The girl who cried "Scoop"!

Apr 07 2016 Published by under Academics, Careerism

For some people in the world of academic science, it is a big deal to "get scooped".

What does this mean?

It is generally when someone publishes a paper that reports a finding that is identical, or similar, to the work you hope to publish.

Publishing first, for many of us, has important beneficial implications. It can mean the difference in which journal will publish your work. The ones higher on the journal totem pole will be least likely to publish your work if it is similar to something that has already been published. They all will sneer, at least a little, at direct replications.

This can be as ridiculous as a 2 week difference in submission date for two papers that obviously took many years worth of effort to produce, btw.

It can be the deciding factor for who gets the lasting credit for a given discovery or demonstration, garning preferential citations, approval and appreciation.

In some cases, due to the preferences of the collaborators or the supervising PI this can be the difference in publishing your work at all. "If we can't publish in Nature or Science, then we won't publish at all!" goes the thinking in some quarters. (I know, I know..... if you aren't as familiar with this it seems idiotic. It is. I know. But it still exists. Replication? That's for the little people.)

Getting scooped is the easier* determination.

The harder question is deciding if someone intentionally scooped you.

I'm here to tell you that the accusations of intentional scooping run far in advance of the actual existence of it. But, it does exist. Of course. People can certainly choose what to work on based on knowledge of what you are doing. They can alter their allocation of resources to a project based on knowledge of how close you are to publishing. They can rush a manuscript to a journal earlier than they might have otherwise done based on knowing your timeline. And, of course, they can intentionally slow your progress if they happen to get your manuscript to review by delaying submitting their reviews, by demanding additional experimentation and by recommending rejection from a particular journal .

It is possible.

But it does not seem to me to be possible that this is the case for all of the accusations I hear from people that another lab intentionally scooped, or tried to scoop, their project.

__
*Not "easy" because it isn't cut and dried what reflects an actual scoop. Many different pieces in your average research article these days. Unlikely that two groups come up with precisely identical manuscripts.

52 responses so far

  • The Other Dave says:

    My lab got intentionally scooped once. It was really annoying because our paper was in revision for a CNS journal at the time. The scoopage killed it.

    I know it was an intentional scoop because the stupid drunken PI bragged about the shenanigans to a girl at a meeting. Little did he know that the girl was an ex-student of mine. He had obtained a copy of my grant from someone else, who admitted to me that she had given him "a lot of help... a LOT of help".

    As the years pass, I am less angry about it. I just feel a sort of cynical pity. But yea... It's still the case that if I were driving behind them and they went off the road and crashed I'd keep on driving. I enjoyed reviewing one of that dickwad scooper's papers recently.

  • Dave says:

    It was really annoying because our paper was in revision for a CNS journal at the time

    I know a few journals that specifically state that the clock stops the minute you submit the paper for the first time, preventing this kind of behavior.

  • I-75 Scientist says:

    As a postdoc I was "scooped" once. I know this because my PI came in and proceeded to tear me a new one in front of the lab. Good Times. It was all about not being the very first to show X in this very specific system. Of course in the end I published the work in the same journal (decent one too) as the paper that scooped us. Has become a lesson to me in how (not) to treat trainees at least.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Why would the PI blame you?

  • I-75 Scientist says:

    Because it was my project. Was a side project. Single paper, no follow up from anyone in our lab. We knew this other group had some data, but I was putting more effort into another project that was yielding better results and developing project for K99/independence. So yes, I let that get in the way of getting the other paper out. It would have been one thing to have a closed door meeting and say that, figure out a plan to move forward. Its another to be cussed out and told you suck in front of lab mates.

    I think a lot of has to do with insecurities of PI. Its a definite balancing act with PI as I move forward.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Why isn't it the PI's fault for not seeing it was so awesomely important and urgent and directing you to focus? And giving you extra resources? If it was so clearly top priority and all....

  • Ola says:

    Riddle me this - 4 rounds of review at an IF ~5 journal, each asking for experiments. Took 14 months overall to get accepted. That kind of shit definitely makes you suspect you're being fucked with.

