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Former PhD supervisor's right to my source code?


User: endintears0 - 07 March 2012 09:34

Hi all, During the course of my PhD, my relationship with my supervisor soured (see http://www.postgraduateforum.com/threadViewer.aspx?TID=18174). I am now working (part-time) in academia in a post-doc in which he is not directly involved, and I originally tried to continue to work with him on one or unrelated projects. However, we have had another falling out and I want nothing more to do with him. One problem I am facing in this "divorce" is that he is asking me for the source code I wrote while working on my PhD. I don't want to give this to him as I intend to make it publicly available on my own terms, when I have the time to tidy it up, document it, and perhaps package it all up in a nice, user-friendly application. Does he have any right to this code? Playing devil's advocate, I developed it while under his supervision so you could argue it was joint work. However, from my perspective he was a terrible supervisor who made no direct contribution to the code, only advice on the models which it implements. Fresh opinions on the matter would be greatly appreciated.

User: mhk - 07 March 2012 09:50

To be honest, if you developed it during your time under his supervision then I believe it is partly his work...

User: waddett - 07 March 2012 11:37

My university has changed rules recently, and any code written as part of work for the university belongs to the university. Get advice from student services. Dependent on university rules he may have total right to your code. However, as my academic intake year have found, we escaped the new rules and have more right to our own work. Don't hand over anything until you have got advice on who has right to the work. Will you make any financial gain from the 'user-friendly application'? That could change things totally in the university's eyes.

User: jnzjmp - 24 October 2013 23:13

Well, just give him the binaries ! or make your code look as garbage so he cannot exploit it at all ! There are some progs that can manipulate your code to make it unreadable ! :-)

User: Mackem_Beefy - 25 October 2013 11:37

What do your research degree terms and conditions say?

In my case, anything contained in the thesis was my copyright. Only if ownership of any data was signed over to a third party (say an industrial sponsor) or the University did this not apply. With the vast majority of PhD theses, there was no perceived need for copyright or access to be signed over.

That said, it might be considered a common courtesy to allow access to data by a PhD supervisor. However, unless there is anything under your terms and conditions that says they are entitled to access then you are under no obligation to do so.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)

User: TreeofLife - 25 October 2013 18:00

My university owns my research completely. I had to sign something agreeing to this before I started.

User: Mackem_Beefy - 28 October 2013 09:01

Quote From TreeofLife:
My university owns my research completely. I had to sign something agreeing to this before I started.

If you've signed an agreement, then I'm afraid you'll just have to cough up. Just e-mail him it, but don't offer any pleasentries. Do the bare minimum as per the agreement you signed. Don't offer any help beyond that and let him sort out what is / does what. If he asks what any part of the work is about, just point out you have fulfilled your part of the contract by giving him the work and you now need to concentrate on your current project. Then have no more contact.

I fell out with the Prof who was my line manager for my second post-doc. After the post-doc ended, I had nothing more directly to do with him. I did quickly proof two papers with my name on from his sidekick and only because my name was on them, but not one piece of co-operation more. If the second post-doc had not been so thorny (as I said elsewhere, they employed me and decided after the contact was signed they didn't want me but were stuck with me), I might have been more co-operative. What they got after I was no longer employed was a bare minimum as I suggest "endintears0" does.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)

User: KimWipes - 28 October 2013 16:48

If the work is entirely done by you with minimum input from him, then do not give it to him unless it is written by then your university contract. But since it is your PhD work, I doubt that there is any rule saying that your work belongs to the university. I have the same problem with the publications of my PhD thesis and I am sick of putting the name of supervisor on my publication when he did not add a single word into these papers nor when writing my PhD thesis (he did not read 2/3 of it!). I think this is completely unethical of the universities and profs to get publish without being directly involved in writings papers, codes etc etc.

User: Mackem_Beefy - 29 October 2013 10:22

Quote From KimWipes:
If the work is entirely done by you with minimum input from him, then do not give it to him unless it is written by then your university contract. But since it is your PhD work, I doubt that there is any rule saying that your work belongs to the university. I have the same problem with the publications of my PhD thesis and I am sick of putting the name of supervisor on my publication when he did not add a single word into these papers nor when writing my PhD thesis (he did not read 2/3 of it!). I think this is completely unethical of the universities and profs to get publish without being directly involved in writings papers, codes etc etc.

If I'm picking up the general gist of the above (the thread in general) correctly, there is a suggestion of some Universities trying to retain intellectual ownership of PhD data. That's not unreasonable in itself considering University and supervisor input, however, it does seem to go against the principle of the PhD being the student's own work with the supervisor being an advisor or mentor. If a University retains intellectual ownership, they seem to be all but admitting that there is significant University / supervisor input into the PhD and thesis after all.

Thus come viva voce day, what is being examined? The student's own work or a joint report by student, supervisor and others as part of a wider collaberative project. That to me blurs the boundaries and if the thesis is not soley the student's work with minimal input from others, how can the thesis be examined to determine if it is worthy of the award of a PhD?

Thoughts?

User: KimWipes - 30 October 2013 03:09

@Ian
You described it in an interesting way and I never thought of it this way but I agree with what you said.

User: MeaninginLife - 30 October 2013 07:51


One problem I am facing in this "divorce" is that he is asking me for the source code I wrote while working on my PhD. I don't want to give this to him as I intend to make it publicly available on my own terms, when I have the time to tidy it up, document it, and perhaps package it all up in a nice, user-friendly application.

After a divorce, it is still desirable to maintain a "good" relationship. The academic world is very small.
You may let him know that you need some time to tidy it up etc.

However, you may tidy it into two versions... depending on his behavior.
More importantly, while your "spouse" is waiting for your source code, he is likely nice to you "for the time being".

However, endintears0 may not be in this forum anymore.





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