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Professor blackmailing he will not let me graduate - how to deal with this?


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Dear All,

I am a first time poster. I am very happy to find this forum. I post here with a lot of hope that I will get some answers. 

 

My professor is asking me to help another student get his wrok done. Even though it is not my work, they are telling me to work with another student in the pretest that they want to help me. I have never asked for any help, but it is all lies. When I said I dont need their help, my professor sent me a threat email, which goes like this (quoting exactly):

 

" if I do not think you have done enough, I will not give my approval for your dissertation.

So make sure that every day  you come and spend in the afternoon a few hours in my lab to see what you are doing."
 
I have been subjected to repeated threats, blackmailing,  mental and emotional harassment. I am in my 6th year. I met with the univ ombudsman, but it was of no help. 
 
I want to tell my story to the whole world. If you know any journalists/reporters, please let me know. There is enough documented evidence to prove harassment and blackmailing. 
 
Also, what can I do in this situation? Despite being nice to my prof, the abuse continues. Please help.
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From personal experience on this type of situation, I will tell you that you need to tread very lightly. If you start trying to play the harassment card, YOU will become a liability to the university, which they WILL try to minimize. This may mean that you end up leaving without your degree, or anything to show for those 6 years of your life.

 

What are you being asked to do for this other students work? Is it possible that you can benefit from this collaboration (collaboration between students is common in my field, though may not be in yours)? If you are close to finishing your degree, and what is being asked of you in not entirely unreasonable, I don't think you would regret backing down and just doing whatever it is you need to do to get out.

 

With that said, if you are set on pushing this issue then you need to seek legal counsel, and you definitely don't want to contact the media. Absolutely do not discuss this situation with anyone in administration at your school, and if you do, reiterate with this individual that your conversation with them is confidential. Remember that when you open this door, no one there will be on your side as they will be looking out for the best interest of the university.

 

I hope this helps
 

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You seem to have many reasons to feel angry about this situation. Before taking further action, take some time to assess your priorities and what outcome you realistically hope to achieve given the current situation and what you know about your professor and the department. Then plan your steps to getting there. You may have many valid reasons for feeling angry and it's important to get that anger out. However, when communicating with your supervisor, it may be wise to temporarily put the boxing gloves aside and work towards agreeing on a plan that keeps both you and your supervisor satisfied. Perhaps you both won't get 100% of what you want. But if you can agree to a solution that is acceptable and satisfactory to the both of you that would seem to be a win-win situation. The PhD is your ultimate goal. Remember that sometimes losing a battle is worth it if it helps you win the war. 

Edited by jenste
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You don't mention your discipline, so this may be off base. 

 

But in the sciences, you are largely being paid to forward the goals of the PI and the lab, and being asked to help with another students project is absolutely par for the course. 

 

It would not at all be considered blackmail to get the sort of email you cite in any lab I'm familiar with, it would be considered a reprimand to a graduate student who's not living up to the expectations of the PI and department. 

 

The latter part, the request that you spend at least a few hours in lab every afternoon is also worrying to me, as most PIs would expect (in a discipline with labs) that you're in at least a normal 40 hours a week, either working on your projects or helping with general lab upkeep and maintenance/training junior graduate students/helping with other projects. 

 

Is it perhaps possible that there's a rift in understanding between you and your professor about exactly what is expected of a PhD student?

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I  agree with everything that has been said thus far. I did want to point to this advice, though:

 

Absolutely do not discuss this situation with anyone in administration at your school, and if you do, reiterate with this individual that your conversation with them is confidential. Remember that when you open this door, no one there will be on your side as they will be looking out for the best interest of the university.

 

While I agree with the reasoning provided by eyeDK for avoiding administration, I thought I'd play devil's advocate and provide a reason why you might want to make that contact: if this issue does escalate further (Dean, media, external (legal) authorities), you'll want written proof that you made reasonable efforts to resolve the conflict through school administration. This is really, really, really important. It will provide due cause for you to have escalated the matter. After your attempts fail, the onus then falls on your advisor and the administration for being unreasonable, discriminating, blocking your dissertation, etc. and you seem like the victim. 

