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I recently finished my masters program and for my thesis, I was able to do something that not many people in my department had done before which was be able to conduct my research in Malawi (my school is in Taiwan). Another student a year younger than me (from the same program) showed a lot of interest in going to Malawi, too, and decided she wanted to do her research there as well.

She’s been asking me a lot of questions which I didn’t mind answering before, but recently it feels like she’s trying to take shortcuts, asking to see my proposal before she even chose her topic, asking what scales I used (even though her original topic was completely different) and then suddenly she decided to try to do a similar study to mine (and asked for my participant contact list!). Recently she’s been bugging me a lot to see my proposal and because of her earlier comments and behavior I don’t feel comfortable sharing it with her (especially because I’m trying to publish as well).

Am I overthinking things? I wonder because I am also a little annoyed because I think she’s trying to use my writing and long hours of work to choose her own topic instead of doing a proper literature review. How do I tell her I don’t want to share my proposal or give her all the answers to designing her ‘own’ study?

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    Which disadvantage(s) for you do you fear if you share your proposal with the other student (or answer her further questions)? Oct 30, 2023 at 10:36
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    Is there a reason that it would not make sense to collaborate with this other student? Maybe suggest that she does something that builds on what you did, and the the two pieces combined could be a stronger paper. In general, collaboration is a good thing.
    – Dawn
    Oct 30, 2023 at 16:15
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    @Dawn, I’ve already graduated and moved back home. It would be one thing if she was interested in expanding on my topic but she wants to do what I did (since it was feasible) and change one small aspect so it’s not exactly the same. I think that’s why she’s asking about my methodology and which scales I used.
    – Dahye Lim
    Oct 30, 2023 at 19:24
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    I am confused: you finished your thesis and went back home. She can read about your methodology & co in the thesis. If the methodology is not in the thesis then isn't this a problem? What is the "hidden" part of your work that you do not want to share because (I am not sure what)?
    – WoJ
    Oct 31, 2023 at 8:55
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    I would be particularly careful with your participant contact details list. Usually participants have not given consent for researchers to freely share their contact details.
    – user160623
    Nov 1, 2023 at 14:33

5 Answers 5

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You are not overthinking.

You need to be very careful. The other student seems to become your "shadow".

In the best case, they will just be a time sink. In the worst case, a degree doppelgaenger. The other person is obviously not capable or willing to take the risk of their own path and ideas and lets you go ahead. They might scoop you, presubmit, with you ending up being the 'plagiariser' of your own work or, simply, their workhorse where they will ride on your efforts.

In contrast to what others seem to think, this does not look like a collaboration on equal footing which would consist of a give-and-take.

From what you describe, I personally would be very careful to share anything and disengage, politely, if possible, but unambiguously if necessary.

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    Disclaimer: I overlooked the OP's remark that they already finished. This tempers my response. Still, it is valid for an ongoing candidate. Oct 31, 2023 at 3:03
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Part of being a researcher is having integrity about your research and trusting your own judgment on research conduct. If you are suspecting she will use your work in ways that will pass it of as her own work or as a shortcut in other ways, you are free to say no to sharing it. It also takes up valuable time and energy to explain things to others, so you are also free to simply state that you need to focus on other things, or stop replying.

I was many times excited about getting to discuss research with older academics when I was a younger student, and several simply stopped replying after a while. I accepted that as them being kind enough to answer my initial questions, but not interested in the following continued discussion that I was interested in.

If I was in your situation, I would ask the intended supervisor for the other student about your conserns and let them help you make a judgment about how much is reasonable to share and about the intentions of the other student.

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Without knowing more about the situation, it is impossible to say whether your concerns are valid or not. Yet, you are under no obligation to share your proposal and other advice and you do not need to provide a reason for doing so. Having said that, you may still want to give some reason for your refusal in order to keep your professional relation with the other student in good state.

The fact that you were, and the other student still is, a masters student provides a different angle to your concerns which you could use. Your thesis fulfilled (part of) the criteria needed to obtain a degree and so will that of the other student. Theses are often assessed using a wide range of criteria that go well beyond the research results presented in the thesis. Most commonly, the process of developing research questions and study design also significantly feed into the final grade of a thesis. Therefore, if the other student followed your approach too closely, they may have difficulties in convincing the markers of the thesis that they developed the research questions addressed in the thesis, and designed the study to answer these questions themselves.

I also suggest to consult your (former) supervisor about this. They will know best whether closely following a previous thesis' approach may get a student into trouble. In that case, they might even have a word with the other student.

