Formal Complaint?


So I'm currently thinking of making a formal complaint against my old PhD supervisor.
Long story short: he used to micromanage me, he was passive aggressive, he had unrealistic expectations, he used to expect certain expectations from me, without telling me, then would get angry when I hadn't done them or if I asked him for help, I asked a member of staff for help (she had been assigned specifically for this) and he got very angry because I hadn't asked him, he would get very stressed and take that stress out on me in the form of anger, he was very unpredictable (his moods would change within the space of an hour).
Other members of academic staff avoid working with him because he is deemed to be difficult. I was being emotionally abused and bullied.
Week 3 I made my first complaint, I made several other complaints to other members of staff after this. They met with my supervisor, initally agreeing his boss would be my second supervisor but instead she was put on as 'pastoral support'. This made it worse because he wanted to know why I made the complaints, and cornered me out of hours. It seems the staff walk on eggshells around him. I went straight to HR (who didn't do a lot) and then escalated the situation to the ProViceChancellor demanding money for a new PhD in a new building, completely away from my old supervisor. They gave me money and I moved.
He had 2 students leave before me and the one before those 2 stayed for 8 years (deemed as a fail). The university closed ranks and told me the other students didn't make any complaints so how do they know the reason they left was because of my old supervisor. Even though I got in contact with them both, they still ignore it.
I found out this week my old supervisor is advertising for a new PhD student and I'm furious. Therefore, I want to make a formal complaint. This is unacceptable. I wasted a year of my life, I don't want this to happen to someone else.
The thing is, I've moved to a new PhD project and it's much better (new building, new lab group and supervisors) at the same uni. I'm concerned a complaint may affect this and not to mention, what happens if I'm unsuccessful?


I have been in the same exact situation verbatim like yours and wasted a year and now I am looking for a new lab! My old supervisor threatened me not to work under any lab, I was shocked even after I have resigned! I complained to HR and they did nothing and even the head of the school know and told me to look for another place in a different country.
Guess what, I found out that he had three new Ph.D. student to supervise at the same time, I was extremely furious and if I spoke they will considering it like hazing, my advice, if you and your old colleagues make a complaint, it would be better! However as long as administration support this professor and as you have mentioned you still in the same university, I don't recommend you to do that as you don't have enough power, you must make sure that there another professor or group to support you, do not fight alone in a corrupted system. I have been saved from a lab by another student like you, he was warning any prospective student to join the lab and it was a great favor to be saved from those toxic supervisors.


Someonelikeyou - it sounds like you've moved on, I would advise focussing on your new PhD and putting what has happened behind you now, the new complaint will put strain on you and likely affect your new PhD. I don't think the complaint you suggest will achieve anything sadly. I've been in the same situation, the same resolution was proposed - do a new PhD in a different part of the University, this was also around a year in. There was no additional funding though and I love my PhD so I didn't want to just discard all of my work. I declined and stuck it out with my current PhD, I just work without supervision currently while the OIA looks at my case, which is going okay but not viable long-term.


Unlike the previous posters, I don't think its good to move on without doing your best to report him - you will likely regret it in the future. Also, we need more people reporting bad behaviour to increase accountability.

My supervisor too was awful - I had a bad accident (one of those horrible life changing kinds) and couldn't work on my thesis early 2018, ran out of stipend in the next half of the year and had to work part time to support myself. Being a prick, he tried to make me quit my part time employment to work on the thesis full-time in a rather nasty message, because he was upset at my lack of progress! As if my accident wasn't enough. I escalated this to the chair of my committee, director of graduate studies and the head of department - this resulted in him being banned from communicating with me. What I did right: collected and detailed evidence, followed the chain of command to complain, and made sure everyone knew what was going on (I told all the students I could find within the department, so that his bad reputation would spread). I was lucky that my department was willing to take action on my behalf, but that whisper campaign is what is effectively preventing any more students from joining his lab. I've also posted some honest reviews on ratemyprofessors which has already scared away 1 prospective student (it pops up when my supervisor's name is googled, highly effective!). I also made sure that EVERYONE in my department knew of my accident and bad treatment from my supervisor, so someone from an adjacent lab would tell any prospective student of his to contact me for details. None ended up joining :)

TL;DR start a whisper campaign about his bad behavior (exagerrate it if you must) and leave bad reviews online - most prospective students will google a professor and if anything bad pops out, at least they will start to ask questions before joining the lab.

Hope that helps!


All this looks legitimately scary!
Especially for me who is searching to start a phd (and anyone else in my position I guess).
I understand that you may be not willing to share the professors name but can you at least mention the University this thing happened or the country/state ?
Thanks and I wish all of you a happy ending !


That post of Tienah is a timely reminder that students are just as capable of appalling behaviour as supervisors.


@trys11, indeed I am thinking about collecting all the cases from here and in academia stack exchange since I have the same issue, I think what @eng77 have mentioned in his latest post is really a good idea. I am really pissed off of the increasing number of the complains and different stories that will never end, if we can just report the name of the university and institute so that people can hear us. My ex-supervisor is protected by his institute, they didn't help me. Now, I am struggling to find a good supervisor, I am just sceptical about the integrity of academia.