    Another example - minor (to us) result in a paper rejected from glam journal A, then rejected from glam journal B. Goes 3 rounds at society journal, with remarkably familiar comments from one of the glam rounds. Finally, 2 weeks before publication, back-to-back papers appear in glam journal C, building entire story around our minor result, with associate editors of both glam journals A & B being lead authors. Granted, they "did more with it", but their story would have lacked priority if our data got out first.

    It's the not knowing for sure that kills you though!

  • sel says:

    I had a paper in review for over 4 months. The reviews came back and one of them had recommended that I add a certain reference (translation: "cite my paper"). Did so. The reviewer apparently took his sweet time reviewing it and used the extra time to submit a competing paper and scoop me.

    If you look at "date submitted" on the two papers, mine was submitted first. But his was published first. Bastard.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Spoke about data at conference. Needed to because was trying to go on job market. Biggest person in field at conference. Hears my talk, talks to me about it afterwards. We are somewhat slow getting paper in due to personal issues of contributor on paper. Get paper accepted, find out at same time other group (not big guy) will have something back to back with ours- similar but we have one angle they don't (bullet #1 dodged- this is case of innocent situation DM mentions). Day after the issue of Journal A comes out online with the back to back papers, Baby Glam Journal B rushes paper online for the BSD in field that has a paper with a single experiment- the experiment unique to my talk and paper. Two possibilities- they had the data but chose not to say anything after hearing my talk (their prerogative), or more likely given that their paper had a single experiment, they did the experiment after knowing the result (assuming our work was right and would be reproducible). So that was bullet #2 dodged. This one paper I think we had both versions of almost scoop, innocent and maybe less so.

  • Grumpy says:

    I remember as a grad student I had a paper take a few months longer than usual through review. It was careful, well-cited work but nothing glamorous. Another group ended up publishing a similar paper around the same time as ours but had submitted much later.

    I somehow convinced myself at the time that there was a chance they were reviewing and delayed review. Now 7 years later that sounds totally stupid. You gotta give ppl the benefit of the doubt when it comes to egregious stuff like that.

  • Grumble says:

    Maybe it's because I work on such esoteric shit that I don't worry that anyone else could possibly scoop me.

  • dr24 says:

    Scooping isn't a thing, because the word isn't defined well enough to have an identifiable meaning.

    Does data get stolen and published by another lab? Sure, once in a while. That's often described as "scooping".

    Do students leave without finishing a project, then publish something similar under their own name without including former collaborators? Sure, once in a while. That's often described as "scooping".

    Do former collaborators who discussed the same project sometimes do it and publish it without informing prior collaborators? Sure, once in a while. That's often described as "scooping".

    Does a project that one lab is working on sometimes get published by another, non-collaborating lab independently, by coincidence? Sure, once in a while. That's often described as "scooping".

    etc.

    etc.

    etc.

    Until we decide what the word means, the whole discussion is pointless.

  • poke says:

    Actually, I think only your last example is what people usually mean as scooping.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    This is why I feel that priority is the ugly F1 of glamour humping. The whole race for priority is toxic and ignores the fact that the vast majority of science is building off of a body of knowledge.

    There are ways to fight this. If you are reviewing for a glamour mag, fight for "scooped" papers to be accepted if they are still high quality. If two or more papers have come out in short succession, cite all that are relevant instead of the one that came first (this is good scholarship anyway). Treat people fairly, even if you have personally been treated unfairly. And if at the end of the day you still are worried about being "scooped," consider depositing a preprint at the time of submission (this is becoming more common in certain fields of genetics).

