Now this is something that happened long ago and even after so long, in a way begs for an answer, so I thought that I might ask here.

This happened to someone who was in another department of my university, H. He had taken an entry level position (a trainee, eventually moving onto a grad assistant) in a lab. In all his time there, he was heavily bullied by a senior phD student B.

Apparently, H via a slip of tongue had made his future career aspirations known to B's advisor, K. Now, K felt that H's career choices were against their personal beliefs. This lead them (K) to try and bully H out of the place completely. They did everything in their power to brand H an outsider and an unwanted presence, scrutinizing everything from their quality of work to H's appearance and diet (yes diet, turns out when people get desperate to smear someone they'll literally say anything ). H's advisor L was pretty close with K, but K held a lot of pull in the department and hence was able to continue this. He made sure that H was assigned either nonsensical problems (which H still diligently followed through, much to the chagrin of everyone else) and also made sure that he would not be allowed to do any of it; in hopes that he would be driven away.

B was a phD student co-mentored by K and L. B would also sit right behind H and made it his priority of the day that H would not get to do any work no matter what (he would also encourage others to do the same, in fact many joined in). How he managed to keep up with his research and bully someone is beyond me. Though there were rumors that he had to be shifted to another location in the lab because he had become (almost) obsessed with H to the point that he was abandoning his own work.

It was said that H was pretty good at what he did and in the face of all the problems he was given (that no one wanted), he did the best he could and completed them, finally submitting all his findings before leaving. B was apparently frustrated with his own progress and was seemingly under-performing too, this might have lead to him to bully H ( due to the jealousy of seeing a younger member of the lab getting something done when one is barely eking out anything ). Apparently he (B) had been reprimanded before once for slacking off.

I think the harassment also escalated because H was not allowed to speak up, and when he did try to in any way, he was immediately silenced and reprimanded for doing so. In the end, whatever incident may have caused him to speak up was blamed on him. This was only found much later, before that, H was blamed for many transgressions (when they were forced upon him by someone else).

H may have needed the position, since he did whatever was required to get his work done and stuck through. Ironically, in the end he was blamed for a lot of everything due to his "lack of speaking up" (when he was being secretly reprimanded whenever he did so).

For the sake of brevity, I'll not include the massive drama that followed, including K using every inch of his power to put H down, H clashing with another member of the lab and finally, a new hire being pitted against H. In the end, H left, but I wonder even now, what should have been done in this case?

Some of the other grad students in that department whom I spoke to gave off the vibe that they did in a way side with H, but were too scared to take a stand with him because they did not want to go against K and hence ended up saying nothing or simply joining in against H. It was either him or them. K had also gotten one of the administrative assistant's in the lab to smear him across the department and spread all kinds of rumors about him, so by the time H had left, mostly everyone hated him. It was actually strange because most of them knew the truth but spited H nevertheless (to protect themselves). B also had a habit of bringing people to sit behind H and then badmouth him (basically anything, did not even have to be true), this was only one of the few things he did. This was a common occurrence. B got away with it in the end. He was able to pull this off because of another highly corrupt grad student.

I did come to hear that B and the other grad students actually bragged about how they would try to mess with H's sanity ( by trying to make him belive that he was doing shitty work when he was not, I'm using the word trying here because H eventually completed his task and something like this would be pretty childish so I would wonder if something like that would actually work ) and how easily they could get away with it. Although many cannot (read would not) admit it openly, it is pretty henious the way B made personal ( and very out of line ) attacks to H's character this way. Strangely, even though H is gone now, they (corrupt grad students present there now) still brag about how they mess with H even though he is far away (not sure about the exact details, but I think this has something to do with spreading rumors) and how easy it is to do so.

All these incidents had become part of the daily gossip at our university as K pipped all of this as 'entertainment' created by him. Because H was known to not participate in any of the bullying, other students caught wind of this whole deal (due to the aforementioned rumors) and would try and bully H the same way it was being done in the lab. People did it because they found the effect comedic.

B and the other grad students would encourage people to slander and harass H. This lead all kinds of (absurd) rumors about him. They apparently pipped this as trying to mend some form of his 'sensitivity' (as if this wasn't harassment enough). This way, they tried to force their opinion on him.

Perhaps B's personal values were very low or maybe he was born with low ethics. Why he held a personal animosity against H, who knows?

I wanted to clarify because people asked, but the bullies blamed H no matter what happened, it actually became absurd and funny at the same time because people actually believed all of the nonsense (not actually believe it, just playing along because it was hilarious and because they thought H 'deserved' it, something which commonly occurs when everyone jumps on the hate-train without ever caring about what the hell is going on or what is causing this, hell shamefully, even senior academics do this. So in retrospect, the bullies almost got 'unpaid labor' or people willing to do their dirty-work free of cost for them )

One would wonder how it got so bad? K was doing his hate-mongering but he was only able to goad many people into it because there was an opening on H he could easily use. This opening was a source of his unpopularity which stemmed from his aforementioned clash with another graduate student.

