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Sexually harassed by postdoc supervisor and forced to quit.
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Ill add my situation is historical now, hence me saying time is a great healer.

I'll admit thinking back I still find the situation bizarre and exasperating, considering I found out near the very end the researcher wasn't following exactly the procedure the senior academic though she was following. I happened to be in the senior academic's office when he realised and I allowed myself a smile when the penny dropped with him.

But it is the past and the events that follow in life tend to fill your head with more pleasent memories, allowing you to move on. Besides, the real world can throw up it's own bizarre circumstances and you learn from these collective experiences.


Do I quit in my third year?
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Quote From tru:
Perhaps you may consider wrapping up as a master and looking for a job outside of academia? Continuing a PhD when you are so fed up and uninterested and not planning to have a career in academia isn't really helpful to your well-being.

Agreed, but can I ask how far away you reckon you are from write-up and submission?

If you are say a few months away, I would try to see it out. If this situation is stretching on without an end in sight, then writing up what you've got and bailing with a Masters is probably the best option.

Being in your third year, you should be writing up by now, hence my question.


Weird Interview, is it common in academia?
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Academia has I'd say more than it's fair share of strange happenings and characters. I think I could write a book on the characters I've met and the stories I've heard and witnessed.

Don't fret about it one jot. While it is normal to ask researchers and PhD candidates to do some tuition (I helped casually with student project work), it seems this Prof was looking for someone to take on more formal lecturing duties. As such, you were being interviewed for a post different to that advertised, whether the Prof. intended that or not.

In your rejection, I think you avoided a problem post here and your rejection may well be the right outcome for you.


Sexually harassed by postdoc supervisor and forced to quit.
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At one stage I believed things like this didn't happen or were over-exaggerated. However, my own experiences second post-doc showed that bad things do happen. I'll add I'm a man and the harrassment, technically speaking, was more "mental". My tormentors were a senior academic and key researcher working under him.

The short story is I was taken on after another candidate turned down the post. It was made clear I was "very much a second choice, a stop-gap measure" and they would "have to make do". I had a year of basically being made to feel unwanted and a critical piece of information I was not told ended up in an embarrasing situation in a client meeting where I felt compelled to answer a question incorrectly. The situation was realised and I was hauled over the coals.

I nearly quit twice, but saw it through simply because in the UK I would not have been entitled to financial help.

Without a reference (only a note from human resources giving job description and dates of employment from human resources), finding work was difficult though I finally got a non-academic job a year later.

Your situation appears far worse than mine, but I understand the feelings of worthlessness, depression and trying to avoid the two people who made my life hell. I felt my self-confidence slip away with time and it took a lot for me to regain self-worth once the post-doc was over and I finally found work.

But time is a great healer and as events become more distant, you make more sense of things. You realise you are not to blame for someone else's behaviour and feel eventually you can move on.

If you need counselling or simply talk to someone you trust to reach this point, take it just to help you make sense of things and allow yourself to heal.

The point is you will get there given the right circumstances and talking to the right people.


The outcome of a viva was a resubmission
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I agree with "rewt" here. The point I note also is the external is saying material is not there when you are clearly saying it is and you have demonstrated it is.

You cannot appeal directly over outcome, but you can appeal over procedure followed during examination if you feel the procedure followed was not correct or predudiced the outcome against you.

From what you say, you may have a case for re-examination with fresh examiners. However, you need to sit down with your supervisors and chat to your equivalent of the post-graduate research office as how to proceed going forward.

The one caveat is I have helped someone whose first language is not English. I appreciate it is not easy and one counter-argument that might be made is the standard of your English made it unclear the material concerned was there or where you said it was. In the case I mention, it was genuinely difficult to understand some of the text of his thesis and it came across as a collection of words a times rather than coherent sentences (I kid you not here). It might be you have an excellent standard of English, but it is a point to be kept in mind.

It appears in his case, someone else completely reworte his thesis for him and I do wonder if his supervisor or similar stepped in to do this for him given the "speed" his thesis was corrected. Put it this way, the speed of correction (three days) was too quick for a thesis-writing service to have been used. Not mine to reason how. :-)


Utrecht vs Leiden
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I'll say as I used to say to all students. I can't give specific advice on either insititution but general guidelines apply here.

Visit, go meet the people you are going to work with, look at the facilities and see if you can have a chat with people working under potential supervisors away from said supervisors. See how you fee after you have done this. Is there an open day in each case you can go to?

Also check publication records and impact ratings of journals they have published in if you want to take checks further.


Can I defer starting?
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Perhaps as a man, I'm probably not the best person to advise here. However, if you declare your pregnancy after a successful interview I believe you may be protected by employment law and thus your maternity leave entitlement may delay the start of the PhD.

I can see how this might annoy a potential supervisor, that said, so it may make things uncomfortable for you when you finally start. That said, leagally, you have a case if you face discrimiation on this basis.

