Sexually harassed by postdoc supervisor and forced to quit.

posted
12-Feb-19, 18:35
by NJ567
Avatar for NJ567
posted about 10 months ago
I was forced to resign from a postdoctoral position in a major research institute in the US after being sexual harassed by my postdoc supervisor. It's been 4 months since I resigned, but I'm still struggling to move on from what happened.

It started a couple of months into my postdoc. He started leering and staring at me in public and moving too close to me during one-on-one meetings. At one point, I moved away from him slightly when he started getting too close, which made him really angry. I also tried to keep the door open when we have our one-on-one meetings which made him so angry that he started criticizing my work in a loud voice. He also made everyone believe there was something going on between us. I stopped talking to him during social gatherings and generally stayed away from him. He also started bullying me and putting down my suggesting during group meetings. It effected my self-esteem so much that I stopped speaking up in meetings altogether. He brought up my lack of participation in meetings during a progress review. I made excellent progress at the beginning of my postdoc and had my first manuscript ready in a matter of months. But after the harassment started, I got so depressed that I couldn't focus on my work and my progress suffered.

After putting up with his abuse for over a year, I reached my breaking point when he invited me to go to a conference with him. It was a small conference with several interesting talks, but it was on the other side of the country and there was hardly anyone I knew attending it. So I didn't want to take the risk. I made an excuse about a prior commitment, but he didn't buy it. He got angry and started to bully and harass me even more. I was so depressed at this point that I tried to commit suicide. After several days in the ICU and a week in the hospital, I recovered, at least physically. I went back to work a week later. I didn't tell anyone what happened, but my postdoc supervisor made it clear that he knew. He mentioned in passing that he has access to anyone's medical record, and in another instance, made a snide comment about me trying to kill myself for my work.

I handed in my resignation a couple of months after this. I wasn't in a place to apply for jobs let alone go for interviews while I was there. So I quit without having a job lined up. I also started seeing a therapist around this time and I think my mental health has somewhat improved since then. However, I'm still so traumatized by this whole experience that I can't seem to bring myself to apply for jobs. Every time I see a job I could apply to, I get paralyzed with fear that the same thing will happen. How do I move on from this and go back to work? Any advise or suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
posted
13-Feb-19, 10:22
edited about 19 seconds later
by monkia
Avatar for monkia
posted about 10 months ago
I am so sorry for this horrible experience, is it weird that is happening in US, in my home country, I had faced this but not that extent and of course, I was bullied and of course that was annoying and stressful. You should file lodge a complaint against this animal, but now you are lucky because you resigned, I know it is hard, but you must grateful as this ended. I am also was about to commit suicide, because I was blamed and it is hard, but believe this is not the end of the world. I know people become cruel and not compassionate and it is hard, but please please don't harm yourself, maybe a therapist could help, however, when I faced being forced to resign after one year in my PhD, I sent my therapist that I am going to commit suicide and he read the message and did nothing to help me with words, I didn't have money for sessions, it killed me that at this time I have been surrounded with devils.


To sum up, you have to find a compassionate therapist that could help you and also surround yourself with people who love you, forget this incident, be grateful that you resigned, you can always find better opportunities, but you need a break to refresh again.

Please if you feel an anxious write up here and I would be happy to assist you as much as I can, wishing for you all good.
posted
18-Feb-19, 20:29
edited about 21 seconds later
by MyWorld
Avatar for MyWorld
posted about 10 months ago
I am very sorry that you have to face that. I had some troubles with my PI not that huge though...he was really enjoying time with me, testing me messages when travelling with his wife...making me really uncomfortable, I never said anything to him but I started to be very rude to him and no smiling...nothing...it is being two years and our relationship is not bad but neither good, but I prefer it in that way. He sometimes makes bad comments about me or my work but I do not care, I just want to finish my PhD and leave. I am thinking about writing a complaint a letter after leaving, I am not sure yet but maybe I will do it.
This is happening in US and I have help from a student therapist.. I think that therapy should help you to get your confidence back and see that not everyone is like that and if you like research do not let that experience to take you apart of what you want, work in yourself and take some time to recover to come back stronger, I am sure it will work.
posted
19-Feb-19, 10:10
edited about 27 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 10 months ago
Hi MyWorld, I am really glad that the strategies you decided to use worked in the end!
posted
19-Feb-19, 13:20
edited about 15 seconds later
by monkia
Avatar for monkia
posted about 10 months ago
@MyWorld, great and I do recommend this strategy as it works perfectly, however, in the case of the OP it seems to be horrible and she must be strong enough to understand not all PI like that, and you are likely left this place to go another respectable work environment, I know it hard feelings, but you must be strong and optimistic to continue and be flexible. I wish you all the best and good luck.
posted
19-Feb-19, 14:59
edited about 1 minute later
Avatar for Mackem_Beefy
posted about 10 months ago
NJ567,

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.


Ian
posted
19-Feb-19, 15:19
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 10 months ago
Quote From Mackem_Beefy:
NJ567,

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.

Ian


Totally agree with this. Very sorry to hear about your situation NJ567.
posted
19-Feb-19, 16:26
by monkia
Avatar for monkia
posted about 10 months ago
Thanks, Mackem_Beefy for bringing this up and so sorry for your situation as well! Harassment in all stereotypes is harmful whether in mental or physical. I am also suffering mentally and physically, I think the best thing we would need besides that the time is to be careful of the good selection for the people you are going to work with, don't accept to be a second option, trust your gut feelings. We need to learn how to select good people in our professional lives.
posted
19-Feb-19, 21:41
edited about 58 seconds later
Avatar for Mackem_Beefy
posted about 10 months ago
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.


Ian

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