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Conflict of Interest and Student Interaction with Industry

The University of Missouri encourages students to seek experiences in the private or public sector that enhance and complement their academic program and demonstrate its relevance. However, the University of Missouri is responsible for the education and training of graduate students and for facilitating the process for them to complete their degree in a timely manner without potential conflicts with the educational/academic mission. These guidelines provide information about student rights and responsibilities when they engage with industry or with other entities outside the university, including those entities that involve their research advisor.

Employment or Activities with non-University Entities

Although the University of Missouri encourages a fulltime commitment to graduate education, it recognizes the need for some students to seek outside employment. It is not the intent of this document to discourage that employment but to discuss the potential conflicts between the academic and industry responsibilities and requirements that students (and their advisors) might encounter. Outside employment that: a) is related to student research/scholarship (internships, industry funding); or b) has associations with their research advisor (advisor owns or has outside interest in entity as defined in the University’s Collected Rules and Regulations (CRR 330.015 B2)) may invoke special considerations.

Student Employment for Personal Non-University Activities

Students working as individuals in an industry related to their research area, but not associated with their degree or any University sponsorship should be aware that:

  1. There may be confidentiality restrictions or export controls on your industry work that prohibit appearance in publications.
  2. Intellectual property developed by you as an employee likely belongs to your employer.
  3. Your University sponsored work may have export controls that limit what you can share with the company. Check with your advisor or the Research Compliance Office if you have any concerns or questions.
  4. If your advisor has an outside interest in the company, they will be subject to review by the Conflict of Interest Committee to ensure the work you perform at the company is kept completely separate from your educational program.
  5. It is strongly recommended that you consult an attorney prior to signing any employment documents.

Student Engagement with Industry through Development of Intellectual Property

The University of Missouri also encourages student entrepreneurship and has policies that define ownership of intellectual property.

  1. Students own the copyright (CRR 100.030) and patent (CRR 100.020) for work created in their role as a student during curricular or extracurricular activities. Such property could result in development of a company and/or private industry acquisition. Students with their own company would work with the Conflict of Interest Office to manage any potential conflicts between the business and academic responsibilities and interests.
  2. Students’ work created in conjunction with private or public entities, or as part of the student’s research, may or may not belong to the student. Research grants, foundational funding and other forms of research support are normally provided to the faculty advisor through the University of Missouri. Thus, there are ownership guidelines in place and the role/ownership of the student should be clarified early with the faculty advisor and MU Office for Intellectual Property. Students with company ownership or investment would work with the Conflict of Interest Office to manage any potential conflicts between the business and MU academic responsibilities and interests.

Student Engagement with Public or Private Sector for an Academic Relationship

Students are encouraged to engage with non-University entities and industry to further enhance and complement their academic pursuits. Participation through internships with industry for academic credit (course or research credits), accreditation requirements, or paid internships and fellowships are encouraged with the following provisions:

  1. Academic pursuit, including degree attainment, of the student must remain the priority for the student, faculty advisor, and academic program. If the graduate student enters into a private sector arrangement, their educational experience should be enhanced through this association.
  2. A student must retain the ability to change advisor and/or topic areas or research direction free from influence or pressures outside the realm of scientific appropriateness and personal choice.
  3. A student’s field of research should not be significantly and involuntarily narrowed or limited as a result of involvement with the private sector; nor should such involvement result in significant limitation of post-graduate employment nor increase time to completion of the degree.
  4. Student collaborations and research with the private sector must not hinder publication of student work, particularly the thesis/dissertation.
  5. Inherent in their role as students and trainees within the industry, graduate students cannot assume responsibility for or serve as principal investigators of external grants to private entities, including those associated with university research unless approved by the Vice Chancellor of Research, Graduate Studies, and Economic Development or their designee.
  6. The student’s advisor does not have a financial interest in the company (defined below). The Conflict of Interest Committee will determine whether a COI Management Plan can be developed to mitigate the faculty member’s conflict of interest.

Student Engagement With Industry in Which Their Advisor has an Outside Interest

It addition to working with external private and public entities, students, particularly graduate students, often work with and for faculty member-developed start-ups and businesses. University of Missouri faculty members, through their research and academic pursuits, develop technologies, processes, and innovative procedures that are used and marketed outside the University. The Conflict of Interest Committee routinely reviews disclosures of this nature for faculty and manage the conflict between a faculty members work for MU and the work they plan for their business enterprise.

