How Much to Take?

Jan 20 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I currently have two postdocs. One of them has been with me for 2+ years and has applied to tenure track positions this past fall. His record looks very good, he has published quite a bit and I sent him to give invited talks instead of me as much as I could, so he's had a lot of exposure. He had his first phone interview and is having an on-site interview in a few weeks. I am very proud of him and very excited for him!

I looked closely at his application materials when he assembled them (the CV, research and teaching statements). His research statement was solid, he proposed several interesting and relevant directions of research that leverage his expertise and are direct outcomes of the work he did in my group. I think it's perfectly fine that he will take the projects he's been working on and start his own program.

A few weeks ago, he finally got around to creating his own webpage and sent me the link. The page is simple but looks nice and has all that it needs to describe a young aspiring faculty -- contact info, CV, papers, description of research. Actually, I found his research section to be quite extensive and carry quite a few surprises: in addition to description of the work that he has been doing and the work that he listed in his research statement, there are several research items that are directly taken from my other ongoing projects in which he was never involved, but of which he heard  in group meetings. He also wrote about some project ideas on which I have either recently submitted proposals or I am planning to do so shortly (as in, I am currently writing and will submit in the next few weeks); these ideas were tossed around in the group meeting or in the meetings with other collaborators.

I was unpleasantly surprised. I think my main feeling was a sort of disappointment.

I don't want to be a petty, selfish project-hog advisor, but it's not free for all; I don't think that all the projects that I currently work on or plan on working on are fair game to claim as your own. Some of my projects are collaborative with other people, and these collaborators don't know this postdoc; just because this work gets discussed in group meetings, that doesn't mean it's up for grabs as is. Especially projects that are currently under development, where I am excited about new ideas and have started writing proposals -- just because you have read your advisor's proposal (which, by the way, does not utilize your immediate expertise) because she asked you for comments as that is part of postdoc training, that does not mean you have the right to appropriate those ideas. Or worse yet, put descriptions of  these yet-to-be funded projects on a freely accessible web page for everyone to see.

So, the question of the day is: when a person leaves to start his or her new faculty position, how do you decide what is OK for them to take along?
Do you have a talk about non-competing, where you as senior prof stop working on some of the projects on which the new lab/group is planning to embark?
If you are a professor, have you been on either side of the equation -- that as a new professor you feel you were not allowed to take enough, or, as a more senior prof, that perhaps some ideas were appropriated in a way that wasn't entirely... well, appropriate?

I invite you to share your experiences and philosophy regarding how to best help launch a new tenure track faculty, ensuring the junior prof has a good head start and a large enough pool of ideas to start from, while also ensuring that this departure is fair to everyone involved.





47 responses so far

  • Another Prof says:

    I am curious -- did you encounter your postdoc about this? What did you tell him? (I have a similar issue with one of my students.) What was his reaction?

    I generally agree with you; it is fair game for a student or postdoc to take away the project they are involved in if they generated some key ideas on it. That being said, sometimes it is hard to tell who generated a key idea on a problem -- for example, for ideas that come up during a discussion or a brain storming session, so it is okay to have some leeway on it. The situation you mention though with your other collaborative work is definitely not okay.

    Of course it is also possible that your postdoc is just talking about these ideas to impress potential employers, and is not actually actively thinking of working on them. If this is the case, then you may not want to be too hard on him.

    • GMP says:

      I haven't talked to him about this yet, as I am not sure what to say. We've gotten along great and I think he's a good guy, so I don't want to overreact. And I think you may be right about him just wanting to impress employers... But still, I think something needs to be said.

      • DrugMonkey says:

        What's the cost here GMP? How likely is it that you are going to be detrimentally affected in some way?

        • GMP says:

          I don't think I will really be detrimentally affected because my group is established, there's more of us and we can generally do whatever it is faster; mostly I am just disappointed. I don't want to be in competition with my ex postdoc. I really want him to succeed on his own. He received training, recommendations, and I will be completely dropping a big line of research so he can develop it further on his own. However, I don't want to have to drop 5 lines of research to avoid competing and I think if he wants to go into these other subfields then it should be on his own ideas.

