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This Category:   PostgraduateForum.com > PhD Advice / Support


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Assertiveness with supervisor


User: helebon - 10 February 2018 12:50

I experienced a time with my supervisor who was a bully. I have since finished the course but feel it would have been useful to have had some urgent training at the time, on being assertive but also being diplomatic. I went to see student support at the uni at the time and they didn't comment on the bullying, either that person was not trained in dealing with the situation or they were closing ranks.

How do other postgrads handle supervisors who are like this? I know bullying is not rare in academia at postgraduate level and you need to be thick-skinned.

User: Tudor_Queen - 10 February 2018 15:03

Being thick skinned and taking crap are two different things. Put differently, bullying and criticism are completely different things. I'd say be thicked skinned - take criticism but don't take it personally - it's good and will make your work better. But if the focus of someone's behaviour is on YOU, rather than a constructive criticism of your work, then that is something different. If you show that you are aware of it and that it isn't acceptable, then they may stop doing it. If not then I'd say change supervisors. It will only get worse.

User: TreeofLife - 10 February 2018 17:44

Quote From helebon:


How do other postgrads handle supervisors who are like this?
Usually they cry and moan to their friends, then do their time and get the hell out of there.

User: pm133 - 11 February 2018 01:18

Quote From helebon:
I experienced a time with my supervisor who was a bully. I have since finished the course but feel it would have been useful to have had some urgent training at the time, on being assertive but also being diplomatic. I went to see student support at the uni at the time and they didn't comment on the bullying, either that person was not trained in dealing with the situation or they were closing ranks.

How do other postgrads handle supervisors who are like this? I know bullying is not rare in academia at postgraduate level and you need to be thick-skinned.

I would never "deal" with a bully. I have experienced a few of them and i have always quit and moved elsewhere.

A bully cannot be reasoned with and life is too short to waste. There are too many other opportunities out there.

User: helebon - 11 February 2018 08:43

Thanks for the replies. I guess it was a shock to me that supervisors could be like this. I paid for the course and like any customer, I expected to be treated with a normal standard level of respect but this didn't happen. My supervisor was chosen for me as my first choice was unavailable. The whole experience impacted on my project. It has put me off the university and I will go elsewhere in the future.

I have been lucky in the past during my undergraduate degree, having an approachable and kind personal tutor and project supervisor.

User: TreeofLife - 11 February 2018 09:38

Quote From helebon:


I have been lucky in the past during my undergraduate degree, having an approachable and kind personal tutor and project supervisor.

No... undergrads are treated differently. My supervisor wins teaching awards voted for by undergrads all the time - these same undergrads then get a shock when they are supervised by them for a MSc/PhD. I must say I find that dichotomy quite amusing.

User: helebon - 11 February 2018 10:36

I found the following on the web, from staff and students at the University of Newcastle in Austrailia, who have been bullied.

“Systemic bullying, hazing and abuse generally are identified with poor, weak or toxic organizational cultures. Cultures that are toxic have stated ethical values that are espoused but not employed, and other non-ethical values which are operational, dominant, but unstated.

Such cultures thrive when good people are silent, silenced, or pushed out; when bad apples are vocal, retained, promoted, and empowered; and when the neutral majority remain silent in order to survive. Those who are most successful in such a toxic culture are those who have adapted to it, or adopted it as their own”. (McKay, Arnold, Fratzl & Thomas, 2008)

My university has an apparent "zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment towards students". A value not employed.

User: Tudor_Queen - 11 February 2018 14:05

There is such a thing as a supervisor who treats you with respect. Don't accept bullying, no matter what. But what I was trying to get at in my original reply was the need to distinguish between criticism and bullying. They are two different things. But if the criticism has got bullying in it, then I agree with pm133, move on - there are better supervisors out there.

There is a need for reform in academia (I have a really interesting book on the topic actually). But I figure I can't hang around and wait for it to reform itself, but I can make sure that those I interact with treat me with a degree of respect. I changed supervisors and it was the best thing I did! Sometimes it might not be possible. Someone at a recent talk I attended about fellowships said that once we've finished out PhD, we have more choice about who were work with/interact with. So it should get better!

User: helebon - 11 February 2018 15:35

Yes, a need for reform in academia. The comments my supervisor made were not constructive criticism unfortunately, they made me feel inadequate, useless and disrespected.

pm133 and Tudor_Queen:
When you say move on, do you mean keep silent and move on? Or report the bullying and move on?

User: Tudor_Queen - 11 February 2018 16:53

Quote From helebon:

When you say move on, do you mean keep silent and move on? Or report the bullying and move on?

For me, move on if it is in the past. Change supervisors if it is a current situation. I haven't ever reported anything like this myself (I haven't been bullied exactly...). But if it was bullying then it should be reported. I would try to do it anonymously so as not to let it have any impact on me (e.g., references and the like).

User: pm133 - 11 February 2018 19:04

For me it is about moving on with the minimum of fuss. Other people have a duty to fight their own battles. I am responsible for myself, my own future and my own mental health. Usually there is an opportunity to explain to someone more senior why you are leaving and I have always taken the opprtunity to do so in an assertive and crystal clear manner without letting emotion get in the way. Whether they choose to act on that is then their decision.

Of course it depends on the extent and nature of the bullying. For example, I would not allow sexual harassment, which I had personally witnessed, to go unreported but make no mistake, I consider the impact on myself first and foremost.

User: helebon - 20 February 2018 17:15

Quote From Tudor_Queen:
[quote] But if it was bullying then it should be reported. I would try to do it anonymously so as not to let it have any impact on me (e.g., references and the like).

I found out my university doesn't accept anonymous complaints. I can understand why as I expect they would get more complaints.




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