I was just at a conference where I met another grad student who - upon learning about my specialization and university affiliation - excitedly asked me if I knew Dr. -- and if he was my advisor (she's a fan). Deer in the headlights moment for me, as I did know Dr. --; he had been my advisor - one that until recently I admired and was very fond of. Only he's not my advisor anymore, because our once enviable mentor/mentee relationship is now in ruins. (In sum: he crossed a professional line with me, I called him out on it, he started punishing me for it in various ways, and it culminated in him stepping down from my committee and me reporting him to HR (human resources) when my dept chair dismissed my complaints about his abusive behavior. After effects: we're not speaking to each other, avoid each other as much as possible, I get panic attacks/have some sort of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) whenever I have run-ins with him, and I've slowly become isolated from the rest of my department because he practically runs it and no student or faculty member wants/dares to step on his toes).

The thing is, I came to this university primarily to work with him...he and everyone in the dept knows this..and pretty much anyone in our field of research would assume that he and I are connected somehow, given that we're at the same university, and how much our research interests align. So, as I've discovered from this conference incident, I need to come up with a response for if/when people ask me if I know him/work with him/why am I not working with him. Personally, I'd love to just answer truthfully and throw him under the bus since that's what he's done to me several times over these last few months, but I know doing so will hurt me more than it'll hurt him. Any suggestions on how to handle those types of questions?

EDIT: First, thank you so much to everyone for taking the time to respond. I really appreciate everyone's feedback and different opinions. You've definitely given me a lot to think about. From reading the responses, I think I can clarify a few items if you think it'll alter your suggestions:

  1. "crossed a professional line" - admittedly, I intentionally used that vague term because it's very complicated, and also because he crossed that line in a few ways. One is of a sexual harassment nature, but I was reluctant to use that term because it happened in a very subtle and covert manner - so much that the Title IX (gender equality) office at my university said that technically his behavior (both initial line crossing and his reaction to me standing up to him) - however unprofessional it was - did not rise to the level of sexual harassment. But as I said, he was unprofessional towards me in other non-sexual ways as well. Ultimately, for the scope of my question, I don't think it matters much, because regardless of what he did to me initially, regardless of whether or not I had any right to be offended, and regardless of which specific incident he took issue with when I confronted him, nothing justifies how he subsequently treated me/how he handled his anger, which was essentially bullying me and then later gaslighting me and becoming verbally abusive/hostile when I tried to address the bullying.

  2. HR investigation: the investigation is ongoing; I filed my official complaint about a month ago, so hopefully I'll hear back soon re: next steps/resolution.

  3. I'm an American student in the U.S.

  4. The extent to which others know: a few of the the graduate students/TAs/my friends do know about everything that's happened. Some of the faculty do as well (including my other two committee members, one of whom is my new advisor; the other was also willing to take over as advisor) Outside my department: HR, Title IX office, the graduate ombudsperson, assistant dean of the college of arts & sciences, university police (Dr. - didn't do anything criminal...it was just a formality that HR had to observe when I filed my complaint) so his behavior has definitely been publicized a bit, but in a very hushed/behind closed doors sort of way.