          On a practical note, I suppose there is the issue of code. All group members have access to all of the group's codes (work done by other students, some as parts of other collaborations). I don't want to police the use of codes within the group, but it's his own sense of ethics that should guide the postdoc now that he's likely to leave -- codes developed by him or even by other people but within collaborations that he was part of are fair game to take and develop further, however others are not.

          • NatC says:

            I wonder a little about the motivation for this. Is he really planning to "take" these projects with him, or whether he's using it to bulk up the future directions/other projects part of his package.
            Not that this is any better - and it is disingenuous to boot - but at least in my field, interviewers want to know what project I'm bringing with me to start with as well as what other projects/questions I'm planning to address. Is he using those other projects as easy ways to answer these kinds of questions oand show breadth in techniques and ideas?

  • gerty-z says:

    Students/postdocs should be communicating with the PI about what is "fair game" to take. This should be arranged early in the training period and discussed regularly so that the trainee and PI are on the same page. In my postdoc it was very clear what I would take with me to my faculty position and what was staying behind.

  • This is science, not a fedual kingdom. Any scientist is free to work on whatever the fucke they want. The only issue here is credit: it sounds like your post-doc is taking credit for originating ideas and lines of research that are not her own. And that is despicable.

    • Alex says:

      If it isn't a feudal kingdom, why do we wear medieval gowns at academic ceremonies?

    • Shlogbaum says:

      It's not quite true. It is detrimental for 2 groups to work on exactly same topic, in general, as they would spend twice more resources + won't be able to collaborate. For science in general (and for both groups, if you consider the average game outcome) it would be more beneficial if they try to delineate the projects, and somehow agree on main topics and main efforts. Some intersection is fine and even nice, but it's always nicer to collaborate rather then to compete. If you can afford that at least (if both sides are sane and productive enough).

  • Crystal Voodoo says:

    When I put together my research statement for faculty applications I reviewed my line of research with the PI whose projects I was spinning off and got blessings from all the collaborators before sending it out. However I communicated my end goal from day 1 and selected a lab that would be amicable to a spin off and clearly elaborated what ideas I wanted to take with me as I had them. When I was putting it together I did get some advise from young faculty telling me to not show what I was planning to my PI for fear of him shooting it down. I obviously didn't take that advise but I can see how this might be an issue for someone who hasn't had that conversation.

    Honestly it seems like a lack of foresight on the postdoc's end. If he could build from those projects in a different direction from where you are planning you have the opportunity to expand the research (good for collaboration and co-grant writing) whereas poaching them puts him in direct competition for papers and funding with a more experienced established lab.

    I don't know. I tend to be the exception rather than the rule on these issues. I'm interested in what other people's experiences have been.

  • postdoc says:

    This raises some big red flags to me. I also work in theory/computation (though in a different field), and keeping track of who plans to work on what and especially who came up with clever idea X are huge parts of being a good scientific citizen. If you know someone is working on clever idea X and you also want to as a competitor, that's okay--though you should tell the other person if it's someone you'd interact with regularly. Lifting an idea mentioned by someone else (especially in a lab meeting!) and putting it on your website as your own is completely not okay, unless you're formally collaborating with the other person, have the permission of the other person, don't pass off any key insight as your own, and disclose the collaboration. I would be worried to have to work with this postdoc of yours, because these seem like things he should know--and it seems like he could easily start stepping on the toes of people (e.g., grad students) who are not in a good position to confront him.

    • postdoc says:

      p.s. I also recently put together my research statement, which includes one project with a former adviser. That project includes topics that have been batted around for ~2 years by people associated with the adviser's group, with me one of several contributors. I only felt comfortable putting it in my statement because we have an email chain in which it's stated that I'm going to take the lead on it.

