At the beginning of the year, I sent an email to my former advisor to ask him for advice on PhD topics. I sent him several ideas, one of them was a four pages research proposal (with methodology and sources) on one of the topics. However, over the course of my research, I discovered this topic might be difficult to research because of foreign languages, so I told my advisor I put it aside. I had other research ideas but I realized all of them are even more difficult to work on.

Nevertheless, I pursued my research on the first topic and discovered that plenty sources were available in English, sufficiently enough that I could work on. At the same time, I have discovered that a less-advanced student - still doing her master - was working on a very similar topic for her MA since the beginning of the year (she is at the same institution).

I am afraid my advisor sent her the idea since I told him I put it aside because of language issues. I suspect this because we didn’t have a good relationship (I got a very good grade for my MA, but he has a very difficult personality. He only supervised seven people for PhD in 20 years and one of his students switched advisor), but due to of Covid, I could not meet other professors. That is why I wrote to him nevertheless. I know he also shared my initial idea with my co-advisor working at a different institution (who is working in the same field so even her can give it to someone else) in an email because I was in CCd.

I would really like to work on this topic for myPhD - I used the same methodology for my MA but the topic is different - but I am afraid I can't it anymore. I also applied to another PhD abroad without telling him (only my co-advisor, who advises me to apply and recommended me for it) but the topic I would work on is not interesting me and there are funding issues.

What can I do ? Since I told him I put it aside due to foreign languages, did he has the right to give it to someone else ? Did he was not supposed to protect my ideas as he was my advisor for 2 years? Can I send him an email to tell him without looking like I am the problem? (I guess it is normal for students to doubt between different PhD ideas).


1 Answer 1


First, I don't see any misconduct from your advisor or the student. Ideas are free. You may be due an acknowledgement in any resulting paper, but it is impossible to judge from here.

You can certainly work on the same topic if you like, but will need to respond if you are beaten to publishable results. Perhaps you can extend those even.

But, you also need to satisfy the demands of any new advisor. They may be interested it guiding you as you work on this topic or not. It is pretty hard to work independently toward a degree, especially under such conditions.

I suggest that you prioritize the long term over the short. If you get a doctorate then things open for you. Not just the old ideas you once had, which may still be viable or not, but new directions as well.

What your position is for co-authorship or acknowledgement depends on a lot of things. The other person has to avoid claims of plagiarism, but suggesting a problem that you don't intend to work on is fairly weak as those things go. Now if you proposed solutions, it would be different, of course.

Figure out how to get a degree and leave the smaller questions aside for the moment.

  • Thank you for your answer. Yes it is true that I should focus on the outcome and not the present time. It is just that I feel very stupid. I gave my idea, said I put it aside and finally I want to work on it again…
    – Cctte
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 18:16

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