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It seems the phrase "don't walk, run!" is somewhat of a meme on this site. It roughly means "leave your current advisor/university/PI/whatever and don't look back".

While this at times may be good advice, although most often controversial, I'm wondering how one should handle the running if one remains willing to work in academia. (Just somewhere else) I mean, the suggestion sounds a lot like 'burning bridges' (with only one person at best, but with an entire department at the worst). Burning bridges is commonly understood to be a quick way to kill your career.

So, I'd like to have a well-thought answer to the question:

  • How (if it even can be done!) can I run from an abusive professional relation or otherwise unmaintainable position without ruining my career?

Perhaps this is already explained in some post given the "don't walk, run!" advice, but I think it is worthwhile to have answers to this particular question. Advice from academics who have in fact 'ran away' and proceeded within academia is very much appreciated. (this would at least answer whether it can be done)


Finally, to prevent any confusion: I'm currently not in an abusive professional relation or otherwise unmaintainable position. I'm merely interested in how one should act, for future readers in that situation. (Who knows, I could even be unfortunate enough to end up in such a situation one day!)


To clarify, this is a question asking for general advice for after leaving. To be clear, the 'running part' refers to 'not leaving in a nice and orderly manner' (Imagine a grad student literally running away from the campus, leaving a trail of thesis papers behind, if that helps). Most answers to the question suggested as duplicate essentially tell to 'walk', but here I have assumed to have already 'run' (whether that is a good idea is besides the point) and with that given, want to know what the best course of action is and the advice on the other question is too late.

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    Personally, I never liked that kind of advice, said in such a blunt way. Along my career I saw a couple of critical cases where the student had to walk away from an abusive adviser, and these required quite delicate negotiations between the former adviser, the PhD programme chair and the new adviser. The students had to start with a new research topic with the same deadline for graduation (that given by the funding), causing additional stress. None of the students remained in academia.I think that such an advice can be given only when knowing very well the context and the required procedure. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 18 '18 at 15:39
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    @NateEldredge I think Massimo Ortolano suggests that sometimes 'walking away' (i.e. discussing the matter, usually with help of a university appointed mediator), is sometimes preferable to 'running'. – Discrete lizard Mar 18 '18 at 19:49
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    @NateEldredge No, but at least by walking and not running away they could finish their PhD. Had they run, they'd have never completed their PhD. In one case I suggested a student to suck it up until the end of their PhD, to avoid any future consequence, and the strategy worked. So, what I'm suggesting is to tread carefully: there are maybe countries where you can run, but others where running would simply destroy any chance of completing the PhD. I run from my former PhD adviser when I had already secured a permanent position, but I had to endure anyway the consequences for more than 10 years. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 18 '18 at 22:04
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    We also have another famous phrase: Don't run, walk! – Enthusiastic Engineer Mar 19 '18 at 5:12
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“Don’t walk, run” is a shorthand for taking immediate action to extricate oneself from a rapidly deteriorating situation.

Note that this may not require leaving academia altogether, or even one’s current institution. You may be able to find a workable solution where you are by switching projects, advisors, or departments, as appropriate.

But sometimes it is necessary to leave, for economic, personal, or medical reasons. You may want to return. In that case, it’s not really all that different from other cases. The critical step is explaining to whom ever you’d like to hire or admit you that whatever situation caused your previous departure will not affect the present situation. You’ll need to make that case clearly and convincingly so as to reduce the “risk level” of your potential boss. If you can’t make that case, then you may want to reevaluate if returning is the right move at the present time.

  • Your advice on what to consider when 'returning' is useful. I do wonder what would be wise in a particular situation: what if your only real problem was with one person, but you did have 'radio silence' during the time you were 'absent' after leaving rather abruptly, should/must you contact the university and/or explain your motives for the abrupt leave and return (just explain, no need to justify yourselves I think)? (how to do this if this is wise seems out of scope, but the degree of 'recontact' with your previous 'problem' is on-scope, I think) – Discrete lizard Mar 20 '18 at 9:25
  • Also, I explicitly take 'running' to mean leaving very abruptly, bordering on sudden disappearance. I'm not sure whether you definition of the phrase agrees on this. Could you explain? – Discrete lizard Mar 20 '18 at 9:26
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    Just running away is very problematic, especially if you’re getting paid by the university. You need to take the time to make sure things are squared away. “Don’t walk, run” does not mean “drop everything and go” unless your life is literally in danger. – aeismail Mar 20 '18 at 20:15
  • Well, one reason for asking this question is that how exactly one should 'run' isn't entirely clear to me, so I simply assumed the worst possible method. But I suppose if one can prevent this, this should be done – Discrete lizard Mar 20 '18 at 20:17

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