  • Yael says:

    1. During postdoc interviews, I asked PIs (and senior postdocs in the lab) what I could take with me when I left to start my own position. Maybe premature to have this conversation, but I did want to feel out from people in the lab if the PI would give me a hard time about this eventually.

    2. I am told that postdocs are asked during faculty interviews about how they are planning to compete (or not compete) with your postdoc/PhD advisor when you are independent. If your postdoc is taking ideas from your group meetings and not putting his own spin, maybe may be a big minus during the interview.

  • profguy says:

    This is clearly bad behavior on the postdoc's part. Yes there is some grey area, and it is a good idea for mentors and postdocs (or students) to have frank discussions about it. But this sounds flagrant to the point that the postdoc should have known better even without a discussion. The fact that he voluntarily showed these materials to you implies that he is genuinely clueless, rather than consciously malicious. In any case yes this is the time to have a talk about it. If he's as great a guy as you say he'll recognize the issue quickly once you point it out, rectify it, and be very embarrassed at having created the need for the talk. If he reacts any other way, he's not as great as you say he is. Recognizing the difference between different ideas and understanding which came from where (and giving credit appropriately) are fundamental parts of science and if he can't or won't do that he is flawed in a major way.

  • Doc (The Healthy Ph.D) says:

    This is interesting to me, only because I recently left my postdoc and took a tenure track position, and I felt that my advisor started to infringe on 'my' section of the lab only after we had agreed on what was mine and what was his.

    I don't think he meant any harm, but once an idea is out, it starts to become groupthink. I actually spent the last 6 months hiding some work ideas from him and we had a full discussion/argument about a project that was given to me, with the disclaimer that he had 'no interest and never thought it would work'. When it started to work, he wanted to do it himself.

    Feelings are still fine between the two of us, but even now he is writing some proposals that come awfully close to what I do and where I am going. I work at a PUI and he works at an R1 school, so maybe he doesn't regard me as a competitor because he feels like he can do anything faster than I could, but it certainly has made me think twice about telling him what I'm up to.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Given the HUGE advantages the established lab has over the recently-appointed ex-postdoc, I think if they can school you, that's on you. (With PP's caveat about serious misappropriation of ideas, of course. But that's the same for any scientific interaction.)

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Plus also, people should worry a lot more about getting shit done and a lot less about staking out territory across which others are not supposed to venture. Talk is very cheap, most scientists have way more good ideas than they can possibly accomplish and the conceit of your own unique brilliant insight is just that.

    • gerty-z says:

      Yes, this. It is easy when you are starting out to feel a little...anxious. Especially about whether BSD postdoc PI is gonna totally crush you. But it doesn't take long before your research program is on a trajectory that is pretty different than BSD lab.

    • Another Prof says:

      Yup, completely agree!

    • zb says:

      Yes. I'm general opposed to the idea that an idea becomes someone's property, because, fundamentally, it impedes progress in the field. If someone has a great idea and someone else can complete it faster, is the field supposed to wait around for the first person to get to it? Courtesy, to me, involves openness and conversation to prevent unnecessary duplication of effort (which isn't good for the science). I do, on the other hand, recognize that the way rewards are awarded in science can encourage the proprietary "bad" behavior, and I think that's something academia has to work on (and yes, I know that's wishing for unicorns).

      But, I have definitely noted that theoreticians seem to be more proprietary, potentially because the work can just be the idea, and the "getting work done" is a smaller part of the pie than in an experiment intensive lab. A clever idea might be the work, and thus easier to steal than an idea like "let's run a 10 year study of dopamine levels after a short term addictive episode."

  • [...] has a good discussion going over at the Scientopia GuestBlogge. I don't want to be a petty, selfish project-hog advisor, [...]

  • GMP says:

    When the postdoc leaves and takes his project with him, I will not do work in that subfield any more in the foreseeable future -- I think it's only fair for me to step back and not compete with my own group's offspring. I think that's why it's important to have it clear what it is that he takes (in terms of fundable ideas and, in my case, computer code) and what it is that I will no longer pursue. I have no problem in him taking any of the group's ideas (his, mine, whoever's) that were developed within the context of the projects he was involved in.