  • Michael says:

    During my PhD a fellow postdoc in the lab and I made a surprising finding and we wrote up a paper for glam journal A, only to be rejected. We resubmitted to glam journal B shortly after. At around that time our PI gave a talk about this work at a small meeting, with the speaker following him announcing that he was going to describe the exact same finding, but since my PI had covered everything, there was nothing more to add. We learned that this lab was revising their paper for glam journal B, and (as it became clear later) they had submitted 2-3 weeks earlier. Luckily the editors decided to use the same reviewers (I think) for both manuscripts and the papers were published back-to-back.
    After publication it became clear that at least two additional groups had worked on the exact same thing, and their work ended up in slightly lower impact journals.
    My (perhaps overly naive) takeaway: more often than not certain developments in a sub-field (in our case it was introduction of a technique) make it highly likely that two or more groups end up making the same discovery within a certain time window, completely independent of one another.

  • dr24 says:

    Poke: there are plenty of examples ON THIS THREAD of other uses of "scooping".

  • Newbie PI says:

    I just want to say to those who are holding grudges because they THINK they know who reviewed their paper, that I often suggest citing papers from other groups, not just my own papers. Mostly because they should be citing those papers, but it also has the nice side effect of implicating those senior PIs as the nasty reviewers.

  • David says:

    My scoop story:

    Consortium that I work with asks me to recommend an approach. I do a small research project and brief the group on the work. A few months later I am scheduled to present the findings at a conference. The approach is not novel or even particularly interesting, so the purpose of the talk is to detail why this approach was selected, something that is never done in my field.

    Conference session ends up having a gap right before me do to a no-show. Some PI who is a member of the consortium offers to fill in the gap with some canned talk. Blows thru 40 slides in 15 minutes, including showing slides from my briefing to the consortium, without saying where they came from. I'm convinced he showed pictures of my plots, as opposed to replicating my work, considering that my group has a plot template that looks quite different then his labs normal plots.

    I was angry and very annoyed to have to then give my talk directly after this guy. I calmed down and started my talk "So you already know the answer, now let me tell you why this is the right approach."

  • Busy says:

    In my experience, it is rare, but it does happen. I had two papers suspiciously and repeatedly delayed until competing work appeared, then promptly approved once reverse priority had been established. In one of those two cases my paper ended up being cited more since our study was more comprehensive, but in the other we did lose priority on a rather important finding. A third one was suspiciously rejected only for the AE to publish the same result a year later. My paper on that never appeared.

    However I never got much worked up about it: nobody ever said the system would be 100% fair and one is bound to run into dishonest people sooner or latter. So one better be prepared for that eventuality, find a way around it when it happens and carry on.

  • Curiosity says:

    There are sharks out there, and certain labs develop reputations that are based on patterns of shark-like behavior. When my lab's first efforts were "scooped" (presented data and future plans; paper rejected; BSD in field publishes same _exact_ experiments with same _exact_ (and ideosyncratic!) rationale, then member of group tells us they rejected our paper) it was a huge eye opener. Talking to others in the field about it elicited nods, sympathy and their own stories .. "Oh, yes, this has happened to all of us... from this specific group. Have they ever had an original idea in thir life?" Now that I know, acutely and painfully their MO, I specifically avoid talking about new projects when they are in the audience, mostly for my own piece of mind. A wounding blow but not deadly. Yes, yes, yes, all that about science, multiple observations etc. But I reject the notion that *ideas* are so cheap as to be interchangeable and that we are all replaceable worker bees doing redundant work. In fact, that is why I am a scientist. Because originality and vision still count. They're inexpensive, sure, but they still count.

  • Busy says:

    ***On the other hand, scooping in the sense of true independent discovery? Many, many times. Great minds think alike and all that.

  • DJMH says:

    It's an interesting point about AEs who are scientists themselves. Mostly I prefer editors who are scientists, because this correlates with society and not glam journal dealings; but it does run this other risk of possible conflict of interest. In my opinion, any AE who agrees to serve as AE for a paper that directly competes with their own lab's experiments ought to be relieved of their post. That's a terrible conflict of interest and a good EIC ought to can them.

  • Grumble says:

    @Curiosity: "I reject the notion that *ideas* are so cheap as to be interchangeable and that we are all replaceable worker bees doing redundant work. "

    Ideas *are* cheap, but that does not mean they are interchangeable or that we are just worker bees doing redundant work.

