I am a PhD student researching environmental science in Europe. As such, I have received hundreds of environmental samples, including water, sediment etc. over the past year and a half, the extensive work with which has let to two peer-reviewed publications. However, I am still struggling to understand who actually owns these samples – is it the faculty, my supervisor, myself, or the party that sent the sub-samples in the first place? My question is basically – what can I do with the samples without looking at potentially serious issues. More specifically:

1) If there is considerable disagreement between myself and my supervisor as to which analyses are to be carried out on said samples, from a strictly legal standpoint, am I free to carry out the analyses I want to, and which I am sure will benefit my thesis, even though my supervisor disagrees with my approach. There is more than enough material to carry out both mine and my supervisor’s methodology.

2) Can I sub-sample and share some of these samples with other institutions or individuals for the purposes of possible (not documented or otherwise agreed upon) collaboration? Again, I strongly suspect my supervisor will not be happy with this, but would it be considered illegal or as academic/other misconduct. Obviously, my supervisor would know and probably be a co-author on any ensuing publications (if any).

What are the possible repercussions of the above? Could I be expelled from the program, or my PhD revoked after the fact? I could not find any discussion on such topics, and instead kept coming across the usual “fabrication, falsification and plagiarism”-related discussions, hence my questions!

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