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  • It’s hard for me to tell the entire situation because I already graduated and moved back home (was studying in Taiwan, originally from the US). I’ve been avoiding reaching out to my advisor because these are just observations and suspicions of mine and it’s not easy to bring it up without proof.
    – Dahye Lim
    Oct 30, 2023 at 19:21
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    Is this new student supervised by the same person who supervised you? I don't think you need to "prove" anything. You would only be sharing your concerns. If I was your supervisor, I would like to know about such concerns, especially since you are planning to publish your results. Oct 31, 2023 at 7:21
  • She is. It’s just hard to for me to bring it up with him
    – Dahye Lim
    Oct 31, 2023 at 7:38
  • This discussion progressed from "politely refuse" to "share suspicious with supervisor so he can make a judgment call". If it's the same supervisor wouldn't he realize that student #2 is proposing exactly the same research you did? You may be underrating the discernment of your supervisor in this situation.
    – dipetkov
    Nov 2, 2023 at 16:38
  • @DahyeLim You don't need to make an accusation or bring proof. "I've been giving (new student) some advice about doing research in Malawi but I'm concerned about there being too much overlap between our projects or that giving too much help will prevent her from developing an independent thesis project." As this answer points out, there are reasonable concerns from this other student's perspective, too, not just yours. Just like giving someone all the answers for their math homework might ultimately hurt them when they haven't practiced enough for the test.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 2, 2023 at 17:20
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tl;dr: Diplomatically get her supervisor involved.

OP wrote in a comment that:

... she wants to do what I did (since it was feasible) and change one small aspect so it’s not exactly the same. I think that’s why she’s asking about my methodology and which scales I used

Given that this is what you experience, I suggest you bring this student's supervisor into the picture. This would not be intended to badmouth or shame her: You and her supervisor are now (supposedly) at a higher level of experience than her, including your ability to understand ethnical or pedagogical considerations.

So, suggest that, if she is interested in doing "Malawai things" for her Master's research project, you would like to discuss this in a chat with her supervisor. If she agrees, you can bring up your concern of avoiding a "shortcut", and making sure that the work she undertakes is not a trivial tweaking of your own work, but rather something commensurate with the intended breadth and depth of a Masters' research project.

If she disagrees, just declare you refuse to entertain her requests without supervisor involvement.

Remember (and you can also remind her) that she can always read your published thesis.


The benefit of this approach is, that you don't have to decide apriori whether she's making a legitimate request or not. And she doesn't even have to have decided whether she intends to act legitimately or not.

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I don’t feel comfortable sharing it with her (especially because I’m trying to publish as well).

Am I overthinking things? I wonder because I am also a little annoyed because I think she’s trying to use my writing and long hours of work to choose her own topic instead of doing a proper literature review. How do I tell her I don’t want to share my proposal or give her all the answers to designing her ‘own’ study?

Your general concerns are founded, but even more you should put a big red warning disclaimer on whatever "results" you tell her: the results have not yet been peer reviewed, so everything you did it may be 100% wrong.

Said otherwise: you can confidently tell the fellow student that you are fine with sharing your experience and know-how, but what regards the proposed research content and the scientific output of your proposal is confidential and under review, so you cannot share it until the peer-review is completed and succesful. And warn her that it may take years (unfortunately)...

To be open, but to set boundaries, you can ask the student that she writes a 5-page document on what they would like to do, where and with whom, with a bullet point lsit of the methodology/approach to her research, at the same time offering yourself to internally review it.

However, please be very careful in what "review" means.

Reviewing means "bringing out the best of what is in the document and finding flaws" and not "adding content to the document and correcting flaws". The boundary is thin, stay on the "less time-commitment for yourself" side.

tl;dr: you did a lot of work, you may have been lucky, but to have a lucky chance you have to prepared for that lucky chance as well. Let the student do their own preparation. You can review what the students does, you cannot provide her shortcuts, but you can surely provide a feedback on what she does.

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    Why make up reasons about data integrity and correctness? What's particularly wrong with "I'm sorry, but I don't want to share this before it's published? Oct 30, 2023 at 12:39
  • @ScottSeidman publication is not a simple "stamp" on the document.
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 30, 2023 at 14:25
  • yes, the results of the OP have not yet been peer-reviewed. However, the OP states that they have obtained these results for their masters thesis and that they have finished the masters. Therefore, the results have at least gone through one stage of reviews (marking) within the university. Thus, the results should have at least some credibility. Oct 30, 2023 at 15:17
  • OK, then go with "I'm not comfortable sharing this" without further explanation (though there are reasons why data sharing for published material is important, and increasingly required by funding institutions). It's not the publication red line I have issues with (though the downvotes aren't mine) -- it's the false justification. The important thing is to let the requester know where their request stands. "...the scientific output of your proposal is confidential and under review, so you cannot share it until the peer-review is completed and succesful." is generally not true Oct 30, 2023 at 15:26
  • She never even asked about results or seeing my final paper, just my proposal (that I sent in to the ethics review board). That’s why I’m a bit worried she’s going to try to copy parts of my study instead of expanding on what I did and the results I found
    – Dahye Lim
    Oct 30, 2023 at 19:26

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