Research already done by someone else - ever happened to you?


I found out today that someone else (at a global company in my field) has basically already done the work I have been doing for the past 9-12 months. I can probably still get something out of what I've done due to minor differences/level of detail etc, but it's really frustrating that I have gone from having done work that is entirely new and revolutionary to doing something someone else has pretty much already done and trying to find some differences to make what I've done new.

Either way, aside from my obvious chance to have a grumble I thought I'd ask: Have you ever been caught out like this? What happened and what did you do. I'm not really looking for advice, I'd just be interested to hear what stories other users might have!


======= Date Modified 31 Oct 2011 13:50:57 =======
Bad luck, you must be raging.

It happened to my sister as master's level. Even though her thesis had been officially approved, it emerged about two months before submission that a student in another university was pretty much doing the same thing. The master's was in quite a specialised field and the advice she was given by her supv was 'just make sure you get yours in first'! Not really that helpful! In the end what she did was flip the focus -originally she had been looking at her issue from the point of view of one set of users but what she submitted was the issue from the perspective of a different set of users. Even to this day (~10 years later) she still grumbles about nearly being caught out!

While it didn't happen exactly as you describe to me, there was an article published about 18 months into my PhD on my topic - not on my particular case study but on the overall topic or idea of my study. I remember showing the article to my supv saying 'is this essentially my PhD in 20 pages'?:-( He just laughed. As you say you can always look at something from slightly different angles, or user group etc. I think topics that are 100% unique are increasingly less common, if only because there are so many more people studying. Also the worldwide web (sic) means that it is far easier to 'suss' out potential duplications.

It's really annoying for you but better to have found out now that have a stinger of a question on the similar research in your viva - that would be a nightmare.


Whilst obviously very annoyed to start with I'm not too bothered now. I reckon I can still publish a lot of the work especially because it's been done by a company who haven't published full details of what they did. It is however a little annoying that it's not entirely new...


======= Date Modified 01 Nov 2011 03:44:22 =======
Dear Screamingaddabs,

Actually when I first started my research, I discovered this a couple of times about my work. Later on, I realized that anything I would try to do, it would appear to have been done *or at least something similar*. However, later on, I discovered something very interesting. And maybe this can be made into a very useful point for your PhD. See, unless there is a baseline, you cannot critically evaluate your own research against another approach. So, having someone else do something very close to your work, can actually be used as a supportive point in your own work (though it might require more work :( ).

It is my personal experience and belief that while it might appear that the research the other had conducted is similar, if you really spend a lot of time reading their work, you will start to notice differences in their approach, points which they might have missed (e.g. in your case, being a commercial enterprise as compared to a research/academic institute) and so on.

In other words, your thesis can be made to look a lot stronger based on this. You can describe their work and then compare how you have followed somewhat different approaches to solve the problem. So, I would propose not to abandon your work, cite their work, describe it in detail, critically compare it with your own work instead. I hope it works out for you as it did for me.

Hope this helps


Whiel no doubt frustrating, if the other group's work has been done recently I don't see a problem. If the work was reported in the literature 10 years ago then, people will obviously ask questions about why you did something that had already been done. I think the fact that this is a company helps because presumably they won't have published their results and methods in the same level of detail as academics do, so publications may now be possible. I had a friend who had a similar thing happen to him, these things happen you need to remember that the PhD programme is a 3-4 year process it isn't a snapshot of time at the moment you submit. I believe my friend set up the chapter in the thesis in the context the work was carried out, literature survey of the field when they set out, design of methods, and results and then brought the new paper out in the discussion, then used their experience to do further work. My friend though that finding this paper strengthened his PhD thesis.


I'm honestly not that bothered in terms of getting my PhD, it's not going to make much difference, it's just irritating when a company have already done the work but simply not published it because they don't want anyone else to know how they did it.

Avatar for sneaks

in my field - if a company has done the research, it usually means that the quality isn't that good e.g. they didn't control for things, seemed to skew the results for management's objectives or didn't interview enough people etc etc etc

I wouldn't worry!


This has just happened to me. I was touching up my lit/review and framing of my research today and I have discovered a paper that has framed the exact same topic in the exact same way. It has the same quotes I've used, its adapted the same models. The only difference is that its in a different country. The paper however offers a theoretical framework. There are no details about an actual studying being conducted so i'm hoping I can integrate it into my work.


I would say this isn't a bad thing at all - indeed if other researchers are coming to the same conclusions as you, then it provides more evidence to support your claims. It is interesting though that they haven't published the full details... have you been in touch with them to find out more? good luck!


When my friend discovered a similar study (even more extensive) was almost completed, she rushed to complete her thesis within weeks...

Otherwise, her findings will be considered obsolete and she could even be suspected of plagiarism.


Interesting dilemma here. The paper that I discussed earlier this year, well I have just discovered the persons thesis which was submitted in Nov 2012 so I assume has been restricted until now. The similarities with what I have written are astounding however the field is very small. I would say literature review follows a similar structure albeit based in different locations. The theoretical framework is pretty much the same - there is limited research in this field so i'm assuming its ok to have reviewed similar literature. In terms of methodology - different worldviews, different research design and different but similar research questions. Sample populations to some extent are the same but branch off differently. Am I safe or is it end of days!!!!