Intellectual Bandits in Academia

Intellectual Bandits in Academia


Keep your ideas private and your work safe.

One of the dirty linens in academia is that people steal other people’s ideas without giving them credit. It’s a nasty fucking world I tell you. Fucking cutthroat!

This happened to a colleague I know of. I am going to write this in such a way that you are able to put yourself in his shoes.

You are a resourceful Ph.D. candidate who has secured funding to work on your own projects. In one of your projects you develop a program that uses a particular technology which you present to a professor. Let’s say for example that that technology was a robot and you developed a program that teaches the robot to perform specific tasks, and move in a certain way. You show this to your professors and they love the idea and your work.

One year later your professor asks you to work with him and a professor in another Department on a project. He tells you that the other Professor uses robots in his work, and that he (your professor) chose you because of your experience in working with robots. While working on the project, you realize that your professor lacks the technical skill and knowledge to do anything. You are doing all the leg work, fixing all the problems, and making everything work. In fact, when you ask him for help in resolving problems you come across, that’s when you realize he does not know HOW to do the work. He does not know how the very thing he is working on, works. You work, design, develop and build a new robot to work with the other professor’s robot. You are a stickler for documentation and hand over your copious notes, methods, thoughts, etc. to your professor at the end of the project.

A few weeks after finishing the project a fellow colleague comes to you and asks if the professor contacted you about the Symposium. “Symposium? No, I didn’t hear of any Symposium,” you reply. Your colleague tells you that the work you developed will be presented at an upcoming Symposium. He also tells you that the professor ASKED HIM to present the work, but he said he was not comfortable doing that since it was your work and felt that you should present it. You are shocked!


Let’s pause here to catch up. This professor has possibly used your idea to collaborate with another professor and then build their work on top of it. THEN, when it comes to presenting that work, the Professor neither contacts you to tell you about the presentation, nor does he ask you to present the work. Pay attention here. If it wasn’t for your colleague – who apparently has more scruples than your professor could even dream of – you would not have known about the Symposium. The professor emails you later on that day in a frenzy asking you to present the work at the Symposium, claiming that he didn’t ask or tell you about it because he thought you might be busy. Fucking bullshit reason and you know it. Nevertheless you do present the work at the Symposium because it is your work. You did every gat damn thing!

After that first Symposium comes another bigger Symposium and the professor in an email tells you he is going. He doesn’t offer to give you a ride, or ask you if you would like to go. After the Symposium, he tells you nothing about it, how it went, or how the work was received. It is as though you didn’t even work on the project. Your Professor is also using this project to get additional funding. Just to recap, your professor is moving along with this project and not including you. I should also state that this professor is also your Advisor, so it’s not like he doesn’t see you or speak with you. It’s that when he sees you and speaks with you he NEVER mentions anything about the project you worked on. NOTHING.


One day a month or so down the road as you are walking out of your office, you see the same professor – your Advisor – with Professors and students using two of your experiments from one of your other projects in a meeting. You notice the professor – who is your Advisor, the same one who tells you nothing about the robot project, the same one who built on your previous idea for a research project – using your experiments in this meeting. You slow down to figure out what’s happening and he sheepishly calls you over and introduces you to those in the meeting. He then tells you about this grant that he won and was using your experiments because they can inform their project. He asks you to introduce your work in the meeting. Later that day he sends you an email telling you about the project, and asks you to join in, telling you that your name will be on a publication coming out of the project.


Let’s recap again. The same professor has again submitted a proposal and gotten funding based on another of your ideas. In addition, he doesn’t even have the respect and moral compass to ask your permission to borrow your experiments in his project. He uses your shit without your permission. Then, after being “caught” introduces you to the project. Also, in the development of their project, they ask you to use programs that you developed in THEIR project. You say no of course because you are still working on publishing it, and they seem to keep building their work on your ideas secretly. Do we see a theme here?

