In the field of Mechanical Engineering, when doing a PhD in a University but in partnership with a company, at some universities, an agreement is signed between the company and the university (or Laboratory) in which the company remains the owner of all files provided (e.g. geometries, meshes) as well as the results produced, but allows for publication of most of the results. The line drawn between what its supposed to be published and what remains strictly confidential is hard to draw and often depends on the company as well as the topic.

Usually, in order to preserve this confidentiality, researchers scale the figures to unknown values and do not provide geometries or mesh/material properties for example. I was wondering if this common practice in scientific publication can be applied when writing a PhD Thesis. Basically, are all results presented in a thesis supposed to be public and more importantly, is an independent/external researcher supposed to be able to reproduce all of the results ?

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    "generally, an agreement is signed between the company and the university in which the company remains the owner of all files provided (e.g. geometries, meshes) as well as the results produced, but allows for publication of most of the results" - maybe that is "generally" so at your university, but some other universities also "generally" refuse to sign any such 360° gagging agreements before any results have even been created. Therefore, maybe "generally" should be replaced with "at some universities" in this question. Jun 8, 2015 at 18:04
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    @O.R.Mapper Thank you for your comment. I edited the question accordingly.
    – Nicolas
    Jun 8, 2015 at 18:14

2 Answers 2


The standard for a Ph.D. thesis is simple and universal: it must make a contribution to the sum of human knowledge.

As such, all results in a thesis should be public and presented in enough details to allow another researcher with sufficient background to reproduce them.

It's fine for some of the work that you are doing to not be public, just so long as enough of the material is public to make up a Ph.D. thesis. For example, if you have figures scaled to unknown values or missing geometry information, then you need to ask: is there significant scientific value even without this information? For example, if the proprietary figure is an example of how a method was applied, that's probably OK as long as there are other forms of verification elsewhere. If the proprietary figure is the verification, however, and it's missing critical information, then that is not OK.

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    Some schools (e.g., Prudue) allow for a renewable 2-year embargo to be placed on theses while other schools (e.g., Colorado School of Mines) only allow a non-renewable 1 year embargo.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 13, 2014 at 11:01
  • @StrongBad I am aware of this type of mesure is available but actually does not answer my question, it just puts the Thesis on hold for a while before it goes to the public domain. My question is, should the published results be "reproducible" by others ?
    – Nicolas
    Feb 10, 2015 at 17:47
  • @jakebeal i couldn't add a comment to your answer and so, i had to add a answer. Is it the case for a master thesis also? Jan 9, 2019 at 12:29
  • @Askingquestion No, it is not. A Masters thesis needs to demonstrate that you have attained a certain level of skill and completed a significant project. What exactly that means and how it is tested varies from institution to institution.
    – jakebeal
    Jan 9, 2019 at 15:55

The answer to this question is going to vary from university to university. At our university thesis can be placed on a restricted access list, and examiners made to sign confidentiality agreements. Agreements I have signed to specify a time limit on how long the thesis must be kept confidential, but do say that the commercial partner will indicate when they no longer need access to the thesis to be restricted.

Once the thesis is published, it is entirely possible that materials that cannot be disclosed may have been used in the thesis. For example, one would not include code for proprietary routines, but would rather say "the XXX function from the library provide by Blogs Ltd". I guess it would then be up to the examiner to judge if enough information had been provided that they could judge the value of the work. It may be that, since the examiner has signed a confidentiality agreement they can be made privileged to information that other readers cannot. In my experience these issues are sorted out on a case by case discussion between the IP holder, the university and the examiner.

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