Some time ago, I had a nasty shock when I checked my email; a new paper had appeared which addressed almost the same research topic that I’ve been working on for the previous few months. I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me; had I just wasted a lot of time and grant money?
This sort of thing happens much more often that you might think in research, where it’s often a race between competing groups to publish results as fast as possible and in the best journals possible. Early career researchers often think that they are (or should be) the only people in the world working on a particular topic, and if they are not then the project is doomed to failure. It can actually be a very good thing if more than one team is working on similar research questions.
This shows that the research question is good. I’d actually be a little worried if I was the only researcher working on a topic for years with no competition. Why does no-one else in the world think this question is worthy of investigation?
An international perspective on your research question and why it is important is a very valuable skillset to develop. Your advisor should be aware of other groups around the world currently working on similar topics, and, indeed, perhaps you have already reached out to them to discuss your project and conclusions. I always tell students: If someone else releases a paper in a similar area or on a similar topic that potentially overlaps with your research then this is a good thing. This means that your research is broadly interesting (corroboration that your question is meaningful) and also gives you something to aim at when you are putting together your own work for publication. Not as a target per se, but another closely related that you can cite (positively or negatively, depending on whether you agree), use to check the current literature, and develop the structure of your own research article.
After recovering from the initial shock of seeing a paper come out on “my” research question, I wrote to the authors, expressed my interest in their work, and offered collaboration using the data I’d also collected on this topic. We’ll probably collaborate and write another paper: everyone wins!
Our Charlesworth Knowledge training courses, workshops, and online materials are designed to help you foster effective, targeted research projects, get your work published in the best journals possible, and develop an international mindset about your career goals. We can help you will aspects of your research: idea conception and development, research group and project management, funding applications, paper writing and submission, as well as the international communication skills you’ll need to be a successful academic.