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My PhD advisor writes funding proposals based on my research ideas without involving me in them. The first time he wanted to use my idea he asked me if it is okay for him to write a proposal on the idea. He also mentioned that he will involve me in it. At that time I very happily agreed to his proposition. However, he did not involve me at all in the proposal and later just mentioned that it just happened that he couldn't involve me. Recently, I again came up with another good idea and shared a written document with the details. He asked me to share the source file of the document and mentioned that he will use it for a funding proposal without mentioning about my involvement. Is it a common practice for advisors to steal their students' ideas and write proposals without involving them at all in it? Is there anything I can do to get myself involved in the proposal? Would it be wise to request my professor to involve me in the proposal?

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    In global academic society such practices are uncommon but unfortunately not completely unheard of. Anyway, how common it is seems less important than understanding that such practices are strongly denigrated. I am sorry to hear about your situation...but is that your entire question? Feb 26, 2016 at 23:08
  • Thanks Pete. Is there anything I can do to get myself involved in the proposal? I am not sure if asking my professor to involve me in the proposal would be wise?
    – Cool Guy
    Feb 26, 2016 at 23:13
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    Ah, yes, that's a deeper question. I don't really have a great answer at the moment (maybe someone else will). Very roughly I would say: you should almost certainly try to get involved in the proposal, or at least have a careful, thorough discussion of the prospect of that. I would begin by trying to get an understanding of what "it just happened that he couldn't involve me" might mean: as it stands, that's a kind of impenetrable downer. Feb 26, 2016 at 23:18
  • Thanks Pete. I think my advisor saw my reaction and understood that it didn't affect my behavior or research output, the first time he did that. And so he is repeating it. I do not want my relationship with my advisor to become sour over this issue. However, I wanted to write proposals soon upon graduation on a more developed and matured idea, which I believe I can't if part of it is already funded.
    – Cool Guy
    Feb 26, 2016 at 23:28

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Maybe your advisor is up to something... but I wonder if it's just poor communication between the two of you. Let me explain how my advisors and I work, and it might give you a different perspective on the situation. Or at least a starting point for talking to your advisor.

I have more ideas than I could personally work on, and some of those ideas led to funding for MSc students to build upon my research. That's great for me, because it means more citations of my papers, possible co-authorship on their papers, and the satisfaction of seeing my research go in multiple directions. Perhaps your advisor is thinking along those lines, but hasn't communicated that to you or asked what you want.

My advisors typically write the proposals without me, apart from asking me a technical question now and then, or asking me to review the proposal. I'm glad, because I'm trying to finish up my PhD and don't need any extra work right now. But if I did want to be more involved in the proposal writing, I know that all I would need to do is ask.

My advisors do keep me informed of all the proposals they are writing or even thinking of writing based on my ideas. If one of the ideas was important to me and I wanted to work on it personally after my PhD, I have no doubt that they would respect that. Either they'd drop the idea, or they might suggest that an MsC student work on one aspect of the problem, while I focussed on the main idea. We'd talk about it, and work out the best solution for all concerned.

If you have shared an idea with your advisor, but haven't told him that you want to work on it yourself, maybe he doesn't realise it. So maybe all you need is to have a good talk.

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  • Thanks mhwombat! I see your point. I am not sure if a PhD student can be a Co-PI on a grant and also how the funding works out if the PhD student graduate and be either a post-doc or a faculty? Could you please share some details on this?
    – Cool Guy
    Feb 27, 2016 at 0:21
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    I have seen instances of my professor wanting to spin-off a company out of another student's PhD work without giving him fair credit (basically asked him to be an employee in the company) and trying to sell his patent to another company, when he realized that he could not be a part of the company while being a professor at the university.
    – Cool Guy
    Feb 27, 2016 at 0:22
  • In the past, I have asked him to write a proposal on an idea related to my PhD work to which he agreed initially and later told me that the program isn't that lucrative and is not worth the time. However, later asked the other PhD student to be part of a proposal to the same program. So, I am not sure if what you suggest is the case with my professor.
    – Cool Guy
    Feb 27, 2016 at 0:23

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