@monkia All you say is true. Pursuing a phd is both time consuming and tiring. Also, even if its funded, your wage is much smaller than it would be if you started your career having a regular job. So if you start and bump on such a bad supervisor you loose time, money and most importantly the will to continue!
Even if you find another supervisor that is legitimately good the damage in your psyche is already done and you wont be able to see your phd studies with the same passion and energy as you did in the start.
Or at least thats what I think


Quote From trys11:
@monkia All you say is true. Pursuing a phd is both time consuming and tiring. Also, even if its funded, your wage is much smaller than it would be if you started your career having a regular job. So if you start and bump on such a bad supervisor you loose time, money and most importantly the will to continue!
Even if you find another supervisor that is legitimately good the damage in your psyche is already done and you wont be able to see your phd studies with the same passion and energy as you did in the start.
Or at least thats what I think

You need to be very careful what advice you are listening to.
Whilst it's good to be aware of the potential for problems, the last thing you want to risk is walking through the door on day one of your PhD with very damaging preconceptions about what the experience will be like for you personally.
Even worse would be to listen to bad advice and not even attempt the journey yourself.
What you have posted here concerns me that you are sounding like someone who is psyching themselves out before they start.

There is a saying when you run your own company that a satisfied customer will tell 1 or 2 others about their experience. A dissatisfied customer will likely tell 30 to 40 people pr more simply by posting to Facebook. By extension, be aware that the posts on here will come substantially from those who had negative experiences.
You will not get a balanced set of positive and negative stories on any online platform.

Please be careful when making your decision.


@pm133, I dont know if you imply I give a negative advice! Actually, I didnot give advice, I want this mess stop, of course, every one experience is different and I wish as I said to find a good advisor, but the percentage isnot high as expected.


I say that because I wished before starting, I read those posts to consider my proper selection instead of going blindly and dont weigh those factors! So, I think your comments is way off ! For @trys11, of course there still good part, but you need to make sure you made the good selection.

Avatar for rewt

I have to agree with pm133. Most PhDs go without major problems but the ones that fail get reported far more than the good ones, plus we only hear one side of the story here.

Recently I found out that my undergraduate supervisor is under formal investigation for harassment (not sexually). I knew the guy quite well and he could be a jerk but he was fair (in my opinion). He would help you if you could show you tried it yourself and he would expect you to try to fix your own problems before asking him. However there is a Master's by research student who is accusing him of harassment and not supervising them correctly, despite him repeatedly giving them advice on how to fix their equipment. The supervisor allegedly pressured them to do too much work and was too demanding but also expected the supervisor to help with every one of their problems [source is a PhD student in the supervisors lab who I went to uni with].

I am trying not to victim blame or cast judgement but I want to just say that there are 2 sides to every story. @monkia, if you are to do your idea of naming bad supervisors, please let them either defend themselves or make the accusers use real names. As we don't want to lose genuinely good supervisors over what really is a personality clash.


Can the admin of the website delete my account! I don't find the setting of deleting it.


@rewt, just final words before leaving this platform, I am assistant lecturer and I left my country to do real science, I sacrificed alot! I am not supposed to say that, but I helped my students along the five years ago, they loved me so much till that moment, I do all I can because I believe in them even after leaving! So, dont consider I am not teacher, I teach, I superviser, I learn from them, I am compassionate. I am writing that and tears in my eye, because my ex-supervisor blamed you, you dont have to believe, but you cannot imagine how I struggle to achieve my goal and be in the right track again! Of course, I wish every one have a good experience, I have never been in my life envious, but the idea in my masters, my supervisor for me and colleague was awful, and who helped the external supervisor, I owe for him till my death. There are many supervisor I consider them like father, but when you leave every thing behind, struggling alone, and working hard, crying nights, getting grants and be in the end telling me I doubt this work because it wasnot his experience, it is hard..... I spent two months figure out what I can do, a girl alone, it isnot easy at all, I am just crying because it is hard feelings, but this doesnot mean, I am not ambitious, I am very ambitious and hard working and I need the success more. Thats why we need to bring the both bad and good to give lesson to other who leave their countries and get out of comfort zone! In the end, from my heart indeed wishing every one can make a good selection and fulfilling their goals.


rewt, I think you provide a very good example of why we must allow people to be investigated fairly. Thanks for highlighting this.

Use of social media to attempt to destroy a person's career through "trial by media" is completely unacceptable and downright unprofessional. Encouraging this is cowardly and completely counter-productive.

Use of tools such as "RateMyProfessor" should be treated with the disdain it deserves.

Innocent until proven guilty is how we operate in civilised society. We allow both sides to have their say in an open manner. We should not be simply accepting the word of people using anonymous internet accounts and then leaping to judgment.

There's not much which serious riles me but there's a fair bit of steam coming out of my ears tonight.