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graduate students abused by advisors' Journal
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Below are the 9 most recent journal entries recorded in graduate students abused by advisors' LiveJournal:

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007
9:06 pm
An excerpt from a new book on abusers in the workplace. It looks pretty good from the excerpt, and I appreciate that he sharply criticizes people who act consistently socially inappropriately yet states clearly that some people have social disabilities like Asperger's and non-verbal learning disability that should not be mistaken for the social inappropriateness he's talking about.

Here's his blog: http://bobsutton.typepad.com/
Monday, October 23rd, 2006
12:16 pm
An Unwelcome Discovery:  Lab tech and former student uncovers fraud by prominent faculty member, after extensive process faculty member is sentenced to jail time.  NY Times article. 
Saturday, June 3rd, 2006
2:30 pm
poll followup
So, the poll results from a while ago suggest that we're mostly PhD students with some Masters students, and about split between people who are currently in an abusive academic relationship (all with advisors) or were formerly in one (2 with advisors, 2 with someone else), plus a couple people who have not been involved in an abusive academic relationship but know people who have been. Most people said they told someone about the relationship but that person was not helpful, or they didn't tell anyone at all. A few said they told someone and they were helpful. As to what people wanted out of the community, they were about evenly split between support and understanding, information, and activism.

What's been going on so far is that people have posted their individual stories, and others have responded with support and suggestions. There's some information in the userinfo and I'm keeping my eye out for related links - if you see any would you post them, or email them to me at euziere@livejournal.com?

What I'm thinking about now is activism. I mentioned to thotmonster my idea to leaflet the grad mailboxes in my department with informational fliers describing things that are clearly abuse and labeling them as such (and doing my best to discriminate them from merely annoying behavior). But I wouldn't want to just do that without including suggestions for action, and I'm not entirely sure it's a good idea to start off with.

Some other possible activism routes:
- Informal activism: talking to other professors and grad students about abusive advisors being a communal problem, not just a problem between an advisor and an individual grad student. Raising awareness. Participating in Q&A sessions for incoming grad students, etc.
- Activism at the area/department level: showing people how this costs the department money/time/reputation; working on getting grievance procedures set up
- Activism at the university level: work with grad student organizations, if there are relevant ones (for example, if the TAs have a union they might not be interested in the same issues but might have some advice on process). Or if there's an all-encompassing group for new grad students, or the people who do orientation, or counseling/psychological services (especially if they run groups just for grad students).
- Activism at the press level: I'd love to see Journal of Higher Education cover abuse in advisor/advisee relationships. Or to see studies of advisor/advisee abuse get run and published (I think there's one person working on this but it's a while till publication).

Does anyone have more ideas, or comments?
Wednesday, May 17th, 2006
1:22 pm
Hey all,

I'm polling the community to find out a little more about what situations we're all in, and what people would like from here. All members can vote; everyone will be able to see the aggregate results (except for textboxes), but only I will see the links between lj-names and results (lj doesn't offer the option to make it completely anonymous). If you have comments that don't fit into the options here, you can comment on this entry.

Poll #730770 demographics

Are you a current or former (if more than one, pick the one most relevant):

Masters student
PhD student
Undergrad with no post-undergrad work

If other, what?

Which best describes your situation with respect to why you've joined the community:

I currently have an abusive advisor/advisors
I used to have an abusive advisor/advisors but no longer do
I currently am in an abusive academic relationship but not with an advisor
I have previously been in an abusive academic relationship but not with an advisor
I have not had an abusive academic relationship but I know people who have been in abusive advising relationships

If other, what?

Do/did other people at your school know about the abusive relationship?

Yes, and they were helpful
Yes, and they were not helpful
I have not been in an abusive relationship

Which of the below do you *most* want out of this community?

Support and understanding
Saturday, April 22nd, 2006
12:03 pm
book recommendation
Hey all. I've been reading The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, and I thought it was worth mentioning here. It's about sociopathy - the clinical kind - which can be summed up as a lack of conscience, and includes lots of people who aren't the serial killer or axe murderer that sociopathy is popularly equated with. She gives a prevalence rate for sociopathy as 1 in 25, which appears to be supported by a variety of studies, so I'm willing to believe it.

I don't think abusive advisors are necessarily sociopaths (I don't think mine was, for example), but some of the stories I've heard mesh fairly closely with the profiles Stout describes. The short version is that if you are a sociopath, you are immune to guilt and shame and consequently can do whatever you want to other people without feeling the least bit bad about it. Sociopaths are often charming and charismatic, but in a shallow way; once you get to really know them, they're not like that at all, though they can be quite good at fooling people on the outside. They can be very good at manipulating others.

It's an interesting book, and she does fairly well on reporting actual research, some of which I'm familiar enough with to be able to catch errors. She does have a tendency to see people who do bad things and assume they're sociopaths, and she's not necessarily right - for example, actual research on terrorists, despite public opinion, shows that they're not sociopaths or mentally ill - but other than that I thought the book was pretty reasonable and didn't go *too* far into sensationalism, though it certainly steps there.

Here's the Wikipedia link: Antisocial personality disorder (same thing as sociopathy, just a different name. it also used to be called psychopathy).
Monday, March 20th, 2006
10:43 am
Great idea for a community!
Thanks for the person who set up this community!  I'm not going to go into too much detail about what I've been going through with my MS, except to say that I really do feel like someone who is in a very disfunctional, abusive relationship.  It's truly painful in so many ways and people outside of academia really don't understand the fine line grads have to walk.  Often we just can't walk away from our abusers and much too often when we try to get help we find we have absolutely no support, or no one believes us.  Or worse yet, the abuser in question suddenly turns into "the victim" when confronted by his/her peers.

