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Grad Student

I'm only a graduate student, so maybe I'm naïve. I'll defer to others who weigh in later. But a few thoughts. To cut to the chase, I don't think it's worth worrying about.

First, ideas alone aren't worth much. Aren't really worth stealing, I mean.

If I have the idea of writing a paper that objects to x view in the metaphysics of race, I am nowhere near publishing it. I have to review the literature, write a draft, revise the draft, read more articles that I missed the first time around, revise again, submit, revise, submit, revise, and if I'm lucky, publish it. Or something like that. The point is that it takes a long time. So just starting out, I'm having a hard time seeing why someone would even bother to steal an idea. The idea itself isn't enough to fill a whole paper. Even if I was at a conference and attended a presentation and thought to myself, I want to write a version of this paper... the final product would be very different from the original paper, and even if it wasn't, the original author had a major head-start on me. So even if we were racing to publish basically the same paper, theirs is almost certainly better than mine (because they've been reading the relevant stuff and otherwise working on it for so much longer). But also, theirs is still almost certainly otherwise very different from mine (because in the course of writing, things would change, because we are different people, and formulate claims in different ways, and so on). That isn't to say that it isn't morally objectionable for me to 'steal' their paper idea. I'm just saying that I don't think such theft is likely to be successful such that conference presenters should be worried about it. The benefits of presenting at conferences outweigh, I think, this very distant worry.

I take it, though, that the OP's concern is more about having submitted a written paper that, specifically, the grad students reviewing drafts might plagiarize more directly (since they have access to the document). I will say, first, that grad students frequently referee professional conferences, and advanced grad students referee for journals as well. So worrying about grad conferences specifically doesn't make a ton of sense. (We're everywhere! Lol.) But really, why would grad students want to plagiarize your work? They have their own research agendas, they have advisors and institutional support, there would be major consequences (getting kicked out of their programs, possibly). I have a hard time seeing where the worry comes from. Maybe these things happen more often than I think, I don't know.

But also, in such a case where you email someone your draft, there is a paper trail. IF some grad student did decide to take your paper and expand it to make it publishable and then go out and submit it (something that, again, I think is highly unlikely), and you ran across the paper/otherwise found out that they did that, you have the proof of having emailed them your draft, and can contact the journal that published it with your complaint. Again, though, I think it's highly unlikely. (And honestly, the papers we submit to conferences are normally pretty rough compared to what would be the later, publishable version. That is, not worth stealing. It's hard enough to revise one's own work; why take on the extra difficulty of doing that with someone else's, where you don't know the literature as well, you don't know the thought process behind what's there, and so on?) Yes, it would be a nightmare situation if someone took your paper and published it before you. But I think it's a distant enough situation that it isn't worth spending your time worrying about.


I've presented around fifty times. Not only has nothing of mine ever been stolen, but I've never heard anyone complain of having their conference work stolen. I don't think there's anything to worry about.

I _do_ know one person (in Europe) whose PhD supervisor translated her work and published it as his own. But that's a different story.


You should start sending your work to journals while you present it at conferences (or ideally when you submit conference abstracts). This way those who could steal your work don't really have time to do it. Your manuscript is already somewhat ready when they possibly can 'steal' the idea, so it is very unlikely that they have time to write it and publish it before you.

When you go to a conference you should have a polished paper ready, not only an idea. If you have an idea, people at the conference will shoot it down, or at best, give comments that are not super helpful (people go to conferences for other reasons than to get good feedback).

Daniel Weltman

Never had a problem with this and I think the only place I've heard of it is a comment or two on here over the years.

On a tangentially related point, since it came up: unlike JR I would not recommend that you only present polished papers at conferences. I agree that conferences are mostly for things other than good feedback, but insofar as the feedback matters at all, in my experience the best feedback I've gotten at conferences has been on unpolished stuff. My polished stuff is usually well thought-out, such that anything anyone says at a conference is something I have already thought of. My unpolished stuff is still inchoate enough that conference comments can potentially offer something new and maybe even change the direction of the paper.

So-Cal Philosophy

Yes, this absolutely is a problem -- it happened to me. When still a grad student, about to start my first job, I presented a paper at the APA on a topic that was adjacent to my PhD work, proposing a solution to a puzzle I had raised. The speaker who followed me in the same colloquium did something quite different with his talk. But a year or two later, I noticed he had published a paper raising precisely the puzzle I had raised and "answering" it with one of the main theses of my talk. Really!

Having been "scooped" this way, I could no longer publish my original paper, at least not in the way I had first done it.

