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...

Unknown said...

I have had a dismal experience with my ex supervisor... Initially l wanted to write a simple and straightforward thesis based on a Swedish thesis about non profit entrpreneurship. That was in June, l got it approved no l felt like as on my way... Then l met mR Vlachos, apart from calling me names, such as a Jew (I am not Jewish), complaining l am overweight and sweat a lot, and threatening to throw me out of the window on several occasions, and then saying later it was all a joke, this dysfunctional guy manoeuvred me into writing a completely different thesis that could not be found in the school masters library, and concerned an obscure field. I moved from the challenges NGO managers face, to cognitive constructivist business models and strategies and how managers seem to think. The literature was hopelessly out of date, most of the papers came from the mid twentieth century, and dealt with cognitive processes as a singular black box... Also l felt that my library search engine was reconfigured so l could find only such papers related to the thesis, and nothing else.
Whenever l asked him something he would laugh at me, insult me and humiliate me, and when l asked him to explain something he would Refuse to. All l was engaged in was a slushka, or what my mum calls amRussian layer cake, monotony through conformity. I am deeply angered at how the department treated me, and l am seriously considering suing the school for breach of contact. I did not go to school to be abused, and laughed at. Hat like have seen from other schools is that the thesis advisor is supposed to guide you, he did not as he never bothered to read the thesis, and he never told me l was right or wrong, but purposely confused and lied to me, and when l complained, please explain, he started to threaten me. Shame on you Scotland for allowing incompetent bullies...

Unknown said...

Hi to all, I know that one professor have both regular and part time degree students. The part time student pay money to professor and the professor says he help my lab. The part time student only keep his job and never look the lab or never work in other place for his degree. Finally the professor award him with full research data for his graduation and that all work did by a regular student in the lab who work day and night. But the regular student only scare for his carrier that the supervisor will ignore him for graduation and will make some reason. He scare because he did not find any law justice help in this current world. I want to know that who and how can be punish a professor who can award the research data from one student and give it to those who give him money.
For researcher the result is the most important things.
PLEASE comment with reference and help points.

Anonymous said...

I have seen the most appalling bullying take place in the best university for art history in the UK (and in its opinion - the best university for art history in the world). These art historians are all highly intelligent, but because they depend on each other's high regard for their reputation in their circles, they stick together and if one chooses to bully they will form a mob at their behest. There is no place for redress for the victimised student, and the management do not wish to hear about it as their main concern is that they have star academics teaching rather than sane academics teaching. Students are expected to feel grateful for being taken on, and they have to suffer in silence whilst they are shunned and ignored.

Anonymous said...

As a doctoral student in my final months in Austria, i have suffered extreme abuse from my supervisor to date. He constantly threatens you. I did not realize before commencing the doctoral studies that all but one of his doctoral students (co-supervised) have been from Austria or largely German speaking. He is very manipulative and stopped paying me for work i was doing whiles asking me to apply for unemployment benefit whiles also suggesting i return to my country and send him results before i can graduate. I am currently at a loss and feel very abused. I am hoping he dies soon or suffers stroke soon till he dies. I have never wished so much evil for anyone in my life than at this moment in my life.

Anonymous said...

It is true that academics at the university band together to support one another no matter what wrong the advisor had committed. It is as ridiculous that they attempt to argue over what is clearly stated in the university's manual on the responsibilities of the advisor.

I have been abused over a year by the advisor who granted me just 2 meetings. Any questions raised on the issues discussed were perceived as personal challenges. He is only interested in his own monologue. I am still waiting for his review of a draft for six months now.

There is karma. There is retribution.
I will wait to see what fate befalls this idiot and all those who had a hand in these.

Anonymous said...

I joined as PhD student and after one year my professor says me to leave to my country and that I am wasting his time and my time not doing anything productive.but the fact is I kept all my efforts to do my best.i ruined my health,money and peace to survive this one year but by professor continuously mocks me that I don't do work and I am ineligible forPhD.can you please suggest me what I need to do in this kind of situation.

Micheal Cooper said...

