Monday, November 16, 2009

Why am I writing this paper?

I'm feeling triggered today and thought I would share my story....maybe it will help get me out of the funk. I’ve been through a very bad time in my lab, including total isolation and open hostilities. When it started, 3 years ago now, I attempted to change the direction of the “perceptions”, by working even harder. I worked at any and all hours, earned awards at the College level and applied and was the recipient of a NIH fellowship. While applying for the fellowship, my PI insisted that I wasn’t competitive enough, thus shouldn’t use lab time towards the application. Furthermore, his letter of support was for a “travel” grant and not a national award for 3-years of full funding....Yet, I got the damn thing.
Even with all my efforts, the behavior continued. In fact I was perceived as arrogant. For over a year, I chose not to engage. I knew there was no winning this. Unfortunately, this was seen as my admission of guilt.
When I did attempt to resolve what ever the issues were, I was told by my PI, who also later informed the lab, that I have a behavior problem and am a difficult person in general. He also added that while there was some truth to my situation in the lab, the majority was just paranoia.
This dysfunctional relationship between my PI and I only began about 5 mo. after joining the lab. Even though we had our rough spots, primarily our working relationship was very respectful. Even when a new “Wonderboy” grad. student joined the lab. He was aware of the tense situation between me and our PI, but he never attempted to use it to his advantage. We all collaborated well on a paper we were contributing to equally. However, the situation took a sudden and wicked turn when a third grad student joined the lab. I need not go into detail...the kindling was there before she joined, she was the person who chose to light the match!
What as initially a occasional conflict between only my PI and I was now a long and painful era of emotional abuse towards me by the lab as a whole. I was excluded from discussions (and humiliated when they were happening just in the room next to me....the looks I had to endure when I had to go in that room to run experiments were insufferable!). I was refused training even though I had the funding and invitation to visit a lab in Italy to learn the assay’s and techniques I needed. My PI, other grad students and eventually many in my department would overtly disregard my questions and would undermine my comments. I was issued ridiculous amounts of tedious work with nearly daily deadlines (these daily meetings were hoped to help my “learning”...yet I was the only student required to have them). During our joint lab meetings and journal clubs I was constantly publicly targeted by my PI and the female grad student, I was often dealing with attacks to my competence which would lead to some kind of public punishment. These tantrums by my PI often had no merit and were based on nothing remotely relevant to my work, presentation or behavior!
This has been going on for more than two years now. And even though the original grad student never openly participated, his withdrawal has only heightened others in the department to become emboldened. I was (and still believe I potentially could be again) a women who put myself though school, sought out the hardest courses, raised a child, went through a divorce, worked 3 or more jobs, finally reaching a point where I became more and more admired by members in my department, excelled intellectually and was awarded numerous academic awards....but now, I’m here in this place trying to finish my PH.D. and living with a situation where many in my department have unquestioningly labeled me as unpleasant and inept.
The situation has worsened. Half of my research centered has ben a collaborative project between me and the “wonderboy” student, but over time my ability to participate in my own project became less and less. In fact what should have been my experiments were now being given to the third grad student (now all of a sudden on the project with out any previous communication with me). I went from being co-first author to being replaced by the female grad student who now shares that honor with “wonderboy”, I’m second. My other projects are independent of the other graduate students in the lab, but I’ve been unable to speak of them to anyone for strange reasons. When I do, I’m given absurd unhelpful comments and suggestions. My PI has made me remake the strains and test them again and again.......Which I’ve now done at least 5 times and each time I get the same result! So this suggests to me that the results are real!
And finally, I’ve even been dealing with the recent reality of my earlier work being used and repeated by the horrible grad student in my lab and taking all credit as her own by means of discrediting my work and insinuating false and unsubstantiated acts of anger I supposedly made towards her to our PI. She is preparing to publish and guess what, I’m not on the paper!!!!!
While I do not know what fueled this persecution, it was most certainly endorsed by my PI and others in the department mostly because our academic climate offers no resources and even puts at risk those who would be willing to help because they too could become a target. I came to a point where I would no longer quietly endure the abuse. Using the support that I had been slowing enlisting with one of my committee members and dept. head, I made a stand and said ENOUGH! Luckily they agreed. I am now working out of another lab and trying to finish my dissertation.
Also, and this is the real cool part....the grad student who has made my life hell, left her e-mail open on our “public” lab computer! It was seen by others in the lab including our tech. who was shocked. The emails were about me and my PI. The two of them were describing details/stories about me that should not EVER involve my advisor and another grad student. Furthermore, this student was engaged in chat room conversations with other students regarding me where she informed them that I was “crazy” and “troubled”. She would tell them about how our PI wanted to throw me off the publications completely. She witness and elaborated how our PI ripped my poster off the wall in the hall and laughed about it. When I later inquired about the poster they both lied about it and said they thought it was in the lab....sorry, they had no idea.

While I feel validated having this information because it is cold hard data that I was NOT paranoid and I was/am not the one causing problems....still, what to do with this information and now what? I am still a couple of months from finishing and I’m getting more and more pressure from my department to finish. I’m on it, yet to what end. Most students get to apply for post doc’s while finishing. I have not. I have no letter of rec from my PI. So I’m asking you your experience, what are my chances? Will I move on and be ok, or am I out?

Finally, I do not want to go legal. Really there is no point. I have looked into it. But I have no money to do it. And really, I’m not going to be better off. I just want out and I want to move on. I could use your help knowing how to do that. What things have you seen that worked? What “lines” have you heard that you especially thought were right on target and perhaps could be useful for me. I don’t know what I really want, just sitting here. Supposed to be writing a paper that I bet will never see the light of day. I doubt my PI will publish it. More likely he will re-part it out and others will repeat and they will publish it as their own. I need some kind of motivation I guess. Why the fuck am I writing a paper/dissertation that has no hope of ever helping the field, or me for that matter?

(on a lesser confident day)


  1. If that email list was still up, I'd forward all the emails to the other people in the department. I'd make it blatantly clear to anyone I could that I was being persecuted in my lab without doing anything wrong. You really do need to bring this up to someone. It's not right that this has happened to you (and happened for so long), and it terrifies me to think that this WILL happen to some other poor individual who doesn't deserve it. Please seek help.

  2. hum....very good suggestion. I'll keep it in mind if the occasion arises again. Sending her e-mail back to them and dept. for that matter...sometimes I feel like I live a hollywood movie life (not the good chick flick kind, a horror/thriller).
    For now It's a tool to use to ensure I'm left alone.

  3. Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.