    Cheap ideas mean, to me, that you get to choose to work on ideas that are likely to be unique. If you choose to work on what others find popular, then you set yourself up for being scooped. Think a little harder, and you will come up with some ideas that no one else is likely to be working on.

    Part of my disdain for the whole glamhump game stems from the fact that so much of it is derivative - obvious experiments fueled by the latest great new technique. Doing that sort of stuff exposes you to the threat of competition, because as soon as a hot technique becomes available, everyone races to get it working and do the next obvious thing.

    Do something less obvious and you'll rarely get scooped.

  • Draino says:

    We usually work on genetic mouse models generated in my lab. Nobody else has them, and it would be too much work for competitors to create them, so I don't worry much about getting scooped.

    And I always have something new in the pipeline. That way, when we publish and start giving out the old model to other labs, we are already working on the new unique model that nobody else has.

    It's been that way since grad school.

  • When I was in my last year as a post-doc, I found that low-level activation of cell death proteins (caspases for you pros) can prompt a powerful form of protection that makes super-neurons resistant to all kinds of bad stuff.

    My advisor was slated to present the work at a small conference and was approached by Michael Bennett, who is a national academy member. Dr. Bennett had heard that one of the people in a panel my boss was presenting in couldn't come and asked if he could do a talk on a different molecules (glutamate receptors, for you pros) that may contribute to neuronal resistance.

    After the presentation, Dr Bennett said he loved our work and would love to see it published in PNAS, and we should submit it requesting he act as handling editor. I was delighted. He was a member of the National Academy, and he liked my work! I turned it in so quickly it would make your head snap. It was sent out for review. We heard nothing. For months.

    Reviews came back. Michael Bennett added to his reviews that he felt my discussion/ data on the role of another group of proteins (IAPs, for you pros) was too off topic and should be removed. I disagreed, but did it and resubmitted. Eight months passed. No word from PNAS. Multiple letters to Mike. Multiple letters to the staff. Dr. Bennett was 'busy'. Then he was 'very busy'.

    I needed a Ro1, and I hadn't published my seminal study. I wrote the editor in chief (something quite bold given I was at a new institution and my advisor thought it was a bad idea). Two months later, with nothing revised in close to a year, the paper was accepted.

    Three months after that, Michael Bennett published a paper in Journal of Neuroscience showing the same thing I had but that the proteins he told me to remove were essential.

    Here's my paper with him noted as handling editor
    http://www.pnas.org/content/100/2/715.abstract

    Here's his paper.
    http://www.jneurosci.org/content/24/11/2750.abstract

    You're reading this here first because people should know. If I was stronger/more senior/supported by a stronger mentor/ had a death wish sooner, I would have posted it somewhere sooner.

    These things happen. And sometimes really crappy people get into the national academy of sciences. It's not okay. Your mentor should be relentless in protecting your work.

    I got my Ro1. Don't let anyone mess with your young or your funding.

  • Curiosity says:

    @Grumble
    Ok, I agree that many *ideas* _are_ pretty cheap. So let me amend my thesis to suggest that there is work in between ideas and publications that is much less cheap and much more painful to see scooped: developing scientific stories which include data and intellectual framework. Yes, there are obvious ideas out there that many people will come to independently. One might support this hypothesis with, say, finding a bunch of preliminary reports of x simultaneously. AOK, there's competition in science, big whoop. My _one_ scooping experience did not align with this scenario in important ways. What I was referring to in the my previous comment was the *practice* of a powerful army to pick up lines of work (working work!) and race. This happens. The perniciousness of this practice is that it doesn't matter if your idea is obvious or not, the *work* (of finding techniques that are productive, contextualizing the findings, generating interest in the field that may need to be convinced) is what is scooped. As discussed in a recent thread, science can be meandering. Hitting on a coherent, pithy story can take a lot of time. A savvy, powerful lab can leverage the work little ones put in and take a short-cut to the straight path and boom, blow you out of the water. Asymmetric information and power. (please, too, no need to patronize me with accusations of pedestrian science; maybe, but maybe not.)

