Going to sound dramatic, but something just isn't right about my research adviser who is trying to give my research to another student. I don't know the student at all, but they are attempting to force me into a "partnership" with them. The student has zero research accomplishments in my research area, but I've been told to tack them onto my research and share a years worth of findings with them. Yes, really. What would you do? Have you even heard of something like this before?

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    Your advisor is giving you the chance to mentor someone. You seem to be taking it very badly. Is there some other reason you are so defensive about this?
    – Peter K.
    Aug 31, 2015 at 12:22
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    "...share years worth of findings with him". How many papers have you published on these years? If you have published your work there is nothing to worry about. If you have not published your work, then "years worth of findings" really mean nothing, except meaningless self-praise.
    – Alexandros
    Aug 31, 2015 at 12:45
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    "now she is trying to give my research to another student (...) and share years worth of findings with him" - I hope that at least within your immediate group, everyone has unrestricted access to each other's research at any time. Being secretive about one's research toward other members of your own team would be what would prompt me to ask "Have you even heard of something like this before?" Aug 31, 2015 at 13:05
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    "and share years worth of findings with him" -Isn't this what science should be about?
    – Paul K
    Sep 1, 2015 at 10:56
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    @Alexandros and if after all these years, OP hasn't been able to publish, maybe this is the advisor's way of making sure the research gets finished and the paper(s) get published. Sep 1, 2015 at 18:35

6 Answers 6


What would I do?

Mentor the guy, get him involved in my project, train him up. If you're as experienced as you claim, and he's as inexperienced as you think, you've got nothing to worry about except the time investment it will take to get him up to speed.

Have I heard of something like this before?

Yes, it's absolutely normal. Your research advisor is paying you a compliment -- she obviously thinks you're ready to mentor someone more junior. As someone who supervises more than one person, she's probably also planning for the future -- when you leave ultimately, someone will need to understand your work so that others in the group can build on it (this is a plus for you, in that you'll hopefully get citations).

There's absolutely no mileage in being melodramatic or defensive about your work. If someone were trying to take credit for stuff you'd done, that would be one thing (and there are ways of dealing with that), but in this case it's nothing of the kind -- you've been asked to mentor a more junior student, and the right way of looking at it is as an opportunity.


Cooperate. Apparently you are a student. When you apply for your next job, you will need to say how you worked in a team and how you supervised junior researchers. This is an opportunity to add to that experience. In addition, when you graduate, someone needs to know enough about your work to continue doing it. You are responsible for making sure that person has enough training.


Apparently, a common mistake at the beginning of one's life is to treat one's work as one's baby. It takes time to realize that one's work belongs to others. It is good to share your findings and spread your word and to have students and followers. If you put yourself in the other student's shoes, it looks perfectly normal and it will add value to your career and your work. What you would realize, is that when you are mentoring him, you are mentoring yourself also, as he finds holes in your arguments. When you are trying to explain it to him, you are going to revisit your findings with fresh eyes and it would give you incredible insights. So, inspire him and be inspired

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    Even if it was a baby, keeping it locked in a room on its own would lead to a very maladjusted child! Sep 1, 2015 at 8:55
  • Yeah, you are partially right Sep 2, 2015 at 5:33
  • Parents normally protect their babies until the age when they are able to take care of themselves. Until babies grow to be children. Over-protecting their children afterwards leads to spoiled children Sep 2, 2015 at 5:36
  • But anyways, I know what you mean: "Always exposing yourself and new ideas always lead to more strength" Sep 2, 2015 at 5:38
  • But I have gone through similar experience of over-protecting my work, so I could understand wnere Gradsoon is coming from Sep 2, 2015 at 5:41

Do you remember a time when you had zero research accomplished in your area?

When you were young and eager to learn?

I guess you do. By the way, I recall very clearly how happy I was to enter the world of research. My professors, my advisor, my research group and the fellow students (both undergrad and phd students)... everybody was keen on sharing an idea, a nice paper that had found, and so on. It was only natural, and enriching in itself, to learn to work with other people, at first more experienced than me and later both more and less experienced than me. I hope to have been able to help a younger fellow when it was my time, like they did with me when I was starting.

Cooperation is one of the nicest part of doing research!


My father is a retired professor of theoretical physics. Well, if you want to call it retired. He has passed 80 and is still publishing and giving conference talks. He does not know when his clock will be running out, and it takes time until people take up what you've been working on. So basically the last few years of his work will be lost because no-one will take it up.

I once was in a doctorate position in Electrical Engineering but due to personal problems, I never finished. Part of the problem was that I tried to prove the stability of my approach (basically Kálmán filters in a continuously linked two-dimensional arrangement) which produced very good results for tracking object movements given multiple but shaky sensor data and there was always some more thing I had not covered completely. Of course, had I realized that my approach was a generalization of fluid dynamics where instability is known to occur for certain parameters, I'd stopped wasting time on that angle of the theoretical underpinnings.

I did not actually need the PhD in my later life. But this work (for which there is not sufficient self-control or an occasion to complete it) is reasonably important and unique that it will take considerable time for someone else to rediscover that approach.

And that is a burning shame.

I have my suspicions that my former diploma advisor (a PhD student then) independently marketed my approaches results of my diploma thesis. Looking at abstracts, I was wary or resentful. I never acted upon that, anyway. Maybe my suspicions were right, maybe not. No idea.

The resent I felt at that time is no match to the resent I feel for my unfinished work. Entirely different scale.

If your work has anything to do with science, if it increases the knowledge and skills available for getting at things, don't hoard.

Yes, if you fail to market it yourself timely, someone else may. That's the point of science. As long as you stay active in the field, nobody will be able to beat the skills you have at working with your own creation. And if you drop out, your baby will not die along with you.


This is actually a very interesting optimization problem that can be modeled as two person zero-sum game. The goal your adviser tries to optimize is to create redundancy so that if you get hit by a car tomorrow, the research doesn't go away with you. This is the same goal of many commercial organizations, everyone should be dispensable so that there is no single weakest link.

Of course, your goal is to monopolize value so that you can increase your academic reputation and be a well-known expert in the field.

Hence a clear trade-off is formed.

Your best action should be to publish as many papers as you can and share different pieces with different partners so that no one person can recreate what you know. This is what is called split knowledge in cryptography.

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    I'm not one of the downvoters, but I'm sympathetic to them. This answer mistakenly assumes that the value to you of a joint paper with the other student is necessarily less than the value of the paper if you were the sole author. Not so. I have never published a solo-authored paper, because there is always something that a co-author can do to improve my work. A coauthored paper that is 10% better with you as first author is worth more than a solo authored paper that is 10% worse. If your advisor is also an author, the same holds as you go from two to three authors.
    – Corvus
    Sep 2, 2015 at 2:56
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    I am one of the downvoters. I had certain doubts when I read the sentence "your goal is to monopolize value", as you normally publish to include the community in your advances, not to exclude it, as it would be the case with a monopoly. I finally decided to downvote when I read "so that no one person can recreate what you know", because enabling others to recreate what you know is the entire point of publishing about research results and procedures. If I reviewed a paper whose author tried to prevent me from recreating what the author knew, that would be a clear reason for rejection. Sep 2, 2015 at 7:02

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