I am a PhD student who just finished my master’s degree. I had a master’s thesis which can be further developed during my PhD studies, but recently I found that some senior professors are also working on similar topics. Their working paper is not available online, and I only saw an abstract in a very recent online workshop after I submitted my thesis. My thesis is available online now. I have courteously reached out to one of the professors and sent him my paper. He also kindly replied and compared our work. To be fair, their work is more sophisticated than mine, and they are ready to submit it to a journal for review. My questions are: can I continue to work on my project or should I just give it up since someone else have similar ongoing work? Also, since the professors have worked on their project for two or three years and probably presented it in other occasions (which I can’t find any trace online though), should I worry about the novelty in my thesis?

  • 4
    I’m voting to close this question because OP has not yet engaged with his supervisor on his situation - it's almost as if he regards supervisor consultation as optional in a PhD program, if he's not avoiding it for an even worse reason.
    – Trunk
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 22:17
  • 6
    @Trunk: Those may be your reasons for disliking and downvoting the question, but those are not good reasons for voting to close it.
    – user103496
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 2:32

4 Answers 4


It seems likely that the others will beat you to publication of something similar to what you might do. Whether that matters or not for purposes of your degree depends on your advisor and your university. Often enough, parallel work is acceptable as long as your contributions are known. So, you need to have a serious conversation with your advisor.

One option (advisor permitting) is to collaborate with the others, carving out some niche in the overall problem that forms the basis of your dissertation. Another is to try to leapfrog over the work of the other group, extending what you and they have done, rather than just trying to follow them. A third option is to try to finish quickly, before they publish, but being sure that you don't plagiarize based on what you have learned.

Abandoning might be necessary, but it should be the last option. Even then, you may have learned enough about the general area of your study that you can recover quickly enough.

But have a serious talk with your advisor so that you know the options. Getting scooped can be, but isn't always, devastating. Good luck.

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    Thanks for your advice! I don’t think that my idea necessarily got scooped though, as the Professor also explained how they formed their argument in the correspondence. It seems that we worked on similar topic but looked at different angles (the dependent variables are very different). It’s just that I might not be able to pursue the idea further, and I am not sure if they are willing to cite my thesis when they publish. Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 22:36
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    How can they not cite you once they know it exists? They have to cover other relevant work. The only way out would be, that their paper was accepted prior to your communication.
    – usr1234567
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 17:16

This is definitely an area where your advisor can and should guide you.

In addition to this answer's very good suggestions, if you develop a good working relationship with the professor who has mailed you back, you might even go so far as to ask that person to be on your committee. But that's a thought to keep in the back of your mind for a future date.

In general, though, different groups working on similar topics don't always publish identical results. You've seen this for yourself, where your main arguments and methodologies are different from the other group's. A good question to ask your advisor's opinion is, "Are the differences here significant enough to warrant separate publications?" They might well be, which would be a good sign for continuing your work.

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    Safer to not invite the other professor researching your field to be on your committee. Things can often get heated when two researchers are working seriously on the same topic.
    – Trunk
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 10:10

I think you would have been wise to have not engaged directly with he other group if your plan was to continue on the MS topic. Now you have two things to worry about: the development of this topic and managing your relations with the other group. There is a lesson to be learned from this.

That said, you seem to think that you can still pursue your own approach if it is adjudged worthy by your superviser -- and by yourself even before you present the plan to the superviser. Worthiness is by the usual doctorate definition: originality, independency and substantiveness.

. . . and I am not sure if they are willing to cite my thesis when they publish.

I doubt if they will cite your thesis when they publish given that they are at it for 3 years - not unless it buttresses a weaker part of their own argument and that aspect of your work is explicitly stated in your now online MS thesis.

It’s just that I might not be able to pursue the idea further . . .

Does this mean that you are using aspects of the other group's work as jumping off points for your own putative PhD program ? If so, then while this would not academically prevent you from launching your own studies, it would make it less likely that they would not also be done by the other group as well. So a decision to invest 3+ years of work into such a program has to be seriously considered.

If there is a sort of Holy Grail in this research field, be mindful that only one knight can find a Holy Grail - all the other seeker-knights will be disappointed.

Not knowing what the topic is, how rich a field it may be, etc makes it impossible for us here to advise you to do anything more than to have a frank discussion with your current superviser on all this. I was struck by the absence of any reference your own superviser's view in your original posting.

  • Thanks for your suggestions! I have talked with my master advisor and she encouraged me to reach out. I have not yet discussed this with my PhD advisor (which I will do soon) as I just started my PhD program. Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 19:10
  • I have not yet discussed this with my PhD advisor (which I will do soon) as I just started my PhD program. This discussion should have preceded any decision to formally propose a PhD program, let alone start work on it. You have to cop yourself on here. The superviser is there by both academic obligation and practical necessity. You can't keep them out of the loop and make decisions on your own. Were the superviser to disagree with any of your actions they are free to drop you immediately. Then no one else in that department would want to take you on. Talk now to him/her.
    – Trunk
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 19:36
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    I am not suggesting that I will work on the project following what the other group has done, plus I finished my thesis plenty of time before I found out someone else is working on similar topics. I will definitely talk to my advisor, but all I am asking is can I still continue my project and if the other group may cite my thesis (as it is already available online). Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 20:11
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    Your questions were anwsered to the extent that we can since we don't know the details. The white box answer is to ask your supervisor. Immediately.
    – Trunk
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 22:01
  • 1
    Different researchers working on the same problem should definitely communicate and coordinate. Yes, it may make a PhD candidate's life more complicated, but that's better than work being replicated needlessly, or one party proceeding unnecessarily along misguided paths.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 22:55

I don't think that the outcome of a master thesis has to be competitive with results from a group of senior researchers. Congratulations that you have found similar results, this shows that you are in a good position to make relevant research (with regard to your PhD thesis and to your research community).

You have to mention the results from the other groups in a potential publication. Highlight matching results and differences in the approaches.

For virtually every PhD thesis, both student and his/her advisor are constantly monitoring for other groups publishing papers in the same area. You always include the possibility to adjust your research idea - either because others seems to be too close or (more often) because your idea does not lead to results.

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