    It is stupid to be in direct competition with people who are supposed to be your peeps and have your back -- former collaborators/students/advisors. I had collaborations dissolve amicably before, where we parted ways and decided who gets to pursue what in the immediate future. I am happy to step back and not compete within the postdoc's subfield and I want him to be successful, but I cannot bend over backwards to not compete on 5 other fronts.

    I am still trying to figure out why I am so ticked off by what I found out. I am not really worried about my group.
    I just know that I would never dream of taking any code or ideas that I hadn't developed on my own into my faculty position, it's a question of professional pride for me. So I think I am mostly disappointed that the postdoc doesn't share this view...

    • BBBShrewHarpy says:

      Well my reasons for being ticked off would come from my having done right by the postdoc, provided exposure for him, developed a collegial relationship, and been willing to forgo further work in the areas he had developed under your guidance in order that he could shine.

      I've been there, and the postdoc turned out to be a narcissistic little shit. I was blind to it while I was his advisor because he was so busy lapping up all the goodies that he kept his self-centredness off-stage when dealing with me, though I subsequently heard he was incredibly territorial and turf-hogging towards the other postdocs and even the graduate students. I still don't know whether he believed his own publicity and felt entitled to his position at the center of Everything, and by now I don't really care. We still collaborate very loosely as he went to work with a close colleague of mine. She and I have never discussed how that is working out, and I'd rather keep a positive glow on things and not indulge in second-guessing and general bitchery (except on the internet).

      But yes, I sympathize. It was a shock, even though his work in no way threatened mine. I hope yours is a simple case of cluelessness rather than guile.
      Either way, I would recommend discussing the website with him and asking him what his research plans really are.

  • anon says:

    I would ask the post-doc to please remove the content from his website that was discussed within your lab meetings, especially since that content was (or will be?) proposed in one of your grant applications and is privileged information . It doesn't have to be nasty, but it sounds like you didn't have "the talk" with him in which you come to an agreement about what he gets to take with him.

    When I started my tt position, my previous adviser made it clear which projects she wanted to keep. It didn't matter that I originated them, because she made it possible for me to conduct and publish the work, with some of her own input. I came up with something else to focus on, and it's been going well. Some advisers allow their post-docs to take whatever projects they are working on with them to their new faculty positions (even if it was a project that was handed to them), and others forbid it.

    I have not been at it long enough to experience a post-doc taking off from something originating in my own lab. There is so much to do, if you can't think of something original to carry on with, you shouldn't be in the business.

  • Sxydocma1 says:

    When I first joined my postdoctoral lab, my mentor and I discussed what projects I might be able to take with me, and over time, we have constantly talked and updated this initial conversation. It has always been very clear.

    I do not understand the behavior of your postdoc. To me, it seems wrong to take ownership of projects that someone has already written up in a grant proposal. Ideas batted around in group meeting are one thing but this seems quite different.

    I'm interested to hear the follow up on this.

  • Anon2 says:

    These issues are always so field-dependent. I have a PhD in chemistry and I never even considered working on something related to my doctoral work when I became a PI. Partly because my PhD advisor would CRUSH me and partly because it would be impossible to establish my intellectual independence. I did a postdoc in a more biological field, and I don't think my advisor would have minded if I took my postdoc project into my own lab. But again, that just isn't done in my field, so I started completely new projects that built upon my past experience, of course, but that were completely independent of my previous advisors.

    Back to the question, it sounds like you have been avoiding a potentially difficult conversation for too long. I also tend to avoid conflict at all costs - I hate having difficult conversations. But you've got to do it. Let us know how it goes.

  • Derek says:

    In many areas of science, ideas are cheap. I do not believe this is one of those areas: depending on the field, ideas can be swept to the forefront of peoples' thinking and color their judgment of the papers and grants they review. Ideas that are *close* to something that is in the mind of another researcher can (occasionally) be mistaken as their own. A scientist who is putting all of their efforts into getting new grants and putting their tenure case together surely has a lot to lose if their ideas or their research becomes (apparently) part of someone else's grand plan.

