Is your supervisor killing your self esteem?


Before getting into the postgraduate world I was full of confidence, I was always good at what I do/study... I moved to London to do masters and Phd at Imperial College. Unfortunately my supervisor is the WORST he bullies me constantly. Im always trying to be initiative, helpful, but the whole team has a hostile toxic relationship, and it seems that this is common in grad schools. For example I once suggested to publish a poster and he gave me a smirk and said: why? This is one of many awful encounters.

Have any one experienced this type of bullying? How do you gain your self confidence back? How can you continue working in your field while feeling weak and inadequate.. please share your experience with me...


My experience with my supervisor was a beautiful one and he has been supportive throughout my PhD journey. However, in the beginning he was negative and just commenting on the weaknesses which made me think I was just a bad student. I thought I would ask him to meet, tell him about how I feel and explain to him that I am an emotional person and it would be helpful that he tells me both the good and the bad about my work. He laughed and told me he will try. After this meeting, he really changed. Every time he commented on my work, he would tell me what was good and direct me to improve what he thought was worth improving. Our relationship has been wonderful ever since.

A friend of mine had a horrible experience with his supervisor (in his words) for two years. I told him about how I solved my problem with my supervisor and he followed the same steps and it worked. Now, although they are not like me and my supervisor, at least his situation has improved a lot.

In many cases, the problem is that we come from different backgrounds and have different experiences in life. Not all people are emotionally intelligent and unless you tell them about how you feel, they won't know. We should always have a dialogue and try to solve it first this way. If it doesn't work, then go to the head of your department or whoever is responsible to request a change of supervisor (which I did not use because my supervisor understood me well when I discussed the issue with him).

I wish you all the best.


Thanks for sharing I'm happy that things got better at the end. I have been with my supervisor for 8 years on and off because of my depression and the fact that I was being ignored by him over the years, depression got worse, started to have panic attacks which made the whole situation worse.. anyways Im submitting my thesis for the second time as my examiners requested.

My only worry that I will not be able to feel free and like my self again, I am afraid that the damage is too bad to recover from...

Thanks again for sharing <3


Dear Shatha,
my early career in science was terrible. I see some parallels with your story. There is a good chance that your supervisor is a severe narcicist and that he really, really does *not* care about you - but only for himself. From my own experience, I learned, that you will immediately feel better when you leave a toxic environment. Maybe you have a reactive depression because you stayed in a toxic work environment for too long.
You will need quite some time to recover from a toxic work relationship but the good news is: you can. Finding a good counselor may increase your recovery. But the most important advice is: if you are in a toxic work environment, get out of there as soon as possible.
One last thing: be prepared - narcicists will not easily let you go, because your misery pleases their ego. If he suddenly offers you a great job opportunity - do *not* accept it and leave, otherwise you will prolong your misery.
I hope this helps,
Sven Hendrix


Hi Shatha, sorry about the difficult time you are having with your supervisor. As someone who experienced bullying and harrassment during my PhD I would not advice anyone I know to tolerate it.

It is totally wrong. He is abusing his authority and he knows it. A supervisor among other things should be a mentor, and not a bully. Either you get out of that toxicity as soon as you can or you distance yourself from it. First off, know it has nothing to do with you. Bullies project their own insecurities and seeing you lose your confidence only fuels their narcissism. Please be strong and know that you will gain your confidence back.

Have you tried confronting him about it? If you haven't, try to do so and see if it will subside. Also record the conversation subtly and have some evidence against him. Otherwise you talk to a senior person in your school or a counsellor and see if they can intervene. Part of the PhD process is learning how to look out for yourself, and speak up, and speak boldly, defending yourself.

Finally I think 8years is too long to be in this toxic situation. I spent two years of my PhD being harassed by my supervisor unfortunately and it drove me crazy. I now realise it was my low self esteem that kept it going that long. I didn't realise I had other options of either changing supervisor or reporting him. Worst case I could have quit the PhD. It is really not worth it if it is eroding your confidence. Please fight for your happiness. No one should have that power over you.

You will be fine eventually but please seek urgent help and take action now. He has no power over you. There is a whole lot of life out there outside academia and we all need to know and see that. I wish you the best and hope everything goes well for you.