Disclosing Research Findings

Conflicts of Interest

Description of the Problem

You are a sixth-year graduate student at a large university in the final months of your dissertation research on novel photonic materials. You are worried about your next appointment, and have applied for several postdoctoral positions in this field plus a few tenure-track assistant professorships at universities where you would like to work.To your surprise and pleasure, you are invited for an interview for a tenure-track appointment at your undergraduate alma mater, a prestigious research institution in a city where you already have connections and would love to live.

In the question-and-answer period following your seminar on your research, the department chair asks for detailed information about the novel material-preparation technique developed in your graduate research, and used extensively in your experiments. Your group is working on a patent application and its members have agreed not to provide details until a paper currently being prepared is submitted for publication. Your thesis advisor will be giving the first major presentation on the technique at a major international conference in a couple months.  

You answer that you and your colleagues are in the process of writing it up for publication and a patent application, and you would be glad to send them an early preprint when it is available.  The question-and-answer period continues and concludes uneventfully and pleasantly.

After the seminar, in your private interview with the Chair, he pushes harder for this information, remarking that the Department seeks team players, willing to share information with department colleagues, and referring to your undergraduate roots and the need to prove you are one of them to be a viable candidate for the position. What should you do?


  • What are the interests of the various players
  • Where are there conflicts of interest
  • What are your options?
Gray arrow Confidentiality Scenario 1 Discussion