    There doesn't seem to be an easy solution here, other than clear communication with the leaving postdoc. Personally, I think it is incumbent on the researcher to have a straightforward conversation with the postdoc prior to leaving or as the ideas percolate on to the postdoc's new website. Ultimately, I think there is a need for postdocs (and faculty alike) to have a better discourse in terms of ethics and, for lack of a better word, class.

    Science is a difficult field, populated by many highly intelligent people, some of whom are pretty healthy in the ego department. (This is not different from any other field). What IS different is that ideas in and of themselves are part of the currency of the scientific world - this should be recognized by faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and be taught as early as possible...

  • Dr. Sneetch says:

    Things are rather different for me since we usually have a couple of authors on a paper and many papers are single-authored papers so what I say may not be relevant. Sounds like he is trying to impress potential employers and in this job market everyone has to walk on water. I would talk to him about posting grant ideas online before they are funded. That whole competition thing. Too easy to lose them. Doesn't sound like he could get ahead of your team on projects he isn't working on.

  • Bashir says:

    I do think it's bad behavior to imply that you've been involved in a project that you haven't. Did he put it up as a "things I might do in the future" or "things I'm already doing?".

    These things can vary so much depending on the situation. But in general I agree that staking out territory is less important than doing stuff well.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    We had a reverse situation, sort of. Various older workers had staked out description of various new species as theirs and everyone keep hands off. At one of the conferences, there was a meeting of older and younger, and the older were told that the younger would consider any of 'their' species up for grabs if a manuscript was not submitted within the next six months. There was some grumbling, but no fisticuffs.

  • undegrad minion says:

    2 cents from a lowly undergrad:

    It doesn't sound like your postdoc is being malicious or deceptive - he sent you the link to his website afterall. Chances are he's just trying to impress potential employers. I don't think you need to be hard on him, or sit him down and have "The Talk". All you need to say is that you had a look through his website, thought the content was good, suggest any improvements you might have and also request that he takes down the projects you're currently writing up because of potential scoopdom.

    One thing I like when I've looked at academic's webpages are when they put weblinks to people they collaborate with, and describe the work they have done together, or how that person's work is related to their own ideas. Maybe you could suggest a gentle rework of your Postdoc's research page along a similar vein? That way he still gets to pad out his website, but credit is going where credit is due. Of course, the stuff that you don't want to be up there should be taken down.

    JMO, but I'm a bit surprised that a lot of the comments have blamed the postdoc for this. I would have thought these sorts of conversations should have been a regular part of any academic collaboration, so that it was both parties' responsibility to have figured this stuff out & avoid nasty surprises?

    • Spindoc73 says:

      I know people that would send you the link just as an insurance policy. "I stole this idea?" ... "you knew of my intentions, remember the link?". this is standard Charlatan behavior, and it is endemic in my field. I gave a guy keys to my lab and allowed them to take apart machines. 1 year later, the IP person at the University informed me that another patent was being filed, by this other fellow. Enough of these experiences and farming starts to seem much more attractive.

  • Other than the issue of taking credit for something you didn't have any role in, this whole "carving up the territory" shitte is absolutely ridiculous. Because a mentor and post-doc can do all the negotiating and deal-making they want, but they can't prevent a third fucken party from eating both their lunches.

    When I left my post-doc mentor's lab, she shifted his entire operation to work in the exact same general area as the ground-breaking work I did in her lab, and I obviously started my own lab in that exact same area. You know what happened?

    The first publication that we each published not together was, indeed, reporting essentially the same finding (although the quality of data from my lab was better and more comprehensive, and we published in a much better journal than she did). But after that, we naturally moved in different directions, because no two scientists see things the same way or have the same temperament.

    Oh, and one other thing. What the fuck is the deal with you "theorist" assholes keeping your precious "code" secret even after you publish papers using it? I cannot see how it could possibly be ethical to refuse to give someone computer code you use to perform a complex computation if you publish a paper reporting that computation?

