January 21, 2012

Abuse of Phd students

I was a Phd student in the US and went through a similar experience. It is like a hazing process that lasts 4-5 years. Perhaps they were just whipping us into shape, and maybe I learned from it, but at the time it did not feel good, and I'm not sure if it is the most effective learning environment. I witnessed heavy handed punishments for the slightest infractions, abusive and insulting emails and phone calls, mutinies against individuals, and a soviet era style code of silence in the face of this abuse. All faculty and administrators would stick together if a student complained, and there was no authority to report them to. Students would not even talk about the bullying because they were too scared. And there was nowhere to go because we were trapped for 4-5 years, dropping out would have meant wasting all that work it took to get this far, and you need them to graduate and sponsor your thesis, and transferring is not an option. They really do have the upper hand. And the males do seem to get it worse.

By Anonymous on PhD students suffer from bullying supervisors

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

My first graduate supervisor was well-known for exploiting his students. He treated them as his own personal employees and expected them to toil endlessly in producing data. In one case, he published that data without giving credit to the student who obtained those results. (The student took umbrage at that when he found out and the situation nearly ended in litigation. As far as I know, the matter was settled privately.)

One of his other grad students was a foreigner who I assumed had a master's degree when he started on his Ph. D. That student apparently failed his thesis defence and ended up with another master's. He decided to try again for his doctorate and I think it was because he came from a society where honour and image were important. Going back to his home country without the degree he set out to obtain may have been shameful for him and it wouldn't surprise me if our supervisor took advantage of that.

I have no idea what happened to that student because I transferred to another university to finish my degree and lost touch with him.

Anonymous said...

My doctoral adviser recruited me and then dumped me after 5 years. She used my master's thesis to further her career, but knowing the quid-pro-quo situation in grad school, I turned a blind eye towards her blatant stealing of other students' (sometimes undergrads) papers and theses as well as mine.

When the time came, she had to get rid of me because I knew too much about her dirty laundry. She falsified information about me and spread malicious rumors in the dept (and I suspect also to the people in my field). I was suddenly dumped by my entire dissertation committee (later found out that the chair of the dept ordered them to do so) and was basically kicked out of school without any official reason. The school backed her up and didn't even give me a proper graduate school committee hearing. Friends and family urged me to sue the school as well as my adviser, but foolishly wanting to survive academia, I decided not to. I was lucky enough to transfer to another school and finally earned my doctoral degree, but what makes me shudder till this day is the manner in which my adviser manipulated people around her to eliminate me. I later found out that the official reason she gave to the dept chair and faculty was that her high school daughter didn't like me. And based on this, the entire school mobilized in such a manner that can only be described as monstrous bullying.

But at the end of the day, there is a thing called karma. The adviser got rejected by her own daughter later in life, one of my committee members lost their child and another ended up fat and lonely. Looking back, the way they treated me was indicative of how they would treat other people. I don't know what makes certain academics the way they are, but I'm suspecting the long years of bullying they witnessed might have registered in their heads as 'normal'. From where I stand now, it seems like academics are the most pitiful creatures. Nobody would ever know who they are except for each other, but they would literally kill to hang on to that little piece of what they perceive as 'glory'. Life is much larger than them.

Anonymous said...

I have experienced bullying and academic hazing for much of my time as a PHD student. I became a pawn between two battling professors and it delayed my program for 2 years. I do not feel I can speak up as doc students do not have any rights at my university.

Anonymous said...

I am going through the same experience at University of Leicester in England. I am PhD and I have been mistreated by not only my supervisor but as well as other PI. It is really disgusting that this happens and there is not much you can do in order to defend yourself. It is simply disgusting certain Dr and Prof should shame and learn how to behave.....

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this forum. The problem with academic bullying is that it causes you to go back and forth between blaming them and blaming yourself. It has finally dawned on me that whether or not I have academic weaknesses, I was accepted into this program and the professors therefore have a moral obligation to treat me with dignity--something they see as optional, depending on their mood or whether or not such treatment will benefit themselves. I taught high school for many years before entering this program. If I had treated my high school students the way my major professor treats me, I would have been justifiably fired.