The sharing of research materials. When is the right time?

Ed, a fourth-year graduate student, was still several months away from finishing an ongoing research project when a new postdoc arrived from a laboratory doing similar work. After the two were introduced, Ed automatically asked about the work going on in the other lab and was surprised to hear that researchers there had successfully developed a reagent that he was still struggling to perfect. Knowing that both labs had policies requiring the sharing of research materials, Ed wrote a letter to the head of the other lab asking if the laboratory could share some of the reagent with him. He didn’t expect there to be a problem, because his project was not in competition with the work of the other lab, but a couple of weeks later he got a letter from the lab director saying that the reagent could not be shared because it was still “poorly developed and characterized.”

The new postdoc, upon hearing the story, said, “That’s ridiculous. They just don’t want to give you a break.”

  1. Where can Ed go for help in obtaining the materials?
  2. Are there risks in involving other people in this situation?
  3. What kinds of information is it appropriate for researchers to share with their colleagues when they change laboratories?

“The sharing of research materials. When is the right time?” is Part 7 of our On Being a Scientist series, where we explore  the culture and practice of science within the context of society. Stay tuned for Part 8 of our series.

Further Reading: On Being a Scientist, National Academy Press


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