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    Just to clarify for people unfamiliar with the term "crossed a professional line." This phrase probably means @Ace is talking about sexual harassment/abuse (rather than general academic bullying - which I initially assumed this question was about). Its really unfortunate that going through the universities official reporting mechanisms didn't lead to a better outcome. I'm very sorry that this happened to you. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 6:04
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    @einpoklum why? I think it's irrelevant to everything but our curiosity. Op doesn't want to talk about it with others, so we don't need to know to tell op how not to talk about it.
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 10:38
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    I think the question about how the line was crossed is very important. "He crossed a professional line with me." is very subjective. Maybe you get offended easily, or maybe there is a cultural specific that doesn't really apply to others in the program. The fact that everyone else seems to be happy with him tells me it's not as cut and dry as him being a creepy pervert or anything like that... If you are going to throw him under the bus, I propose that it should be done objectively. Tell the entire story, not just how you felt about it. Or say nothing at all. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 12:54
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    "The fact that everyone else seems to be happy with him tells me it's not as cut and dry as him being a creepy pervert or anything like that" - in every instance I have known, people have favored the perpetrator (at least initially). I don't think you can really rely on opinion here to suggest what did or did not happen, there are stronger influences, some potentially biological (e.g., observing power-structures, blaming the victim) and some personal (e.g., self-interest), for whether people look-upon (or say they look upon) someone favorably. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 14:02
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    @NickCardoso OP is asserting that important negative things happened. The answers here accept that premise, and a few offer different advice for different levels of seriousness of the events. You too could offer a response conditioned on how widely the facts are widely accepted by others and how serious the infractions are. Further, OP only asks "Any suggestions on how to handle those types of questions?", and is NOT set on "talk[ing] about the professor behind their back [or] escalating the situation with unrelated people]." Those are instead ANSWERS suggested as appropriate in this case. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:27

8 Answers 8


I am very sorry to hear about your situation - that sounds very painful and I wish you the best in healing from it.

Personally, I'd love to just answer truthfully and throw him under the bus since that's what he's done to me several times over these last few months, but I know doing so will hurt me more than it'll hurt him.

Probably the biggest argument for answering truthfully isn't payback (no matter how richly deserved) but protecting your peers from the same experience you had. Against that, as you've identified, there is a risk of retaliation if he hears that you're doing this.

By reporting him you've already taken action to deal with this missing stair. This may discourage him from repeating the harassment and/or improve the outcome for the next student to report, if it comes to that.

I've been in a similar situation (not sexual harassment, but bullying and professional retaliation from an academic superior) and I understand that it's exhausting. Nobody here can tell you whether you ought to do more than you already have done.

With that said...

After effects: we're not speaking to each other, avoid each other as much as possible, I get panic attacks/have some sort of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) whenever I have run-ins with him, and I've slowly become isolated from the rest of my department because he practically runs it and no student or faculty member wants/dares to step on his toes).

To be honest, it sounds as if this bridge is well and truly burned. You've formally reported him to his professional colleagues. This is a much more threatening step than informally warning off a potential student. At this point I expect the only thing restraining his behaviour is fear of professional consequences if he gets too blatant about it.

To be blunt, whatever you might have stood to lose in your relationship with him by warning off another student, you've already lost it.

What you do need to consider is the risk of giving him ammunition. If you make specific accusations against him, and he or colleagues find out about it, there's a chance that this could be used against you. You are probably best keeping it to things that are incontrovertible fact.

Other answers here have suggested deflecting the question. I'm not a fan of this; some people may notice the deflection and read between the lines, but not everybody catches that kind of subtlety.

You might consider something along the following lines:

"Yes, he was my advisor for a couple of years. I'm afraid we don't have a good relationship and I ended up making a formal complaint against him, so I'd prefer not to discuss the details."

You're not making any accusations there, so it'd be hard for him or anybody else to take this as an attempt at escalation. At the same time, it lets her know to keep her eyes open for trouble. In the event that she doesn't take the warning and he harasses her, it also lets her know that there is already a formal complaint on record against this guy, which may help then.

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    I like your suggestions, and they realistically consider the situation while embracing OP's underlying desire to reveal the truth. (My answer took a more conservative approach and emphasized it's OK to weigh OP's own well-being, but feeling freed to tell the truth can also be good for well-being.) Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 17:49
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    @cactus_pardner Upvoted yours - indeed, when I was in a somewhat similar situation, my response was closer to your suggestion than the one I've given here, and much less public than what OP has already done. I don't think any of us can tell OP where to pick that balance between self-protection and fixing a problem that shouldn't be hers to fix; the best "answer" here is a bunch of Pareto-efficient options at different points along that spectrum.
    – G_B
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 22:04
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    @cactus_pardner also, it's profoundly sad how many of us here are speaking from experience :-(
    – G_B
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 22:06

First, let me say that I'm sorry to hear that your relationship with your original advisor has deteriorated to such a state that you have been emotionally scarred by the relationship. That is certainly not the desired outcome.