  • Grumble says:

    Yes, Curiosity, but since you recognize that science is a social endeavor, you also know that as soon as you start working on a project, you run the risk that the rest of the field will come to know about it well before you're done with it. And yeah, it sucks that some BSD or other can learn that you've gotten something to work, and then swoop in and pick up your line of work and crank something out way faster that you can.

    What I'm saying is, now that you know all these things, you could choose to focus on projects that BSDs with big powerful labs don't give that much of a shit about.

    (And my comment about the derivative nature of glamhumping publications was not intended to accuse you of pedestrian science. It's just an observation based on how many of the BSDs in my field get their stuff into the glams - by being the first to exploit the latest new techniques.)

  • Philapodia says:

    "you could choose to focus on projects that BSDs with big powerful labs don't give that much of a shit about"

    Which is a huge risk in a hyper competitive funding environment...

  • Grumble says:

    @bethann mclaughlin:

    I don't see how the timelines listed on the papers match up to your story.

    Your paper:
    Submitted 5/15/02
    Accepted 11/18/02

    Bennett paper:
    Submitted 10/1/03
    Revised 1/16/04
    Accepted 1/20/04

    First, 5/15/02 to 11/18/02 is only 6 months, not 10 months, which is what you said it took between the 2nd submission and acceptance (8 months until you wrote to the editor in chief, plus 2 months to acceptance).

    Second, 11/12/02 to any of the dates associated with the Bennett paper is longer than the 3 months you said intervened between acceptance of your paper and publication of the Bennett paper. 11 months is more accurate.

    While I consider it possible that Bennett intentionally obstructed your paper, it's also possible that his lab didn't start the experiments until after your paper was accepted, performed them over 11 months, and then submitted their paper.

  • Grumble says:

    "Which is a huge risk in a hyper competitive funding environment..."

    Not necessarily. Study sections usually contain few BSDs. If you publish thought-provoking stuff that is not necessarily mainstream, you can get funded because more down-to-earth scientists often like this sort of thing (and, like me, have a touch of resentment against the next-big-thing glamhumpers). So far it's worked for me. Could entirely be a fluke, though.

  • Newbie PI says:

    Grumble, I have no idea how PNAS comes up with their submitted dates. They are not accurate.

  • BethAnn McLaughlin says:

    PNAS does not reflect the timeline of submission. We asked someone who was well outside our research to review and he suddenly does the same thing, presents data I removed and that is okay for a national academy member? That was unethical garbage with a predatory BSD using editorial priveledge in the worst way possible. You are right he submitted later that year, though. I stand corrected.

  • Grumpy says:

    BethAnn, as you've presented this, it doesn't look so bad. You got the paper accepted, with priority, and were awarded R01 funding off of it.

    Are you sure you want to publicly throw your advisor under the bus over this?

  • I don't consider this throwing my advisor under the bus. My advisor was also burned. And no, simply saying 'see, everything worked out' is some weaksauce and head patting.

    I consider myself far more vulnerable than my advisor by sharing this story - even more than a decade later - but I'm sure at the time, my advisor also thought s/he was very vulnerable. I seriously doubt that this is the first and only example of this/any editor who rode someone's coattails and slowed us down to the point where I needed to contact the editor in chief. My point is no one ever feels like they are strong enough or in a position of power to call out these things.Particularly if you are a woman/minority/individual with a disability. I think my advisor at the time had great instincts for self-preservation.

    You wanted an example. There it is. It was brave of me and I'm happy I shared it. I appreciate your points that helped me clarify the timeline as it is confusing.

    But don't pat me on the head after I had to remove critical data from my paper and grant, while someone from the National Academy have a clear and undisclosed conflict while handling my paper and tell me - "see, it all worked out and wasn't so bad".

  • Grumpy says:

    Fair enough, I agree it is brave. And hopefully will help someone in a more vulnerable position.