 

All that being said, I think your best bet is to avoid escalating the situation. To that end, Eigen's advice is soundest and you should work to resolve any misunderstandings at the advisor-level first before you push the issue further.

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It would not at all be considered blackmail to get the sort of email you cite in any lab I'm familiar with, it would be considered a reprimand to a graduate student who's not living up to the expectations of the PI and department. 

 

The latter part, the request that you spend at least a few hours in lab every afternoon is also worrying to me, as most PIs would expect (in a discipline with labs) that you're in at least a normal 40 hours a week, either working on your projects or helping with general lab upkeep and maintenance/training junior graduate students/helping with other projects. 

 

Is it perhaps possible that there's a rift in understanding between you and your professor about exactly what is expected of a PhD student?

 

This is exactly what crossed my mind too. I wanted to upvote you, but apparently I already ran out today :(

 

OP, at the point where the professor has to specifically tell you that you must come in for a few hours every afternoon to get something done or you won't be allowed to graduate, you have to consider whether you're not entirely blameless. A few hours in the afternoon is beyond reasonable, since most PhD students are indeed expected to be present and working hard at least 40 hours/week. If you did actually do that for 5+ years and have simply run out of things to do for your project, I could sympathize with your side, but until proven otherwise the professor's request doesn't sound unreasonable at all. 

 

I also wanted to clarify that blackmail is typically the act of holding some personal knowledge the he has over your head in order to force you to act against your best interests in return for him keeping the knowledge secret. It doesn't sound from the rest of your explanation like that's what's happening. It sounds like you find it distressing and harassing to be told that he needs you to do more work before he can let you graduate, and extreme situations of this sort certainly qualify as abusive, but that in itself is not blackmail. 

 

Lastly, I just want to emphasize that the decision of whether you're ready to graduate or you need help is not entirely yours to make. The reason we PhD students are in a position of being so dependent upon advisors is that often we need someone more experienced to gauge our readiness to move on or our need for help. I'm fairly sure that if my PI told me to do work with another student that would help me and I responded that I didn't ask for and don't need help, he would not be the least bit interested in accepting that answer and walking away. 

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In most STEM fields, it unfortunately is at the discretion of your PI when you defend your thesis & graduate. In most cases, an email such as you received would not count as a "threat", it is simply a statement of expectations. Although you are adamant here that you don't want or need help, it might be apparent to others that you really do need assistance with your research, which is why they are trying to intervene ("I want to help you" can be an indirect way of saying "You're struggling and you need help."). 

 

At this point, your path of least resistance is to sit down with your PI in person and agree on a timeline for your graduation. Ask them directly what (and how much) work you need to do before they will let you graduate. Write down what they say on paper, then email them a "summary" of what you discussed once the meeting is over. Then go ahead and do that work, even if you don't like it. 

 

Regardless of whether you go into academia or industry as your future career, there will be a lot of times when (i) you have to work with others even when you don't want to or don't think it is necessary (ii) you have to complete more tasks than you want to, either because your boss has told you to, or because need to get grant money, publications or new research projects off the ground. You can't be a successful scientist in a vacuum. 

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I agree with everything that has been said thus far. I did want to point to this advice, though:

While I agree with the reasoning provided by eyeDK for avoiding administration, I thought I'd play devil's advocate and provide a reason why you might want to make that contact: if this issue does escalate further (Dean, media, external (legal) authorities), you'll want written proof that you made reasonable efforts to resolve the conflict through school administration. This is really, really, really important. It will provide due cause for you to have escalated the matter. After your attempts fail, the onus then falls on your advisor and the administration for being unreasonable, discriminating, blocking your dissertation, etc. and you seem like the victim.

