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Bad Relationship with Boss/Advisor: could use a little advice and support!

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Hi, ENA~


This is my first time in the career forum; I've usually utilized/ participated in the relationship part of this site. I've enjoyed and benefitted from this community.


I have a professional problem, and I think I know the solution ... but I could sure use some input and support. My boss (PhD advisor) is one of those people who crosses boundaries and tries to get his underlings to give away their rights. People don't take their allotted vacation time, grad students don't take advantage of school-wide educational opportunities, etc, because my boss bullies them into giving those things up in favor of more time working for him. We all live with his strange dichotomous managing style: he's absent for long periods of time and probably takes about 8 weeks of vacation a year, but when he is around, he is a tyrant, breathing down everyone's neck and insisting they work nights and weekends.


I received an e-mail from him today (which I've opted to "forget" until Monday) in which he attempts to bully me out of a couple of my rights: the right to attend a fellowship meeting that is required by my program-approved internship and the right to my remaining vacation days for 2011.


So, the solution is to assert boundaries professionally, right? I should say something like, "The fellowship meeting is obligatory for the program, so I will need to be in attendance. With regard to my vacation, I still have one week of vacation time left and I will use four days of that time for this trip." Or something along those lines?


Anyone here ever dealt with a boundary-pusher like this? It's a forgone conclusion that I will be severing ties when I graduate, but it is really exhausting and stressful while I am still under his thumb.




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Yes I have worked for a couple of tyrants and bullies at the place where I am working presently. Strange thing is right now that they are gone (they were both let go) all the people who were complaining about them are now acting in the same tyrannical fashion. I work in hospitality and let's just say that it's the kind of business that attracts a lot of neurotic freaks and power trippers.

In regards to your problem, yes I would definitely stand up for myself and if he doesn't comply, possibly speak with someone in a higher position than your adviser. It's definitely uncomfortable but I have found that once you start to stand up for yourself, bullies will slowly start to back off. And, don;t let it get to you. I feel like bullies feed off the negative energy they create. GOOD LUCK

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If he is your Phd advisor, he is your God and he knows it. He has the power of academic life or death over you. I have a year of grad school without a degree that proves that I did not understand how overwhelming the power a professor has over you in grad school. I don't mean to give advice here, actually. I failed in my quest for a degree for my lack of understanding.



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No offense but this isn't a job you can quit. It's grad school, you're assumed to be a slave until you graduate. Your stipend barely puts you on the poverty line... Lol I wouldnt risk making him mad. He can make your defense, which is already stressful, more stressful...


I would ask in a less assertive way.. Citin it would help with a problem you're having. I'm not sure what your field is but with mine, I would just say, I'm having a problem with this reaction, it's not giving me the result I expected. By going to this conference, I hope to come up with new ideas and inputs from colleagues... Blah blah blah.


Don't go head to head with a prof. Good luck!

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Unfortunately, abuse and bullying of graduate students/postdocs by their advisors is incredibly hard to prove. Ask me how I know. (Disclaimer: I had a great PhD experience, post-PhD, not so much.)


Does your university have an ombudsman to whom you may speak? This is a person who acts to resolve conflicts between two parties without themselves getting involved, i.e. they don't take sides, but they WILL listen to you and help you devise a strategy to deal with difficult advisors. This person also does not, and I repeat does not, come between the two parties unless the complaining party gives the go-ahead in the event of an otherwise untenable situation, and unless their is clear-cut evidence of abuse or wrongdoing they don't. But I know when I had an issue with an advisor, going to see the ombudsman helped me clarify what I could and could not do that would be worth my time to try to stand up to an advisor. I'm not sure there's much you can do about the vacation days, but you do need to stand up for professional opportunities that are an obligatory part of your program.


Just wondering, how far along are you in your program? Do you feel you'll be able to stick out the rest of it under this particular prof?

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How much longer til you're done with your program and move on? I'd just suck it up and tough it out if this guy has the power to deny you a degree... meanwhile, document every abuse he has done and save it in case he tries to damage you academically because you don't 'play along'.


There is a very large difference between what is 'professional' in the business world and academia. Bad professors who have tenure are almost impossible to get around unless they do something absolutely criminal. And bullies don't respond well to challenges, it just makes them bully all their more since that is their technique to get what they want.


So you can exercise some great passive aggressive techniques. Don't refer to 'vacation days' at all... Tell him that the fellowship meeting is mandatory for your program, and he can't fight you much on that if by not going you won't be able to graduate. But in regards to taking additional days off, just tough it out until you get out of the program. If you're in an internship now, it sounds like you're close, and you don't want to make an enemy of him if you need his approval to graduate. Then vacation when he leaves town.

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Hi, All. Thanks for the input here.


I am sorry for those of you that had bad mentorship experiences, whether or not you were ultimately successful in your pursuits. It is very frustrating to be in that position, and is one reason why I am leaving the field. The amount of power advisors have is pretty ridiculous: while any bad boss is trouble, leaving a bad PhD advisor often means not only losing your job, but the last few years of your life. 5/6 of a PhD is not worth anything at all.


I am within 5 months of graduating, so I will definitely be sticking it out with this particular advisor.


While I appreciate where those of you who said "suck it up and just submit" are coming from, I don't think it's a very good precedent. ("Toughing it out" with no boundaries might be feasible for those in their early 20s without responsibilities, but people in PhD programs have families, sometimes children. In my case, I am caring for an ailing parent. I cannot let my work completely swallow my life, particularly as I am putting in about 6.5 days a week already.) Our graduate group has a fairly good infrastructure, and I have done a good job of keeping in contact with higher-ups and updating them on my progress and needs. I am not asking for anything that I am not entitled to per the text in our contract and bylaws. Even with my father experiencing health crises, and even when my mother passed unexpectedly, I have always been under my two weeks' vacation allotment per year. We are allowed two semesters of TAing or internship, and mine is incredibly important to my career prospects.


My advisor has not expressly forbid either the internship meeting nor the 4 vacation days, so I may answer the e-mail with the minimum information required (ie, answer the single interrogative and let the rest alone) and avoid conflict. After criticizing my decision regarding the vacation, he more or less said it was "up to me." I don't feel the need to expressly state that my decision to take the days off stands - seems like it would generate unnecessary hostility.

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