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COI for Graduate Students/ Postdoctoral Scholars

Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, find information and links relating to conflict of interest.


The University provides numerous opportunities for students to work in the private sector as part of their education. This working experience complements academic curricula and enhances its relevance. The opportunities to collaborate with private industry provide students with a deeper understanding of the private sector's needs and future directions and exposes students to specialized research within a particular field. Additional benefits of students working with the private sector include opportunities to apply theory to practical problems, and the development of work skills, such as critical thinking, communication, business acumen, and team participation leading to increased understanding of career possibilities and potential career directions.

The postdoctoral experience emphasizes scholarship and continued research training for individuals who have recently completed a doctoral degree. By engaging in research training under the general oversight of a faculty mentor, postdoctoral scholars are prepared for career positions in academe, industry, government or the non-profit sector.  In addition, postdoctoral scholars enrich the research community with their expert knowledge and experience, and provide mentorship to graduate and undergraduate students. The University strives to enhance the postdoctoral experience by providing a stimulating and constructive environment, and by encouraging mutual respect and understanding.

The involvement of students and postdoctoral scholars with the private sector should enhance their educational experience and not unduly influence or restrict their academic and research choices. Specifically, a student must retain the ability to move freely from advisor to advisor and to change topic areas or research direction free from influence or pressures outside the realm of scientific appropriateness and personal choice. A student's field of research should not be significantly narrowed or limited as a result of involvement with the private sector, nor should such involvement result in significant limitation of post-graduate employment. All University research, including research sponsored by industry, is governed by the tradition of the free exchange of ideas and timely dissemination of research results. The University is committed to an open teaching and research environment in which ideas can be exchanged freely among faculty and students in the classroom, laboratory, informal meetings, and elsewhere.

Guidance for faculty, students, and postdoctoral scholars

When considering the appropriateness of graduate student participation in particular research projects with the private sector, the following principles apply:

University regulations guide the academic rights and responsibilities of students, and responsibility for adherence to these principles rests with the faculty. The University is committed to protecting the educational interests of students and maintaining an open environment free from undue influence of private outside interests. The advice and guidance given to students by faculty or staff members (including the nature and direction of research or other studies as well as employment opportunities outside the university) should always be governed by what is in the best academic interests of the student. Faculty members must not allow any outside professional activities or interests to prevent them from meeting their responsibilities to students as teachers, mentors, or supervisors of research.

Students and Postdoctoral Scholars Freedom to Publish

  • Freedom to publish and disseminate results are major criteria for assessing the appropriateness of any research project, particularly those involving students and postdoctoral scholars. Consistent with the mission of the University, the integrity of a student's academic experience shall be preserved, including the ability to complete and publish a thesis or dissertation and to freely publish, present, or otherwise disclose the results of research both within the academic community and to the public at large. The University precludes assigning to extramural sources the right to keep or make final decisions about what may or may not be published with respect to a research project.

  • Within this general understanding, the University also realizes that circumstances may arise where certain restrictions or limitations may be appropriate. Short, reasonable delays may be appropriate, for example, to allow the research sponsor to review publications for inadvertent disclosures of proprietary data or potentially patentable inventions. In all cases, however, these limitations or restrictions may not be more restrictive than those borne by faculty conducting similar research under University auspices.

Student Involvement in Adviser's Company

  • Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars may not be involved in a company in which their dissertation adviser or faculty mentor has a significant financial interest:

    1. "Involvement" means they may not be employed in the company, undertake training in the company, or do their dissertation research in the company.