All that being said, I think your best bet is to avoid escalating the situation. To that end, Eigen's advice is soundest and you should work to resolve any misunderstandings at the advisor-level first before you push the issue further.

Great advice given so far in this thread. I just wanted to elaborate on a somewhat strong statement I made about not having contact with administration on your situation. What I meant is that prior to contacting admin, you should talk to a lawyer. My reason for saying this is that as soon as you mention harassment to admin it will become a legal issue. They will contact their lawyers and start doing whatever they need to minimize damage. If this issue is going to be pushed, then it obviously needs to go through admin, but being prepared for the worst would be the best way to go in this situation.

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Thank you every one for your suggestion. I went to the Dean's office (also ombudsman), I had gone before also, about 2 months ago. They suspected, may be, the prof may be preparing evidence to remove from the program, hence so many emails. They asked me to forward emails from my prof to see if there is any harassment or to know the tone, whether it is more leaning toward a plan for termination. So, I am a bit afraid. Is it okay to send email to the Graduate School/Dean's office/Ombudsman? Is it normal for them to ask for such evidence? They asked me orally, later on, I came back to my lab and sent email asking some questions related to emails (around 4pm), still have not got a response. Is it okay to send them copies of email communication between me and my prof? They are authorized to solve student/prof related issues in the univ? Please suggest what I should do. And once again, thanks a lot of very thoughtful suggestions.

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Your case sounds very unusual and there are a lot of missing details from your original post. But based on what you've written, it sounds like the Dean may be willing to help you out, if you are in the right. If you do not cooperate, I think it would look like you are hiding something. If you go along with it, if there is anything to redeem you in the email correspondence, they will see it, which is a good thing.

 

I don't think it makes sense to hide the emails as the prof in question also has the same emails and could forward them to the Dean's office if he so chooses (which is likely if he is collecting info to be used against you). But if the Dean finds something to redeem you in the emails he may bring it to light, whereas the prof will bury it.

 

If you were much earlier into your program, you might have been able to transfer to another lab. I think your best bet now is to try to establish a working relationship with this person (which means temporarily burying the venom when you interact with this person, in spite of all the anger you have) otherwise you will have wasted most of the last 6 years of your life academically, burned a bridge in the field, possibly tarnished your reputation (you do not know if this professor will spread negative info about you to others in the field), and lost money in the 6 figure range due to loss of income if you had been working at a fulltime job for the past 6 years instead.

 

Even if you sue the prof and are allowed to continue in the program, you will never be able to use this person as a reference so you would still end up losing in the end. It's not looking good for you at this point. 

 

I suggest that you do whatever you can to salvage this relationship and make it semi-functional. The Dean may be able to help if this person is on good terms with the Dean and respects his opinion. The Dean can only help if he has more information about the situation, which means sharing the email history. That's my 2 cents. Good luck.

Edited by jenste
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http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,178461.15.html I also agree with the follow up.

 

My question is: How badly do you want your PhD?

 

We all have had to learn to deal with various BS to get where we are.  Your adviser knows this.  Your committee members know this. You can't keep running away when your boss tells you to get moving.  You can either quit on the spot or just do it.  You have to learn to deal with authority.  Until you become your own boss, you will continue to be pressured with deadlines.

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Maybe you should quit thinking you're a victim and do what your advisor asks. Assuming you are receiving financial support, it's quite reasonable to ask you to show up to work. Assigning you to collaborate with another person is standard and a skill that you might need to develop. It sounds to me as if you think that you know better than faculty when, and under what circumstances, you should be awarded a degree. If they don't think your work is up to their standards you are not going to get your degree and I would honestly believe that faculty are a better judge of the quality of your work than are you. I don't know where you are but in the US contacting someone else to complain about your advisor is a really bad idea, I've never seen it result in anything except more problems. If you mention the word lawyer you may as well just leave now because courts give academic institutions extremely wide latitude in accepting students and granting degrees. You don't have a contract that guarantees you anything, it is entirely up to the faculty. The best thing you can do, if you haven't already burned all your bridges, is just agree to part ways and find another advisor. Unfortunately, there's a good chance that you now have a reputation as a problem and you won't find anyone else to take you.

