Duplicate research topic


During the beginning of my second year, I found there was another research group (with huge funding resources) doing something similar with my research. I was rather panic but I have thought of different focus so that my research does not look like a duplication of other people's research. My supervisor against it as he said if I were to change focus, my whole 1st year has wasted. He insisted I should continue with my current topic. I spoke to my research committee members about it, though they agreed my new focus is better, but at the same time they said the final decision is still up to my supervisor as the department does not interrupt "supervising style.

Now, I'm at the end of my second year and I have found another research group who is doing the similar topic as me again! It's annoying because I have to fight alone with research groups who have massive funding resources. ARRRGHH...

The main argument/aim of my research was originally to revisit a research concept/method that nobody has done for the past 40 years. But now, I have to abandone this argument totally as there are someone who is doing something similar with me at the moment! Their results are actually better than us! I had similar research design as theirs too but my supervisor totally against my idea and wanted me to follow his method which it turned out a failure.

i'm not sure whether I should tell my supervisor about this new research group who is doing the same thing as me.

Is anyone here has similar experience? I really doubt I can pass my phd and I don't think there is any chance that my research will be better than those research groups- they are all proper team of professional researchers with huge funding from large organisation.



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What timescale are the other researchers working on? In other words would you complete before they do?

I ask this because I had a similar situation during my part-time PhD. My topic has been virtually unresearched for 40 years (!). But I found that another student at a neighbouring university had started a full-time PhD around the same time as I started my part-time one, researching an extremely close topic. We both panicked. But we met up, discussed our approaches, and thrashed out our differences. So we could then go ahead safe in the knowledge that we were ok.

My supervisor told me not to worry though. He said even if we were doing exactly the same question then to have two people (or three, or whatever) independently researching it is perfectly valid, and it needn't jeopardise my PhD.

In the end the other student, being full-time, submitted 3 years ahead of me. I had to take into account his research in my thesis, but I could still argue for the originality of my approach. And I passed my viva very easily, with just typo corrections.


unfortunately, one is still in progress, another one just completed (beginning of this year).

Both of them are not "students", they are both established research groups which made me really worry.

Your comments made me feel slightly better though, thanks :-)


There are fewer truly unique ideas out there than we would like to think. The attitude to overlap varies between fields - when I worked in lab science there was more pressure to 'get there first' whereas in epidemiology/public health it's regarded as a positive thing when different people produce similar clinical trials or cohort studies because if the results are similar then it's viewed as a good thing as it's more likely the findings are correct!

As far as your PhD goes... when I started mine I attended a grad school session where they basically said that as long as your topic was novel on the day you started, then your PhD would be valid i.e. a lit search should be carried out early to ensure that you're not ploughing a well worn furrow, but you can't really control what other people do in the next three years. So check with someone in your faculty who has a broader overview of PhD projects as to whether this is your university's attitude too. Get something dated in writing if you can, in case this comes back to bite you at the viva stage. Don't rely solely on your supervisor's perspective on this one, though obviously if you want to go against it this will need to be done diplomatically and you need someone else on your side.

The implications for your career may need further consideration if you want to stay in academia in the future. It's hard to advise without detailed knowledge of your topic, but perhaps you could identify an niche or different angle that you can exploit. The big groups with the funding are advantaged in some ways, but may be focussing on the more obvious aspects - perhaps there is room for you to identify a more nuanced aspect that you can focus on. Don't be afraid to critically appraise the approach the other groups are taking and see if there are improvements or gaps that you can pursue on a budget.

Good luck :)


Quote From chinglnc:

Both of them are not "students", they are both established research groups which made me really worry.

That doesn't make their research automatically any better than yours. Have some confidence!


without knowing your area it is difficult to know exactly how the land lies, but others are right I think about the fact that you started and then the others came along. The fact that they got better results might be something you can use to your advantage, maybe it shows that the results are more difficult to duplicate without their vast resources ( again this may depend upon your area of course) could you try out any methods they used to see if you get the same results? Can you find out why yours are not the same - remember different does not mean superior, it could even mean more work could be done in this area. I remember being told at school, so thats quite a while ago :$, that there were serious problems encountered when they tried to scale up the bessemer process, so larger is not necessarily better, conversely what they have produced in a better equipped or financed environment may not work so well in on a smaller, less well funded scale which could well be a finding that is just as important

Avatar for Batfink27

I had a similar thing a little while ago, and I don't think this is as big a problem as it feels when it happens. Like others have said, it's very common, and it's unlikely that you'll be doing exactly the same anyway.

My research applies findings/approaches from one setting to a different setting that had barely been touched on when I started, but six months ago (half way through year 2) I found out that one of the leading researchers in my discipline was about to start a well-funded and large research project applying the same findings/approaches to a very similar setting to the one I'm looking at. I'm a lone researcher, even my supervisors aren't really looking at the same area as me. I worried at first, particularly because they're in a department that specialises in my methodology/theoretical approach, while I'm in a very different department. But I've spoken to a researcher from their team, and even though there are a lot of similarities I still think my work will be different enough not to cause a real problem. The sample is different, my approach is slightly different. It seems really unlikely that we'll end up with exactly the same focus when our results come out, and it's an untouched area, so there's room for both projects.

In fact, I think it's a good thing - while I was the only person looking at this, I did wonder if I was missing some really obvious reason why nobody else was bothering, but now this leading researcher sees value in it, I feel like I'm positioning myself to be at the start of a newly opening field at the start of my career, if you see what I mean.

Hope that reassures you somewhat!