The process of reducing or managing a conflict of interest for faculty becomes more challenging when graduate students are involved in the faculty’s business enterprise. A “conflict” does not suggest wrongdoing but rather that a potential conflict exists for the faculty advisor between the academic needs of the student and the interests of the company.

To address the potential faculty conflict of interest regarding graduate student research or employment with the faculty member’s business enterprise, the Conflict of Interest Committee will develop a management plan for the faculty member and their role regarding the student. However, it is imperative the graduate students understand their rights and responsibilities as students and scholars when engaged with faculty-owned industry or industry in which a faculty member has an outside interest. In addition to the limitations described above for academic-industry relationships:

  1. Students Must Always Have Freedom to Publish. Freedom to publish and disseminate results are major criteria for assessing the appropriateness of any research project, particularly those involving graduate students. Consistent with the mission of the University of Missouri, the integrity of a student’s academic/research 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 student’s dissertation or thesis 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. When at all possible, these potential delays should be discussed with the student as early in the research process as possible. In the case of a dissertation or thesis, the review MUST be completed prior to submitting the document to the Office of Graduate Studies. Policies that govern graduate student thesis/dissertation publication allow for a short embargo of the dissertation/thesis but it is advisable to ensure the dissertation, in its entirety, contains no proprietary information prior to submission. Once submitted, the dissertation/thesis is linked to the degree and withdraw of the dissertation could require rescinding the associated degree.
  2. Freedom of Choice Regarding Involvement in Adviser’s Company. Graduate students have the freedom to decide whether to participate in faculty research or business activities. They have the right to say no, to change advisors and to change research interests to avoid engagement in faculty activities that may be outside the scope of the student’s academic interest.
  3. COI Management Plan Requirement. Graduate students may not be involved in a company in which their dissertation/thesis adviser or faculty mentor has an outside interest unless a COI Management Plan can be arranged for the faculty involved and a COI Student Monitor assigned to the case (Defined Below). “Involvement” means they may not be employed in the company in a research capacity, undertake training in the company, or do their dissertation research in the company.

Outside Interest of the Faculty Advisor is defined as:

  1. An employment, consulting, or other professional activity or service, paid or unpaid, for a third party that is not part of the Employee’s University Responsibilities, and such activity or service for the third party nonetheless relates to work within the scope of the faculty member’s University Responsibilities. This includes, without limitation, any activity or service that involves the use of the faculty member’s expertise, the practice of their profession, or any activity or service that contributes to the faculty member’s professional competence or development; or
  2. A direct or indirect financial interest in an entity that proposes to do business or is doing business with the University; or
  3. A direct or indirect financial interest in an entity that proposes to acquire or has acquired rights to University-owned intellectual property; or
  4. Whenever faculty member’s duties include research or investigation, a direct or indirect financial interest in an entity conducting research or business that is relevant to the scope of the Employee’s University Responsibilities; or
  5. Any other activity that could be construed as relating to or overlapping or competing with the core missions of the University. (CRR 330.015 B2)

Conflict of Interest (COI) Student Monitor

The COI Student Monitor is appointed if a student is involved in a company in which their advisor has an outside interest and the COI Committee determines a Student Monitoring Plan is needed to address the conflict of interest. The COI Student Monitor is charged with monitoring the academic interest of the student. The Monitor verifies the student is knowledgeable of their rights and responsibilities regarding their industry relationship and their advisor’s potential conflict of interest. The student, advisor, and COI Student Monitor will sign the COI Student Awareness Document. The COI Student Awareness Document becomes part of the faculty member’s COI Management Plan. The COI Student Awareness Document acknowledges the issues associated with such an arrangement and ensures that all parties involved are educated regarding the COI issues.

  1. A COI Student Monitor will be appointed by the Conflict of Interest Committee. Monitors should be disinterested parties relative to the faculty member’s outside interest and preferably a faculty member at or above the rank of the faculty member with the conflict of interest. A director of graduate studies in the faculty member’s unit or an associate dean are likely appointees.
  2. COI Student Monitors will have access to the faculty COI Management Plan that includes recommendations for student monitoring as well as information regarding the role of the student in the company.
  3. The COI Student Monitor will meet with assigned student upon student request, and must meet, at minimum, annually and upload the COI Student Monitor Report to the COI office. These reports will be reviewed by the COI Committee to ensure the student’s education/academic interest is upheld as “primary.”
    1. “Primary” indicates the student is making the expected progress on their degree, without being unduly compromised or biased by their industry affiliation/responsibilities, and can openly discuss and publish their work without retribution or unnecessary delay.
    2. COI Student Monitor Report is available on the website for COI Office.