My PhD was a complete setup at Brunel university London, they accidentally sent me an email where one of the professors threatened to send me one of her scary emails( ONE OF HER SCARY EMAILS?????? ).
In a bid to cover up i got a letter of withdrawal in response to my complaint about the email, the review panel of doctors include one that advised me to use hard drug (YES HARD DRUGS) and i have witness on the day he advised, the other two are addicted to nicotine gum ( which results in bipolar) sadly one of them was my supervisor.
I intend to fight for my right can anyone give me advice on how to bring this unworthy groups down???? advise is needed .

Oh and i do have copies of the emails which they accidentally sent to me

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone.I would like to know your opinion. My phd supervisor doesn't want to help me..or so it seems to me.He keeps saying we're behind schedule...but test cost money (i live in an east europe country..with corruption and no modern labs). And so i am in my third year and i didn't do too much. And she keeps saying that if i quit i havr to pay back the phd scholarship money..although i haven't implied such a thing...just that i have a part time job to sum up my monthly income to a decent amount..so to be able to pay the bills.And the most frustrating is that he helps the other phd students a lot more than he ever helped me.What do you think? Is my mentor trying to get rid of me? I have noticed the practice in my country..not everywhere, but the phd student pays..the professorgives money to someone to do tests for thesia, but keeps a part for himself..a sort of profit...It just shocks me, since I told my mentor i don't have money or anyone to support and most of all that I want to work for my results, it's what being phd student means.To me it's unthinkable to give someone else to do my thesis. What should i do?Thanks a alot and good luck to all of you.

Anonymous said...

To the person bashing and alleging corruption in the Australian Universities,

Name the university because I graduated from one of the G08 and usually international students are funded via a scholarship by Australia. If the student had a gumption on the supervisor falsifying data - they should report it because that is serious academic misconduct. Usually the student union have lawyers on board and their funds run separate from the university administration. Students had taken on their supervisors and the university does change supervisors if there is justification.

Also regarding the closed door assessments - students in my university are given a choice whether they want a public or closed door examination/oral or written defence , and with good reason because some research are classified (could be related to defence). We had to be assessed on our milestones annually . We have watched even local fellow students terminated after the first year. Often it is because they are incompetent or viewed as incapable of completion. I recalled one overseas student with such distinction in her masters back home - who didn't even know the difference between parametric and non parametric methods - her masters was a science based one, so she didn't have an excuse. It may not be a 'money grab'.

So I am not sure which university is in your books but I can assure you that those generally funded by their government like my Asian classmates did graduate without issues.

Anonymous said...

I found this blog at a very weak moment in my PhD. My PhD supervisor is: racist, sexist, abusive, completely and utterly unprofessional and has sexually harassed not only me but several others. He justifies it all under the umbrella of "academic freedom". The University have been informed but nothing has been done about it.

To elaborate, briefly:
1) Repeated (small but persistent and pervasive) racist and sexist commments "that black man", "that fat woman" "I wouldnt shag her, she's too old for me". He's admitted to sleeping with prostitutes.
2) He shouts, screams, threatens people with ruining their careers - and he tries very hard to do that too. He gossips, he lies, he badmouths, he's two faced.
3) He makes directly sexual comments to people and has even asked a PhD student out on a date. When she went to the graduate tutor for advice anonymously, word got to him and she was bullied even more. Other female staff member was so sick of his comments about her body, she complained to the university and eventually she left because her life became unbearable.

Anonymous said...

I recently survived a gruelling mid-term progress review of my Phd work which is in an area where I work professionally, and highly successfully. My supervisor made false accusations about me in the presence of the reviewing panel. The accusations were of an extreme kind. It was surprising, since up till then the relationship had been cordial. Fortunately, the chairperson ruled the supervisor out of line. The supervisor later apologised. I have had a long career in teaching and would have been fired if I had treated my students in this way. A few weeks later, a fellow Phd student in the same department was also up for review. I asked this student a few days ago how it went. "Horrible," the student said, and told me that the supervisor said, in front of the panel, "I don't give a shit about your project." There is something deeply disturbing about this kind of behaviour. I am of an age where I am unimpressed by these games. I suspect there are several things at play here: the spill-over from departmental and wider institutional politics, the struggles these supervising academics are having with their own projects, a certain professional jealousy in relation to wider workplace success and experience of some of the candidates, the pressure supervisors are put under by the institution to be efficient gatekeepers, and the warping of personality that seems to be happening to these academics. I had been enjoying my Phd journey immensely to that point, but the incidents have soured the experience. Our institution's compulsory research integrity module in its section on Ethics lays considerable emphasis on respect within the research environment. The module suggests what steps can be taken to seek redress. I am not entirely confident that that would be effective. The behaviour I have referred to is a brazen, bold flouting of that requirement. Fortunately, I have been able to communicate with an academic in another department who has been able to voice concerns to others in positions of influence.