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... You don't have a contract that guarantees you anything, it is entirely up to the faculty. The best thing you can do, if you haven't already burned all your bridges, is just agree to part ways and find another advisor. Unfortunately, there's a good chance that you now have a reputation as a problem and you won't find anyone else to take you.

Honestly if I heard of someone trying to use reporters/lawyers to settle an issue where someone didn't want to help another student or using the word "blackmail" and "harassment" to describe "please work with this other student" I don't think I would feel safe hiring that person.

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I know this isn't what you want to hear, but basically, the professor is god. He holds your academic life in his hands.  Get used to it. Do what he says.  You are not god yet. When you get your Ph.D, then you can make your grad students jump through whatever hoops you want, but not yet.  Their job isn't to graduate you.  Their job is to produce Ph.Ds who help the reputation of their school.  This is how my dad describes the schooling experience (he's a Ph.D)

 

Grade School- Proves you can accomplish a goal with a teacher standing over you, beating you with a stick to get it done.

College-Proves you can accomplish a goal without the teacher having to beat you

Masters- Proves you can accomplish a goal with the other students beating you away from it

Ph.D- Proves you can accomplish a goal with the teacher beating you away from it

 

Also, get used to working with other people and jumping through hoops you consider unnessecary.  It is part of life.  You need to learn to get along with difficult people.  My dad did every bit of research he needed to do, had outstanding teaching evals, and fulfilled every service requirement at his first tenure track job. But his people skills sucked. He thought he was smarter than everyone in his department and wanted to debate them instead of work with them.  And so, he didn't get tenure, even though he met every requirement.  It isn't just about your work, it is about how well you work with others.  So far, I don't think your PI is convinced you work well enough with others to get your degree, and it's his reputation at stake if you go out on market and don't get hired or don't get tenure because you can't collaborate.

Edited by Cheshire_Cat
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Dear All,

I am a first time poster. I am very happy to find this forum. I post here with a lot of hope that I will get some answers. 

 

My professor is asking me to help another student get his wrok done. Even though it is not my work, they are telling me to work with another student in the pretest that they want to help me. I have never asked for any help, but it is all lies. When I said I dont need their help, my professor sent me a threat email, which goes like this (quoting exactly):

 

" if I do not think you have done enough, I will not give my approval for your dissertation.

So make sure that every day  you come and spend in the afternoon a few hours in my lab to see what you are doing."
 
I have been subjected to repeated threats, blackmailing,  mental and emotional harassment. I am in my 6th year. I met with the univ ombudsman, but it was of no help. 
 
I want to tell my story to the whole world. If you know any journalists/reporters, please let me know. There is enough documented evidence to prove harassment and blackmailing. 
 
Also, what can I do in this situation? Despite being nice to my prof, the abuse continues. Please help.

 

 

IMO, the portions in bold suggest that there's a lot more to this situation than the OP is disclosing.

 

For example, for a graduate student to be six years into a program and to "have never asked for any help" is problematic. The belief that the "whole world" wants/needs to know about this situation is out there as well.

Edited by Sigaba
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  • 2 weeks later...


I know this isn't what you want to hear, but basically, the professor is god. He holds your academic life in his hands.  Get used to it. Do what he says.  You are not god yet....

