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Should I resign if my research advisor verbally abuses me?

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Brian Burl

User

( 5 months ago )


Summary:
 Supervisor is verbally abusive on a regular basis. He may be trying to sabotage me by delaying the annual report on which my funding depends. Should I quit or stick it out?


Details:

I enrolled in the Mathematics department at a local university in June of last year. Now, I'm not a highly talented person, I'm average at best. So I haven't done any groundbreaking work in the past year, and what makes it worse is that due a problem of mismanagement, most of the time they do not have access to any of the online journals, so it's very difficult to do research work and yet my supervisor demands that I attend every day and stay from 11 am to 5 pm at least.

I managed to come up with a few theories along with proofs and examples. As I have a government-funded fellowship, now it's time to send them the annual progress report and, suddenly, my supervisor says he won't prepare my report unless I have communicated a paper to some journal.

First, he said that to prepare a paper, one must take at least a month to arrange one's findings in a proper order, take care of the minor details, make the best possible presentation etc. and that's understandable.

Then, when he is expected to make the report—that is, last Friday—he suddenly ordered me to get the paper ready by Monday! I just learnt LaTeX so it took some time—two sleepless nights—but I finished anyway. Now comes the decorative parts like Introduction to the papersectionwise introductionabstract, etc. I have never done these things before but I wrote what I could. Now my primary education was in my native language and my English is not really high-quality.

Now starts the problems. I'll give a list:

  1. He yelled at me because my typing is not up to the mark, I made quite a few typing errors. My English is so poor that makes him want to vomit!!!

  2. He wrote a few lines for the introduction while saying I'm insulting him by making him do this.

  3. He should not have accepted me as his scholar since he could tell from my signature(!!) that I was not worth it.

  4. Regarding the typing errors, he questioned the authenticity of the certificates/transcripts of my previous degrees (implying I constituted some sort of fraud to get those).

  5. Not only am I a bad student and a disgrace to his reputation(?), he also finds my mannerisms, the way I talk and dress and behave quite disgusting. This is another reason he regrets accepting my application. What does this even mean?

  6. His good student 'K' wants to work in the field I am working now. Great news. But how did he break it to me? "Have you seen her transcripts from high school? or college? And look at you, you'll never be anywhere close to her. You'll never be like her." I don't know if there is a decent way of saying this but he was screaming like crazy. Why would I even want to be like her?

  7. Brags about how many students he has rejected over the years but he is now 'trapped' with me. When I or anyone else forced him to accept my application is not known to me though.

  8. Keeps threatening to write letters to the authorities so they will terminate my fellowship.

  9. Someone called his cell phone and he said 'I'm stuck with the crazy one' loud enough so I could hear. Another professor from another department came to visit him. He pointed at me and said 'Can this one be deported to your department somehow? I can't handle this anymore, just insufferable.'

  10. Says I'm becoming like his another callous student "Fat J." Right, the teacher has codenamed an overweight student Fat J. Sounds funny? He must have codenamed me too.

  11. I got my master's degree from a top ranked university of this country and the one I'm in now doesn't even come in the first 50. But according to him, that university has a good reputation (God only knows why, because they have no good faculty members and their syllabus and exams are designed so students get high marks). I know nothing, I've learnt nothing, I should be ashamed (of what exactly?) and it's his university that gives a proper education but got only bad reputation; so from now on, he will accept students from his university only. (Who's stopping him anyway?)

  12. He should have invested this time in other fellows instead of wasting it with me, that would get some real work done.

And so on and so on......

Now all of this may not look offensive but his tone and wordings, the degrading language he was using, it was unbelievable from a teacher. It doesn't sound like a teacher is scolding his student but like he has personal issues with me. This has been going on for the last 4 days. He called me in his office and screams these things at me for 2-3 hours in a row. I just keep my head down and listen quietly.

Recap: First of all, he demands me to do a one-month job in 7 days. Then my efforts are not appreciated. If he has so much problem with me, if he wants me gone and appoint his good student Kthen he can just fire me officially on the grounds of unsatisfactory academic performance. Why is he doing this instead then? Is it possible that he is releasing some personal frustrations on me?

While other professors are giving their fellows' first-year reports consisting details of topics they've studied, seminars, lectures attended without having any papers published/accepted/communicated, my guide is pulling off so much drama. Is he doing this on purpose? This way my annual report gets postponed for an indefinite time period and I lose my fellowship so I have no way but to leave.

And all the work I've had to do on his behalf, from typing his letters, arranging his files, typing the entire syllabus of the department, to writing question papers for 10 different subjects in hand. While he can't even provide with access to any of the international journals.

Questions: In such situation should I give resignation before this abuse takes its toll on my nerves? Or is this typical behaviour of research advisors especially during paper preparation due to stress? Although I'm the one in stress because whatever little work has been done is done entirely by me not one bit by him and then I've to put up with this.

I was starting to like the subject but now just the thought of having to see his face and listen to that voice is keeping me awake at night. Should I quit before he harasses me some more or is it perfectly normal behaviour and I should learn to get used to it?

Pardon me for this very long post about my personal experience. If you can take a little time to go through it, then please give me advice.

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Rahul Chaudhary

User

( 5 months ago )


You should certainly not put up with your advisor's egregiously inappropriate behavior in the long term. The only question is: given that you cannot complete your degree under this horrible advisor, what do you want to do? Unfortunately academia does not reward people who resign immediately under almost any circumstance, so you should only do so if you really are ready to terminate -- or at least, interrupt for a substantial period of time -- your academic plans and career.

If so: yes, this sure sounds like a case where resigning immediately is appropriate. I would also urge you to speak to other faculty members and administrators in the department and the university so they know why you are doing this.

If not: unfortunately you need to bide your time and find a more graceful exit strategy. I would begin by sounding out other faculty members in your department to see if any is willing to take over advising you. (Let me say though that your description makes your entire department sound like a real mess. Still, it would be good if you could stay for long enough to gain admission to a better department.) If not, I would reach out to contacts at your former department(s) to see if you could come back -- not necessarily to get a PhD, but at least to stay in academia while you plan your next move. If you really want to stay in academia and can't find anywhere else to go: this is a very tough situation. I would consider speaking to the department head, graduate coordinator or some other administrative figure -- but someone for which you have reason to believe will be sympathetic -- explain how unbearable your current situation is, and see if they have any ideas. Unfortunately the kind of department/university where a faculty member can behave like your advisor is more likely to be the kind of department/university where other faculty and administrators are unable or unwilling to intervene usefully on behalf of the students.

I'm really sorry for the way you've been treated. It is wholly unacceptable. Good luck.

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