Thursday, July 02, 2009

Dear PI: it's your fault I'm depressed

Drugmonkey has an interesting post up about depressed trainees and what it's like to be the PI in this situation.

The comments devolved, as they usually do on scienceblogs, into some kind of childish argument, so I stopped reading them. But several people made interesting points before that happened.

This discussion seems very timely to me, since my therapist told me she thinks I have major depressive disorder, and last night the Southpark episode on alcoholism aired as a re-run.

Now I know what you're thinking, MsPhD is an alcoholic??? Well, no, I actually don't drink much and don't like to be drunk (too much of a control-freak, I guess). But I love the way the Southpark guys wrote about the 12-step program, as in making fun of the irrationality of "You are powerless" and "alcoholism is a disease" and how, even if it's partly true, that can be a completely dis-empowering attitude.

My point being that depression can fall into some of the same traps, i.e. that because it's a disease, you should put all your eggs into your psychiatrist's bag of pharmaceutical tricks, surrender to their higher power, and hope that like a magician's hat, you'll stick your hand in and pull out happiness.

Having said that, it's interesting to think that depression is what gets us trapped into negative thought patterns, not the other way around.

Or that it's a feedback loop that continues to get worse for biochemical reasons, even if you're only there because you fell into a psychological trap.

The idea that long-term depression can actually change your brain so that it doesn't function as well as it used to, that's just scary, especially to a scientist where creativity and problem-solving are key. That's the one reason I am considering trying anti-depressants. I never thought of depression as a neuro-degenerative disease.

I have definitely felt that, in these really dark days (and despite how it may appear on this blog, not all my days are bad ones), the worst part is feeling like I can't think.

Can't focus on making decisions about what to do next. Can't remember anything. Might be constantly repeating myself (I think I've blogged about this before...?).

I really HATE the feeling when someone is asking me something, and I know I did the experiment (or tried to), or read something relevant somewhere, but the details are just out of reach. And scientists being as they are, they won't take my word for it unless I can provide sufficient detail that I sound like I have enough expertise (or you know, a PhD).

Then, when I can't make decisions, I fall into these patterns of asking other people for advice (see under: blog comments).

This includes talking to my PI, who knows nothing about my project and more often than not, steers me into doing experiments that waste time, money, energy, and are totally uninformative and ultimately, unpublishable.

So the hardest part of my job, even when I am fully functional, is not choosing my own direction so much as (1) talking my PI out of stupid pointless or expensive time-wasters; (2) persuading my PI that I know what I'm doing and (3) that it's worth the investment. Because given the lack of mentoring, pretty much the only reason I'm still in this lab is to get my experiments paid for.

Having said that, arguing persuasively does not come naturally to me (case in point: blog comments). But it's especially fucking hard, I'm learning, when you're depressed.

So I end up feeling like I'm depressed because my PI is dragging me down.

So here's my analogy: it's like having an angry zombie chained to your leg. I'm trying to move forward with this huge weight to carry, while simultaneously making sure it doesn't bite off my head. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to cure this zombie and turn it back into a person, but until I can cut the chain, I'm stuck with it getting in my way.

...

It's possible, as my therapist pointed out, that I actually did get some good career advice from someone somewhere along the way, but in my depressed state I was unable to recognize it and instead fell into the same old patterns that my fucked-up family made me think were going to lead to success.

And maybe it's just the depression talking when I feel like I've been arguing as hard as I can for years. Reading books about how to argue more effectively. Taking classes on negotiating. And yet, I'm pretty sure that my PI is like most PIs (and parents): just not hearing me.

...

I was talking to a former alum from our lab the other day, and got some advice that absolutely will not work for me. NO, I will not wear cutesy clothes and try to charm my way into getting what I want from the PI. NO, I do not know how to "manipulate back" my manipulative PI. NO, standing my ground has NOT worked and has only led to enormous backlash, resentment, and my PI flat-out avoiding me and refusing to read my manuscripts. NO, I can't talk to my PI about my depression, because acknowledging any kind of emotional anything is deemed as a weakness, not a strength.

