I have just started a PhD along with another candidate. We are each looking at different aspects of the same subject. His data provide context for mine, while my data simply add value to his. As I will be asking him for some of his data, he has decided that he wants some of my data. However, he is interested in using a particular part of my data which I think will be the most fruitful part of my PhD.

His data are quicker to prepare than mine, and he will undoubtedly write up his chapters/ publications before I get a chance. I am worried that this will have a negative impact on my ability to publish my papers.

Do I have to give him my most promising data? Is there any way around doing this? I would prefer to rely on older data from Honours students looking at this subject and not ask for his data, if this allows me to keep my own data.

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    You can give him your data and maybe put your name on his paper as last author, since you will have an important contribution to his research? – Kogesho Apr 30 '14 at 11:42
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    Yes, if and only if you are also obliged to share your least promising data. – JeffE Apr 30 '14 at 12:08

What does your supervisor say about this?

I've seen situations where someone not sharing data not only prevented papers being written, but completely obliterated the collaboration.

One possibility is handing the data over, but helping with its analysis and the subsequent writing of the paper (with co-authorship). You could offer the same to the other candidate.

In any case, as you have only just started, I wouldn't worry about the negative impact. There's plenty of time to build.


Am I obliged to share my most promising data?

From my personal experience, it depends on the way your advisor runs the group. For example, if you are in a group where co-authorship with other students is encouraged, then opening up your data vault to other students (and them doing likewise) can benefit everyone involved. I've seen other groups at my university (and other schools I've attended) run this way and it seems to work well for all parties involved.

However, if your group is not such as that described above, you need to be very clear (to your advisor and collaborators) what you expect to gain out of the collaboration/data sharing. In this case, don't assume that someone will look out for you and give you the credit you feel you deserve.

I encountered a situation early on in my studies where I shared data with a fellow student. Everything they did with my data was kept secret from me, i.e. it was obvious to everyone that this student had no intention to include me in any of their scholarly works (yes, I did deserve co-authorship). It was only due to the fact that they couldn't get anything to work that their chances of getting anything published fell to zero, and I wasn't screwed over.


If both of you are working in similar fields, you should likely co-author papers (and share results). Very rarely have I run into profs that didn't encourage (or almost mandate) cross collaboration among their students, and the profs I did run into like this were nearly impossible to work with.

A couple of tips

1) Be sure to make it clear you want co-authored papers - you did some of the work, you deserve some of the credit. Also figure out who will be first author BEFORE you go any further.

2) With the other student, discuss your paper ideas, and see if you can carve out a piece of research that will be mainly yours, and another piece that is mainly his. Make him a co-author if appropriate.

3) Try to work out an understanding without involving your prof first. Go to him/her after you've made a good effort come to a mutual agreement and failed.

3) Remember that your graduate program is a small group of people who all know each other. This situation sounds like it could blow back on you (for not sharing all the data), or the other guy (for not giving credit where its due) in a big way. If you've promised him data, give it to him. If he decides to be a jerk and bogart his research, then don't work with him again. You have other great research projects you can keep for yourself.


Why this urge of researchers to keep things secret...

Why don't you talk to your college about this and see if he is open to having you as a coauthor (you write the section on the data for instance) = double win. Or could you publish your draft as a report from your university that he could cite? Or another option...

It will depend on your supervisor in the end, but you can subtly make him aware of the problem.

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