I am working on a graduate school research paper in finance/accounting. My adviser is really excited about my paper and this professor is a prolific publisher. The paper has progressed enough to hand in for the course. I want to develop this paper further after the course is over. However, after meeting with my adviser, (her student assistance's desk is in the professor's office) three other graduate students are doing their papers on the same subject. How can I turn in the paper but protect the work so I can develop it further on my own time? I put a qualifier (not to use without my permission) on the paper but the professor wants it removed. I explained that I wanted to further develop it but she said it is for others to use.

  • Are you and your advisor planning to publish this paper on a journal? If yes you should always assume that someone else would work on the idea without your permission. – Alexandros Dec 13 '14 at 13:16
  • I had hoped that she would offer that because she obviously has the foundation to give the paper more strength with her knowledge but she has not offered and I get the impression she just wants me to turn it in and walk away. Other professors in the department have also heard about my paper and stopped to talk to me so I am not sure I even understand the true value of the paper. – Amy Dec 13 '14 at 13:24
  • I think I will let this rest a day or two. I may water down the paper to the original version presented to her and hand that in. It lacks the strength/data support of the most recent version. Thank you for responding. – Amy Dec 13 '14 at 13:25
  • If anyone knows of a site where I can post this paper and it results in a time stamp please let me know. I can post it with the qualifier not to use which would give me time to develop and verify all data and citations. Thank you. – Amy Dec 13 '14 at 15:09
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    Before posting it online "with the qualifier not to use", it's worth thinking about exactly what you mean by that. If you mean "don't copy my text", copyright already covers that. If you mean "don't use my ideas without attributing them to me", that's already part of academic ethics. In those cases adding a note will be redundant and seem hostile. But if you mean "don't use my ideas at all (even if you credit them to me and cite my paper)", then you shouldn't post it online. You can't circulate a paper to establish priority while trying to prevent anyone from building on it. – Anonymous Mathematician Dec 13 '14 at 16:40

On the face of it this sounds very serious. Of course there may be information that can explain some of the aspects that are unknown to me and also you. So with that in mind.

If you have come up with the idea on your own, the work you have done is certainly yours. Often the basic idea is given by, for example, the adviser, in which case some (how much can differ widely) of the intellectual input is shared. You will, through your work still have some degree of ownership. If the adviser has given a similar basic idea to several students the situation can become really messy. It is not clear from your post if the other students started their work, once they got wind of your success or if they were given earlier input to start along the same lines. In any case, I would argue that the adviser has a responsibility to also protect your possible ownership but unfortunately what is ethically correct and what happens in real life can deviate significantly.

So what can be done? The first thing to do is to talk to the advisor and say you want to work this up to a publication (I have to assume here that you know or have had indications it can be published). In other fields it is possible to post work online to get a time stamp on your work, what possibilities exist for you I will leave to others who may know such possibilities to comment upon.

The comment that "it is for others to use" seems ridiculous. Unless there is a policy or local rule that states that anything produced within a course belongs to the school or course responsible or does not belong to the student, it appears quite unethical to take such a stance. Laws on immaterial rights or intellectual property are usually quite strong. It may therefore be useful to take the matter up with someone in the department who is either there to handle the graduate studies or some form of counsellor at the university level. You must know what structures are in place for possible grievances. the important point is that you need to figure out where you stand based on the details that are known. This is also why a very black or white answer cannot be given here, the information is too weak. But, based on what you have made known the situation sounds problematic from an ethical point of view.

  • Her assistant is in the same course and is a foreign student AND is one of the students who used my idea. Student changed labels/category of data, used a different formula but essentially it is the same work, the same idea. Other two students who used the same idea come from the same country. When I presented my idea to the professor, I had already completed a great deal of research and compiled supporting data. The professor responded: "You are now teaching me, so I want you to develop this further, it is a really good paper!" – Amy Dec 13 '14 at 12:56
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    The comment that "it is for others to use" seems ridiculous. - I am not sure I am missing something in the question, but isn't rather the opposite - that research results are not for others to use - ridiculous? After all, the entire point of publishing research results, and the procedures required to repeat them, is so further research (irrespective of who conducts that research) can verify and build upon those results. Publishing papers that expand upon something developed by students is common practice at least in CS, as long as the students are acknowledged in the paper. – O. R. Mapper Dec 13 '14 at 13:05
  • Agree. I felt a little queasy when she said my paper was for others to use but she is also refusing to accept the paper for the course until I remove the the qualifier. I don't know what to do at this point. She has not reviewed the recent version, so she doesn't realize how much I have already developed the paper. I don't want to post it (form of copyright) until I completely verify citations/data. I have a really bad feeling about this situation. – Amy Dec 13 '14 at 13:13
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    My impression is that the student's work is for other's to use and not the student's "property" to, for example, publish. I am sorry if that was not expressed clearly. So I agree with your comments seen from the perspective you mention. – Peter Jansson Dec 13 '14 at 13:14

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