    • qaz says:

      "What the fuck is the deal with you "theorist" assholes keeping your precious "code" secret even after you publish papers using it? I cannot see how it could possibly be ethical to refuse to give someone computer code you use to perform a complex computation if you publish a paper reporting that computation?"

      Um... it isn't. Every major journal has a policy that code must be available on request. Several journals require code be publicly hosted on a permanent web-address before publication. This is comparable to experimentalists keeping samples and raw data secret or analysis code secret. Not only is it not ethical, it's not legal.

      If you end up in this situation, I suggest talking to the editor.

      • Well, if you read GMP's blogge--and even read between the lines here--she has repeatedly asserted that she keeps code secret even after publishing papers that relied on the code, and only gives it to people if she feels like it.

      • GMP says:

        Sharing code is not just about putting files up on the web. There are many issues that arise with freely sharing complicated code with the world, such as providing user interface, customer training, support, documentation, ensuring that others don't modify code and propagate it as yours etc -- none of these issues are something that a typical university researcher has the time or resources to deal with. Some code sharing collectives and companies will take care of this overhead, but dealing with them is another story...

        I share lots of small codes freely, but not the very big, complicated codes that take many years to develop and having developed one is akin to having a custom-made, one-of-a-kind piece of equipment in your lab. The way things work is that you publish extensive detail on the intricacies of the code development, enough for someone else to develop it on their own if they wish.

        This is the norm in my and many other fields, so please don't assume that what holds in your own biomedical field holds in all others and that people who don't do what you think they should be doing are unethical (not that anything could ever stop CPP from assuming that). If you want to go shout "unethical!! 11!!!" we already had this discussion about code sharing many months ago, you can do it there. Let's not derail this thread.

        • qaz says:

          GMP - Just because I am now in a biomedical field does not mean I come from such a field. I have a background in several non-biomedical fields and there are no fields I know of in which sharing result-generating code is not expected. This does not mean that one is expected to create a nice user interface or support the code anymore than a biomedical experimentalist is expected to teach a person how to use a virus for genetic manipulation of an animal. But it certainly is true that a requirement of federal funding (and most journal publication) is the willingness to share "unique technique constructs" if other labs request them. (e.g."resource sharing plans" in both NIH and NSF proposals.) I had not seen the other blog post. I will carry the discussion over to there and leave this post for a discussion of the post-doc's mis-posting. (My comments on that are below.)

    • GMP says:

      she shifted his entire operation to work in the exact same general area as the ground-breaking work I did in her lab, and I obviously started my own lab in that exact same area.

      I would consider this a douche move by your postdoc advisor.

      • Absolutely not. The ground that I broke in her lab was so much more fruitful than any of the other shitte going on that it was the only rational move for her.

        • GMP says:

          No doubt it was a good move for her; maybe she wasn't a big mover and shaker at that point, but if a sizable group did that maneuver (go full force into the same direction as a new prof), the new prof can easily get sunk. Doing that to your own science offspring sounds douchey to me.

        • Anon says:

          Compete with your peers.

          Look out for those you trained. (Within ethical bounds, of course.)

          Scientific research may not be a motherf***ing carebears tea party (to quote a well-known professor on the internet), but sometimes being a mentor and teacher should be.

  • qaz says:

    This is entirely a problem of communication. The post-doc should never have put up scientific stuff (or any lab-related stuff) on a website without talking to you. It's not a question of ownership, it's a question of the post-doc being stupid about the field (s)he lives in. In some fields, ideas are a dime-a-dozen and what matters is the fact that it's going to take you three years to test it. In other fields, the actual experiment and analysis can take a few days or a month and ideas are all there is. In some fields, putting something on the web means its never publishable. In other fields, putting something on the web means you get credit for being first. This is something that I expect GMP to know and something I expect GMP to train the post-doc in. (GMP, this is a teaching moment. Confront the postdoc about it!)