Morally, you should tell potential supervisors at interview, however, legally the pregnancy should not affect or influence the interview or be relevant to it I believe due to UK and EU employment law. That said, it may be better if someone can clarify if this also applies to PhDs.

Slightly off topic (but this may help here), I know of a case where there were two rounds of redundancy at a given company. Because on both occasions a woman who would have ordinarily been on the list of those to be considered fell pregnant, she was not considered due to the company not able to show conclusively her redundacy was due to her position no longer being required rather than her pregnancy, they opted to may someone else redundant in both cases rather than risk fighting a potentially costly and public legal battle.

The law will protect pregnant women in the workplace (and also partners wanting paternity leave), however, whether this extends to PhD scolarships is for me a grey area and as I said some clarification may need to be sought.


Feeling totally defeated
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I sympathise with you here, as I pretty found myself in the same situation after my second post-doc. The first post-doc had gone okay at my PhD University, however, the second post-doc had gone badly with some interesting work colleagues and micro-managing Professor I was glad to see the back of.

So there was me without a reference from the second post-doc except a neutral letter from Human Resources saying I had worked for the University.

In the years since my PhD, the oversupply fo PhDs to available post-docs has continued as before. If you add in many post-docs take on PhD candidates from the same research group that in many instances are still writing up their PhDs, then those looking for second or third post-docs from outside and trying to build up a research and academic profile have their work cut out.

You therefore should have a plan B and accept perhaps you need to take a job outside academia at least for the medium term until you do find something suitable. There are also real world possibilities you might look at where either your research skills or other transferable skills you might have gained might be an asset to an employer.

So even if you do have to look to the real world for a while, at least it may give you extra skills you can sell back to academia should a position become available.

Depebding upon how you sell yourself, these different courses of action can become an asset to you in that search for an ideal post.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)

PhD dilemma
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Good post @Cat123.

You can expect inconsistencies in previous theses and data, simply because a thesis is a sizeable chunk fo work. There will be typos and towards the end, the desire just to submit the thesis and have done can be overwhelming. This is especially the case if you're near the end of year four.

If you have decent supervisors, the aim is simply to get the data and thesis scripted to be as error-free and presentable as possible. In otherwords, you get to the point where the thesis is in a condition where it is least damaging and thus likely to get past external examiners without anymore than minor corrections. You can overwork a thesis, such that you end up introducing more probelms than you are trying to remove (i.e. over-perfectionism).

If there are no glaring errors and the thesis is well written, the examiners can only really judge the thesis on the information presented to them. If the candidate has cheated and faricated data to match expectations, I see how this might be easily missed (note my examples presented above).

But again you seem to have had a predecessor that perhaps pushed matters too far and you are right to be cautious and rigourous.

I'm not sure whether some people deliberately go out to cheat or the pressure to submit something, anything, overwhelems their common sense and judgement.

In many cases, a failed hypothesis is evidence of a finding in itself rather than a failure in the person or methodology. If some people kept this in mind and looked at why things went wrong rather than assume they've failed then decide to fabricate, those that follow would have fewer problems.

One possibility for suppresing such behaviour might be to include a clause in your PhD contract that if a succeeding researcher does find evidence of fraud within say five years of submission, the original researcher is compulsorally recalled for re-examination and if there are no satisfactory answers, the PhD stripped from them.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)

I have 2 PgDips, do they have any value at all?
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I'm afraid you're in a little pickel here with a PGDip seen as a failed M.Sc. or M.A. in the same way an MPhil or MRes can be seen as a failed PhD. These are assumptions any interviewer will make unless you explain clearly why this is not the case.

To get round this, you really need to sell yourself and explain that, for example, you left with a PGDip first time round because you wanted to pursue Studio work. Financial reasons for the second instance seems reasonable to me.

That said, you've pulled out twice and that isn't going to look good. This means you have quite a sales pitch to make as anyone looking to take you on will need to be sure you're not going to pull out again, even with a good first class degree to back you up.

Would it not be worth waiting a couple of years working and building up financial reserves, also perhaps demonstrating more fully you are older and (sales pitch here) "more mature" as a person. You have had time to reflect, say, and know after a lot of thought that a research path is the one you want to take. Relevant employment over this period may also help build up your profile.

London prices are frightening and you might consider somewhere outide London, unless the path of study you want to follow is at a London institution.

I had to sell two Masters to people (I thought I'd failed one due to ill health thus did a second, different one), which made me seem more like a perpetual student. I thus took time out in the real world for as it turned out five years before applying for and being accepted onto a PhD (though admittedly there were two failed applications in the intervening period one and three years into this period).

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)

PhD dilemma
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Just an add on here. The last story I was actually contacted about by a researcher at a certain north west England University who for some reason just divulged this information to me.