What has worked is also depressing: playing into my PI's comfort with the female stereotype by letting myself be steered right into the pitfalls.

In other words, I am "mentoring up" in the sense of trying to help my PI learn the hard way.

I am playing dumb. I am playing passive. And it is working better than anything else has, except that it's taking fucking forever.

And the truth is, because I'm already depressed, I don't have the energy or creativity to come up with a better plan right now.

So what I really resent is when other PIs assume that my situation is entirely my own fault for not having tried, you know, arguing. It's so frustrating, I just have to laugh.

And I really resent that if my PI chooses to say that I am lazy and "difficult", everyone will most likely believe it. The only way I could have effectively countered that argument would be a High Enough Impact Paper to show that while my PI might be unappreciative, I am at least highly accomplished.

Except for the part where everyone seems oblivious to the fact that the first hurdle in getting your work shown to the world is: your own PI.

So yeah, I'm depressed about all of that. And despite what many of you write about how I should get out ASAP, leaving the lab empty-handed will definitely not cure my depression anytime soon.

So what could my PI do? (for Drugmonkey, and those of you who might be wondering):

1. Recognize that the problem is at least partly you.

Yes, your trainees are younger. Yes, we have things to learn from your experience and yes, you take care of us in ways we probably won't fully appreciate unless we eventually have our own labs.

However, we do have unique insight. We do a lot of things you probably don't know how to do. We don't feel appreciated most of the time, and we don't feel encouraged.

Maybe you could encourage us, maybe you could take our word for it one time in ten.

Maybe you could ask for outside help when you're in over your head. Indeed, you could at least admit it when you're in over your head, instead of trying so hard to pretend like you know it all already. We don't, but you don't either, and we know it.

2. Pretend like we're in this together.

My PI does this sometimes, and I do find it oddly comforting, even knowing that it doesn't actually help in any real-world sense. At the end of the day, I'm the one who has to make my projects work.

But psychologically, it does help to think that it doesn't all fall on my shoulders, or that at least someone is standing beside me making sure I won't drop the ball.

3. Show, don't tell.

Lead by example. Don't be a fucking hypocrite. Don't tell us to do things you criticize in other people's papers when you see it presented in journal club. Don't just assume we respect you because of some hierarchical bullshit tradition.

We want to genuinely respect you for your integrity. We want you to be a role model.

Be a good one.

4. Listen.

One thing that stood out to me on my graduate school interviews years ago was how little any of the PIs asked me. I thought it was an interview, so they would ask questions and want me to do some talking.

No, what they wanted to do was talk at me. And I am pretty good at listening, so of course I got offers everywhere that I "interviewed". Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I "visited". I was never interviewed any of these places (maybe if they had realized who I am and how I think, I wouldn't have gotten in!).

So yes, out of necessity PIs are great at talking about their work. But when it comes to mentoring, listening is the number one tool you need.

I don't need you to listen to me talk about my emotional state. I need you to listen to me about my work. I need you to LISTEN TO ME ABOUT MY WORK. I need you to LISTEN TO ME ABOUT MY WORK.

Well anyway. I said it.

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22 Comments:

At 12:06 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

Dear Ms. PhD,

Go see a doctor and get the anti-depressants! The only caution is- make sure you pay attention to the dosage. A little goes a long way and they make pretty good meds these days- very few side effects. In my opinion, there is no point in wasting time being miserable!

As far a the PhD is concerned, hurry up and get out. It really sucks that the mentorship is lacking, but you need to dig deep in yourself and get the support there! Get the meds, get the work done, and get out fast. I have been there and I am in a great place now. I certainly am glad that I had the negative experiences because I have learned so much. I love science and I won't let anyone get in my way. And I can spot the danger zones from a mile away now!

 
At 2:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea that long-term depression can actually change your brain so that it doesn't function as well as it used to, that's just scary, especially to a scientist where creativity and problem-solving are key.