Masters- Proves you can accomplish a goal with the other students beating you away from it

Ph.D- Proves you can accomplish a goal with the teacher beating you away from it

 

This is a difference of opinion, but I wholeheartedly disagree with this advice. Your advisor is not a god and you don't have to do everything he says. What you do need to do is establish enough of a working relationship with him, and do enough of what he says, to graduate. There have been times when i had minor intellectual disagreements with my advisor and other times in which I decided to take my dissertation route in a different path than he wanted me to. For example, he wanted me to add a component to my dissertation that I was uninterested in and that would've added additional time (at least a few months) to my dissertation work; I politely but firmly refused to do this. It wasn't that I didn't do a dissertation that wasn't fully acceptable to a committee of scholars; it was simply that I choose to do a different, but equivalent kind of work for my project. Of course how much you can do this depends on what you want to do and what your advisor is like - if three papers are required for the diss, you can't say you're only going to write one. And if your advisor pushes back and says that you need to do X thing or you won't graduate, then you either need to do X thing or find a new advisor. But depending on what the disagreement is about, you CAN have a professional, collegial discussion with your advisor about your goals.

 

Furthermore, your PhD shouldn't be about proving that you can reach a goal with your teachers beating you away from it. That's terrible. On the contrary, your professors should be guiding you along the way towards your goal. Thinking this way sets up an adversarial relationship between the student and advisor, as if they themselves are an obstacle that you have to get around, when it shouldn't be that way. If your advisor is an obstacle standing in your way (and truly an obstacle- not someone telling you to do something for your own good that you simply don't want to do) then you need a new advisor! (Likewise, the master's shouldn't be some kind of terrible Hunger Games where the students are all beating each other away from the final goal. Why would that even be a thing? It's not like if you get the MA your classmates can't or vice versa. Your classmates should be collegial and professional, or at least neutral. A department in which students and teachers are both actively trying to prevent people from getting degrees is a toxic snakepit from which you should run, not walk.)

 

With that said, OP, I agree with the others that this sounds like a misinterpretation of the PI's goals for you. Helping other less advanced students is just a standard practice in academia AND is good practice for when you have your own mentees and students. Your PI might also be subtly telling you that you need help so you can finish in a timely manner, or even that your work is not up to par and that he is transitioning your project to someone he finds more competent. And it is very common for professors to not approve dissertations if they think you haven't done enough - that's what they are supposed to do. You can't just slap together any old something and get it approved; you have to have your work judged as deserving of the title Doctor of Philosophy if you want to finish. Coming and spending time in the lab is par for the course.

 

Just based on what you wrote here, it doesn't sound at all like you are being harassed or blackmailed. It's curious that your first recourse was to jump to wanting to tell journalists (who, I think, would simply laugh at you and move on) rather than having a frank face-to-face discussion with your advisor, the dean, or the Director of Graduate Studies.

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But I don't mean that professors are actively trying to thwart you in a mean/adversarial way.  They chose you for their program for a reason.  However, they are trying to push you harder than you have even been pushed before, and make you think more than you've ever had to do before.  In undergrad, all you had to do was what was on the syllabus.  You knew exactly where you stood in the class based on what assignments you had completed, and how well.  Memorize and understand the material well enough, and you pass.  That isn't how the Ph.D is.  You aren't just going to get a Ph.D because you go through all the motions. You are going to have to come up with your own ideas and carry them out in a way that passes academic muster.  And your POI's job is to make sure your ideas and how you carry them out do that. Sometimes that means pushback so that you won't be blindsided by reviewers.  You may differ on an idea on how to carry out your dissertation, but if you can prove that the different methodology is better then you can do it.  You have to be able to give a reasonable explanation as to why though, not just “the stars told me so.”  However, if he says you aren't spending enough time in the lab, then you probably aren't spending enough time in the lab.  You don't just get to choose when enough is enough.  There is probably a reason he wants you in the lab longer.  This is what my Dad tells me. I'm not there yet.  But he studied under one of the top 2 names in his field and has been in academia for over 30 years now. 
 

As far as the masters go, that may not be how it is in psychology, but in an MBA/MAcc program... Well, I haven't done research on it, but I'm pretty sure the people who choose to go that route are part piranha.  Kind of like law school, from what I've been told.  It is totally the hunger games.

