Working for a Supervisor's Company

Students sometimes have the opportunity to do research with funds or infrastructure provided by a company in which their supervisor has financial,managerial or ownership involvement. Corporate sponsorships can provide a much-needed and secure source of research funding, as well as advance the purposes of the University in serving the needs of the larger community by fostering the transfer and application of knowledge.

Conflict of Interest

As a student, you should be aware that doing research in the setting of, or funded by, a company with which your supervisor has links may put you in a position of conflict of interest. You are first and foremost a student of the University, and must be allowed to develop your research projects in accordance with normal academic criteria and scholarly integrity. Your supervisor should fully disclose any potential conflicts of interest in writing, and where appropriate should also obtain advance approval for the project from the department head and/or director of the School, with a copy to the faculty Dean, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the Vice President Research.

Examples of situations where conflicts of interest lead to apparent exploitation of students include:

  • Engaging students to perform services for the supervisor in situations where the students fear that failure to comply will result in a biased evaluation of their academic performance
  • Failing to give proper recognition to any reliance on the ideas, work or assistance of students or failing to obtain, where appropriate, prior permission for the use of work done or results obtained by students
  • Failing to compensate students for intellectual property to which the students have made substantial contributions
  • Encouraging students to prolong research well beyond the point where a satisfactory thesis could be generated
  • Asking students to assign their intellectual property rights to the company without disclosure to the University

“When I worked for my supervisor’s company, EnWave, I had the benefits of learning in both an academic and industry setting. This provided me with an enhanced educational experience beyond the classroom.” — James F. Lefort, graduate student, Plant Science

Any issues relating to research conditions, ownership and/or use of data, publication rights or commercialization, should be outlined in a letter from your supervisor at the outset of your research and amended from time to time by mutual agreement as the situation evolves. Over the last 35 years, over 230 companies have spun off from UBC: 95% of them located in British Columbia.