That said, you have a very important cautionary story to tell. Unlike cactus_pardner's answer, I don't think you should "jokingly defer," but instead take a very serious tone about the situation:

I wish I could be more positive about my relationship with Prof. X.

If you are serious about working with Prof. X, then there are some things that you should be aware of.

This may not happen to you, but I had some significant issues during my time working in that lab.

You can then offer to talk with the asker in more detail, if she so wishes, and leave the choice up to the asker. But do not blow off the discussion. Hiding the situation will just allow it to continue unchecked, which is exactly what you do not want to see happen in the long run.

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    I don't think @cactus_pardner is suggesting jokingly deferring. The cautionary story is only worth telling if the other person is planning to work with the old advisor. If not, changing the subject to research and your new advisor is good advice, it's best to stay positive. If yes, telling the cautionary tale in private is a nice thing to do. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 2:47
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    On second read of the question, I now realize that the euphemism "crossed a professional line" is probably talking about sexual harassment (rather than general academic bullying). In such a case, it may be appropriate to talk about this more directly, as this answer suggests. You may unfortunately take some damage, but you might also deem the personal sacrifice worth it. Its really unfortunate that going through the university's official reporting mechanisms didn't lead to a better result. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 5:57
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    This is the correct answer, in my opinion, but this whole situation is a roll of the dice (more so than other situations, with more severe consequences). It could backfire if the professor takes retributive action, but in this case I think it's more important to try and take control of the narrative and hence, be honest. I have known people who have regretted saying and doing nothing, and people that have faced some difficulties after saying something (but in the end managed to control the narrative). In short, this is perhaps the least risky, but there is risk. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 13:11
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    Are there any legal or ethical risks around that fact that investigation is on-going?
    – jpmc26
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 20:03
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    @einpoklum While this is indeed the "morally upstanding approach"; it is important not to dismiss the OPs psychological well-being. Depending on this, it may at times be better for the OP to defer the question to protect themselves. They should only share their story to warn others when they have sufficiently processed their trauma, and/or when they have discussed how best to approach this with a therapist.
    – J. Doe
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 12:27

This answer is focused on keeping the OP well and advancing their career.

I fully support the right of OP to warn others about the professor, but it need not be done every time his name comes up in conversation. Having to warn all askers is a huge and unfair burden, and the topic of OP's grad study is [awesome topic that fits with the conference], not [setting the record straight about Dr. --]. Further, sometimes hearing or talking about a person can trigger PTSD (possibly part of the "deer in the headlights" moment--fight, flight, or freeze), and certainly telling her experience in any detail, in a convincing way is even more liable to bring up those memories.

Even in the comments on this SE question, people asked questions to try to get at the nature of "crossing a line," offering that maybe the OP misunderstood, that it would help to know what kind of line was crossed. As Thomas King commented, "in every instance I have known, people have favored the perpetrator (at least initially)." People are often skeptical and don't want to believe people who have gained their (professional) respect can do awful things.

OP should not have to spend valuable time at a conference rehashing Prof. X's misdeeds, convincing skeptical strangers who started with idle curiosity, and being remembered as "that student bitter about Dr. --" rather than "the grad student who's pursuing [awesome topic]."

A friend leaving an abusive advisor was told by someone in charge of her department that students are admitted on the basis of many opinions, and during the admissions process other professors acknowledge that this is someone they think would add to the department. This may not be universal, but your identity as a student is linked to the department/university, not just your former advisor. Further, your research interests have a (potential) audience and community of scholars much broader than Dr. --.

The main advice for the conference: focus on the positive! For the most part, you are dealing with strangers who are rarely going to interact with Dr. --.

  • With or without a new advisor, you could say:

    I've worked with him, but it seems that our university has a [growing | large | passionate] group of scholars interested in [awesome topic].

