Fear of disclosure


I'm in early stages of my research and there's a lot of information I don't want to disclose with even other students. Not long ago I was at a conference and I actually lied about what I do to avoid disclosing anything. Am I being paranoid or is it okay to act that way?

It's so hard when people ask questions like 'so what is it you do?', 'what techniques are you using' because it always leads on to further questions.


I completely sympathise with you, CB. I guess the options vary from being completely frank and honest about what you're doing, to being a little vague, to lying. I'd guess the best option is somewhere in the middle - talk about what you do, but don't give too many details. This is the thing about academia - you'll go to a conference where someone is giving a poster/presentation, so they clearly want people to know more than the brief facts about their work, but at the same time, they're often cagey if you ask them for any more information...


Errrrr why would you do this? Especially at conferences? I have had amazing help from very emminent people in my field through conversations over drinks, or very early in the monring at conferences which are helpinging to shape my PhD (and yes I am also in the very early stages). I've had other academics who have also sent papers which they thought I might be interested in (but which are in other fields) and other PhD students in my fiedl (fomr the other side of the world) who are sharing their thoughts with me which will help to shape our litle bit of our subject. None of this would have happened if I hadn't shared what I was doing.

I'm afraid I don't think it is Ok - be cagey if you must but why would you want to lie - it's dishonest and eventually people will find out what you are working on and will know you have lied to them and that isn't a reputation I would want.


Sadly, Jepson, there are some academics out there who would think nothing of stealing (and yes, STEALING, not borrowing, or building upon, but downright stealing) ideas from others. Can't be bothered to come up with ideas of their own so go to conferences to steal from others - PhD students are often seen as "good game" because they know it's usually a losing battle to fight against a better known academic.

I was told it's perfectly acceptable to be cagey about the details but you have to make sure you can have a good intellectual conversation about what you're doing. Most academics will be helpful and willing, but you really do have to be careful about some out there, sad to say.


So am I being naive then? Now you have got me worried as I have come up with a model which I have yet to empirically test (part of PhD) - surely the fact that I presented it at a conference (and so there were witnesses) mean if anyone steals it I can out them as having copied it?

Someone (a practitioner who had nothing to gain or lose from me) did warn me against someone else at the conference so I was a bit cagey with her but when a top person in the field (who has a publication record as long as your arm and really doesn't need to steal ideas) spends an hour and a half talking with you including suggestions on refinements to your PhD you shouldn't clam up? The conference convenor has told me that he has been quoting my model - should I be worried about that?


I think it's about getting a balance, whether it's publications, conferences, chit-chat etc. I am using a model in my field which hasn't been used in this field before and is quite a different way of doing things. My first publication was a lit review that kind of led to the idea that we should use this sort of model, but my supervisor advised me not to outline the model or even mention it in case someone else jumped in there and used it first then published results before me. My second publication is a theoretical piece and does mention the model, as by now I have almost enough data to write the study up and publish it anyway, so there's not much chance of people catching up at this stage. So I think you do have to be careful to some extent. I have also had others in the field ask me about my study, particularly what measures I am using (someone even asked me to email them a copy of all the measures I had used!) and whilst I haven't gone to any great lengths to avoid telling people, I tend to keep quiet about some of the lesser-known ones that I am using in the field for the first time and talk about the mainstream ones that most people have probably heard of anyway. I don't know whether I am being under or over-cautious, but I do think it's something to be wary of! Best, KB

Avatar for sneaks

I'd say you need to learn a bit about who you are talking to before divulging all. My supervisor has taught me to be very wary. Even to keep things out of conference presentations that don't need to be there, until the work is published.

The 1 time i have trusted someone to tell them everything, it was a lady who is a consultant in my area, and she then went and presented my findings to a wider group! - she was very naive and did not realise that until published, they weren't really for sharing, she has since apoligised, but I have also noticed that she says things to me like "oh I was speaking to Mr X last week and he's also really interested in Theory Y" suggesting she's still been sharing my PhD contents to anyone who will listen :-s

In my field we are warned about 'poaching academics' who will steal stuff - they have the RAs, the time, the resources and the knowledge to steal your ideas and recreate and publish them before you can say "but they were my....."

A friend of mine presented work at a conference, and then saw (almost word for word off her slides) the work published by someone else - and is now in a legal battle :-(


Thanks for the responses everyone. I'm glad to see that it's ok to be wary. Jepson - sorry if I've made you paranoid. My supervisor made me paranoid! He's been cautioning me to be wary and hence why I'm acting this way but I didn't like the fact that I somewhat lied and I think he wouldn't be very happy with me once he finds out!

Just to clarify, I was speaking to someone during the tea break, I was not presenting myself. Obviously speaking to others is a great way to get ideas and I can't wait to be able to do that freely but I think at this stage it's still too sensitive. :s


I had an experience recently of someone blatently stealing my work after talking with her. She has a huge publications list so really I think she is a total loser for doing that to me when I am still starting out. We work in quite a narrow area of research and I think she has had it basically all to herself for quite a long time. She is however in a different discipline so the work she produced which I know based on an idea stolen from me is not actually that great considering she has years of experience. I wanted to scream when I saw the title of her chapter though. She had more or less ripped off the title of my thesis and shoved an extra bit on the end to make it look like her idea.

I think that you are right to be cautious, but not too cautious. In most of my experience, other more experienced academics have been nothing but helpful and encouraging and really I am sure they have so many brilliant ideas of their own thy have no need to steal any of mine. I think it is good to network and share ideas, but don't go into too many specifics of ideas you are just developing.


I had a strategy when doing my PhD that I'd have a general spiel ready to give people about my research, but was very reluctant to go into more detail.

Quite a lot of months into the PhD I found that another student at a nearby university was doing a closely-related topic. We both panicked, then met to discuss what we were doing, and differences etc. Both were rather sketchy about things (!) but we figured out our different overall approaches. Over time he moved closer to me, using more primary sources that I was working on, and moving closer to my area of research, which he had been interested from the start but had rejected on practical grounds. But his questions were still different, the context in which his research fitted somewhat different too, and his conclusions were different too.

So it was ok. But I learned to be very hedgy about things. Especially as a part-timer who was on a long PhD journey, and could easily be overtaken by someone publishing on "my thing" sooner.