Phd Withdrawal - Data rights?


Hi everyone,

I've decided to leave my PhD, and I'm so happy to be out of what was a toxic situation for my health. I'm looking for advice on whether I have to hand over all of my data to my old supervisors.

I don't want to stay in academia, I really just want to leave all of this behind me. My relationship with my supervisor broke down a long time ago and I don't want there to be any need for contact going forward.

Any advice would be very appreciated. I have an appointment with the students advice service on Monday to talk this through, too.

Avatar for rewt

I am sorry to hear that you have left but your health absolutely must come first.

I doubt the university will sue you to get a copy of your data if that is what you are asking. Normally I would say hand it over to keep a good relationship with your supervisor but if that is already gone there isn't much to gain. Obviously your supervisor wants your data to do something with it, so you might be able to trade it for a qood written reference. Is there any reason you want to keep it for yourself? Though there isn't much they can do other than not give you a good refence.


Thanks for your reply. Thankfully I don't need a reference from them!

My main reason for not wanting to hand it over is that I don't want to be contacted by them going forward, e.g. if they want to publish any of my work. Keen to just move on.


So I had a friend who quit her PhD after basically three years of abuse. It got to the point where she couldn't be alone with her supervisors without someone from student wellbeing present. In the end, she asked the person from wellbeing to negotiate something along the lines of:

* A new student / postdoc / the PI could publish from her raw data, which the University kept.
* They could NOT publish plots, graphs, tables, statistics etc she'd already made; e.g. they'd have to start again from scratch. This was a really big deal because they felt that publishing someone else's plot is plagiarism (even if unpublished) but making a new one from the same data is not.
* She did NOT want to be a coauthor on any future papers.
* If necessary, she was willing to be listed in the acknowledgements section of any future papers as the person who originally collected the data (her PhD was funded and the funding body needed her grant to be acknowledged in all future publications) but that she did not want to be informed whenever this happened.

If you specifically don't want your supervisors to ever publish anything from your project, whether you know about it or not, you might have a harder time. The University or PI / grant holder probably owns the data, not you. If you were self-funded the situation might be different. Do you have a student handbook or a data agreement? It might be hidden in some 500 page regulations document...


This is so helpful, thank you. I ended up in a similar position and haven't seen my supervisors for around 2 years. I was funded so I think you're right, that it's probably the case that I'll have to hand the raw data back. They have my full thesis draft with graphs etc and most of my data already, it's really the potential future contact from them I can't face.

I'll take these notes with me to my meeting tomorrow and hopefully be able to agree something similar to your friend. Thank you so much.