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The other day a former classmate asked to read my thesis and I don't know why but I got a little concerned about it and just told him honestly that, "I may do future work based on my thesis submission so I don't feel comfortable sharing it with you at the moment."

Am I right to feel this way? Is it common to keep your thesis between you and your advisor - and potential researchers who may want to work with you? Or should I really "put my thesis out there" and share it with others who want to read it and that the more people who read my thesis the better?

I somehow viewed him as a competitor, when he asked me that, but he's a close friend. He doesn't have any thesis / supervised research experience and said he wanted to see what I did. And now he wants to do research also and try and join a research group, etc.

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    Note that at many schools, a good thesis goes right into the library specifically so it can be built upon by others. Also note that depending on the school's rules, they may own the rights to that work, though in those cases there are usually standard policies about licensing it back to the author at a reasonable rate. – keshlam Jan 22 '17 at 16:56
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    To be clear, what stage is your thesis at? Have you submitted it? Have you defended it? Is it in draft stage? Is it being reviewed by your committee? – E.P. Jan 22 '17 at 17:10
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    At least in Germany your PhD thesis has to be public. Everthing else (Bachelor, Master) is up to you. You decide what you wanna publish or not. – image Jan 22 '17 at 18:03
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    @Marcel: The statement about Bachelor and Master theses is not entirely true for all of Germany. At least at the German universities I am acquainted with, Bachelor and Master theses normally go to the university library (and are thus accessible to everyone inside the university at the very least), and even in the exceptional cases that there is an embargo period for the document itself (because of some NDA), there will normally be a presentation about the thesis, its methods and results that is again open to everyone within the university. – O. R. Mapper Jan 22 '17 at 18:13
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    @Marcel: "But in fact it's unlawfull." - I'm sorry, but I think that claim is nonsense. By that logic, it would also be unlawful for the university to require a particular content in the thesis, because it's fully up to the author to decide what they write into their thesis. Of course it is. The author is legally entitled to write incoherent gibberish rather than a methodologically sound text related to their task, but the university has no obligation to grant a degree for the former. Likewise, the author is legally fully entitled to keep their document to themselves, but again, the ... – O. R. Mapper Jan 22 '17 at 18:24
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Of course you should share your thesis: the purpose of doing research is to increase and spread knowledge, not to keep it secret.

Is it common to keep your thesis between you and your advisor - and potential researchers who may want to work with you?

No, it's not, and I suggest you to ask your advisor what he thinks of such an idea.

And now he wants to do research also and try and join a research group, etc.

Well, this is a good thing, isn't it?

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    I'd add that if the thesis is still a draft in any sense ("unpublieshed" could fit in), it's not a bad practice to put this information on every page. Could also be simply the datestamp. This is to avoid confusion between versions. – yo' Jan 23 '17 at 16:33
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By all means put your thesis out there. The whole point of academia is to advance knowledge within your field [and outside it] and that's not going to happen by people keeping their hard work under lock and key. Just a few days ago someone emailed their thesis to everyone in a mailing list I am part of, and very well received it was, too.

I know the temptation is to keep things to ourselves sometimes for fear of plagiarism or retention of originality, but this is not what academia is about. If you share your work you will affect and influence others by it, and you will get much further than if you didn't. The only time you should not share your work with all and sundry is if you are bound under a publishing agreement.

  • That's true if your field of research has enough funding. If not, sharing ideas might get you behind and out of business. After all, your first interest is still your job. Don't expect people to share if they can be fired. – image Jan 22 '17 at 18:07
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    @Marcel A thesis is essentially similar to a publication. You can try to play close to your chest, but ultimately, the risk is always there that your work will be done by others. It's a balance how much you publish and how much you build up for the future - but once a thesis/paper is submitted, it's done. Also, being too paranoid about getting ideas stolen is not going to get you far. You have to find a balance. Don't forget; any idea worth having has been probably had before you - and if you want an idea to be named after you, make sure it has been already done by others before (j/k ;-) – Captain Emacs Jan 22 '17 at 23:02
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You should share your thesis. By your logic you should not publish either, since sharing your results through publications may reveal plans for future or current work.

Presumably you currently have expertise that others don't have, so you are ahead of any competition. It is hard to get results noticed, and sharing your thesis will increase the exposure of your results and future work. Moreover, sharing your thesis with fellow students will likely lead to clearer thinking on your part as students usually ask questions of a more detailed nature than experts.

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Attack is the best defense

It looks like you are afraid that he will somehow make your thesis his own, maybe defend or publish it before you do, and then it looks like you plagiarized his work.

If that is your fear, then I can somewhat understand your concern. I assume that, so far, nobody but you and your advisor have seen your work, so it would in theory be possible for that scenario to occur, although your advisor should hopefully remember that you came up with it first...

