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.


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