I'm considering a change of my PhD supervisor due to strained relationship with my supervisor and changed of thesis direction (from practical to theoretical based on same topic). However, my thesis is heavily based on a set of data collected by a collaborator, but is given to me as my thesis project by my current supervisor.

My question is, if I switched supervisor, would it be fine if I continue to use the data for my thesis? The data is unpublished, but I do not intend to use the data for any publication purpose.

Any advice is much appreciated.

  • 1
    Why you can't just prepare joint article (add you former chef as coauthor) to article? This will reflect reality. One of the other ways to do it is to thank your former chef for the data collected in the article, but the first variant feels more compelling for me.
    – zmii
    Jul 15, 2016 at 14:43
  • Publishing the article in any form is not possible due to political issue with the collaborator that collected the data. The issue is beyond my ability to resolve,and therefore I'm more concerned with the use of data in terms of PhD thesis.
    – anon
    Jul 15, 2016 at 15:21
  • What is the essence of this political issue?
    – zmii
    Jul 15, 2016 at 15:25
  • Miscommunications among post doc and PhD students of both labs, which I'm involved. The supervisors have shelved this project partly because of that.
    – anon
    Jul 15, 2016 at 16:59
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    It sounds like there are complications associated with the use of this data. So there's no way we can predict whether it'll be OK with everyone involved if you use it for your thesis with a different supervisor. It's clearly not a "normal" situation (if there even is such a thing).
    – ff524
    Jul 15, 2016 at 17:39

1 Answer 1


You ask: "would it be fine..", and I am inclined to ask back: fine by whom? There are several people involved, and it seems you are in a situation where you, no matter what you do, cannot make everybody happy. Therefore you need to decide who you want to make happy.

1) Your collaborator. If you have received data from a collaborator under pretense that it should be used for an article together with your old supervisor and said collaborator, it is unethical (and possibly violating some policy) to use that data for another purpose without having cleared it with this person. You need to contact your collaborator, explain the situation, and ask for permission. Remember that the data will be semi-public after thesis publication, given that the thesis is public.

2) Your new supervisor. It would be a poor start with your relationship with a new supervisor, if you pull a stunt he/she considers unethical. Discuss the situation with you new supervisor, for your future relationship's sake. On the other hand, if your new supervisor is counting on you to bring an almost-done thesis, only to find out that you have no data, that would also strain the relationship.

3) Your old supervisor. Is this going to burn a bridge you would rather leave un-burned. Are there even any bridges left? Make up your mind about that for yourself, unless your situation is vastly different from most supervisor switch situations, a discussion will not give you much.

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