And here’s another thing, this professor is your Advisor but there is no visible contribution of his expertise in your work. Your other members are visible in your dissertation research, while his expertise is absent. In fact, you see your ideas in his funded proposals instead of seeing his input in yours. This muthafucka is a thief, an intellectual bandit. Is he using his position as your Advisor to leech off of your ideas and build his own career? Thus far we have examples and behavior to prove this is so. Bear in mind, this has implications for whether you are given credit for your work through citations, etc. In academia and research you are either first, or last. If he presents his work as his without giving you credit, you get no mileage for your work. He has essentially stolen intellectual capital from you.

After this was shared with me by my colleague, I decided to dip into my library for some perspective. I went to my 48 Laws of Power book because this sounded like psychological warfare. It did not sound collegial. I believe this professor has read this book and is unfortunately applying laws from it to build his career.


The Rules that I think he’s using are:

Law 3: Conceal your Intentions – Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions.

Law 6: Court Attention at all Cost – Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost.

Law 7: Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit – Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. Never do yourself what others can do for you.

Law 8: Make other People come to you – use Bait if Necessary – When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous gains – then attack.

Law 12: Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm your Victim – One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will.

Law 13: When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude – If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover something in your request, or in your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasize it out of all proportion. He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself.

Law 14: Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy – Knowing about your rival is critical. Use spies to gather valuable information that will keep you a step ahead. Better still: Play the spy yourself.

Academia is a sick society.


When your Advisor doesn’t Advise you


Yes. This fucking happens. Some professors could give one rat-fucking butt hair about your dissertation. They are out there to get what’s theirs, and will not have you getting in their way. Let me attempt to unpack this.


When you’re a Masters student, apparently Advisors could care less about what you do. You may think it’s ground-breaking, and saving lives, but to them, you are time away from their focus on their research or their PhD students. You see, when it comes to getting tenure as a professor, having PhD students who have graduated under you is needed and important. A Masters student doesn’t do this for them. So, their strategy is to spend as little time on you as possible and focus on things that actually contribute to getting tenure. Fucked up right?! Yup! But, that’s the way the system is set up. So, if you are a Masters student working on your thesis and your “advisor” is not giving you the time of day and attention that you feel you and your work need, REACH OUT TO OTHERS. Whether you are having this problem or not, it is never a good thing to limit your association, knowledge, views, and conversations with your advisor only. Others may say differently, BUT, you will soon learn that diversifying your circle helps you more than it can ever harm. And if your advisor isn’t doing his/ her job, latch on the person(s) who are helping you and be sure to give them the credit where it is due. Keep them in your circle along the way.


Your advisor must serve some purpose on your committee. Some purposes include:

  • Content
  • Theory/ Frameworks
  • Methodology
  • Context
  • Project collaborations
  • Connections
  • Great supporter in the ring
  • Knows how to tell distractors to fuck off

These should be things you consider for anyone on your committee.


I once had an advisor who I felt could have given me more feedback on my writing when I sent him/ her stuff. So, I found another professor who was wonderful enough and did a fantastic job at reading and commenting on my writing. Although my advisor I felt dropped the ball on this, when it came to presentations and my defense, it was like Rocky Balboa and Mickey Goldmill entering the ring in presentations. S/he gave me encouraging speeches before my presentation, had my back in every way, and asked me questions to inform my audience more. S/he was the best advisor I have had thus far. Such a G! So while she faltered on one aspect, she showed up in one of the biggest ways possible. One very important way for me.


Now, in the PhD process, things are more serious and you have more to lose, including your fucking mind and reputation. There are different types of advisors. It is important like I mentioned in previous posts that you attempt to be clear on what you need/ look for in an advisor. This person should be supportive and make this period the happiest time of your life, because doing a PhD and working on exactly what you want, making a contribution to causes that are important to you, is a very rewarding and fulfilling thing. You ought to be happy. If you are not, and a professor or your Advisor is the source of that unhappiness, it’s time to figure something out.


