which was key to the success. I'd say this was a very fruitful collaboration.

The student now has moved on to a new job, with excellent opportunities. The new role however prevents the student from having their name on publications of our joint work, because there are legal obligations and restriction in the contract with the new employer.

I am keen to publish at least some key results, but I face the situation of having a co-worker that cannot be a co-author. It looks like I cannot even acknowledge the student's contribution. I am not sure how to handle this situation, which I am deeply unhappy with.

This is a case not commonly discussed and which is probably rather unusual. I am sure some people would just publish the work without mentioning the student, which feels wrong. A solution might be citing the student's dissertation or a conference paper we've published previously; however, someone rightfully might/will raise the question of why the student is not a co-author on the bigger paper.

Not publishing at all does not feel any better. Too much effort has gone into this.

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    And the work was done at your institution, so their affiliation can rightly be listed there, not their current job.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 21, 2022 at 19:46
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    I'd be surprised if it were legal to forbid publishing of something done prior to employment and completely unrelated to anything they did for the employer. Perhaps they need a talk with HR.
    – Buffy
    Nov 21, 2022 at 20:13
  • @Buffy Contracts can get weird. A key detail here being the act of publish occurring after the 1st day of employment. It isn't beneficial to the question to challenge the legitimacy of the question. Though, I'd recommend this question is edited to include at least one question.
    – David S
    Nov 21, 2022 at 21:44
  • The student could follow the example of William Sealy Gosset.
    – user9482
    Nov 22, 2022 at 5:56
  • I have to add that the student seems far less interested in publishing the results than I am.
    – Nils
    Nov 22, 2022 at 17:22

1 Answer 1

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I have personally faced a variation of this issue (on the student's side).

In my case, some of the research that I had done during my graduate studies has not yet been submitted as publications, while I had already taken a position in the industry. Moreover, my new position in the industry had a high-level overlap with the not-yet-published research. Both were in the area of computational electromagnetics, however, the research itself had nothing concrete to do with my new position.

For me, the course of action that I followed was (IANAL):

  1. Before engaging in any work on this research after starting the work in industry, sign a Memorandum (sometimes called Memorandum of understanding) in which my new industry employer allows me to do particular work.

    Possible wording:

    Pursuant to your employment agreement, the purpose of this memorandum is to give you written approval to engage in the activity outlined below on your off-duty hours. Your activity will be limited to:

    • Proof-reading and performing minor editing of manuscript titled <Publication title> for which you are a co-author.

    To protect <Industry organization Name> Intellectual Property, it is very important that you do not engage in any activities beyond the scope of the outlined activity.

    It would be wise to not perform additional research at this stage, as it usually falls under different categorizations and can be forbidden by the organization/funding authorities' policies.

  2. In addition, sign an explicit engagement agreement with your new industry employer, which ensures that I do not transfer any information to my new employer without TTO (Technology Transfer Office) consent.

    Possible wording:

    Without first contacting the <University name> Technology Transfer Office¹, <Employee name> shall not transfer to the <Industry organization name>, or otherwise attempt to give the <Industry organization name> an interest in, any intellectual property <Employee name> developed pursuant to their engagement by the <University name>.

Here, the purpose of the first action is to ensure the limited scope of the activity on the publication and ensure the trace that the industry is aware of such a future publication. While the second item ensures that no unlicensed technology travels back to the new organization without legal approval from the University.

This is an involved process, which requires the student and their new employer to participate; however, with some modifications for local legal requirements, it should be possible. It would be also important to look into the dates on the documents: publication submission, employment contract, and memos.


¹Technology Transfer Office is only a possible name of the department responsible for licensing the technology developed at a research institution. Office of Technology Commercialization and other names are used often; thus, one has to ensure correctness for a particular case when preparing the memo.

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    It is probably also advisable to include a statement about the industry employer not being listed on the publication when drafting that MoU (or vice-versa if they insist on being listed as the affiliation). Doing that will ensure there are no future surprises when the publication is done.
    – mcianster
    Nov 23, 2022 at 17:13

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