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@Cheshire_Cat:

 

I agree with you that our professors are here to train us to meet our goals. But from your original phrasing, you make it sound like an adversarial relationship, which has a very different connotation. Ultimately, your supervisor should be on your side and there is a way to push a student with respect (i.e. ask them challenging questions to help guide them to the right way of thinking) vs. a way to verbally abuse and demoralize your student (which was what your statement about "profs beating you away from it" sounded like).

 

I don't agree that "if the prof says you are not spending enough time in the lab, then you are not spending enough time in the lab". I think if that the prof says "you are not spending enough time in the lab", then it's time for the student and professor to have a discussion about expectations and negotiate a schedule that is acceptable to both parties. Remember, the relationship dynamic should NOT be "Master and Apprentice" where the apprentice does all the weird things the Master says and everything will turn out to have happened for a reason (e.g. those old Karate movies). Instead, the dynamic should two colleagues that have a mutual goal working with mutual respect for one another. 

 

For example, my supervisor and I discuss our travel plans in advance with each other. Not because either of us will ever say "No, I need you to be here for that week", but so that both of us can work around each others' schedules. I don't ask permission to take a few days off in April to go to a friend's wedding, I simply say that I will be gone for those days, and we work out any issues that might come up (e.g. perhaps I will submit something a few days earlier since I'll be gone during the deadline etc.)

 

I think that "grad school advice" from old professors who "made it" should be taken with consideration that success may have tinted their perception of their past. Sure, maybe all of that sacrifice and work paid off for them, but don't forget about all the other people that worked just as hard alongside them but didn't make it. When I seek advice (e.g. forming my thesis committee), I am careful to seek a balance of wise old people that have been in the field for decades as well as some new professors who just graduated a few years ago.

 

Finally, your posts do sound a little bit like you are romanticizing grad school competition a little bit (especially the idea that fierce competition and adversary will make us stronger and better people). I don't think this is the right approach to graduate school, at least not in my field. It is not a healthy way to approach our work and good departments are careful to stop this attitude in its students and professors.

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I don't agree that "if the prof says you are not spending enough time in the lab, then you are not spending enough time in the lab". I think if that the prof says "you are not spending enough time in the lab", then it's time for the student and professor to have a discussion about expectations and negotiate a schedule that is acceptable to both parties. Remember, the relationship dynamic should NOT be "Master and Apprentice" where the apprentice does all the weird things the Master says and everything will turn out to have happened for a reason (e.g. those old Karate movies). Instead, the dynamic should two colleagues that have a mutual goal working with mutual respect for one another. 

 

While I mostly agree with this, at least in the lab sciences there's a much more significant employer-employee relationship. I think that's the better working dynamic than master-apprentice. There's a reason my field rarely refers to advisors, and primarily refers to bosses. A number of labs in my field even have employment contracts- deliverables, salaries, allowed vacation time, salary, raises, required work hours per week, etc. And these are directly between the grad student and faculty member, without the input of the department or university. 

 

I think there's some leeway to sit down and discuss expectations (although ideally, I think that should happen when the person joins the lab), but in the end the professor (PI) is paying the student (employee) for their time in the lab, and there are specific expectations with relation to that. If a mutual agreement can't be reached, the student/employee is perfectly within their rights to quit/find another lab, and if the PI (employer) feels they are not getting their "moneys worth" out of a graduate student, they are perfectly within their rights to fire the graduate student. 

 

Hopefully, expectations are clear up front and there's good communication, but in the end it does come down to the employer having the power to (within reason) make demands of what is and is not reasonable time expenditure. 

 

The lines also blur a lot depending on funding (i.e., you're teaching and so funded by the department and not your advisor, or you have an external fellowship). 

 

That said, our original poster has not logged on in quite some time, so our discussion here is mostly academic. I think for those interested, the parallel post (and responses) to this exact same post on the CHE forums is illuminating. 