Here are some of the types of advisors you may come along:


  1. The I-am-not-responsible-for-that Advisor:


This Advisor is very hands off and covers his/ her ass leaving you to deal with everything on your own. Should it come to a debate in a presentation of your defense, s/he remains quiet, leaving you to fend for yourself, not ever saying or doing anything to allow you to get back on your feet or inform your committee that your work did not concern that area they brought up. S/he may even let others on your committee make you change your dissertation or the direction your work was going, or let them add stuff for you to do without stepping in to say, “No, we discussed this and it is not part of his/ her work.” S/he is the king/ queen of sending cover-your-ass emails which document their not being responsible for things you do. Beware of these manipulative fuckers!


  1. The You-gotta-teach-yourself Advisor:


This Advisor does not help you. They do not work with you, they do not recommend shit for you to read, they ain’t got time for your PhD-having ass. One colleague of mine told me that s/he asked his/her Advisor for content on a field in which the advisor claimed as their expertise. The Advisor told him/ her: “No, that’s your job to find the material you need. That’s the PhD process, you have to learn how to find what you need.” WTF?????????!!!!!!!!!! Are you fucking kidding me? Why the fuck are you this student’s Advisor then? You are actually choosing to not share knowledge with this person, when it’s your fucking job?!! In this case, I would reach out like a muthaf$@#& to other people in the field to ask for content. Fuck that dumbass advisor with their lying fuckery. And if anyone who does this is reading this blog post, fuck you and the evil Segway you rode in on.


  1. The I-will-make-sure-you-don’t-graduate Advisor:


This Advisor’s students rarely graduate. S/he is deliberately preventing his/ her students from graduating so that they will keep working in his/ her lab to further their own research. They usually have a lot of projects happening, racking up points for themselves in the research column, but could give not one fuck about your timeline, life, or career when it comes to graduating. Beware of this fucker! They are selfish and only seeking their interest. If someone has a reputation of their students not graduating, watch the fuck out! And if anyone who does this is reading this blog post, fuck you and your evil fucking toenails.


  1. The Come-baby-sit-my-kids Advisor:


The best relationship you can have with your advisor is one in which there are clear lines establishing that this is a professional relationship. Some professors are very chummy and invite you to meet their families, baby-sit their kids, and dogs. I’m telling you, this can get nasty. Keep your distance. There is a thin line between love and hate. I know of many instances where Advisors used their personal knowledge of their students in ways that damaged them emotionally, professionally, and psychologically. Remain professional with your Advisor. Set the boundary for him/ her and it will be the best thing you do. It’s your choice.


  1. The I-will-steal-your-work Advisor:


This Advisor or professor only wants to be around you so they can use your data, project, or ideas. They are closely related to the I-take-all-the-credit Advisor. They will steal your shit without your knowledge, or are brazen enough to tell you they will be using your shit. And guess what, you have little recourse. They more than likely have way more resources than you to get their name on your shit faster than you can get your name on your own shit. Beware! You have to man up (or woman up) and have clear documented conversations with these people. How is your work cited, which number author are you on that paper, who will be presenting the work, etc.? Else they will screw you. Again, they only care about getting theirs, and when the stress of tenure is coming down like the hammer of Thor on them, they will eat their own – YOU. If you are one of those professors reading this blog post, fuck you and the eye-crust you woke up with this morning.

I will leave you with some good news…

  1. The I-will-be-your-mentor Advisor:


This advisor, who may or may not be your advisor or even on your committee, is someone who really has your best interest at heart. They support you, support your work, and are always there to assist you. They recommend stuff that they come across for you, are eager to write you recommendation letters, and are a listening ear when you need one. This Advisor is priceless! Do not let him/ her get away. Treat them kindly and know that they are a gem in this dirty, shark-infested water of academia.

I can write a million posts on different types of Advisors, and I am sure I will write many more, so don’t worry.