I am currently doing research and I know a fellow graduate student who is very intellectually curious. Let's call him/her C. However, I feel that C has a very consistent habit for not crediting people who have discussed problems with him. We work in the same lab/department, so we cannot avoid each other.

C would (very frequently, may I add) try to get people to discuss his own research problems with him, and after he has been provided tips, references or full-blown solution to his problems, he would simply take credit for them as if it was his own. Present them as if he came up with the idea. Write them and publish them as papers as if he came up with the idea. He would of course laugh about it afterwards, and talk very jovially about his accomplishments, and in the past I would have laughed along with him, because I have adopted the mindset that perhaps it is good to help out my fellow colleague. I shared my ideas generously, and promptly responded to any request.

C's habit came to my attention several month ago when another graduate student told me, that after spending a significant amount of time discussing a problem with C, C provided a solution to that problem, but nearly all the heavy lifting was done through that discussion.

Then it just happened, C talked to me about a problem a year ago, I provided him with what I thought would be a good way of tackle the problem. I just saw his publication, which was uploaded online last week, in which the paper utilizes some material drawn from what we had discussed.

This incident has left a bitter taste in my mouth, because I feel as if I had been used or exploited. Looking back, outside of accelerating C's own research career, I feel that C has no real connection with any of his fellow graduate students. While the other students would talk about everyday life topics, current events, family, etc., C would only ask us questions about his own research.

In doing so, C's behavior in some sense has cheapened my graduate school experience, and left me jaded at the fact that to in order become a top researcher, it seems that you need to exploit other people's time and intellectual energy as much as possible for your own gain. The more you do it, the more successful you will become.

It reminded me of my undergraduate days, when fellow students would try to pick your brains about everything you knew about a subject, but gives nothing in return. You have any study material out, they line up to see what you are reading. "Nosy", as some would describe this type of behavior. It just feels that my patience and kindness has being routinely exploited by people who just don't really care about other people.

How do senior researchers deal with this type of behavior? Of course, research cannot go on without communication, and we all have taken credit for things that are not purely our own intellectual contribution. However, I think the person's consistent willingness to exploit other people's time and intellectual energy has crossed the line for me. I wonder if I am over-reacting.

  • 4
    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. People who don't give credit sooner or later don't find collaborators anymore.
    – user9482
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 8:27
  • 9
    How do senior researchers deal with this type of behavior? — We don’t collaborate with jerks.
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 8:46
  • 11
    I think a large part of the answer depends on how significant those contributions are. If it's mostly on the level of "that sounds like it could be solved with a genetic algorithm" then I am not sure what recognition you expect, aside from maybe a short statement in the acknowledgements. If you sit with the author multiple times for hours and work on the problem it is a different story.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 8:52
  • 8
    Put differently - I usually don't expect recognition for the level of advice that I would be more than happy to give any grad student who starts talking to me at a conference. However, it would also be wrong to say that I spend any time or "intellectual energy" on it in that case.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 8:54
  • 1
    Invest as much as you get out of it. Do you enjoy the conversations? Do you learn something new? Do you like the person? "Do you get credit?" is only one of the questions you should ask. Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 21:06

2 Answers 2


What you describe doesn't sound particularly unreasonable or problematic to me. Researchers discuss things with each other all the time, and of course the results of such discussions often show up in published research. That's what you ought to expect when you have a technical discussion with someone. In fact it's the best case - your contribution was useful and advanced science.

You ought to have been acknowledged in the paper, but the standard thing would be to have a brief section at the end, with something like "The author would like to thank House Ninja for helpful discussions." If this was omitted, I would guess it's most likely due to C's unfamiliarity with publishing practice - he is a grad student after all. You could have a brief word with him about this, or ask his supervisor to mention it to him. But it isn't reasonable to expect that the paper will contain a detailed catalog of which specific idea was due to whom. People don't keep track of things like that. And you shouldn't expect this sort of credit to advance your career in any tangible way - it's a mere courtesy. Such an acknowledgement wouldn't make your interaction any more or less "exploitative".

If you were expecting to become a co-author on the paper, then you should have said so explicitly at the time of the conversation: "This is really interesting to me. Would you like to work on a paper together?" Of course, in that case, you should expect to contribute a dramatically greater amount of work than just sharing ideas.

So I think what you gained from the discussion was about the most that you could expect - you made a contribution that helped to advance the state of the art. You can decide if that feels like a sufficient reward for the time you spent. If not, then maybe in future you want to spend less of your time having such discussions.

But I wouldn't see this as exploitation. Researchers talk to each other to get ideas. That's the point of research. Maybe someday C will be able to share some interesting ideas with you.

While the other students would talk about everyday life topics, current events, family, etc., C would only ask us questions about his own research.

So, C happens to be more interested in his work than in mundane topics. I don't think that's a problem. You'll meet a lot more such people if you stay in science. Maybe he wouldn't be an interesting guest at a party, but it doesn't mean he's exploiting you.


With people who are like "black holes" (ie all goes in, nothing returned), I just respond in the discussion with "oh that sounds challenging" or "how do you plan to get round that" : once bitten, twice shy...

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .