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Some details will be omitted for anonymity's sake, but, hopefully, the information provided is adequate.

I am a graduate student that finished the collection of a complete dataset over 2.5 years ago. The dataset that was collected has been analyzed and is clearly publishable from the perspective of scientific merit (relevant narrative, statistical significance, etc). Throughout the 2.5 years since, my advisor has tasked me with various other main projects. During this period, I have occasionally inquired about writing the manuscript for the '2.5 year old data set' and have been...encouraged...to continue working on the other assigned tasks, instead.

Recently, after helping another professor with a review article in the area that I specialize in, I came across many papers citing information that, in light of my data set, is false...or, in the most charitable interpretation, insufficient. I emailed my advisor to ask again for the opportunity to write the manuscript and was rejected, commenting that my other projects had greater impact to the field.

To better contextualize this, I think it should be noted that the field I work in has a 'rival field'. In fact, the so-called 'rival field' is often claimed by people in my field to exhibit several shortcomings (agreeably so); my field quite literally emerged to address these shortcomings. However, one of the strongest criticisms coming from the rival field about my field is directly supported by the dataset that I collected 2.5 years ago. This particular criticism has been minimized by the false/insufficient claims that my field has made.

My concern is that my advisor is intentionally withholding the publication of this dataset because it is an inconvenient truth that diminishes the marketability of our field's purported 'edge' over the competition when it comes to grant funding. After several days of quite agitatedly asking for an in-person meeting, I have been granted one later this week.

I am writing this post to ask how best to proceed in this matter. I think I can be quite certain that my advisor will not admit to any of this and will most likely provide me with another excuse that indefinitely postpones the publication of this data set. If my speculations are true, then I wholeheartedly believe that this is unethical behavior, as my dataset will result in a potentially considerable reinterpretation of the results that my field generates.

Any advice is appreciated. Thank you.

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    This week just ended, maybe you mean next week? As for a publication, did you try to write your results down in a paper form? If you did, you can simply show the paper to your advisor during the meeting and ask if they have any suggestions/corrections and/our would like to be listed as a coauthor of the paper. Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 17:12
  • When do you expect to finish your PhD? This is important to consider. Once you're done, you will be free(er) to publish what you want. Until then, don't anger your advisor. Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 18:16
  • What's stopping you from writing it up if the data analysis is done? Yes, maybe you have to do this outside your official work hours. What is the status of your dissertation? Is this your dissertation work?
    – Elin
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 18:43
  • Who owns the data you collect as part of your research work? This can depend on your country, institute, statutory rights, contract obligations, etc. For example, in my jurisdiction, students own their own IP, unless they for example are being funded by a grant that specifies otherwise.
    – Nicholas
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 23:12
  • There are several different questions here...and any such answer will further reduce my anonymity so I would prefer not to specify. From the line of questioning, it seems like there are different prescriptions depending on the answers. E.g. am I at the beginning of my doctorate or near the end? Am I funded by a grant or am I not funded by a grant (this is probably further partitioned into 'is the grant from private or public funds')? My hope was that this was simply unethical conduct that could be reported, but, given the conditionals, it would seem not. Thank you for the responses. Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 10:32

2 Answers 2

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As someone who has ruffled some feathers with papers before, I can see several possible reasons your advisor may be avoiding this that does not require a negative attribution about their ethics.

It is possible they could be in a vulnerable position, and such a publication could be a great cost to them at this moment, so they need to wait until they are in a better place (...probably good for you too, unless you want to scramble for a new advisor). Alternatively, perhaps your advisor is concerned about the impact that burning disciplinary bridges might have on you. The sad truth is that academia is rife with pettiness, and your advisor might be thinking about your future.

Also, you said this has taken place over the past 2.5 years, i.e., since pandemic. Please consider that many people in academia are still depleted, burned out, or otherwise not mentally healthy enough to go charging down the disciplinary battlefield right now (even if we look fine). Some compassion may be in order. I know that's frustrating for students, but clearly your advisor is still making efforts to keep you productive.

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Unless you have good reason, it is not a good idea to presume that your supervisor is trying to intentionally block your research. At most, the information in your post shows that there may be some rivalry in academic fields. That does not seem to me to be sufficient to infer that your supervisor has any view other than that you should prioritise different research right now (a view for which he could have many legitimate reasons). Given that, the most you should do at your meeting is to explain to your supervisor why you think the research you are proposing would be useful, such that its prioritisation should be raised and you should start on it right away. If your supervisor says something that causes you to believe that he is motivated by avoiding criticism of his own field, then it would be okay to raise the issue explicitly and discuss the "elephant in the room". However, you should not presume that your supervisor is motivated by this concern unless he raises it.

As a strategic point, I will also note that this might be a situation where you are better off waiting until you graduate and then pursue this research when you are no longer under supervision. To determine whether this is the case you also need to consider the access to the data --- e.g., what right of access do you have, is this contingent on your status as a student, etc.

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