I do want to make the disclaimer, that anything I mention as abusive in this community is in connection with my MS program.  My PhD program is great and has been extremely supportive.   
Sunday, March 19th, 2006
12:12 pm
Hi. I'm a first year graduate student in the humanities. I returned to academia after nearly a decade away in the corporate and arts worlds.

Unfortunately, I have had more than my fair share of experiences with academic and professional superiors who abused their positions.

*Senior year in college, a visiting professor (who was unfortunately also my thesis advisor) successfully killed my senior thesis and then attempted to flunk me, which would have meant having to leave after four years of very hard work without a diploma. She accused me of using her (?) and was physically violent toward me (throwing a phone book and a phone at me). Fortunately I had enough faculty support behind me to quash the second attempt; however, I was too naive (first in blue-collar family to go to college) and unaware of the ways with which I could have recuperated my senior thesis. I learned only later that this visiting professor/thesis advisor had attempted to do the same to another senior, who was more savvy than I was and was able to finish her thesis under a new advisor. Partly out of exhaustion from this ordeal, I decided not to pursue academia immediately after graduation. This negative incident (which left a 2.0 on my transcript) did impact my ability to return to graduate school once I resolved academia was where I wanted to be.

*Sexual harassment, psychological and physical abuse by a male manager who was being protected by his female partner, who was being aided by a male HR manager, who was later fired for sexual harassment himself. A female colleague who also was put through an ordeal similar to mine was forced out of the firm and blacklisted in the industry. The male manager was eventually fired (after 2 years of abusive behavior) after a new HR manager was put in place. This is where I learned this sort of behavior (having a 6'5" man throw 20 pounds of workpapers at my 4'10" frame) is not only unacceptable but that I was not powerless.

*Psychological power play by former friends turned bosses. Needless to say, I bid farewell to those situations very very quickly.

I think this forum is potentially a powerful support network. I would have benefited from it ten years ago when I was a confused, scared, and (emotionally, psychologically, and financially) vulnerable college senior. Having had to learn on my own what is unacceptable behavior from a superior (academic or professional) and how to deal with such situations, I'm now hyper-vigilant about identifying situations/relationships that might give rise to abuse of power and finding creative ways to take care of myself.
Tuesday, March 14th, 2006
9:11 pm
Hi, and welcome. I created this community because last week I met with a fellow ex-student of my abusive advisor. We shared experiences and she told me about still more students who had had equally bad experiences. Having confirmation that I wasn't the only one, that I didn't bring all the awful things happened on myself by doing something wrong but that she did this regularly and serially, was the best thing that had happened to me surrounding that relationship.

Abuse of graduate students by advisors, as far as I can tell from extensive web-searching, isn't something that's openly discussed in academia, nor is it addressed by abuse-related communities. It's partially covered by the term 'workplace bullying,' but not entirely, because graduate school has characteristics that business workplaces do not (funding issues, limited time-span, no HR department for students to file complaints with, etc.). So, this place.
8:52 pm
From the userinfo:

This community is for current or former graduate students who were, or are, being abused by graduate advisors.

Some (non-exhaustive) real-life examples of abuse by advisors:

  • When a student assumes the advisor's research is open for discussion in the same way other researchers' work is, retaliating by holding required projects hostage in exchange for good behavior

  • Pressuring students to come up with the 'right' data

  • Insisting students not give due credit to others in the field that the advisor feels him/herself to be in competition with

  • Insisting that students be honest about what they think, then punishing them if they don't give the 'right answer'

  • Verbal abuse, name-calling

  • Blowing hot and cold: one moment everything's fine and going well, then out of nowhere the student is subject to criticism and threats disproportionate to anything he or she has actually done (often minor, forgiveable mistakes on the student's part)

  • Isolating students so that each student thinks they're the only one

  • Behaving very differently when alone with the student than with other people present

  • Interrogating and berating students when the advisor gets an inquiry or warning from the department after a student makes a complaint

  • Trying to convince a student that they can't leave, because "who else would take them?"

If you would like to join, but are frightened of your advisor finding you, here are some steps you can take to maintain your privacy:
  • Omit identifying details about your university and area of study

  • Friends-lock your posts here

  • Set up a separate livejournal account to post about things under

Part of what makes abuse by advisors so bad is that it's not talked about publicly, and graduate students are often afraid to discuss what has happened to them for fear of retribution. You are invited to share your experiences here, but it's fine (and very understandable) if you just want to lurk for now.

If you do decide to do an intro post, here are some things others might be interested in. Feel free to cover all, some, or none.
  • whether you're currently a graduate student

  • whether you're currently in an abusive advisor-advisee relationship or were previously (when, how long)

  • what kinds of tactics your abuser employs/employed

  • have you told/did you tell anyone in the department? what happened?

  • have you told/did you tell anyone outside of the department? what happened?

  • is/was anything helpful to you in dealing with the situation?

And: what can we do to help people who are currently in abusive advisor-advisee relationships? what do you think we can do to reduce the frequency with which future grad students will wind up in abusive advisor-advisee relationships?

Some resources (on 'workplace bullying,' i.e. emotional abuse in the workplace - I've been able to find nothing that addresses grad school advisor-advisee issues specifically):

Why don't targets of workplace bullying stand up for themselves? This site is quite good although it does not address academic advisor-advisee relationships. Also, two more from this site: Why don't targets of workplace bullying always report abuse? And bullying and post-traumatic stress disorder (long read, but worth it)

Bullyonline on Yahoo Groups


Workplace bullying studies

Wikipedia on psychological abuse (also see mobbing and bullying)

If you have other relevant resources, please let me know at euziere@livejournal.com.

Moderated by euziere.
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