My advisor introduced a new student in my work saying that I am doing X,Y,Z and he will be doing A,B,C. I was asked to explain X and share all the data, results, reports, all related publications etc to enable the student to do A,B,C. Once I have explained him X, Y, and shared my data and future plans, he changed/abandoned his directions and submits a paper with another lab collaborator and my advisor on my key idea X without even letting me know anything. After somehow finding it, I politely asked them about it. They were apologetic and both these students agreed through email exchanges that it was not their work and that they should have credited me. They also agreed that this should not have happened after a little confrontation.

I know, my advisor is fully aware of the whole situation, and this was done deliberately. I am not able get out of this whole situation for a long time. Taking a fight with my advisor or the students is not an option. How would you all handle this situation effectively? How can you protect your ideas that are unpublished but you have been asked /instructed to share with others? Even I have experienced situation where the supervisor himself misuse and steals student work without giving credit to the student who did it. So a tough question is, how do you protect your ideas from being stolen by your advisor?

  • 9
    Sounds like you have a fantastic advisor. Find another, and do it fast. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 7:03
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    2 years ago you had the same problem. You should have changed advisor then. On the other hand, you seem to over believe in your idea, without any real proof (only talk by your advisor and no publications). If your idea was that good, why did they publish in an easy conference? Makes no sense. Your previous post said you had this idea for 2 years. Why have not you published anything for two years? If an idea is that good, waiting to publish for 3 years is silly, because it is enough time for someone to come up with a similar idea and scoop you...(continued)
    – Alexandros
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 8:59
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    ...In those type of situations there is only one solution. Wrap up your idea soon (e.g. one month from now), select a journal that allows preprints uploaded on Arxiv (e.g. Springer, ACM, Elsevier) upload to Arxiv and concurrently submit to the journal. Even if you get a rejection, Arxiv establishes your priority. Of course, you must now probably cite the other works of your "advisor" referring to your idea.
    – Alexandros
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 9:02
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    How to protect your unpublished ideas?Publish them.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 15:51
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    Taking a fight with my advisor or the students is not an option. How would you all handle this situation effectively? — Have a direct conversation (not "fight") with your advisor. If that does not resolve the situation to your satisfaction, change advisors immediately, even if that means moving to a different country.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 15:56

4 Answers 4


Obviously your idea is not 'protected' as someone else might have the same idea and/or a subset of that, and make a publication/patent out of it before you do; and you can't claim that the person stole it through your brain waves!

Write down the introduction and background to that idea you have, and prove that it is your contribution through case studies and evaluations, and submit it to be published in a conference as a poster or a paper.


Use the internet and a third-party hosting site (not affiliated with you) that keeps track of date and time for every file or page your write (preferably one that also backs up data). The material must be available in some way (if anyone knows how to get to it), but this does not have to be advertised in any way. Tell at least one trusted friend that understands your work it`s location.

In this way your material remains practically invisible, but time-stamped like a research log. As it is a neutral, 3rd-party site, it should be usable as evidence in your favor. As the material was put on the web, viewed by others, it is citable and, in theory, has been published to some limited degree.

  • Are there any specific websites/services that are typically used for this ?
    – user56834
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 16:10

Prior to publication, one way you can protect your ideas is to share them with collaborators using a license that asserts you as the copyright holder. The simplest way to do this would be to share the documents as a directory with a storage service that provides versioning (e.g., svn, Google Docs, github, bitbucket) and to include a LICENSE file in the directory that you are sharing and/or a copyright text at the top of the files. This establishes a written record both that you are the holder of the copyright and of with whom you have shared your preliminary results.

(See another question on SE for an example of a closed-source license.)

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    Copyright holder of what? Ideas cannot be copyrighted, only the description of the idea. Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 8:38

At least here in Chile (and I suspect elsewhere isn't so different) your work for a degree belongs to the school. There is nothing "yours" to protect, legally. And morally, your work was instigated and supervised by faculty, so it isn't all yours anyway.

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    Well, sounds like I should be glad not to be a student in Chile. I presume students in Chile publish under their own name, and not simply under the name of their university, though, right?
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 11:03
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    I think it is a perspective that one should consider, maybe less harshly, but a valid one. Projects are essentially joint projects, so not only a supervisor have obligations, but a student has the obligation to go forward, too. If he fails, in certain circumstances other members of the lab has the right to move on or pick up where the project was halted.
    – Greg
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 15:05
  • @Earthliŋ my PhD thesis in USA belongs to them for (re)printing rights and such. I'm not completely clear on details, but here I do have that clear.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 13:53

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