Research of a Confidential Nature


7.1 Overview. Some research projects in the Department are funded under contract to private companies. This is particularly true for medical and biotechnological research where the end product of research might have commercial potential. A common requirement of such funding agencies is that all personnel engaged in the research must sign confidentiality agreements to prevent the dissemination of information about the project. This is done to protect an agency’s investment in a project from which it hopes to realise a financial profit.

A conventionally-funded research project can also generate a product that has commercial value and is then subject to a patent application. This can result in the research material becoming confidential and embargoed from publication for a period of time.

7.2 Recommendations. The Biology Department recognizes the important contribution that research of a confidential nature makes to the University and to the non-academic community. However, it also recognizes that an essential component of graduate education is to provide the opportunity for students to discuss the aims and results of their research within a wide audience including their peers, the Biology faculty, and research colleagues outside of Queen’s. Such discussion is prevented by undertaking a project protected by a confidentiality agreement. Therefore, the Department encourages Biology faculty to assign work of this nature whenever possible to postdoctoral research associates and technicians, rather than graduate students. The senate Document on Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment states that graduate students must not be assigned work in which non-academic considerations (e.g., commercial potential, financial gain, etc.) are a significant factor without the prior agreement of the School of Graduate Studies. When such an agreement is obtained, the Biology Department expects that confidential work will not comprise a large proportion of the work to be included in the student’s thesis. If, during the course of a project, a student generates results that require confidentiality, it is anticipated that the student will want to complete the project. Sometimes the need for a patent or a confidentiality agreement is not evident until a thesis project is well underway. In such cases, the student has the right to continue with the project and take it through to completion if she/he so desires.

All personnel in the supervisor's (or other relevant) laboratory as well as the Graduate Studies Committee) must be informed of any existing or planned confidentiality agreements associated with a graduate student's research.

7.3 Application Procedure. The supervisor of any student who wishes to undertake a research project protected by a confidentiality agreement must first ensure that the student is completely aware of the possible consequences of embarking on such a project. Such consequences include, but are not limited to: a) being prevented from presenting the results of their research at scientific meetings, b) being prevented from publishing the results of their research for some period of time, and c) being unable to recruit or retain the most appropriate faculty as members of their supervisory and examination committees (individual faculty are at liberty to sign or to not sign confidentiality agreements at their discretion, and may not wish to serve on a committee when such an agreement is necessary). Students who are unsure of the advisability of pursuing confidential research should discuss this matter with the Graduate Coordinator.

Permission for students to undertake confidential research must be obtained by applying in writing to the Graduate Studies Committee. This application should include: a) information on the nature of the research and the reasons why it must be confidential, b) an estimate of the proportion of the student’s thesis that will be confidential, c) an estimate of the length of time that the student will be prevented from disclosing this part of their research, d) an indication of how the student will still be able to participate in research discussions and meetings within the Department and the wider scientific community, and e) a signed declaration by the student indicating a desire to undertake the project and a recognition of the consequences of the restrictions. The Graduate Studies Committee will forward the application and a recommendation to the School of Graduate Studies. This application procedure should be followed either at the outset of a project protected in whole or in part by a confidentiality agreement, or when part of a project becomes confidential during the course of the research.

7.4. Restriction of Thesis. At the completion of a confidential research project a student may elect to protect the results by withholding the thesis from deposit in the library under the regulations set out in the Thesis section of the Graduate Calendar. This can be done by applying for successive six month periods of restriction up to a maximum of two years. A written application signed by both the student and the supervisor must be submitted to the Graduate Studies Committee who will then forward it with a recommendation to the School of Graduate Studies and Research. All parties must agree to the restriction. In the event that agreement cannot be reached the matter should be referred to the Coordinator of Graduate Studies.

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