I think this is true. Maybe it doesn't lead to permanent mental impairment, but certainly during the period of depression it does.

When I was very depressed about my dead-end postdoc position, I reached the point where I just couldn't muster up the strength to even get the most mundane and easy tasks done. It wasn't just depression over the crappy job (and boss) and dead-end path it was leading my life into, but the anxiety of losing even that at any time and being unemployed and not being able to find other employment to support my family. It was paralyzing. I tried for months to get a new job but in my depressed state I think I really didn't "present well" during my job interviews. That's the catch-22. When you're seriously depressed you can't function properly in your present job that is making you depressed. Yet, at the same time you're not in any state to make a good impression on a new job either. Potential employers want to see you being upbeat and driven and focused and all that, and when you're depressed you are the exact opposite so you have to put on a show and I felt like such a fake. I'm sure they saw through it.

in the end I just got lucky in managing to look just good enough to another job that they hired me. Then once I was out of my awful postdoc, my depression ended and my creativity and mental focus came back. don't get me wrong, I wasn't magically transformed into a super happy camper because taking the new job meant a major upheaval and giving up other things that I really had a hard time letting go of. But overall since my postdoc job was the major source of my depression, getting rid of that made a big improvement to my psychological and emotional health so I don't regret it.

I'm no psychologist but I do think that the longer you remain depressed, the more your mind "gets used" to being depressed so this gradually becomes your new default state. And that is a horrible place to be in.

 
At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The PI has no responsibility to read his postdocs' papers (let alone unfinished drafts!). Frankly, even a graduate student should be independent enough to work on his own, and a postdoc even more so. The PI's responsibility is to pay you. If you need someone to listen to you, that is your responsibility.

You have to become more independent and less reliant on others. Think of it as an opportunity to grow; what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. :)

 
At 8:14 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Sandra,

I'm not a grad student.

I did the "get the work done, and get out fast". Sort of. I think it's sort of bullshit to act like that's all there is to it, getting the work done.

Case in point, as a postdoc, I have gotten the work done, but I haven't been able to get out. For reasons that have nothing to do with my ability to get work done.

Hence the blog. Welcome, btw, to the blog.

I like your suggestion to dig deep within myself.

I think the point of therapy is that some of us have at our core a happy childhood and somehow those memories give us strength.

Or something.

Some of us do not have that. So when we dig deep, what we come up with is the same fear that comes from having everything you ever did criticized as not being good enough.

In theory I guess we all have some primordial survival instinct, maybe that's beneath all the family crap?

Peter Gabriel's song Digging in the Dirt comes to mind. Find the places we got hurt.

Anon 4:24 pm,
I'm not sure what field you're in, but in my field some PIs are absolute control freaks, and since their name is on the paper, as a postdoc, you can't submit anything without their approval unless you want to get fired.

So let me be clear: it's not that I WANT it, it's that I HAVE NO CHOICE.

If anything, I've been accused of being "too independent".

I think you must live on some other planet where independence is actually seen as a good quality. I would like to live there someday. Can you send me a postcard?

Also please note for future reference that the exclusive use of the male pronoun is a bit outdated, and is now either seen by most women as (a) sexist, or (b) perhaps reflective that you're in a heavily male-dominated field?

I'm just saying.

 
At 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The PI has no responsibility to read his postdocs' papers (let alone unfinished drafts!). Frankly, even a graduate student should be independent enough to work on his own, and a postdoc even more so."

Um....actually it is all co-authors' responsibility to read papers that are going to have their names on it!! As a co-author you are responsible for what's in the paper that bears your name. If another co-author puts in crappy data or wrong conclusions, your name is attached to that too. So yes, PIs do have a responsibility to read their postdoc's papers, unless the PI is not a co-author??

 
At 4:25 AM, Blogger tnk0001 said...