  • If you have a new advisor, you can answer with:

    I'm really excited to be working with Dr. Y.

    I chose to work with Dr. Y, who [brings expertise on velociraptors | has a high energy kitten lab | is a great collaborator].

  • What you choose to praise about your new advisor may be an implicit critique of your old advisor. Calibrate what you say for how much you want to throw shade on your former advisor.

  • For a fellow grad student (e.g. who might apply to work as his postdoc or otherwise work with him in a junior position), it may be appropriate to sound a bit of a warning; for someone who already knows you and you trust, you can similarly also let on some misgivings.

  • If you're talking to an established professor you do not know, try not to waste time talking about your old advisor and the past, but instead talk about what you're excited about.

    • Talking to senior scholars is a key opportunity at conferences!
    • Only if you know the person is likely to be sympathetic (e.g., just gave a speech about rooting out bad behavior in the discipline), you might choose to reveal something to them.
    • Someone established is more likely to already know and somewhat trust Dr. --, knowing him in a context that had a very different power differential, and you would be much more likely to get disbelief and/or be seen as unprofessional for airing dirty laundry.

If a stranger--someone you don't trust yet--asks about what happened, you can jokingly defer. Or even if there's someone who you trust but you do not feel like going through the torture of talking about it, you can still change the subject. Some possible ways of saying this are:

How much time do you have? Really, though, I'd love to hear more about what you're working on.

I value qualities in an advisor beyond a great research reputation. But I don't want to spend all my time at this conference talking about him, when I really want to talk about that amazing keynote.

Get in touch if you're thinking of applying; I'd be happy to talk more about the research environment in my department. But for now, I wanted to ask you about X...

The way you defer does not have to be joking. To prevent unwanted follow-ups, though, you should try not to have an air of mystery about it. You could try being extremely dull about the answer.

Oh, the story's more about paperwork than about [field of study].

Nic Hartley suggests in the comments another approach, that is candid but limited:

Unprofessional behavior happened and HR is looking into it.

He's right that this approach is "honest, makes it clear that nothing is set in stone ('looking into it', rather than 'he was fired'), and gives some idea as to what happened, without requiring OP to go into possibly painful detail." However, even when asked point-blank, there is no duty to answer personal questions. One could also just say:

I'd rather not go into that.

Comments are suggesting that this answer is artificially happy and papers over the problem. I was wrong to say in the original version that you should fake excitement, but if you can feel excitement about the conference, then hold onto that and don't let the bastards get you down! There are a range of legitimate options, and you will know what feels like the right direction in the situation.

Few other answers really acknowledge the stressful reality of your situation and PTSD. Extrapolating from my own related experience, I imagine that even being at the conference--perhaps hearing citations of Dr. --'s work or remembering how he explained a concept someone's talking about--may feel like a minefield. It is so easy for thoughts to return to a trauma and force you into those same feelings, especially if you are having to talk about anything remotely related. It can also lead to worry that the road ahead on your career is still under Dr. --'s control, leading to panic or despair or anger. And in my case, having had the emotions brought up once made it more likely that panic or tears would return later in the same day. Especially when the cost of disclosing something to a stranger is spending most of the conference holding back sobs and periodically leaving to cry in the bathroom, it is clear that you are not morally obliged to take on that burden.

(In my case, therapy has helped a lot, as has learning how to reclaim my identity in that realm, separate from traumatic incidents. You have plenty of time ahead to share your truth on your terms. In my own case (with different details), I have discreetly warned many people one-on-one and encouraged policy changes that make it unlikely for similar things to happen again.)

Good luck! Especially with the PTSD, I hope you can get some counseling resources to help. The power dynamics and uncertainty that grad students face makes a lot of problems especially stressful, and it can even be common to doubt oneself when lots of people are questioning you. You are not morally obligated to disclose this beyond the formal avenues you are already pursuing, and you have a scholarly identity and future that's not just tied to Dr. --.

