I have been a visiting researcher to fulfil my Ph.D. and to do the experimental step of my Ph.D. A month ago I understood that my host professor stole my Ph.D. topic and idea and he is writing a proposal about my project and wants to apply for a grant for it. I come here to do some cooperation with them but he stole it and wants to have the idea for himself.

What can I do to protect my project? Is there any place that I can complain? I am working a lot on my Ph.D. and don’t want to see that this person easily steals it.

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    What does your superviser know about this case? As a lowly PhD, your fighting chances are limited. Also, sometimes - I am not saying this is the case with you - PhD students overestimate the scope of their work and how general it is, so it may be what looks like a stolen idea is actually an obvious generalisation. More information is necessary. – Captain Emacs May 9 '16 at 18:57
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    I think we need to know more about how you found out your PhD was stolen. Was it from your old PI, host PI, etc. – Wetlab Walter May 9 '16 at 19:28
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    How do you know "your idea" was "stolen"? How would you know he is writing a proposal about it? Perhaps some colleague in the host institute contacted you about it, but he/she may be misinformed by him/herself. – Dilworth May 9 '16 at 20:05
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    Or the host prof is just trying to obtain funding so he can offer you a postdoc position. Have you talked to the host prof yet? Preferably start with something less aggressive than "you stole my topic" maybe "I heard from soandso that you're writing a grant application based on my thesis topic, can you tell me more about that?" – Sumyrda - Reinstate Monica May 9 '16 at 20:19
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    Why was the question closed? Despite the OP being emotional, this is a concrete problem and deserves a response (or at least a statement that there is no remedy). Some "!" marks could be removed, though. – Captain Emacs May 9 '16 at 21:15

As someone who has more than a bit of familiarity with the German system, I have to say that your story is a bit baffling to me. Being able to show prior results—particularly in the form of an existing peer-reviewed publication—would be of enormous benefit in getting a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the national funding agency of Germany. Consequently, working with you and being a co-author on your publication would help, not hinder, the professor's grant application.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the professor may have thought that he could use an alternate approach to generate your results. While that may look like "stealing" your PhD project, that is actually not the case when different techniques are being proposed.

My recommendation for you would be to publish a high-quality paper out as quickly as possible. Once it's established in the literature, it's a lot harder for someone to claim credit for basically doing the same thing.

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  • I agree with all of this except the last part about publishing. A poor premature publication might unfortunately stop the OP from progressing in academia further, and will certainly prevent the German PI from getting grant funding as they will have to mention the poor publication in their grant application, which will raise question marks over the whole thing. It also doesn't help the people who have to read the poor paper and not the would-have-been good one. Thats why I think the OP should just state what he/she thinks they did, and let nature take its course. – Wetlab Walter May 9 '16 at 20:07
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    @WetlabWalter: I should have made it clear that I was referring to a high-quality publication. Of course a low-quality paper helps no one. – aeismail May 9 '16 at 20:09
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    Thank you, that was nice team work :) I could see the OP quoting you to justify pushing a poor quality publication for a pyrrhic victory, and I know that wasn't what you meant. – Wetlab Walter May 9 '16 at 20:12

You are clearly (and rightly) very emotional right now, since I suspect you only recently found out about the situation, and you probably have a month or so to go before you're done working at the lab. Therefore, I think it's important to do two things right away:

  1. Calm down & get some fresh air, do not confront anyone about this while you are emotional,
  2. Create a timeline of the contributions you have made to the project both before and during your time at the host lab. This timeline needs to both be fair and complete, because you may not get a chance to add things in later. At the same time, don't go overboard (e.g. Tuesday 2:45pm, vortexed a tube.)

Once you have this list/timeline of contributions, e-mail it to your host supervisor in a week or two (via a non-interested 3rd party like Google Mail) with the subject/content of:

"Hi boss, i'll be leaving in a few weeks, so I thought now would be a good time to identify the contributions made by your lab and myself, so we can discuss publication authorship properly when the time comes."

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    No one can help you unless you provide all the information in your question, and the question really needs a lot more work before it's answerable. I gave you the benefit of the doubt at first since I thought you just found out, but if you've known for 1 month and you've been in this German lab for 7 months, then that changes everything. The first line of the question was "i am coming to Germany". Please fix these discrepancies, and give a clear and factual account of what happened. – Wetlab Walter May 9 '16 at 20:30
  • Forget about it. I cant do anything. It was my mistake to come here and trust him. I hope others be more careful about their host prof and don’t give them their data. – poorphd May 9 '16 at 20:35
  • @poorphd in your question you said "topic" now it's "data". What exactly was "stolen" from you? – Cape Code May 10 '16 at 6:34
  • my project has two step that the first one is the base for the second one. Now he has the idea and the data of the first step and wants to do the second step secretly, sooner and without me. and the second step is the important one. – poorphd May 10 '16 at 7:18
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    I see - well, i'm afraid, that is just how it goes. If everyone waited around for other people to do the work, we wouldn't have the knowledge and technology we have today. Is it an abuse of power? Yes. It is unfair? Perhaps. Is it immoral? No not really. It would be more immoral for you to demand being an author on step 2 when you didn't contribute anything, just because you worked on step 1. Remember step 0? The science that was taught to you so you could do step 1? Where you going to give the people who developed step 0 authorship? I don't think so. They get citations, and so will you. – Wetlab Walter May 10 '16 at 11:29

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