On the depression - It was suggested my some psychiatrist that I was depressed, then I found a new one who really listened and told me I was just taking too much on, gace me some medication ofr acute anxiety problems and I only needed them short term til I could calm down and think clearly about my situation. I'm in neuro, and I know the story with the meds and that they should work, but I'm still oddly uncomfortable with having a pill that takes away my 'depression' especially if it is brought on my life being tough.

As far as the PI, there are always two choices give up or fight harder (and I suppose a rather unsatisfying 3rd choice of just doing nothing). I say fight harder, you know you're smart and capable, fight for yourself.

Good luck.

 
At 7:28 AM, Blogger Neuropharma said...

You're not alone. Check out this

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1193

You came to my mind when I read it, so I thought I should send it to you.

 
At 10:30 AM, Blogger Principle Investigator said...

Anon @ 4:24, Ms. PhD is right. In many fields, if the PI pays you, his or her name WILL go on your paper. It doesn't matter how much s/he contributed to the ideas, the benchwork, or the writing. And as the senior author on your paper, s/he must approve it prior to submission.

Aside from that, postdocs and students are not just employees (=technicians), they are trainees. This is becoming ever more explicit in the grant applications we have to write. They are in the lab to learn from us, not just to get paid. Yes, they are (at least in the process of becoming) independent researchers. But we are their mentors and we DO have a responsibility to help them learn the skills they will need, including how to write grants and papers. Not by writing for them, but by reading and discussion and constructive criticism of their drafts.

 
At 10:57 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

tnk0001,

My therapist actually said it could be anxiety and that it's sometimes hard to tell anxiety and depression apart. We'll see what this psychiatrist says.

Fighting harder has gotten me nowhere and too tired to function.

I'm trying to figure out how to fight smarter.

The trick is that it's nearly impossible to out-manipulate a career manipulator. Especially for someone like me. Manipulation techniques have never really been in my vocabulary.

One woman department chair I spoke to said I should "script" my conversations with my PI before we meet, but she didn't give me concrete suggestions for what that means. My PI inevitably ambushes me and takes the conversation in a totally different direction than what I might have predicted any other person would do.

I thought about going back to this professor to ask how I should play certain scenes. Right now I have something I want to propose to my PI, a potential bargaining chip. I want to know how to make sure I use it to my advantage.

Neuropharma,

Yes. Except I don't blame myself for not being able to get these things to work.

I just hate that I have to go through the motions to make the data to demonstrate to my PI a) that I tried, and b) why it won't work. Like I said, time-wasters.

Especially when sometimes I get a perfectly legitimate, interesting result, but my PI can't understand why it's interesting or legitimate, because it doesn't fit with my PI's 2-dimensional thinking process.

Anybody ever read Flatland?

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger daisy mae said...

i don't know whether or not this would work in your situation, but i thought that i would throw it out there: my PI occasionally gets into "moods", where it's his way or the highway, and no matter how valid my ideas or thoughts or experiments, he doesn't want to hear about them.

so, along with my coworkers, we've adopted the "ask forgiveness rather than ask permission" route.

if my PI asks me to do something, and i feel that i have a better way - i will do his way, but also do my way (without ever telling him my way). if my way works, i bring it up and show the results. if it doesn't work, i never mention it.

of course, there are a multitude of situations in which this most definitely does not work - but it's helped me, and i thought i would pass it along.

as for anti-depressants, i've had friends who've had phenomenal success with them, mostly at low doses and increasing their exercise... it seems to help with the physical dependency aspect of things.

 
At 5:30 PM, Blogger Random said...