Assistant Professor

I have had a version of this happen once, and at the same time I think it shouldn't keep someone from presenting work, and I also would agree most with Daniel Weltman's view that we shouldn't only present polished/ready to publish work because sometimes we most want feedback on an early version of an idea while we are still working it out.

A few scattered thoughts:
1. Even with our most novel thoughts it is probably worth maintaining enough humility to realize that others have had/do have/will have related thoughts (maybe even very similar ones!).
2. Even very similar seeming views will likely not be *the same* view and could, if both done well, both find space in the literature. An even more optimistic take is to see it as exciting to have conversation partners showing the important/relevance of this idea such that many people are working on it.
3. There have been convos on her before about acknowledgements in papers and this is one reason I come down on the side of acknowledging audiences at conferences from which you received meaningful feedback on an idea that became a paper. It can be a way to show that you started speaking publicly about this idea at X venue or on Y date, which can feel validating when you worry that your talk might have been inspiration for other work in the field.

Prof L

I think it's a little silly to worry about this. Forgivable in a graduate student but nevertheless shows a weird proprietary attitude toward one's own thoughts that will ultimately get in the way of one's intellectual development.

Rather, if you meet someone who is interested in the same thing, encourage their work! If they publish and make a topic more popular, the more likely it is that your work will have an already-interested audience. Collaborate with that person, say "Oh great! We need more people publishing on this!" Say, "cool, if you are ever organizing an event on this topic, keep me in mind and let me know! This is right up my wheelhouse". And so on. People working on the same thing can be professional allies. Treat them as friends and allies, rather than competitors.

And, I'm a little reluctant to say it but I think I'm not alone in this ... If I come across someone with this attitude, like "Oh I hope you give me a footnote for that comment I made" or "I don't want to tell you my idea because I haven't written it up yet"... that is, if you are clinging to a good thought like it's a precious little pearl, I'm going to have a very strong suspicion that a good thought is a *very* rare thing for you, and this is why you are so protective of it.


I had someone accuse me of this (I head through the grapevine) when it was not true and there was no basis for the accusation. I didn't even know the person, had never read anything of theirs, full stop. The connection was tenuous enough as to make me think the accuser is paranoid, plus I had had the idea years before. All in all, it was hurtful, and also made me worry about my reputation being sunk by this person. So be careful jumping to conclusions, and be careful believing others' accusations of this stuff.


This is very important. Someone once insinuated that I had stolen an idea of his - I sent him an e-mail exchange we had from two years previous in which I alerted him to the fact that I had already used the same sort of expression as he did, which was the basis of his evidence for the accusation. In fact, this was a case where the idea was in the air - several people published papers using very similar (near-identical) epxressions around the same time. Like you, I was quite hurt from the experience.


If Its a nonobvious novel Idea, then It Is absolutely something to have concern over. I spoke with a patent attorney whom worked with clients over 50 years regarding patents, there were the wright brothers he cited where they had presumably went to their congressman over the basis of their intents to sue partners they alleged had stolen & Infringed upon their Idea, which would be Intellectual Property Rights. He suggested that they had proceeded to attain the wrong type of patent, which was a device patent, giving one the advantage to legally replicate an Idea, or Invention either through alteration by adding or omitting one or more components. If they would have filed for a pioneering patent Instead of registering a device patent, they would have had an entirely different outcome. He had also noted a man who had presented the Idea of the artificial christmas tree, where non were Interested at the time of his proposal and what he had decided on was to promote his own Idea, by presenting all the beneficial aspects, which was evidently less maintenance, It would not need water, nor would pine needles need to be cleaned, It could be stored away and reused year after year. To no surprise he had made millions, when his Idea was shunned In the beginning and invalidated or dismissed as cogent, therefore he promoted his Idea without being dissuaded by negative Influence. There was a man whom modified the head of a weed wacker and made four hundred thousand In royalties In a short duration of time. There have been many cases of plagiarism, copy right Infringement and trademark Infringement, and It Is always a good Idea to secure your Ideas If you feel they may have potential for capital gain. Just by writing copyright or the c with a circle around it or both your name, the date and all rights reserved in parenthesis, of course you would want to get It notarized, and registered, or you can just get It registered. Always be vigilant with patent offices, as It Is fairly easy for one to steal anothers Idea, or Invention, so always, make a contract for them to sign, which would Include a clause before they review your Idea they agree not to disclose any material or content therein without your written consent, also keep In mind It Is fairly easy to do a patent search on your own at no cost. So always be wary of any potential predators who seek to profit through deceptive practice, as corruption Is a plague, and Integrity Is not prevalent by any means. So always be vigilant.

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