I have wasted 6 years in a bad lab in some biomedical sciences PhD program in the US. Basically the PI is a MD with no training for science. I felt treated like a slave. In spite of significant discoveries meriting publication my project got stagnant for at least 3 years.

The PI is famous and powerful in academia. I spoke with the dean and learnt almost EVERYONE in my lab has come to complain about my PI. But graduate school won’t do much, as he's influential and could bring benefits to the school.

I have switched to Computer Science Master program and now as a software engineer. However, many of my ex-labmates are still struggling in This lab. No one has graduated from this lab since he came to this school 10 years ago. And it seems no one would dare to protest against him.

I feel like something ought to be done. Perhaps expose this situation somehow? What could we do?

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    Recently there has been a number of people in my field go public about abuse they suffered during their PhDs. Since you have left the field and are presumably safe from his influence, have you considered going to the press?
    – astronat
    Jul 9 '18 at 7:22
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    You are obviously upset, and airing that can be good for you, but this is not the place to do that. I suspect that that is where the down votes come from. Jul 9 '18 at 7:49
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    Sorry you had a bad advisor. However, as written, the majority your "question" (points 1-12) is a rant. Would you please try to edit your question into something we could answer on this site. Jul 9 '18 at 14:35
  • I totally agree I'm just airing out my anger. There's nothing we could do. It's the whole system's problem. I myself couldn't challenge the whole system. But I'm simply too angry and feel unfair why such a science-ruining liar could stand on the top of world? Jul 9 '18 at 17:04
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    @scientist see e.g. buzzfeed.com/amphtml/pascalemueller/… or search the #astrosh hastag on Twitter.
    – astronat
    Jul 10 '18 at 12:11

I am answering here before this question gets closed.

I understand your position as I have seen and been through much in the academic sphere. Unfortunately there is a number of such cases in modern Academia where too often the main priorities have shifted away from bonafide scientific investigation and betterment of society.

My main advice is that you move on. As mentioned, you have changed your professional settings and found greater peace and enjoyment. There is nothing stopping others from doing the same as you did, so do not think you are entitled to rescue your ex-colleagues. A parasitic supervisor can only thrive where there is fair availability of dedicated minions.

Surely you feel like you ought to somehow stop this person. This is quite possible to be done. That depends on how much time/resources/reputation you would be willing to sacrifice. I strongly advise you to keep a safe distance and save your peace of mind. I list a number of relatively sane measures you can take which would help others in the place you just escaped and reduce this PI's power.

  • Science self-corrects from peer approval and high technical standards. That means the bad publications will eventually show. When negative exposure of publications happen in the short term, the responsible PI loses peer support and soon finds it harder to collaborate and publish more (rubbish). Surely the reputation of some "powerful" PI of today relies on a number of recently published papers, some of which in high impact (=highly visible) journals. Are these papers truly substantial, scientifically sound and useful? Take a careful read. In case there are glaring inconsistencies or obvious misconduct, do objectively expose those to others in the field. I recommend resorting to technical discussion websites such as Pubpeer.com, and contacting journal editors directly.

  • Give lectures to younger students and colleagues and describe objectively what befell you. Most victims of an abusive PI did not foresee those problems, nobody told them anything. Information is key to avoid being scammed.

  • Contact academic organisations empowered to defend students' rights. Warn them against this institution.

  • Find out from where this PI is recruiting victims and then better direct your lectures, contacts.

  • Consider writing a blog, even if anonymously. Perhaps even some Youtube channel with short explanatory/warning videos. Do not directly reveal the names of this PI or University. There is a lot of abuse going on in modern academia, and we need more victims talking about it. You may get a lot of attention and make a point.

I believe with trivial exposure you will weaken this person. However fixing the system relies on a lot more. Hopefully your divulged materials will help in that sense.

Good luck, and move on.

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    Many thanks. I've already moved on. Even if I'm intended to do anything I won't find time. I'm just airing out my emotion. But my pity for all my other friends in the lab, they are still suffering. I'm only one of lucky person who eventually survive from this academic hell. What about others? Why a hypocrite liar could stand on top of world so many years keep ruining young students without being punished? Jul 9 '18 at 17:07
  • Also I'm not entitled to rescue my ex-colleagues. It's simply they are still crying and complaining to me about my ex-PI. I'm the only person who could take care of such issue to comfort them. The whole point is, EVERYONE in the lab suffers and never graduates, and we victims can do nothing. Jul 9 '18 at 17:12
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    "we victims can do nothing" -- the point is , you can. But you won't.
    – Scientist
    Jul 9 '18 at 17:13

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