February 24, 2011

Choose your own adventure

Your advisor is working on a proposal to get access to a large amount of data. He has invited a number of people at your university, including professors and grad students, to submit proposals for independent research using this data. The idea is that these projects will explore different explanatory variables, but they will all be focused on the Big Dependent Variable. These mini-proposals will be included in the large proposal, and then we will all get access to the data.

You happen to be working as an RA on a project that looks at a different, but related, dependent variable. You had never thought about the professor's research question before your RA job, but you are learning a lot and getting excited about the project. When your advisor asks for proposals for this new data, you get the idea to look at the question you are studying for your RA job, perhaps using a similar model, with the new data. Your advisor loves it.

Then another professor e-mails your advisor and says that she would like to do something similar. Your advisor forwards the e-mail to you and says you should consider collaborating with this professor, but you should also feel free to pursue an independent project. At this stage, it's unclear how similar her project would be, but it sounds like the same basic topic.

Do you:

A. Suggest a collaboration with the professor from the RA job. She isn't the first person to study this particular variable, and nobody would think you were stealing her work if you excluded her. But she gave you the idea and taught you everything you know about the topic. She has also been extremely kind to you, and she has indicated that she will be generous about collaboration with you as her project moves forward.

B. Suggest a collaboration with the other professor who wants to study the same basic topic using the new data. You've never met her and don't know anything about her, except that she is an associate professor in another department. She might be a wonderful collaborator, or she might treat you like her unpaid RA.

C. Suggest that all three of you collaborate on the project. You don't know if either of them would be interested in this, but you suspect probably not.

D. Talk to the professor who wants to study the same topic, figure out a way to differentiate your project, and write a solo-authored paper that thanks RA Prof in the acknowledgements.


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