I think that your complaint about interviews is interesting as related to your previous post where there seemed to be a disconnect with how many other people approach picking a grad program (the difference between picking a school and then looking within it for mentors vs picking a mentor who does what you want to do and just making sure the school they are at is reasonable). The reason I would imagine that they were talking to you about their research more than 'interviewing' you is that you were coming to work in their lab, they did a certain thing in that lab, finding out more about that is the ONLY way to know if that would fit your interests. The other direction of information flow is almost less important- because although they'd obviously want you to be motivated and smart and would need to see if that was true, unless you like the things they are telling you about the lab, none of that matters- no one is going to radically change directions because some smart undergrad who works on a totally different topic wants to come there for grad school (and if they say they will, that seems like an enormous red flag). Maybe people would be open to new techniques and things, but more change than that seems unlikely. And you wouldn't want to go somewhere where no one did what you wanted to do, anyways. It isn't necessarily true that they were egomaniacs that were ignoring you- its possible they were trying to help you find a good fit.

Antidepressants seem like a good idea- it is not good for your brain to be chronically depressed. There is also no reason to be miserable if there is something that might help- I've been reading for a while, and it just seems like your life could be much happier. It also seems like you are really really convinced that there is no possible alternative to anything that is happening to you- maybe the being less depressed would help you get out of the thought patterns you're stuck in and let you think more openly about some of the possibilities that are out there, even if right now, from where you sit inside this depression, they seem impossible.

 
At 6:18 PM, Blogger Arlenna said...

I so wish that you had another PI collaborating and helping pay for you who was a better mentor, and who could either play interference with this PI and/or help you laugh at this person when they are being such a tool. Someone who could gradually morph into being the senior author on your papers, and who would save your postdoc experience.

I had that, and it kept me from ending up in exactly the position you are in right now. Are any of the other PIs around you (who will give you advice) ready and able to put their money where there mouths are, and help you wrangle a non-loss of your last few years of productivity? As in, someone who could play this person at their own game and trick them into feeling like it was a win for them to have you working with someone else?

 
At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had exactly the same PI problem. My solution was to find some one else to help write my papers and try to avoid the PI. It worked.

Everyone likes papers, so u should be able to find other collaborators. =)

Good luck. =)

 
At 6:10 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

FUCKING BLOGGER ATE MY REPLY.

Fuck me. I spent a while writing that, fucking blogger!!!

Nothing worse than hitting "Publish" and having it fucking VANISH into nothing!

fuuuuhhhhhhccck.

 
At 7:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for a while and can understand what you are going through. The best thing to do is to get out of that lab or take a break and do something else (internship in industry/FDA).FDA has some president's fellowship program in CDER and CBER, check it out. Sometimes we dont get what we want despite working hard and doing everything the right way. May be there is something else good for you in this life. You should explore other opportunities and find what works for you, rather than being depressed. We cant control other people (eg.,your PI) but can control how we respond to others. May be its a cliche! No point in trying to work with your PI hoping he will change one day.

 
At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing that stood out to me on my graduate school interviews years ago was how little any of the PIs asked me. I thought it was an interview, so they would ask questions and want me to do some talking. No, what they wanted to do was talk at me.

I've had the same experience when I was interviewing for grad and postdoc positions as well as for positions in industry. I think the reason is because postdocs, even in academia, are viewed primarily as employees to do what the PI wants in return for a paycheck and nothing more. Therefore it doesn't matter what the hell you are interested in because the PIs don't care about your intellectual interests or career, they care only about theirs and that you have the necessary technical skills to do what they want. And they can already gather that info on your technical skills from your CV and references. Thus, the "interview" is more for them to inform you of what you will be doing should you accept the position in their labs, and not for any open dialogue. Just so that if you don't want to work for them after all you can pull the plug early on in the process before they go through the trouble of hiring you when they could have hired someone else instead.

I don't see how it can be any other way. I mean, if you're a PI, how can you afford to let all incoming grad students and postdocs do what they want? A PI has to keep his own career afloat by giving the appearance of a coherent research program so of course he will be a dictator to some extent. I just wish that when I was a postdoc, that my PI would have let me follow my intellectual interests in addition to doing what I was being paid to do. But that was not the case because where would the money to do what I wanted, come from? I was only allowed to work on things that were already budgeted for in advance, by the PI.

