Feel bullied in Postdoc



I'm currently in a postdoc for the last year and a half - it is only a part time contract and is due to finish at the end of next year . My partner got a great job at a prestigious university in a new country so we have moved. I have been continuing with the postdoc from the new country but recently I have been offered a job I really want in academia which is in my new country and is full time! I really want this job, but the PI of the project is being incredibly difficult and more or less threatened that I wasn't allowed to leave it early (this was before I was offered the job!). I feel so bullied and want to leave so badly, but am afraid of burning bridges and letting them down. But personally, financially, and for my future, taking this job is the only way to go. How do I get around this issue? Help!!!!


I would absolutely take the job. The PI will have to get over it. Presumably he/she wrote your reference for the new job you were offered?

I wouldn't worry about the letting down part. If you're being bullied why should you stay?

Has anyone here had a similar dilemma?


Definitely take the job, and after you've left and got the job, put a formal complaint in about the PI!

Be assertive. Say you have no choice but to take the job. Work out your notice period on your current job.

If its easier, blame it on finances or a change in family circumstances or health, no one usually argues with that.


Take the job and try not to feel guilty about it. It's a fulltime job, nearer to where you live. Of course you should take it!


I have had a bully of a manager in a (non-academic) job before and I lined up another job, left the one with the bully and put in a complaint. Don't over-think it - your future self won't thank you for staying with a bully!


Take the new job. Move on. As for the complaint? I honestly feel it's too late once you have left. It will not get the attention it deserves.

I know a lot of people won't agree with me over the complaint part but you will not be around to follow it up, the HR team will feel it's too much work - at best it will go on record. I would have had a discussion prior to taking the new job but I do know how hard that is.

Years ago I had a job that was a living nightmare due to my boss, I always felt I'd stick the knife in when I left but I found out after I left multiple complaints had been made and one more meant formal proceedings.. I regretted not doing what I should have at the right time.


Hey, this sounds eerily familiar. I encountered something very similar within my first postdoc job. I stayed within my first part time postdoc job for 1.5 years and was eventually reduced to feeling very unhappy and miserable following a bullying supervisor who would bad mouth me at every opportunity. This supervisor made my life so very difficult. I obtained a second postdoc position at a more prestigious university and resigned from my first postdoc job and worked out my notice.

Sadly, I made the catastrophic mistake of putting the bullying supervisor as a reference who provided me with such a bad reference they withdrew the job offer a few days before starting this new role. I had to cancel my accommodation plans, lost money in the process which then put me into additional tumbling state of distress and despair. It took me several months (and a career break to Australia) to recover (and still recovering to some extent).

OP, please don't make the same mistake of adding this bullying supervisor as your referee.

I'm now channeling energy into my peer review publications to improve prospects and enhance my reputation beyond my awful postdoc experience. I'm trying my best to move on from that awful experience, but I do have flashbacks of how badly I was treated. In hindsight, I should have put in a compliant. But, I was in such a bad place, I literally lost the fight in me to take things forward.

I'm ok now though, absolutely loving my NHS psychologist position, so things have worked out for the best.

Big hugs OP. You're not alone.


You do need to check your contract and find out what your notice period actually is, because you have a legal obligation to work out your notice, unless you can agree a shorter period. Basically if you abide by your contract and do a proper handover to either the PI or your successor, then you are unlikely to burn bridges. If you behave unprofessionally and particularly if you do things that ruin the project (like not handing over data) then that's when you start getting a bad reputation


Hi everyone, OP here. Thank you for all your messages, they have really helped. Firstly, the PI is not a reference for me, the co-PI is and was my phd sup. and he didn't have any problems with me applying for the job at all (well not that I know of!). My notice period on my contract states one month, which is fine and I will definitely work out. It's just I feel it's not going to be as easy as that. The PI already told me that I couldn't leave - surely that's not legal! I've been so stressed out about the whole thing and so stressed about the idea that this will become confrontational which I really don't want to happen! I know my rights, I'm just too afraid the rock the boat really and have been dealing with huge amounts of stress of late - this is just another thing on top of all of it! I'm reluctant to make a complaint / inform HR as again I don't feel like I can cope with the stress of it. I just want out!!


Have you written your letter of notice? Just hand it in as soon as you can. Then it is 1 month. That is that - it is in black and white. Sorry it is such a horrid situation. You'll defo have no regrets about leaving.


Of course you can leave; as long as you follow the proper procedures for handing in your notice (usually has to be in writing) and working out your notice period if required, no one has any right to stop you.

I completely understand the thing about not wanting confrontation, and in general it's a good idea to be careful about burning bridges etc -- but at the same time you're not actually doing anything wrong or in violation of your contract, and you can't go to far the other way and let yourself be trapped in a situation that's not in your interests just to placate an unreasonable person.

Do you think he'd give you a bad/no reference in the future? Is there someone else you could ask instead if you ever need a reference for your time at this institution?


Echoing Pinapple30, I wouldn't use this bully as a referee in the future, even if things seem OK. Stabs in the back are shamefully common in academia (as in politics!), and there is little accountability.


Hi Econ - this sounds awful, sorry to hear this. I suggest that you contact human resources management and inform them. I strongly suspect the bullying is coming from your academic supervisor who is thinking only about themself and HR will not support them. The general rule in work contracts is that most companies always let a person go who wants to leave - it is only company to company contracts that are enforced via courts etc. A professor at a Graduate Seminar once told the seminar that "we should all try to get a postdoc after we graduate so we can have the privilege of collecting and analyzing data for tenured academics as post graduation experience". I don't think so. If any professor wants me to collect data and analyze it I might if (a) I get co author credit and (b) it is within the terms of my contract. The idea of a postdoc is that the university community is being generous to the best graduates and helping them along - that is the spirit of a post doc, I know as my husband had one and is now an Associate Professor. Post doc is not a slave role. :-) hope this helps