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I am currently undertaking my PhD in a very niche sub field of Artificial Intelligence. However, I have, what I consider, a strong background in programming and often contribute to many open source projects in my spare time. I have recently started an Open Source project which solves a very particular problem, but is outside the scope of my PhD research.

I wish to publish my hobby research and I doubt this is something my project supervisors, or university would be interested in. Should I go ahead and publish without their knowledge, or should I ethically bring it to their attention before I send it off? It should be noted, because it is my hobby project, I don't particularly want it influenced by an academic agenda.

  • I'm not sure that I understand your question correctly. If you don't want an agenda influences to your project, why do you ask this question? – Ooker May 15 '15 at 18:52
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This is something that you need to discuss specifically with your advisors. They may or may not be interested in the publication—but they may also have an interest in ensuring that your goal of publishing doesn't interfere with your paid work. (For instance, spending a lot of time editing your "hobby" manuscript when you should be working on your talk for an upcoming conference for your "paid" project.)

You should also check with your university's intellectual property office about the guidelines for such work. So long as you're doing things on your own without university assistance or resources, there might not be a problem. But if you need to use equipment owned by them to produce your idea, things might change.

  • I do not understand either of your points. Sure, ham-sandwich should make sure to fulfill his obligations to his advisor and/or whoever is funding him. But as long as he does that, I don't think the advisor needs to be informed about side projects. It's probably better to be open and upfront about such things, but not necessary if they are not getting in the way of paid work. I am even more puzzled about the IP comment. The question is about publishing and not about distributing code, and this is the first time I hear about checking with the IP office before you publish something. – Sasho Nikolov May 15 '15 at 19:01
  • @SashoNikolov This is somewhat based upon the country, but in many areas it is not uncommon that one of the legal employment documents one signs to join the program include assumptions of intellectual property ownership being held by the University (or jointly with it). Therefore releasing source code or other such research products could run afoul of the agreements one has already signed. It's often easy-enough to deal with this, but if you don't know such agreements exist then you could get yourself into some unpleasant disagreements. – BrianH May 15 '15 at 19:44
  • @SashoNikolov, if any work was done on the project during paid working time or the code was written on a university PC or the code is based upon current, unpublished research it could definitely involve IP litigation if this side project were to be commercialized at some point. – Mr. Mascaro May 15 '15 at 20:42
  • @BrianDHall that makes sense, but it applies to the code, which it seems OP has already released to the public (and that might be a problem, I agree). But am I mistaken that IP issues do no apply to research publications? – Sasho Nikolov May 15 '15 at 20:48
  • @SashoNikolov Sorry, just to clarify the code nor the knowledge is yet in the public domain. The codebase was developed in my own time, using my home equipment. However, the problem itself couldn't have been solved without inspiration from my in work research. It's a predicament which I have chosen to approach the university about. Thank you for all your responses. – ham-sandwich May 15 '15 at 20:57
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I wish to publish my hobby research and I doubt this is something my project supervisors, or university would be interested in.

Well, why not. As long as it does not interfere with your day-to-day work, I would not assume that your advisor has quarrels with that. However, note that e.g., going to conferences might be tricky. In a bad case, you'll need to fund it all by yourself, and conferences can get quite pricey. In the worst case, you even need to take off to visit the conference.

Should I go ahead and publish without their knowledge, or should I ethically bring it to their attention before I send it off?

Only if you desperately want this to end badly. If they don't want you to do this research for some reason, them finding out after the fact won't make it better at all. If they like you to do this research, or don't care, they will still be pissed that you did not say anything. I can't imagine a realistic scenario where it's better for you to not have said anything.

It should be noted, because it is my hobby project, I don't particularly want it influenced by an academic agenda.

If they don't care about the project, why would they want to influence it? If they care about it, they will be annoyed that you decided to work on this on your own one way or another.

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    Interesting argument and no it doesn't interfere. I have decided to bring it to their attention and agree with you. Thank you. – ham-sandwich May 15 '15 at 16:59

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