So then the way to succeed in this situation is to somehow make the PI's goals YOUR goals as well so that he will be happy and you will be happy. That's why during your "interview" they are simply telling you what it is you will be working on. So you can either go with the flow and accept that as your new identity (although this doesn't exactly turn postdocs into "independent scientists" rather it jsut turns them into good followers of instructions), or not even come on board in the first place.

That's why I became very jaded with the postdoc system and the big lie that is supposedly 'mentoring'. I went into industry instead - at least here people don't pretend to doing you a favor.

 
At 11:49 AM, Anonymous trying to get out said...

There are so many instances of people in graduate school or post docs hating their jobs. PhD comics, your and countless other blogs, forums for support groups like we have some sort of illness or addiction. I just googled 'what to do when you are sad all of the time' and the second entry was from a graduate school support forum and one of the next was to this blog.

The question is, if we all hate it so much, why in the hell do we do it? Why do we stay? And if we want to get out, how do you do that with out being sad. There was obviously some reason that we started this whole mess in the first place (theoretically a love of the subject), so leaving it causes a feeling of defeat and of failure (as if we don't already have enough of those). And we probably think of ourselves as an integral part of the lab, because some PIs do not know how do do all of the procedures in the lab anymore; how do you just up and leave knowing that you have not taught the next poor soul coming in to replace you and that the lab will stop functioning. If you have trained someone else, how do you leave them in the same hell that you are fleeing from?

Why do we stay, and how do you get out after having put so much of your time and yourself into it? What do you do for a job? This did not work, now what? How do you finish your degree if you feel so sad that you do not have the self motivation to finish simple tasks, never the less a thesis or dissertation? And where do you go from there?

 
At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you describe is exactly how it went down with my PhD adviser. For depression, in addition to what you are doing, I suggest adding exercise. Swimming 40 min a day saved me in those dark days.

Here is the summary of some of the strategies I tried: (others might have suggested these already. I haven't gone through all the comments).

1. If PI asks for a time-waster, wait for a week. Do minimum possible. Show "disappointing" results. I used to plot atleast one graph to show it doesn't work. Him deciphering the graph, made me dodge the manipulating/emotional wreck conservations during meetings.

2. Recruit someone with favorable impression towards you as your co-adviser (or "co-anything"). Make sure that person is friends to your PI. So, you have an impartial third person for reference later.

3. I flat out tried to escape any appointments/meetings with my adviser when the critical part of my dissertation+papers was in progress. They just muddle our thinking before we form our cohesive argument/presentation, and criticize the work before it is complete (as if they are external reviewers instead of a part of OUR team).

4. Look ways to independently boost your confidence. The day my adviser suggested one more thing I do for the thesis and delayed the submission by two months, I put out my resume in industry. I got the job before I submitted. It gave me so much self-confidence boost to stand up to the adviser and to finish.

5. Pick your battles carefully. I let everything else slide but not on what journals to submit, and to be a corresponding author (you will have much better control with review response). Also, I didn't defend when he considered I am incompetent in certain things. Instead, I took up volunteering/other activities which demonstrate my competence in those skills for my CV.

I hope you will get out of this the best way you can. Good luck.

 
At 3:26 PM, Blogger Crystallinity said...

I am so, so grateful that you've referred to this post in one of your recent ones - somehow I'm a grad student a few years in and only now am I finding your blog! Every word you wrote hits home - I've been dealing with depression for quite some time now, and the only conclusion I can keep coming to is that science isn't the place for people with depression because of all the catch-22's, vicious cycles and perpetual judgement + need to operate at top capacity to succeed. I HATE that conclusion.

 
At 9:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MsPHD,

I love your blog and have read it for at least a year now. I so identified with you that it was a boost to my sanity knowing that I wasn't the only one going through this.

