Student starts a PhD at University A, the student is offered a project conceived by University A supervisor. Then student transfers to University B in agreement with University A supervisor that they will keep working on the project together. Student expands and develops the project and after 9 months at University B the external advisor at University A pulls out of the collaboration due to lack of time to properly supervise student. Student wants to keep working on the project independently given the time and money investment (salary from University B) and the interest for the topic but University A supervisor claims the ownership of the project. Student offers maximum flexibility to A supervisor to try to keep the supervisor involved in the project with little time commitment. Student has now developed a sense of ownership to the project.

How should the student handle the situation? Who owns the project? And what happens if the student keeps working on the project even if A supervisor has not given the green light?

  • Who is left at Uni B to supervise the student there? What do they say?
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 4, 2015 at 21:02
  • @BillBarth supervisor at Uni B wants the student to keep working on this project Jun 4, 2015 at 21:24
  • Perhaps the University B supervisor could take up the ownership/continuation issues with the University A supervisor, professor-to-professor. Jun 4, 2015 at 21:50
  • this seems to be two questions when it comes to continuing the work without Professor from UnivA permission.
    – Amir
    Jun 5, 2015 at 0:21

2 Answers 2


For what it's worth, I don't think either university can own the project directly. Anybody can work on anything, pretty much, but there are many caveats. If code or data were produced, that may be owned by UniA. If there was funding, it's definitely going to stay at UniA. So you may have to find some alternative source of funding to work on the project, but if the supervisor at UniB wants to pay you to work in the same area, you almost certainly can. Now, if you can't come to agreement with the supervisor at UniA, you may also have some trouble publishing when it comes to things they wrote. It would be best to get the two supervisors to come to an amicable agreement to work together on it with you at UniB.

  • you have made some good points. Just to clarify, UniA did not invest any money in the student nor has any money for the project, UniB did invest money by paying the student stipend. The student only actually started working on the project when he was enrolled at UniB. Jun 5, 2015 at 6:45
  • Then I don't see that the problem is. If SuperA didn't do anything and all the money, time, and effort was spent by UniB at UniB, I think you're in the clear. Keep working on the project.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 5, 2015 at 12:03
  • Is who "owns" the "idea" of the project at all relevant? UniA Prof came up with the research topic, does that accord UniA prof any ownership of the resultant work, or is it all truly about the funding?
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 5, 2015 at 16:50
  • 1
    @CGCampbell, you can't own an idea in most jurisdictions, but that was at the core of the question.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 5, 2015 at 16:55
  • 1
    @user4050, the proposal text itself is probably covered under copyright belonging to SuperA/UniA, but the ideas that it embodies cannot be owned by them. Also, if he's abandoned the project, there's morally nothing I can think of stopping others who were involved in the original project from continuing to work on it up to and including writing a new proposal covering the same ideas. Obviously if the proposed work was funded, that funding would stay with UniA.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 5, 2015 at 21:45

University A can claim ownership of part of the project, because of the work that has been done when the student was in UniA. UniB can claim the project as well, if they can show that the work is related to what you are getting paid for in UnivB or it is been done by using their resources from library, wifi, computers to their faculty supervisorship and stipend. Student also owns part of the project. Rule of thumb, Universities are generally are more laid back when it comes to acting on ownership than claiming the ownership.

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