    2. "Significant Financial Interest" is defined as one or more of the following held or received in the previous 12 months by the faculty member or the faculty member's spouse or dependent children:

      1. An investment in a private entity, by the faculty member or a member of the faculty member's immediate family (spouse/registered domestic partner or dependent children), worth more than $10,000, including stock options and profit sharing; or
      2. A position in a private entity as an employee, director, officer, partner, consultant, trustee, or any management position; or
      3. Income from a private entity, including consulting income, totaling $10,000 or more in value within a 12-month period.
  •  With careful review and endorsement of the Department Chair (or faculty designee), graduate students and postdoctoral scholars may be allowed* involvement in a company in which their dissertation adviser or faculty mentor has a significant financial interest, as long as there are safeguards in place, such as:

    1.  A dissertation co-chair (with no interest in the same company) has been assigned to supervise the progress of the graduate students;

    2.  The Department Chair or faculty designee or dissertation co-chair can confirm there is no overlap in scope and the student’s dissertation;

    3. Dissertation, or research project being performed by student in the mentor’s lab may not overlap with the invention or mission of the company; and

    4. Disclose interest(s) in Kuali COI, as applicable.

                   *In some instances, the conflicts may not be manageable.

Student Internships in Industry

  • Students are encouraged to participate in internships in industry for academic credit, which requires, in addition to work in the company, a research paper with relevant readings directed by a faculty adviser as long as the adviser does not have a significant financial interest in the company.

Permissible Student Involvement in Companies

  • When students enter into any private arrangements, they should take into account obligations they may have to the University (such as employment) and ensure that conflicts do not arise which could violate those University obligations. 

    1. Students and postdoctoral scholars may undertake educationally-related research activities at companies as long as the following conditions are met:The faculty adviser does not have a significant financial interest in the company.
    2. The company places no confidentiality or non-disclosure restrictions on the student and permits the student to freely discuss and publish the results of his work without delays.
    3. Any company patent agreement the student is required to sign be reviewed and approved by the University.

Student Participation in On-Campus Research Sponsored by Industry

  • Undergraduate, graduate student, and postdoc participation in on-campus industry-sponsored research is encouraged as long as the following conditions are met:

    1. The participation furthers the student's educational program.
    2. The student's faculty adviser and the researcher directing the project do not have a significant financial interest in the company sponsoring the campus research project.

Industry Participation in On-Campus Educational Programs

  • Industrial representatives are encouraged to participate on campus in student and postdoctoral educational programs; for example, industrial scientists and engineers could:

    1. Serve, where appropriate, as co-mentors with faculty mentors of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.
    2. Critique student papers or poster boards in student-sponsored research conferences.
    3. Offer a lecture in a course; or give a seminar.
  • Where appropriate, industrial representatives could be appointed to the adjunct professor series in recognition of their educational activities at UC San Diego.

Employees of Companies with an Interest in UCSD Research Becoming a UCSD Student  

  • An employee of a company with an interest in University research activities may become a student at UCSD under the following conditions:

    1. The student's dissertation adviser does not have a significant financial interest in the company.
    2. Any inventions made by the student in the course of working on University research projects are disclosed to and owned by the University.
    3. All the student's University research work is publishable with no company-imposed constraints.
    4. The student does not use any University facilities for the company's proprietary work.

Student Use of Personal Non-University Time

  • Students and postdoctoral scholars have the freedom to decide to use their personal non-University time to work for a company which may require the student to sign a confidentiality agreement and place restrictions on the student's right to publish as long as the following conditions are met:

    1. The student is not working at a company in which their mentor or any member of their doctoral committee has a significant financial interest.
    2. The work at the company is kept completely separate from the student's UCSD educational program.


The following agreements or arrangements should be disclosed to the Dean of Graduate Studies as soon as the student becomes aware of the facts giving rise to the disclosure obligation:

  • Agreements or arrangements between a student and a private entity involving research activities by the student, where the University or a mentor/research/thesis/dissertation advisor is a party to the agreement or arrangement, and the student's mentor/research/thesis/dissertation advisor has a financial interest in the private entity, and one or more of the following is true:
    1. The research activities are related to the student's thesis/dissertation or
    2. There are restrictions on the student's ability to publish, present, or otherwise disclose the findings from their research activities.

    When these agreements or arrangements are disclosed, procedures will be initiated to determine whether the agreements or arrangements are consistent with the student's academic interests. If not, consideration will be given to methods of resolution of these conflicts.

Related Resources

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