problems with my 'surrogate' supervisor- don't know how to handle her bullying


Hi folks. I have a problem which feels like a brick wall and I'm at a loss to deal with it.
My supervisor has been on secondment since i started- I'm about to go into my second year. She appointed her leaving 4th year student to 'look after me' which has required this person to teach me the methods of analysis we use (very complex) as well as how to do the experiments (quite straight forward)
On my first day in the lab this person was openly hostile to me and told me how much she resented being exepcted to do this. To cut a very long story short over the past 6 months I have failed to learn what i need to from her because she becomes aggressive towards me, loses patience and will openly raise her voice at me in the office where 12 of us work when we are not in the lab.
She has made it clear she thinks I am stupid because I have not understood her 'teaching' (which consists of basically taking the keyboard off me and doing it herself without the explanation I realy need)
Any ideas on how to deal with her?


how about talking to your main supervisor?


She should not be teaching you: supervisors should have proper training. I've occasionally "taught" new students or international visitors, but only for a day or two.

If she is now your main source of supervison then you are entitled to complain. Perhaps in a friendly way: suggest to her (with witnesses) that you feel bad taking up her time and maybe together you can arrange other support for you?


the failure in you not understanding, is her fault, she is the teacher, and if she cant explain things than it's her who is to blame. she sounds awful. poor you. i know what it feels like to be a burden on someone, and that person resenting in helping you. it makes you feel so horrible and helpless.

you should set up a meeting with her with a mediator and discuss these things, and then if nothing is settled talk to your main supervisor.

noway should you stand for any sort of hostile or aggressive behaviour. seriously why do people think they can get away with unacceptable behaviour, her attitude is NOT accepted especially in a work environment. she should be reprimanded.


Thanks very much guys for the supportive replies- you are all right. I've had a chat with my 'on secondment' supervisor who kind of rolled her eyes and said she knows what this person is like..she said she'd try and 'calm her down'. This was over a month ago and if anything it's got worse. I'm off sick at the moment (virus) but dreading going back in on monday i feel so depressed about the situation. I think the idea of talking to my supervisor again is a good one- maybe if that doesn't work try a meeting with a mediator. Just panicking now because I need to learn this stuff from her in the next month!


hey, manda, stand up and be strong! you will go through the difficulties, and sometimes phd is not only about academic achievements, but also maturing mentally and psychologically. I am within this process, so sometimes can be confused as well; but it seems it is simpler to see the right move in other people's stories and reflect on myself.

Avatar for ginga

manda, please give me the details of this nasty individual. I would like nothing better than to put her in her place. I have been through this too, and found that, in my case, a few 'home truths' worked wonders. Usually, bullies will back down when confronted. It may be that your 'adopted' supervisor is having a bit of power trip because of this new role. My advice is to stand up to her; I am sure she will not want to be removed from her supervisory duties, as it is beneficial for her own CV, so you've nothing to lose. Good luck!


ginga and tom are right!! this is nothing but harrassment and bullying and should not be tolerated and individuals like this cannot get away with it.

good luck! we're all behind you


I'm not convinced that a 'stand up to her' approach is the best one. It is an emotive issue and she sounds like she would win in a potentially combative situation. Perhaps it's better to be strategic and to voice concerns professionally in writing, carefully, copying key personnel.

Good luck.


Also, check your University Student Research Handbook (or similar) and quote relevant sections regarding the inappropriateness of 'students' teaching 'students' for ammunition so that you are taken seriously by those who can influence.


aloha, that is a really good idea. i agree face to face combat can get difficult and emotional and intimidating even more so.

written is better, detached and professional. us students have our rights!! good idea aloha.


when i had *problems* with my supervisor. i read up on rules and regulations to find out my rights as a student.

knowledge is power.


you should really be getting more support from the university. It doesn't matter why your supervisor isn't there, it is up to them to sort out a suitable replacement, which this person so obviously isn't. Don't put up with it any longer, go to someone above her and complain. They should be providing you with someone else, not trying to 'calm her down', that is simply sweeping the issue under the carpet. If you want to be generous, just say it is a clash of personalities, but you are the one they should be supporting. Think of it as helping those who follow you as well as yourself, because if she has done it to you, she will do it to others and it needs to be stopped.


Hi everyone, thanks so much for your messages- well I'm back in the lab now which is something I have been dreading all weekend but i did crack on saturday and emailed my 'on secondment' supervisor, and basically just told her just how bad it's got and exactly what has been going on.I felt really bad 'telling tales' but only for about 5 minutes!! Anyway my supervsior got back to me and she's going to come in today so we can tave a further talk about it which hopefully will mean I get pulled out from under this girls thumb. Tom you were right about sticking up for yourself- sometimes there is just no option!


joyce is right, that it needed to be addressed otherwise other people will be victims.

manda i am glad that you emailed your supervisor and seems like something is going to happen. well done for having the courage to stick up for yourself and not tolerate bad behaviour.