  • […] about getting your paper scooped. What about when someone keeps down rating your grant proposals with ticky tack criticisms and […]

  • I know a junior faculty member at another institution who worked up foundational steps towards a project in his post-doc mentor's lab during the K99 portion of a K99/R00. This project was proposed in the R00 portion of the K99/R00. Included in the K99/R00 grant application was a letter from the post-doc mentor promising not to work on the project, and to allow the post-doc to take everything with him when he left the lab. A paper came out last week in Cell from the post-doc mentor's lab reporting the exact project proposed by the former post-doc, and without including the former post-doc as a co-author or even acknowledging the role of the former post-doc's foundational steps. The former post-doc hasn't yet completed the project. And this is the kind of project in which the existence of this Cell paper means that when the former post-doc finally completes the project, it will be publishable at best in a society level journal.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I hope they send that letter with the paper submission when the story is ready.

  • physioprof says:

    What purpose would that serve? Incidentally, my personal opinion is that those sorts of agreements to carve up scientific areas are a very bad idea: they are unenforceable, and what's to prevent a third party from working in the area anyway (so they give a false sense of security). What is terrible about this situation in my view is independent of the letter, and relates to the post-doc mentor's use of the post-doc's own foundational discoveries to scoop the post-doc, and without granting authorship.

  • jmz4 says:

    ^It's kind of ridiculous that the NIH requires those commitments from PIs to not compete with their trainees. While I think the advisor here is pulling a shitey move by not being collaborative and inclusive of his former trainee, you can't really expect a group to abandon a promising line of inquiry once the system is establishedin the lab. It's hugely inefficient in many cases, but the K99 basically makes the PI swear he won't compete.

    The NIH must really like being lied to on grant applications.

  • jmz4 says:

    On second thought, its really not the "NIH" so much as study sections.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I was being sarcastic PP

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    About mentors scooping their postdocs:

    The agreement of postdoc and mentor is supposedly a 'training agreement' with the goal of the postdoc working independently. Now, we all know in reality many postdocs seem to be working FOR the PI, not WITH the PI and that the PI has exactly zero projects that are not worked on by somebody who is supposed to become independent by building their careers, in most cases based on that work. Or so the promise in most cases I know of.

    I know it gets old, but to me this looks like another case of where the postdoctoral status is just a mess.

    If we want to uphold the smoke screen of calling the postdoc a 'mentee' position, then it is NOT okay for a PI to work on the project that his postdoc is trying to build an independent career on.

    If we say it is okay to scoop your postdocs, we should all come together and recognize that 'postdoc training' is an employment, and the PI gets to keep every intellectual product as they please - or as it would be everywhere else: as defined in the work contract.

    But of course neither will happen and we will go on talking about how it is okay for PIs to take the projects from their former mentees who they 'trained' to keep their mentor's lab running with their own independent projects under bad employment conditions. We should all keep on sucking it with a smile.

    Another view on this: the only reason people think it's okay for PIs to scoop their former postdocs is that usually the PI has no own projects to fall back on. They don't have real scientific employees who build and run the lab's core projects, the postdocs do that. And thus it becomes a bit fishy when talking about who has ownership over what.

  • drugmonkey says:

    we will go on talking about how it is okay for PIs to take the projects from their former mentees who they 'trained' to keep their mentor's lab running with their own independent projects under bad employment conditions.

    I think I must have missed where anyone is saying this. And in fact you will find some of the harder line proponents* of the idea that science generated in the PI's lab comes with ownership by that PI also arguing that it is horrible behavior and piss poor mentorship for PIs to compete with their postdoctoral progeny.

    *CPP and YHN

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    "I think I must have missed where anyone is saying this."

    I was responding to jmz4's statement, who wrote:

    "It's kind of ridiculous that the NIH requires those commitments from PIs to not compete with their trainees. While I think the advisor here is pulling a shitey move by not being collaborative and inclusive of his former trainee, you can't really expect a group to abandon a promising line of inquiry once the system is establishedin the lab. "

    I find its absolutely not 'ridiculous', I think these things should be clear and people should honor the promises.