Anonymous said...

My partner's supervisor at University of Otago,New Zealand is abusing his supervisory powers. He has not got a single paper published in the past 6 years. He keeps checking the results of students years after they leave. Makes them make 24 drafts of a paper but accepts and publishes none.
He is jealous of his students and keeps demoralizing them. He also gives negative reference letters to kill future prospects of his students.
He absolutely refuses to help his students in any way possible.
He is a psychopath who is jealous of his students and wishes to destroy their career.
I hope no other student gets caught in his clutches....he absolutely deserves no students. I wish there was a way to get him blacklisted for abuse of his supervisory powers and racial discrimination.

Melanie Simms said...

I was a graduate student at Wilkes University and was the recipient of verbal yelling/abuse in a classroom directed at me in front of my peers as well as abuse from the new advisor who I switched to who was also verbally abusive via email. I started documenting, and have spoken to an academic attorney. I refuse to go back to that school. I lost a semester. Fortunately my doctor took me out of there on a medical leave because the abuse was aggravating my depression to the point of becoming suicidal.
It was horrible how badly the students would be treated including hazing, verbal abuse and sharing academic progress with comments like, " you better shape up; you are on a full scholarship and your work is not meeting expectatons," things like that. Is that a FERPA violation in a graduate school? Anyway I have filed a report, sent it to the Dean of Students and if I am not responded to appropriately filings with EVERYONE, legal action and press is coming into play, ENOUGH OF THIS CRAP IS ENOUGH. What kind of education are we paying for? We are paying to be ABUSED????? Time to stop the abuse and bullying!!

Anonymous said...

I read the article of t 'Ethics in the supervisory relationship: supervisors’ and doctoral students’ dilemmas in the natural and behavioral sciences.', I would like to add some comments about this article which is used the academic system of Finland as its study case. I think it is better to extend this research and do interviews with students who lost their chance to continue their study due to various injustices which happened for them due to their specific race by their group members and supervisor. As a person who from was attended the international educational system of Finland, I was the witness the hidden and continuous discrimination in the academic places, bullying, and misbehavior (mostly by European and non-European seniors) against the newly hired students. Many left their study because they didn't get proper support from HR or their supervisors and decided to don’t continue the job in a toxic place. I am sure there are many non-European students who are faced misbehavior and injustice in Finland academies and there is no exact rate from them because most of them due to some circumstances forced to don’t complain from the group (mostly are thinking they will need a reference letter in the future so it is better to don’t destroy all the bridges of the behind).

maybe additional research at least helps other young and fresh mind students to think wisely about Finland or any other country before departure to them for study as it is not only the issue of just getting a Ph.D., it is about the future of their academic life. The wrong decision just ruins their 20 years of study and later due to lack of proper support they can’t get a Ph.D. or a proper job easily.
Actually, the job in Finland for an international student except IT and computer sector literally has been limited to midnight post job, packing vegetables in -4 degree, delivery and cleaning services. getting a suitable job related to your profession is really rare. In Finland, you can see the dentists who became housewives and just spend time at home, engineers who are doing cleaning toilets, or the researchers who after the end of their contracts in university, they attended old care centers.
If you worked with another professor in Finland and due to some issues such as the bad environment of your workplace or your displeasure you left there, the rate of getting another position by another teacher will fall dramatically. maybe they are thinking it is possible they face a problem with you too or you are known to the educational rules of Finland and they cant expect you work more than normal!!! Fresh non-European students usually work instead of 2,3 students which means more experiments more tasks and less payment, they even do experiments till late and even holidays.
It is a crime that presenting fake golden results brings young students with fresh ideas and hopes to a country and finally leaves them without support. when a poor student even cant get the chance to complain on time as she/he trusts the supervisor who says everything will be solved. parents sent children abroad with the wish that they are going to study in the best country with the best educational system, they even support them financially while they don't know that child will hide from society because of the fails which weren't his guilt.
making a person feel low and valueless is the output of the system which doesn’t have proper monitoring on the educational groups.