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


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.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for those of you who have been abused. I was lucky and for the most part, had mentors who considered me a peer apprentice and treated me with respect. Now, as a tenured Professor and Chair,I pledge not to allow this in my shop! But I note so many are afraid to speak. Please find someone who is sensitive tot he issue and has power to intervene and do it early. Many of us want to help, but we hear too little too late. Where a faculty member has abused multiple people, it several will talk, we can take action. Earlier interventions can sometimes change these behaviors, but at least we can protect you.

DocCraig said...

My partner also had a bad experience at the University of Leicester. Basically they treat international students like s***. Many international students are better than their corrupt mentors back home in Asia.

Yet, some are getting failed and sent back home with no degree and all the shame that comes with it. External examiners in this case had no expertise in the field and failed on the basis of the thesis not be related to Geography etc.

Most professors have no idea about how other cultures operate and how they perpetuate corruption by failing good students and allowing older corruption lecturers back home prosper. Some external examiners will only pass high-end super rich international students who were fed with English from birth.

Yet in some subject areas they pass weak Chinese students in social science fields as they generate so much money for these programmes.

This is known to happen across more than one school and education in particular has well-known cases which they brush under the carpet. External examiners are King, nobody can cross them and I would urge students to select their own external as academics seriously are flawed and don't know how to match external examiners to students.

We have had to delay having children because of the unfair decision whilst this university continues to market itself as not elitist.

UK universities offer poor vlaue for money and poor training within departments. Some international students swop subjects in order to enroll on PhD progrmames because they may have much better English than their peers, however, they struggle with the new subject content with no previous background which the university is not factoring in.

US universities provide a much better PhD training from what have heard- beware of the social science PhD in the UK. I have heard too many tales of how long it has taken people to finish.

Anonymous said...

I have been a doctoral candidate at a New England state university for several years. I was recently terminated, three months before planned completion of my degree, because I could not put together a dissertation committee. Members had either left the university, retired, or had legal problems that caused them to leave my original committee. After asking more than a dozen faculty to join, I was dropped because I could only come up with four persons, when 5 were required.

I have been treated with disrespect by members of the department and the Grad School. At all times and in every encounter with these persons, I have been polite, deferential, and sincere in my dealings with them.
The behavior of these mediocre persons with such great power over the lives of others is a travesty,highly unethical, and should be illegal.

Anonymous said...

We must create and share blacklist for bad academics and show this in public to prevent more problems from arrogant and selfish academic people.

We work for our government (Asia country) sending and supporting PhD students in Australia, UK, US, other parts of EU and Japan. Our division looks after PhD students in Australia and some NZ. Most of PhD problems come from ignorant management of the aussie uni. Our students have the same problem in that their first PhD supervisors left students during their course. Most of aussie unis cheat these students by let them first enroll in the research degree to get money from international students and left them after 2-3 years rendering financial and academic quota for our country due to our graduate students been reserved for their positions in our government organization prior to studying.

The examination process in Australia too is very abusive. It is not in public and no viva. Most of examiners (we have accumulated examiner reports from many students in the past) use overpower and criticize theses outside their expertise.

There are often unnecessary major revision and resubmit decision for strong practical experimental based theses just because the results and proposed theory are different from the examiner expectations or their team (this is what we have told by former government supported students having phd from other parts of the world who help us decipher some bad examiner reports and some of these graduate used to be selected as examiners). The reports also show some non sense emotional comments, offensive words and bullying statements. These should not be from academic people or written in any formal reports at all.

The reason unis let this happen to get more money for re enrollment fee. Some unis also have corruption past to prevent students who found this secret silently. For recent example, one of the uni threaten student who discover his own supervisor faking stem cell experiment.

We have blacklist of these people and advice new students not to go for doing PhD in Australia if some option exist. We are happy if other people want to share this blacklist in public (we do not share this in public at the moment but between some Asian countries government having the same problem).

This is our experience. We are happy if you want to do some investigation on this matter deeply.

We hint that our organization works on the matter of our government supported students more than 20 years. Not many countries in Asia has this kind of organization for long.

Any decisions whether to post this or not is o.k.

Anonymous said...

I fully understand your suffering because I also experience bullying in academia from professors as well as fellow PhD students! The scary thing is that I have moved to Sweden for my graduate studies and I encounter racial comments and unfair remarks continuously. It is to the point that they mock me in Swedish when I am sitting in the room! I cannot say anything because I am a minority and nobody takes my side in the situation! You can add this on top of the tremendous amount of pressure to publish frequently in high ranked journals with no help or supervision whatsoever. I find myself lonely, sad and depressed having no one to talk to or even someone I can trust to have a small talk. It is a terrifying situation...