I am currently doing research and I know a fellow graduate student who is very intellectually curious. Let’s call him/her C. However, I feel that C has a very consistent habit for not crediting people who have discussed problems with him. We work in the same lab/department, so we cannot avoid each other.
C would (very frequently, may I add) try to get people to discuss his own research problems with him, and after he has been provided tips, references or full-blown solution to his problems, he would simply take credit for them as if it was his own. Present them as if he came up with the idea. Write them and publish them as papers as if he came up with the idea. He would of course laugh about it afterwards, and talk very jovially about his accomplishments, and in the past I would have laughed along with him, because I have adopted the mindset that perhaps it is good to help out my fellow colleague. I shared my ideas generously, and promptly responded to any request.
C’s habit came to my attention several month ago when another graduate student told me, that after spending a significant amount of time discussing a problem with C, C provided a solution to that problem, but nearly all the heavy lifting was done through that discussion.
Then it just happened, C talked to me about a problem a year ago, I provided him with what I thought would be a good way of tackle the problem. I just saw his publication, which was uploaded online last week, in which the paper utilizes some material drawn from what we had discussed.
This incident has left a bitter taste in my mouth, because I feel as if I had been used or exploited. Looking back, outside of accelerating C’s own research career, I feel that C has no real connection with any of his fellow graduate students. While the other students would talk about everyday life topics, current events, family, etc., C would only ask us questions about his own research.
In doing so, C’s behavior in some sense has cheapened my graduate school experience, and left me jaded at the fact that to in order become a top researcher, it seems that you need to exploit other people’s time and intellectual energy as much as possible for your own gain. The more you do it, the more successful you will become.
It reminded me of my undergraduate days, when fellow students would try to pick your brains about everything you knew about a subject, but gives nothing in return. You have any study material out, they line up to see what you are reading. “Nosy”, as some would describe this type of behavior. It just feels that my patience and kindness has being routinely exploited by people who just don’t really care about other people.
How do senior researchers deal with this type of behavior? Of course,
research cannot go on without communication, and we all have taken
credit for things that are not purely our own intellectual
contribution. However, I think the person’s consistent willingness to
exploit other people’s time and intellectual energy has crossed the
line for me. I wonder if I am over-reacting.