Ijeoma Opara learnt some hard lessons after getting scooped in a grant application.
I use community-based participatory research methods to work with youth Black children and their families on issues such as substance use and HIV prevention. When I was applying for my first grant in 2019, I spoke to many mentors, community members and non-academic friends — and basically anyone else who would listen to my ideas. I took two months to write the proposal, much improved by their advice and feedback, and received funding the following year.
It is a problem we hear far too often. Junior researchers alegging that their good ideas, theories and tools have been stolen by supervisors, reviewers or by their peers. We are also often asked by HDR candidates and early career researchers how to protect their creations. This useful piece that appeared in Nature discusses some strategies to protect your precious creations. In our experience, protecting your IP can be especially difficult in some disciplines and with qualitative work.
To my surprise, earlier this year, I saw a multimillion-dollar grant awarded to someone whom I didn’t know professionally, for aims that looked almost identical to mine. I was shocked and upset — but felt it might have been partly my fault for sharing my ideas too early. I had sent my project to many people, including senior scholars whom I didn’t really know, after colleagues had suggested that I contact them. Of course, it is possible that this person came up with the idea on their own — although, personally, I doubt it.
Why stealing ideas does not advance science
Scientists can and should be inspired by the work of others. Our overall goal should be to make an impact. But there is a big, definable difference between being inspired and treating someone’s ideas as your own.