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@ TakeruK- I'll be honest, I really, really hope it is more like you think it is than how my dad paints it. It probably just depends on your POI and your school.  Twelve months ago I would have described working at an accounting firm exactly how you describe working with your supervisor.  However, then I got put on a different project, and all hell broke loose and now I'm working extra hours, not because I'm behind, but just so that I won't be seen as slacking and get fired before I quit... and this all in the same office.

He also thinks I wont have a life outside of school, and I'm really hoping I do. My friend is at a top program in engineering and he still has a life... but he's a lot smarter than I, and in a different field. They may have more spare time. 

I think that business school is more competitive and less collegial, at least at the lower levels. Probably because business in general are more advisarial. Survival of the economically fittest, and all of that...

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Grad school in STEM (and even different areas of STEM) is very different from the social sciences, which can be very different from the humanities. 

 

It all depends on your school and advisor, but how much of a role your advisor and committee have in your everyday life is very largely discipline specific.

 

Bench sciences in STEM are very lab-centric and operate more as small businesses- your boss (advisor) can have huge impacts on your life in and out of the lab, just like a boss can in any other job.

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I actually agree with the employer-employee relationship analogy too. I just didn't go that route since so many grad schools take so much effort to be explicit in how we are not employees. But in Canada, it's definitely more of an employer-employee relationship, to the point that most graduate students are unionized (if not in their RA roles then at least in their TA roles). 

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The US is tricky on that. 

 

Federally, we're considered employees, but a special class of employees. Our state specifically says we can't be employees. 

 

The NLRB goes back and forth every time they hear a case for unionization- hence why UC grad students are under the UAW union. 

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Whether or not you're considered an employee depends on your classification and what you are doing that semester. Sometimes TAs and RAs are hired by the university and sometimes they are not. But also there are doctoral students who are neither. I was only formally hired by the university for the first 2 years of grad school; after that, I was on fellowship, so I was not an employee.

 

That's kind of a moot point, though. Every PI - regardless of whether you are an employee or not - has expectations for the student. I also wasn't trying to imply that there's not a power differential - there certainly is. That doesn't mean that you're not collaborators coming to mutual agreement, as TakeruK framed it. I was in the social sciences, but my social science functioned like a laboratory science (with lab spaces and laboratory groups of students, equipment, experiments that needed to be run by a physically present person...) In my first two years, I had an employment contract and a salary, with technically specified vacation time and required work hours per week (although in my case it was not arranged between me and the grad student - I was employed by the department and the university. If you are an employed GRA, it is likely with the input of the department and university, unless your PI has set up an LLC or something).

 

Ultimately it's really going to depend on the working style of the PI and the student. Some PIs have very stringent hourly requirements and require students to approve time off before leaving; the student can choose to work under those conditions or work with a different PI. And other PIs have a more flexible way of working; the student, again, can choose to stay in the lab or leave to work with someone else.

 

Also, minor note...the NLRB ruling applies to grad student employees regardless of whether they form their own independent ruling or whether they organize under the UAW union. The university doesn't have to bargain with the grad students if the NLRB rules that they're not employees, regardless of whether they are under the powerful UAW or a less powerful independent group. The NYU grad students were organized under the UAW and petitioned the UAW in 2010 to overturn the 2004 decision that denied Brown et al the right to collective bargaining; it didn't stop the university from winning that case. (The university now bargains with the NYU grad workers/UAW "voluntarily".) And on the flip side, the grad student union at Columbia organized under the UAW, had a card drive, and voted to unionize; Columbia simply refused to recognize them. Affiliation with the UAW doesn't protect students from not being recognized. (I was minimally involved with the union organization at Columbia when I was there.)

 

The UC students are more successful because they are public university students, and there was an older ruling that said that public university students could unionize. That's why the vast majority of successful grad employee unions are at public universities.

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