One way to get out of that conundrum is to make your work as public as you can. Put it on some personal website, or your personal (public) university page if you have one. Send it to a mailing list, if you have one that is fitting for the purpose, say a interest group at your uni or wherever (which has the benefit of having integral timestamps in their archives). Post it to the website of some interest group that is closely related. This will make pretty sure that people know that you were "first".

After that, just send your friend a link, and enjoy discussions about the topic. He will be welcome to do research alongside your topics, if they interest him, and it is pretty certain that a) he will not get any bad ideas since your work is publicly related to you already, even if you have not yet defended or published it through traditional means; and b) if he does turn bad, then it will be easy for you to come up with proof that you were first.

"I may do future work based on my thesis submission"

That's great, and if your friend does end up doing similar work it should not really be a problem, right? If you have the feeling that there is a "gold nugget" there, some secret line of work which is easy for you to do while still getting full credit later on, then that is a fallacy. If the topic is so shallow that one more person working on it would "spoil" it, then that is not a good base to build your future on. Besides, it might just turn out that your nugget does not work out, and what then?

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    Send it to mailing lists - what? why? no need for spam. Put it up on figshare or something, but no need to send it to people. – Gimelist Jan 22 '17 at 22:39
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    Sending it to a mailing list is a good way for me to view your work not as terribly important, but "That oddball who decided to email his thesis to a bunch of strangers". – Fomite Jan 23 '17 at 7:48
  • That paragraph was worded badly, I think I have fixed it now. @Michael – AnoE Jan 23 '17 at 13:56
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The other day a former classmate asked to read my thesis and I don't know why but I got a little concerned about it and just told him honestly that, "I may do future work based on my thesis submission so I don't feel comfortable sharing it with you at the moment."

A more appropriate response would probably have been to ask "Why?" if you were especially concerned. I've had people ask to read my thesis just because they wanted to see how I had approached a particular formatting requirement to see if they liked it.

Am I right to feel this way?

Honestly, no. The point of research is to spread knowledge, and "I might someday maybe want to have another go at this" isn't justification to refuse to share something, especially with someone you refer to as a friend. It's also an unhealthy approach to take further in your career - there is always some edge risk to your ideas being stolen, but in trying to protect yourself against those risks, you're likely doing more substantial damage to your career.

Is it common to keep your thesis between you and your advisor - and potential researchers who may want to work with you?

No, it isn't.

Or should I really "put my thesis out there" and share it with others who want to read it and that the more people who read my thesis the better?

Yes, the more people who read your thesis the better.

I somehow viewed him as a competitor, when he asked me that, but he's a close friend. He doesn't have any thesis / supervised research experience and said he wanted to see what I did. And now he wants to do research also and try and join a research group, etc.

That strikes me as a perfectly reasonable request, to see what the seminal product of this thing he's interested in looks like, and to gain a better idea of what you do, and if he might be interested in it.

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To answer your specific question "Am I Right to feel this way?", in this particular situation, my answer is that you have proper reasons to be concerned with sharing an unfinished thesis with a friend/colleague. Some of the possible negative repercussions which may follow sharing your thesis:

  1. It is very possible that your friend is able to file a patent based upon your work, and first to file (rather than first to invent) is now the rule in regards to patents.
  2. Your friend may be able to accomplish your similar results following your methodology, and if they are faster at publishing than you, can publish your results before you finish your thesis.
  3. Since your thesis is not completed, it is still a 'work in progress'. You may have many errors in your methods/data analysis which would be caught by editing before publishing, but if you share your thesis with someone before it's done, it may still have some of these mistakes. One mistake (for example, lack of a single citation) can cause many problems which would not exist after the editing process.
  4. Your friend may be able to anticipate your future research work and preempt your efforts.

Another way to look at this is: "Would a cake still taste the same if eaten halfway through the baking process?"

Scientific progress should be shared far and wide, however, there is a formal process for this: academic publishing. By sharing a work-in-progress with your friend/colleague/associate can introduce many unanticipated problems which would not normally exist if the normal process is followed of: perform research, write article/thesis, then publish. In this situation I would inform my friend that I am working on an official publication which will then be publicly available to all who would like to learn about your particular subject matter.

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While several other answers are great, my - perhaps naive-sounding - advice would be: Share your concern with the person asking to read your thesis. That is, tell him/her you want to be able to benefit, in terms of publication credit, from future research work based on your thesis (or from the work that has gone into the thesis itself), and are worried people who read the thesis will "beat you to the publication". It's quite possible that - regardless of whether your concern is valid or not - that the other student might be able to assuage that concern of yours.

(Of course, it's also possible someone would talk you up, read the work, publish the subsequent low-hanging-fruit result and thus screw you; but if you're really worried that's the case - perhaps @AnoE's answer is the most relevant.)

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