I checked some information and indeed a senior academic disappeared at the time he mentioned. The most bizarre of the above seems to be the most provable. Coincidence, perhaps, but certainly interesting.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)

PhD dilemma
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This isn't a fabrication story as such, but should raise a smile. :-)

A failing student was propping up the bar in his local pub nursing a pint or three after a major bollocking by his course tutor. He'd been told that he had to buck his ideas up or he'd be thrown off the course.

A policeman who was also a pub regular asked what was the matter and on hearing the student's woes piped up that a senior academic in the student's faculty had got himself in a lot of trouble. The student naturally became curious and bought the off-duty copper more and more beer (very generous grant / loan by the sounds of it) until the copper finally gave up the line that he couldn't say anything because of his police job.

The story the copper told was music to the student's ears. Apparently, the police had raided an illegal brothel and upon arresting the prostitutes and punters, had caught said senior academic with a number of female companions. The academic and prostitutes had been photographed at the scene immediately upon their arrest and carted off to the nearest police station. However, the University was keen on avoiding a scandal and the story goes that a substantial contribution was made to the "Police Pension Fund" to make the matter disappear. The University also agreed to "early retirement" of the academic on the grounds of ill health.

More beer led to photos falling into the hands of the student with his course tutor becoming "aware" the student possessed them. Mysteriously, the "failing" student's grades massively improved and he passed his course with flying colours. Moreover, the student stayed on at the University as a post-grad, sitting on said photos for further "safe keeping".


Yes, you may well have seen these elsewhere as I've posted them elsewhere in the past.

But it does show what goes on in Universities if you scratch under the surface. :-)

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)

PhD dilemma
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B: THE POISONER: This I believe occurred at a German University and tell here as it's a classic of how far some people will go. The tale goes that a veterinary sciences student claimed a major breakthrough, however, whenever his supervisor requested the experimental microscopic slides the student made an excuse not to show them. The supervisor persisted and mysteriously became ill. Even upon becoming ill, he insisted upon seeing the slides.

The student submitted his thesis and was awarded his PhD. However, the supervisor upon recovering from illness still insisted upon seeing the slides and his insistence eventually showed the student had fabricated the data.

The supervisor's mysterious illness was eventually shown to be a substance slipped into his tea, though the student's guilt could not be proven. The University concerned decided upon the following actions:

1) The student was allowed to keep his PhD, provided he had no further association with the University; and

2) Instead of supporting the supervisor, the University effectively "sacked" him (i.e. decided not to renew his contract).

The supervisor found employment with a different University where he chose to keep a low profile. From the exercise, he gained the very strong impression that the given University was more concerned with its image than the integrity of the work it produced or the wellbeing of its own staff.


I seem to remember reading about this latter incident in a UK newspaper (Guardian, Independant???), but when I tried to look this story up a few years ago it had disappeared.

One more to follow and a beauty, if only to cheer people up. :-)

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)

PhD dilemma
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Briefly, the cases I know of where cheating occurred more to show it has happened from time to time over the years:

A: BASIC FABRICATION: These told to me by a Computing lecturer and again by a fellow alumni from my old University. I'll not name the Universities concerned though one was an English south coast institution, the other in the north east of England.

In the first, a student could not get his experimental rig working, thus calculated what data it should produce and presented the data in his thesis. The rig was found not to work years after the student was awarded his PhD.

In the second, student created a novel computing program for which he was awarded a PhD. Years later, someone tried to use the program to examine a different set of outcomes, just to find that the data output as consistently identical to that in the PhD thesis. Further examination showed the program not to be working, with a loop of code being embedded in the program that was set to produce the exact values in the thesis and no other.

In both versions, the University concerned decided not to revoke the PhD to avoid the bad publicity that would result.

PhD dilemma
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Rare I drop by these days, but this one caught my eye.

Odd instances where a "representative SEM micrograph / photograph" is used instead of an actual one because you messed up a photo (features the same as expected as long as you have observed outcomes to be the same and you know others are not being deceived) is one thing.

However, outright data fabrication is wrong beyond belief. You have done right by reporting the fabrication. It is typical of academia to cover up a cock-up or fabrication and boy I know some tales. I'll detail a few I know about in a separate post following.

I note you have been offered a scholarship to start again, however, you justifiably feel disillusioned. Would they allow you to take time out for say six months to a year to rest up and think things through? My take is I remember how much I wanted to do a PhD and if offered the chance to start again, then I personally would have taken it provided I got a reasonable break.

But i understand also you feel all your work has been for nothing. Being asked to do the same things that don't work because your predecessor fabricated the data is a bit rough too. However, might you not be able to argue that because the results you are getting are different, you are disproving your predecessor's data and showing her outcomes to be incorrect?

Could you not argue that the differences you are finding are themselves a positive result?

I'd be wary about just taking an MPhil or MRes off dubious data as you might be perpetuation the fraud. But showing the data to be wrong could been seen in itself as a new finding.

That said, you know the intricacies better than I do and you will know better if my thoughts might help you.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)