I was a successful graduate student that received lots of awards and excitedly went on to begin my post-doc experience. For the last three years, I have been in a disturbingly similar situation as you with a disturbingly similar PI. I fell into the same 'handling-the-PI' strategies described in the above posts, but was never very successful. I chastised myself continually for never being able to establish a productive working relationship with him and just gave up trying. I lost all confidence in myself, I couldn't think straight and my memory was just plain gone. I doubted myself so much that I lost all ability to make a decision. I let it go on for way too long and I got to the point that I couldn't see any other options than being stuck in that situation. In the last two years I've tried different anti-depressant medications, but haven't had a whole lot of success. The entire experience has been so traumatic that I've lost my excitement for research (perhaps only temporarily), and I was reconsidering the plans I had made for a science career.

But my situation has changed. Six weeks ago, I left my PI's employ. Within the last two weeks, the depression fog and heart-wrenching anxiety have begun to clear, and I am seeing the situation much more clearly. Even food tastes better now. I'm out of the situation and I'm so very quickly regaining my clear-headedness, my decision-making abilities, my memory, and every other cognitive tool that had eroded away. Now I can think. Now I'm starting to see all of the options I have in my future science career and I'm beginning to get that 'back-in-control' feeling again. Start developing an exit strategy to end that job and reclaim yourself.

 
At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah.. dear all, dear MsPhD,
I share the same experiences, questions, ideas to solve the situation that you have so well described.
I may even print out your posts as it is so damn good to read similar thoughts .
Science is not supposed to be like that.
I had a great PhD supervisor, two quite bad postdoc PIs, and then he came, the destructive-manipulator one.
I am the kind who struggle to say no, diplomatic (read coward), arranging.. then one day, the favorite boy of the PI really tried to screw me over and I said no. PI harrassed me, gazlighted me, manipulated me, everyday for about one month until he threatened me openly to end my career unless i let favorite boy and PI screw me over. I had left my country to join his lab, obtained a very fancy fellowship to do so... i couldnt let my career go. I refused being blackmailed and all and went to HR and department leader to seek for help. Then were meetings with all the big bosses, the officials from the university.. and they decided that i was right and forced him to back down.
What happened next was tough, i had to work there, with a PI who bullied me more than ever, ignoring my hellos, dimishing my work, my input systematically.
After several months, my contract ended and I left the lab. He went on, by retaining the publication of my papers. I was screwed up.

things changed, life is life and he is dead, sadly for his young kid. I don't miss him but i feel sad for these people who spend a big part of their life creating dramas in the life of others.
For my career, you would think that things was easier after? Nope, the effect of toxic people last for long. I am now even more depressed, frozen. The golden boy is still in the lab, tries to take over the lab and boss me, and me i am still out without a job.
I know i did well to stand up for myself and say no when i felt it was the right thing to do.

But the truth is that in academia, when you do so, you are tagged "big mouth, problem maker, unstable, etc". And my life wld have been easier if i hadn't say no. ok i would have lost a bit, but less than what i lost: self esteem, mental health and in fine papers and most likely my career.

So my advice guys: if you open your mouth, make sure you have serious support outside the lab. You will need it. And remember that academia is a giant octopus: you hit one arm, the others will make sure you stay far away.

Good luck !

 
At 1:59 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I'm so sorry that happened to you.

The only thing I can say is, the more time that goes on, the better you will feel about doing the right thing. Because if you think about it, even if you had stayed, you would have felt depressed, guilty, and worst of all, you would have lost your sense of self.

I'm still bitter that I didn't get to have my own lab, but as you say, the effects of toxic people last for so long. I have so much more perspective now than I did, in some ways I wish I had left sooner, for my emotional well-being, but in other ways, I'm proud of the work I finished. I can only imagine that anti-depressants people take to put up with their bad decisions in order to stay in situations like that, also affect their morals (I remember seeing an article to that effect a year or two ago).

The sooner you can get away from these guys, the easier it is to see there is a whole world of possibilities. Not everyone has to, or chooses to, work with toxic people. Academia seems to be a haven for them, unfortunately.

Best of luck to you, I promise things do get better.

 

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