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    I hate this culture ( probably ethical in USA academia, correct me if I am wrong) where you need to sugarcoat abusive behavior. Where everyone have a right to the opinion. I mean he is the predator, needs to be exposed in order other prospective students to find out. However, I agree with your observation that you should focus on new advisor.
    – SSimon
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 3:24
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    @Ssimon I've tried to edit the response to be less focused on sugar-coating. My point is not to smooth things over for the predator, but to allow OP not to be held back by him. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 21:50
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    @einpklum "Just think what that person might go through - and that you may be responsible for him/her being somehow abused by said advisor." No. That advisor is an adult and the person at fault for future abuse. The people employing him (department, HR) may be at fault for future abuse, but OP is pursuing official channels to make the problem known and correct it. There are immediate costs to the OP that counterbalance the possible risks to the stranger down the road. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 21:54
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    @NicHartley Thanks for your comment. I added that text and reasoning into my answer--though let me know if you want to add your own answer and I can remove that part. I agree that your suggested approach is a good approach for disclosing the incident, but in my opinion OP is not obligated to disclose anything if asked point blank. (I did not advocate lying, though I can speculate on situations where even that might be an appropriate response.) Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 21:59
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    "Further, sometimes hearing or talking about a person can trigger PTSD" - yes, absolutely. The original grad student who asked me about Dr. - excitedly told me the next day that she asked Dr. - to be on her dissertation committee, and he accepted. I smiled, congratulated her, and after sitting through lunch with her while she giddily recounted their entire exchange and went on about how sweet he was, I left the conference in tears. Hearing about him definitely triggers PTSD.
    – Ace
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 22:23

You observed, "I know [that throwing him under the bus] will hurt me more than it'll hurt him."

There is no reason to keep the truth from people you have a trusting relationship with. However, with someone you are meeting for the first time, it's probably better to protect yourself. It is possible to draw an emotional curtain during that part of the conversation, and then open it up again when you and the person are ready to move on to another topic. Here's one possible way that might play out. I'll call the student from another university "S."

S: Oh, you work in (name of subfield)! Do you work with Prof. X?

You: No. I work with Prof. Y.

S: Oh. I thought Prof. X was the only person working in (name of subfield) at your university.

You: How did you like the keynote presentation this morning?

Comment: if you are in the US, and if I understood correctly that your ex-advisor engaged in sexual harassment and then retaliation after you reported him to HR, then I would strongly encourage you to file a complaint with the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. If you decide to do this, don't forget to describe any wrongdoing on the part of other members of the department, and please note that there's a time limit -- complaints must typically be filed within 180 days.

Edit 4/8: In your update, you said, "It happened in a very subtle and covert manner - so much that the title IX office said that technically his behavior (both initial line crossing and his reaction to me standing up to him) - however unprofessional it was - did not rise to the level of sexual harassment."

What your Title IX office may be overlooking in their assessment is the professor's subsequent retaliatory behavior. OCR takes retaliation very seriously.

Please keep in mind that the reason Title IX offices have sprouted up all over the country recently is that colleges and universities were pushed by OCR to create effective internal structures and protocols for dealing with sexual harassment complaints. Some institutions have really gotten it and their Title IX officers are doing an excellent job; some, on the other hand, mainly function as a means of keeping a lid on any problems that may exist.

I haven't seen the evidence in your case, and I'm not a lawyer or an expert in this area. But I do know two things, from personal experience filing an OCR complaint about disability discrimination (on behalf of my son who has Tourette Syndrome): that filing a complaint with OCR can be an effective way of protecting oneself from further retaliatory actions; and that the process is such that an ordinary person without legal training such as you or I can file meaningful OCR complaints.