  • jmz4 says:

    "If we say it is okay to scoop your postdocs, we should all come together and recognize that 'postdoc training' is an employment, and the PI gets to keep every intellectual product as they please - or as it would be everywhere else: as defined in the work contract."
    -Yup, I agree. PDs need to be treated as employees, and they need to be treated better in terms of benefits and salary and working conditions.

    That being said, it's just unworkable for a PDs project to stay hermetically sealed from the rest of the lab during a 5 year stint. You're going to have a student or collaborator become interested, you're going to spin off more ideas than you can realistically personally attend to, and other people are going to pick up aspects of it. Even if you start a novel line of inquiry, it's going to become an area of focus for the lab especially in the smaller ones. Conversations with your boss are going to plant the seeds of ideas that you'll both have independently at a later date, muddying the distinctions between intellectual contributions.

    And all this is before taking into account that, unless you are hyperfocused and hit the ground running with your own money, you're using your boss's grants to fund your exploration of a topic.

    All this makes the experiments that form the jumping off point (when you start your own lab) just as much the former lab's territory as it is your own.
    So its not really "scooping" when they follow up on it in a way you had anticipated and outlined.
    I haven't reached that point yet in my career, but I can easily see how some of my experiments are going to be followed up on by the students and postdocs joining the lab now. My plan is to be open and honest with my boss about what I am pursuing and why, and try to stay strong collaborators with my PI in the first few years (though I hear you can get dinged for "independence" if you do this too much).

  • physioprof says:

    And in fact you will find some of the harder line proponents* of the idea that science generated in the PI's lab comes with ownership by that PI also arguing that it is horrible behavior and piss poor mentorship for PIs to compete with their postdoctoral progeny.

    Yes, I am a strong proponent of both these positions, while also considering the making of explicit "deals" between mentor and post-doc regarding what each will work on once the post-doc starts her own lab to be distasteful.

  • Luminiferous Aether says:

    I agree with everything @jmz4 said in the post above.

    Having been that postdoc whose one (of a few) project turned out to be so interesting that the PI ran with (not ran away with) it as another line of research in their lab, I have zero issues with this. In fact, I even helped (and still help) the PI move that work along. Not because I'm a magnanimous fool, but because I can be creative enough to explore other directions based on that very same work and would rather (re)combine forces with said PI in the future than create rivalry. Oh and I'm now in a faculty position and doing exactly what I just wrote.

  • DJMH says:

    the making of explicit "deals" between mentor and post-doc regarding what each will work on once the post-doc starts her own lab to be distasteful

    Distasteful how? I don't see a problem with saying, in effect, "I am not trying to compete with you on topic X, though we both recognize that other labs out there might." I also don't see a problem with revisiting the discussion later on--"Oh hey are you going in this direction, because I am starting to do that but don't want to if it steps on your toes." I've done those things and I think it helps maintain a good relationship.

  • Distasteful how? I don't see a problem with saying, in effect, "I am not trying to compete with you on topic X, though we both recognize that other labs out there might." I also don't see a problem with revisiting the discussion later on--"Oh hey are you going in this direction, because I am starting to do that but don't want to if it steps on your toes." I've done those things and I think it helps maintain a good relationship.

    What you describe is exactly that I think is the right way to go. It's how my former post-doc mentor and I handled it, and how I have handled it with my former post-docs when they started their own labs. But this is very different from making explicit "deals" in which each of the parties promises up front what they will and will not do.

  • Alfred Wallace says:

    My former PhD supervisor had/has an interesting concept when it comes to keeping projects in the lab: projects that he would like to pursue long-term he hands to PhD students, whereas postdoc projects are explicitly designed that they can be taken away in case.
    Of course you don't always know what your lab will be interested 5 years down the lane, but so far it has worked out pretty well.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    What is wrong with an explicit deal CPP? It can always be renegotiated if things change.

    True, if that seems necessary to either party it isn't a good sign of a healthy relationship but in and of itself I don't see anything wrong with making things more defined rather than less defined.

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