Final Theses as Contributions to Research Projects

Students often write their final thesis (Bachelor or Master thesis) within the context of a research project at the professorship. This makes a lot of sense: The project is likely to be leading edge and of supported by a Mitarbeiter or the Professor. Hence the project is interesting and students are likely to get good supervision.

The professor usually hopes that a student’s thesis also advances the research project. In fact, working with Bachelor and Master students is an important way of getting work done in research projects, and public grant proposals often explicitly ask that students be involved in research projects as early and as much as possible.

A student who performs work, even as part of a final thesis, exclusively owns the rights to their work. Exclusive ownership means that the student can forbid anyone to use their work. This can become a problem if the student work is being incorporated into some larger work, like a multi-year multi-person research project. The student’s contribution may only be a small part within the context of the much larger research project, but by way of the exclusive ownership of their work, the student is legally entitled to request that the research project stop immediately and that any work they contributed to not be used.

We cannot allow this to happen. It would put our research projects in danger. For this reason we ask students who would like to write a final thesis within the context of our research projects to provide us with usage rights to their work results. This involves signing a contributor agreement to our projects as part of registering a thesis with us. We make it a requirement that students cannot forbid us to use our research projects after they made a non-trivial contribution.

A student retains all rights to their work except for the exclusivity. Unlike with our teaching projects, the situation is not symmetric, though: The student does not acquire rights to our research projects. The student is still free to do with their work whatever they want. After finishing their thesis, students can take their work into a completely different direction than our research projects or even compete with them.

In case of questions, feel free to comment below or to contact us directly.

This blog post is (c) 2016 Dirk Riehle, some rights reserved. It is licensed CC-BY 4.0 so do whatever you want with it within the limits (not many) of the license and as long as you attribute the original author and link back here:

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