Regarding this sentence: "I get panic attacks/have some sort of PTSD whenever I have run-ins with him." "Run-in" might mean you have some unpleasant verbal encounters with him, or it might mean you pass him in the hall. Or something intermediate between those two. Regardless of exactly what you meant, I have a suggestion regarding these run-ins. Did you know that you can request an Order of Protection? I've seen this to protect a secondary school student who had received death threats from specific fellow students. The perpetrators' class schedules were changed so they were no longer in any of the victim's classes; but also, the perpetrators were not allowed to traverse certain hallways at certain times in the school day so that they would not cross paths with the victim. An on the most basic level, the Order of Protection prevents the perpetrator from speaking to the victim.

I'm suggesting this because after trauma, one needs time to heal.

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    Late comment, but just an update: I ended up filing a complaint with OCR, so thank you for the suggestion. I'm not sure if anything will come of it, but having one more office looking into this whole situation is comforting (especially since HR is currently being unresponsive).
    – Ace
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 19:43
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    @Ace - I would be happy to look at what you filed. Maybe I could give you some constructive comments. I'm not a lawyer but I've filed several by now and so I have some experience with what appears to hit the mark or not hit the mark. You could ping me in a chat room and we could figure out how to communicate directly if you're interested. // The way it works is that they do an initial evaluation, perhaps requesting additional information as part of that process, by asking a list of questions. Then they issue a letter stating which, if any, of your allegations they are accepting for ... Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 1:58
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    ... investigation. The initial evaluation is relatively quick. // Unfortunately there is no appeals process for the evaluation. // If they don't accept any of it for investigation, that's the end of the line for that complaint. If they open all or part of it for investigation, then depending on how backed up they are, and how complex the situation is, the investigation could drag on for months or years. Hopefully yours won't. // During the investigation phase, they may ask you for more information with a list of questions. Also, they may ask the university for information. // You can... Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 2:03
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    ... request that they send you an electronic copy of all their letters. I do, because sometimes snail mail is very slow and I like working with electronic records, myself. // They may interview you; they may conduct interviews with certain University employees.// Back to the letter they send when they're done evaluating: When they send you that letter, they will send a letter to the university as well. Until that time, I don't think anyone at the University will be aware that you filed a complaint. // When they receive your complaint, they ask you to sign a consent form. Make sure you... Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 2:06
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    Sorry, I forgot about their rule regarding duplication. // If HR doesn't protect you from retaliation while they're investigating, then I'd suggest consulting a lawyer. (They generally don't charge for the initial consultation, and if they feel it's a strong case, they might take the whole thing on on contingency -- meaning they don't get paid unless/until they win.) I do think you need to be protected from encounters with him in the meantime, and if HR won't give you that protection, the police will. (The police don't have a non-duplication rule.) Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 11:42

Edit: The below answer is for general conflicts. However, since the poster used the phrase "crossed a professional line with me" its possible that the OP is referring to a case of sexual harassment/abuse rather than general academic bullying. That colloquial phrase is used in different countries differently, so it's impossible to know for certain that the OP is suggesting that the former advisor sexually harassed them without getting clarification. If the OP is talking about sexual harassment, it's very sad that reporting it to HR didn't result in a better outcome. I'd second aparente001's comment to file a complaint with the US Department of Education - also known as a "title IX complaint. I'm leaving my below answer up in case it helps others who are dealing with more minor advisor/student conflicts rather than sexual harassment."

During the conversation, focus on (1) your research, (2) your current collaborations, and (3) the the person you are speaking to's research. Of course, also let the student know that you are happy to tell them about your personal experience working with the various labs in your university if they are considering a working there.

The reason why you may not want to flag your negative experience with your old advisor at conferences is that going to conferences should be about networking and improving one another's research and careers. There are several scientific studies that show that when you say something negative about someone it reflects badly on both them and you. So from the perspective of one's own career, its best to stay positive when meeting other scientists for the first time. Something you could say is as follows.

"I work with Dr New. Its an exciting collaboration because ... I've worked with Dr Old a bit in the past, and its nice having related research going on next door. If you do end up wanting to work with Dr New or Dr Old in the future, let me know and I can provide information on the culture of the various labs. Here's my contact info. [while exchanging info] Now that was a really interesting question you asked during the last session, what did you think about the speaker's answer?."