    When I left my postdoc, I talked to my PI about what I was going to work on. Similarly, all of my postdocs and grad students (it's not just postdocs remember), talk to me about what they're going to do. Not to establish territory, but because the PI knows the field better, particularly politically. A good PI (*) will help the postdoc work out what the right direction to start a faculty career is. In my view, this is part of the training of the postdoc. (How do you hit the ground running? How do you have a small experiment that is very likely to work early and also have a long direction to go in?)

    * Yes, there are PIs who are tyrants just trying to get a technician out of a postdoc, but we're going to assume that GMP is a good PI, a teacher, who has the best interests of GMP's postdocs at heart. (Because a successful postdoc trainee makes GMP look better in the long-run. In my field, at least, family trees are well-known.)

    In any case, the postdoc was stupid to put up on the website things he was thinking about doing. I don't know any field where this is a good idea. That says to me that there is a problem with the postdoc, who should have talked to GMP for advice first.

  • [...] Jungle‘s GMP guest-blogs at Scientopia about the extent to which you can take projects to a new job: the question of the day is: when a person leaves to start his or her new faculty position, how do [...]

  • DRo says:

    I am surprised at all of this discussion. To me, it is pretty straightforward: he is representing someone else's ideas as his own to try make himself more marketable. He is falsely representing his abilities to generate new research directions. I would call him on it.

    By the way, it could be an honest mistake. He may not remember where he got the idea from and think he came up with it himself.

  • [...] sensation GeekMommyProf is holding it down over at Scientopia this week.  There, she’s written a post about how much of a “mentor’s work” lab members should be allowed to taken when [...]

  • Sahanae says:

    This strikes a chord - i recently moved to a position in another university. i and my postdoc advisor decided to co-author a proposal as PIs, sharing the work we started. my ex-advisor is a very wise person whom i admire deeply, and once more proved to be able to sort things out without being confrontational. while we never openly talked about what was whose idea and mapped out territory on the mutual assumption that we are both work-ethical, this exercise essentially served as such. being scientists and from different institutions i assume we will have different sub-ideas we would like to pursue and hopefully follow up work will evolve into complimentary but different directions naturally.
    the other thing i would like to point out is the process of idea generation in a research lab. usually - at least in my field- the PI has one abstract idea and hires a postdoc after getting a grant. what follows is that the postdoc finds solutions, analyses possibilities, and comes up with his / her own ideas to approach the problem depending on background - because it is his/her job! so now, i believe we have one abstract umbrella idea from the busy PI and actual innovations coming from the postdoc. Remember, the postdoc is a researcher, and comes up with ideas of his/her own. now who is to say the evolution ideas should not be used by the postdoc? they clearly should, otherwise what does a postdoc gain from being in a lab other than being a data/code monkey?
    and of course, it is completely unethical to use the lab discussions or grants being written by others as they are, and you should warn your postdoc about this. perhaps you could gently suggest that he/she generates ideas stemming from your lab in the place he is moving in, which will undoubtedly have different priorities at least in terms of application fields, but should not retrieve exact IP content from your lab?

  • Really? says:

    From a strictly practical point of view, if the postdoc proceeds with his plans and you proceed with yours, inevitably you would crush him, not a pretty outcome for someone whom presumably you want to succeed in the long run.
    Postdocs should think about lateral moves from day 1...and have advisors who are up-front about the realities of starting a lab that is in immediate competition with their prior lab. My heavy-hitting postdoc advisor was absolutely upfront about what I could do when I left: whatever the fuck I wanted. But he was also clear that it would be moronic for me to gun for his people, as they would happily chuck heavy brass replicas of his Nobel Prize at my head all day long, paid for by the money-printing machine he has in his office. And so what has ended up happening is that I thought about how I would handle this process early in my postdoc and decided to be completely transparent with him even after I was on my own, with the consequence that the work in our separate labs, I think, is more complementary than competitive at this point. Sounds to me like your postdoc isn't evil...just not very clued-in about how this is all going to actually work in the end.