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I'm a PhD student working on a research project consisting of 2 teams. My team (team A) is on the practical side, we provide the problems related to our research and evaluate the theoretical solutions provided by the other team (team B).

Few months ago, I had an idea related to the work of team B and thought it would help to improve the quality of our research. I raised it during our project meeting but everyone was not interested and decided not to pursue it further. So, I decided to do it by myself. As the research was not in my supervisor's research interest as well, he did not pay much attention to it but still encouraged me to do it and publish a paper if possible. I occasionally gave him a brief progress update.

My effort paid off. I manage to publish a paper (in which I am the only author) and am planning to apply it into the project. At the recent meeting, members of team B were furious and accused me of bad teamwork as I did not inform them while working on something related to the project, especially when the idea belonged to their work, not mine.

I wonder if they are right and I should inform them my research, even though they were not interested at the beginning.

  • How are the two teams (A and B) funded? For example, is your team, team A, a "subcontractor" to team B, or some such? Also, there is quite a jump in your version of the story from proposing a solution for team B's research problem to having a paper published(!). Did you (or your advisor) give team B an update somewhere along the way telling them the progress you had made on your proposed solution? – Mad Jack Jul 23 '14 at 0:53
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    I raised it during our project meeting...accused me of bad teamwork as I did not imform them — So which is it? Did you talk with team B about your ideas or not? – JeffE Jul 23 '14 at 2:42
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    @JeffE: "Ideas belong to the people from whose heads they spring, not to projects." Yes, but this idea concerns the project and work of this other research team, so it seems likely that it also makes use of some of their ideas (and/or data, code, etc.). If we are working together on a long-term project and I go off and publish something closely related without telling you about it, that solo publication could make it harder for you to publish your work in progress (journals don't like to publish "duplicate work"). Would you not be tempted to accuse me of "bad teamwork"? – Pete L. Clark Jul 23 '14 at 6:52
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    Just to clarify: it doesn't really matter to me that the OP is part of Team A rather than Team B. In fact it seems that, de facto, he is part of Team B somehow...but in a rather awkward and poorly defined way. Maybe this gets at the crux of the problem... – Pete L. Clark Jul 23 '14 at 6:55
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    To clarify my own stance: I think the behavior OP describes (both his and his advisor's) was ethical but unfriendly. If I take OP at his word, Team B has no grounds to demand coauthorship of OP's paper, because they didn't contribute. But Team B could justifiably exclude him from any future collaboration, because they weren't given sufficient opportunity to contribute. – JeffE Jul 23 '14 at 18:29
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Congratulations on publishing a paper in the face of a lack of initial interest from Team B and your supervisor. That shows valuable tenacity.

I think, however, that you should have informed Team B as your work progressed, and certainly before publication. It is quite likely that you would have convinced members of Team B of the value of your work over time, and perhaps been able to involve one or more of Team B in your research.

From Team B's perspective, you have encroached on their territory, and published a paper which perhaps they feel they should have had a hand in (read: been co-authors of). Keeping all your team members informed of your work is good practice. Whether they should have been included as co-authors on your paper is a matter of your own publication policies.

Did Team A know about your work?

  • Thank you for your answer. Team A knew that I was working on something related to the work of team B. Similar to my supervisor, they were skeptical and did not pay much attention to it. – user12635 Jul 23 '14 at 6:38
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    I guess what I don't understand about your story is how quickly it skips to..."I manage to publish a paper". Is publication so quick and easy in your field? In mine it would take probably take (at least) some weeks or months just to write up the paper and then the refereeing and publication process would take a year or more. If you are willing to go through the entire publication process, why not show the completed draft to Team B in the meantime? You say they were not interested....but you still worked on it, published it, and planned to include it in the project anyway. – Pete L. Clark Jul 23 '14 at 6:44
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    I wonder: what kind of reaction were you expecting to get from them? – Pete L. Clark Jul 23 '14 at 6:48
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If they weren't interested when you brought it up initially, then they are in no place to cast judgment after you published it. This is, of course, based off of the fact that you brought it clearly to their attention from the beginning. You have no reasonable moral responsibility to keep updating them on it, especially as it starts to gain traction.

They should only be mentioned if you gained specific knowledge that you otherwise would not have had without them from the beginning, but this is ignoring the fact that they initially rejected the idea.

Congratulations on your publication.

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    "If they weren't interested when you brought it up initially, then they are in no place to cast judgment after you published it." I think we don't have enough information to judge. Lacking interest does not imply signing off intellectual properties. If the OP uses team B's data or theory, even team B is not interested, the paper should still be approved by team B; not to approve the idea, but to approve the use of team B's materials. – Penguin_Knight Jul 23 '14 at 17:57
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    Only he can know what is defined as their intellectual property. If he wanted to be dishonest for example, not saying he is, we wouldn't know. So based off the information we have ("I had an idea related to the work of Team B"), he's okay. – Keith Jul 23 '14 at 18:10

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