It depends a lot on whether you talk to someone within your organization, outside your organization, and whether you still work there.

A general rule of thumb outside of academia, which worked for me in academia as well, would be:

"There were challenges, but I don't discuss my previous employers and colleagues".

It may seem like a very business-like attitude, especially talking to someone who is very friendly to you, but everyone who changed employers at least once will understand and respect it and every employer will think you are golden.

There is hardly anyone who hadn't had bad experience with previous employers, ranging from minor things to straight up criminal events. But there is also hardly anyone who wasn't misunderstood, misguided, unfairly judged, treated, or discriminated. If you give someone a story, they will put themselves in your shoes and in the shoes of the opposite side and arrive at a conclusion which may or may not be in your favor. Unless you feel like you really owe something to someone, just give a standard formal response and drop it.


The following may be hard to set up (it really depends on the situation), but would make your life a lot easier:

Ask a colleague that also knows the advisor and who knows the story if it is okay to just send any questioners to him/her. Then, whenever someone asks about the advisor, just refer them to your friend. He/she will probably have a lot easier time telling the story and can leave your name out of the story.

Never underestimate how likely people want to help others. I would be very surprised if someone would decline helping out.

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    Agreed that a (senior) colleague willing to do this would be a great solution. However, it may be hard to enlist someone to do this. It may also be easier to get a colleague (of any level) to spend some time with OP at future conferences, etc. and address questions that come up on their watch. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 18:20
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    @cactus_pardner while I'm not sure how feasible Martin's idea is in my particular situation, I actually do have a friend/colleague who was also at this conference with me, and was nice enough to break off from Dr. -'s entourage whenever we had meal breaks (Dr - and several others from my department were also at this conference, and they all stuck together the entire time). Just so I wouldn't feel too ostracized, he would find others at the conference to hang out with and make me join him. (he knows I'm kind of shy around strangers)
    – Ace
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 2:16

I have not experienced anything similar to what you experienced, but I imagine that if I was in your situation, I would mention that you and Dr. --- are not on good terms with each other but I would refrain from mentioning what exactly it was about. I don't think it would be polite (or professional) to mention to someone who is not close to you information that hurts the reputation of someone else (even if the information is correct).

Grad student: "Oh, you're affiliated with [university] and you specialize in [specialty]. You probably know Dr. --- !"

You: Yes, I know Dr. ---.

Grad student: So how is it working with Dr. --- ?

You: We are not on good terms with each other and I'd rather not talk about it.

Grad student: Why? What happened?

You: I think it would be best if you get that information from someone other than me or Dr. ---.

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    I disagree with this answer, either don't mention it at all and focus on the positive of what you are doing now or provide a bit more information if you really think it is necessary to warn prospective students. There is no reason to tell strangers that you are not on good terms with people. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 2:50
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    @WetLabStudent Focus on positive. What is positive in molestation and abuse?
    – SSimon
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 4:41
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    @SSimon I never said there is anything positive about abuse. I said that when talking with academics you don't know at conferences its best to redirect the conversation to your research (focus on the positive about your research), or provide some degree of details about the abuse. One should not sugar coat and just say "we are not on good terms". Saying you are no longer on good terms puts equal blame on the person being abused! Its the worst thing you can do, be direct or talk about your research. There is no reason to tell anyone you aren't on good terms. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 5:26
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    One problem I can see with this approach: who else would be able to give the idle questioner that information? The administrators are already walking a fine line, needing to support OP's academic progress through the department, and also avoiding legal problems with the professor, given that there is an ongoing, hence incomplete investigation. Who else is there to provide that information, then? Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 18:47
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    " I don't think it would be polite (or professional) to mention to someone who is not close to you information that hurts the reputation of someone else (even if the information is correct)." It's important that you brought this up. Many people will feel it is unprofessional to say negative things about a colleague, or will think "it's not their place to judge," or don't want to "get dragged into departmental politics," and will judge OP negatively for any information OP reveals about the issue. Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 22:04

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