A question if I may, about appropriate methods of dealing with academic bullies (or as one of my students call them "wannabe nemesis"). What would be the best, most dignified way to 'overcome' them, while protecting your own research interests andreputation?

To clarify what I mean by an academic bully - first and foremost, I am not referring to those that offer critiques in any constructive forms (even in an aggressive manner), I am referring to the academics that who, for whatever reason (usually due to disgreeing with research findings or feeling threatened by 'newcomers' to the research field), decide to go on the offensive with insults, threats, and the like.

Finally, I am referring to, if the communication is direct (by email. letter or in person).


As you point out there is usually some personal (psychological) reason for such behaviour, particularly if it is repeated/continuous. I believe the first thing to do is to avoid to go by insinct and "fight back". Obviously the correct response will rely on the type of communication/accusation but keeping a calm and cool tone is the best. Keep all replies very short and avoid emotional touches at all costs. "Thank your for your opinion." (or something along those lines) is enough to have provided a response while practically ending the correspondence since there is nothing more to reply to. To try to "kill" the conversation by not providing fuel is the way to go. In verbal communications a simple "OK" can be enough. Then try to walk away at the first opportunity.

Bad behaviour is otherwise best fought with good science and academic professionality and one must try to find moral support in situations like this so that ones self-confidence is not shattered. There are many destructive behaviours that affect us, some temporary some part of (or deficiency in) a personality. There is however, no reason to go into mud-slinging with such persons unless they express clearly unethical opinions but then the question is at a different level.

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  • it also helps as well, when you are able to get support from colleagues and/or organisations. – user7130 Jun 3 '13 at 11:09

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