I do know from the rumors floating about that originally, H had pissed off a female grad student by rejecting her advances and she made life hell for him. She played every card on the table, spread malicious rumors, which in turn lead to all the known bullies in our workplace to also target him (kind of like a landslide), used another grad student (who was supposedly close to her) to do all her dirty work, made it a personal agenda to turn everyone against him. Seems like it was pretty effective. I'll spare you the gritty details, but apparently she was angry that he was ignoring her 'out of hour calls'(rumor has it they had zero things to do with real work ). In a meeting she was able to confront him about it (as to why he kept ignoring her calls) and went psycho on him in the middle of the road, it was quite a public incident which consisted of him just standing there and taking it (onlookers judged it to be something akin of a situation where H did try to slide in a few counterarguments but he stopped when he realized that the screaming would only increase if spoke more so he just kept ended up keeping mum ).

It is said though that there is another reason why it came to be this bad, it was simply because there were other elements involved. Maybe someone really disagreed with H's personal opinions.

Another point to note, these (B,K et al.) are a really evil and malicious crowd, they will deny any responsibility and claim this never happened if asked about it (I guess they have to do it, what they did was inhuman and consisted of needlessly infringing on a single person's life, who would not deny it after doing something like that? The most expected behavior of such a people is to blame the person in question).

What should people have done when the bullying had become this bad? H did eventually end up leaving, but the perpetrators also got away with it scot free (last I heard the grad students got jobs and moved away and B is still completing his PhD.. ). So what could have the higher ups have done to contain this? I mean these are people who think dwell on spreading lies, I mean, you really think people didn't see what you were trying to do? Is it really okay to let B and the other grad students get away like this? What you tried to hide in what you were doing? What you are so desperate to hide? Are you absolutely sure nobody found out? Inspite of so many leaps in progress in building a better academia, what is our system still lacking to handle such cases of bullying?

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    Perhaps because they don’t deal with bullies in either primary or secondary school so thet get to grow up - well get larger physically not necessarily mentally. – Solar Mike Jan 11 '18 at 19:30
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    This is a very long story for a very, very specific situation. Using abbrevations for the names makes the long story very complicated and hard to follow. Perhaps omitting some back-story and asking the core question might help you get more (and more efficient) answers. – padawan Jan 11 '18 at 20:56
  • @SolarMike, it is isn't it? I think bullies aren't the only ones who don't grow up. Worse are the people who as children would mindlessly join in with the bullies and do the same later on, it's the same, they get larger physically but not necessarily mentally. – font_flake Jan 12 '18 at 5:26
  • Why not speak up for H and give him courage and reassurance? Tell him to stay strong and defy those bullies. Tell him to study hard regardless of bullies. Tell him to build up skills and keep aspirations to himself. Remind him of the motto: "Success is the best revenge." In other words, tell him to better himself in everything, forget bullies and defy him. Help him develop a thick skin. – user92331 Apr 21 '19 at 19:37
  • A suggestion for H, tell him to keep his career aspirations and goals to himself. In reality, the world is full of jealous, spiteful bullies who feel insecure around those with promising talents. You meet them in universities and workplaces. They are everywhere. Life gets better for H, if he grows a thick skin and keeps bullies in the dark about his aspirations. My rule of thumb, keep goals to yourself and never talk about them, until you will have finally achieved them. For the worst bullies, give them too little information. – user92331 Apr 21 '19 at 19:54

The only way to handle this kind of bullying is to speak up to the appropriate authority.

Speaking up to your localized group will cause more issues, going above your lab manager to his boss will cause more issues, and complaining to the department will also cause more issues.

Most universities have a student life office that can direct you to the person responsible for handling behavioral offenses. If you were in this situation, or directly observed it, my only advice would be for you to contact the student life office and describe to them what you experienced/witnessed. At that point one of two things will happen if you're reporting it on behalf of someone else:

  1. They will direct you to contact someone who can investigate what you're saying and start to fix the problem.
  2. They will tell you that unless the person who is being bullied speaks up they can't help.

Right now in the US and Europe the anti-bullying war is in full swing, so bringing this up to someone outside of the lab will probably bring about some change. What you're describing goes beyond bullying in most states well into actual criminal harassment laws.

  • This sounds like a reasonable response, but this specific situation was slightly complicated. The bullies were almost walling in H, no matter what he did, be it any right or imagined wrong, he was held accountable / blamed for it (if anything good ever ended up happening, it would always be seen in a negative sense). You are perfectly spot on about your analysis about this stepping into criminal harassment laws, I think it could be described as a form of 'illegal coercion' – font_flake Jan 12 '18 at 5:30
  • My point was that you need to take action. By failing to take action you permit the behaviors that cause the trouble. Will there be consequences? Yes. Only you can decide if they're worth it. – Matthew Dumas Jan 12 '18 at 5:33
  • Yes, I agree. I guess people really took the wrong action by joining in the bullies instead of actually trying to stop it. I was only responding as to how H's attempts to speak up went, since you made a point about that. – font_flake Jan 12 '18 at 5:46
  • @Matthew Dumas, if I were in same university as H, I would have stood up for him. I would have bullied the bullies who pick on the weak-willed students who lack self-confidence. I'd have cut them to the bones and downsized their egos. I know how to bully the bullies, as I have enough of them in my family. In reality, bullies have their insecurities and fears. H should go to Youtube and watch tutorials on handling bullies. TONS of great remedial videos are there. He could too find self-help books at Amazon. – user92331 Apr 21 '19 at 20:07

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