I was a PhD student and forced to quit as my PI doubted the new work I did and this PI did not mention any constructive feedback or comments. I signed a resignation letter. Then, I submitted my work to a conference and it was accepted to be published, despite the fact that the supervisor did not help me at all in any step of this proposed methodology that I proved.

The PI found out that I am going to present my work and threatened that (s)he is going to block me from the research field unless I put their name on my work, even though I resigned and they doubt the work. It is clear that (s)he is very appreciated in the field and no lab could accept me if (s)he blocks me. (S)he suggested that it does not help me to present my work alone.

Another question is from where does one get the money to attend a conference without the support of a supervisor. I am really shattered and see this as clear bullying and retaliation. By the way, this PI has forced another student who also did great work and published in top tier conferences and journals to leave after four years of hard work.

I don't know what to do. I did this work on my own, and he has no right to be a co-author.

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    How is he going to block you? I don't understand the mechanism for that.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 15:46
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    As with all your other questions about your supervisor / situation / phd, you should go and see the Dean of Students or equivalent - we can’t give you a definitive answer.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 16:08
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    @Buffy It was clear messages that s(he) is very appreciated in the field and s(he) will working on that no lab could accept me adding that do you think by presenting the poster, you help your self, you will see. I think what the OP means is that their PI will slander them. Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 16:28
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    @AloneProgrammer How's that a contradiction? It'd hardly be the first story of a manipulative and ruthless person in academia. It happens in universities, just like it happens in the workplace in general. As for not mentioning the country, it is presumably a measure to preserve some amount of anonymity.
    – Anyon
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 21:50
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    My impression is that (1) you believe that your adviser is reputable and appreciated in the field and (2) your only reason for believing this is that he said so. If both of these impressions about your belief are correct, then I'd advise you to stop believing it. Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 1:51

3 Answers 3


What you report is unfortunately fairly common. I have been in similar situation, which I will detail further down.

My first advice is: Whenever you're being stalked by an unprofessional individual you must gather evidence of the harassment. There's no excuse for not doing that in modern times. You know your abuser, so have a recorder (e.g. your smartphone) ready and turn it on as soon as contact begins. Keep records of threats, insults, abuse. Had you recorded what you just described, you'd now be in the advantageous position. If you haven't documented them yet, induce the threats to be made again so you can record them somehow.

Second advice: Usually PIs are way less "powerful" than they have their students believe. The typical professor barely knows any faces outside of his/her own department. Exaggerating a couple of cold emails exchanged with "being friends with" other more influential professors is common practice. Anyone who's truly influential needs not to make any threats. Bullies are usually just weaklings, acting. So, stop believing this person, completely.

Third advice: Keep your distance from this person. You're psychologically affected, and the abuser can see it. Only come any closer if you want to gather incriminating evidence (feel free to act), otherwise just completely shun from any interaction. This includes your professional sphere. You must move away from this person also professionally. As mentioned in advice 2, you'll be surprised to find out that nobody knows this person in so many other circles just around the corner. Attending this specific conference was a mistake on this (surely there are so many others where you'd be way more comfortable), but alas, now you're there just do your best and avoid the maggot.

Fourth and final advice: Stay awesome! Present your work, don't give undue credit to anyone, nor keep any collaborator in the dark. Enjoy your conference, make contacts, reinforce ties, meet new peers, smile, dress well, keep your head up. You're an independent scholar, you believe you have great ideas to share, so do it with great style. Your confidence will naturally attract good colleagues and keep the fake ones and vampires away.

Some of my experience: (i) feel free to read my fairly recent question where I had to deal with toxic ex-colleagues in a large conference. Everything worked out just fine. (ii) also as a PhD student I had a bad supervisor (though probably not as bad as yours) who wanted to either sabotage and take credit over my projects. Once I was set to attend a large international conference, and I submitted a work completely of my own without adding his name. He heard about it from another professor, so I vaguely apologised having made some confusion and just pretended to correct it. I knew how the conference proceedings worked, he wouldn't be there, and saw he'd never really check (fuzzy to find, foreign language, online-only, too many pdfs, etc). I then just handed him pdf files with his name showing, for the text and poster. In reality it, it didn't. Nowadays I feel is childish and risky and I don't recommend you do exactly the same (I was outraged), but the main message is: you don't play fair on bad guys.

Have a good conference!

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    What?! You are preaching to treat bad guys with iron punch in their face?! induce the threats to be made again really?! If she takes your advice I think she will do exactly the thing that her adviser wants to ruin his professional career. I agree her adviser may have not a good personality but I don't think so you are allowed to advice people to behave like this cause you've just heard her story and it is not fair to judge based on evidences from one side, at least not at this level that you are advising. Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 13:32
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    Sounds crazy to me! At the minimum, if she really "induces the threats to be made again", it will make her name famous and it's not the good thing to be famous for these kind of activities, at least among the academic community I believe. Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 13:41
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    childish and risky and I don't recommend you do exactly the same — Yes, this sums it up.
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 0:48
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    Thanks for answers! Honestly, I did what I believe and who I am ! I just want to move on and continue my passion in research! @AloneProgrammer, you are right you have to hear the other side, but how if you can pretend to false facts and the victim is the student
    – user39171
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 14:13
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    When I proposed a new methodology, s(he) said good and after that s(he) told that s(he) doubt this work and s(he) dont think that I can continue! In the other side, his/her colleague ( collaborator) I asked after resignation why you doubt what I did? the answer was " there is someone else who did that", I answered who, s(he) replied I dont know!!!!!
    – user39171
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 14:16

Don't be panic.

If everything you said is true, your PI does not deserve to be a co-author, and I would suggest you not to put his/her name in your poster.

It is clear that (s)he is very appreciated in the field and no lab could accept me if (s)he blocks me.

This is not true.

As you already resigned, the worst they can do to you is not writing a letter of reference. Nothing else.

Just think about it, would they ask/email other research groups "Hey, I just want to check if you-never-heard-of Monica is applying to your group, (s)he is very bad blah blah"? If that really happens, it is them to be questioned.

Note that they do not gain anything by badmouthing you. People can question their ability to select students. And if this behaviour is consistent with different students, they will make a bad reputation for themselves.


From @CaptainEmacs:

Sorry, but this is not realising how blacklisting works. If the PI is indeed that powerful, they can do a lot of damage. While OP tries to continue in the field, the PI can basically make a side dismissive comment or explain how difficult a person OP was or - outright false - statements about what OP did, including making underhanded claims about sabotage or thefts, out of knowledge of OP. The best chance for OP is to switch fields where PI doesn't have a reach or name or go to some other big shot who is not influenced by PI and try to convince them about their qualities, but this is hard.

I've never heard of such things. Do you have a source for it? or is this a rumor that you hear?

"Powerful" in academia just means that somebody does a lot of good research, and has a lot of collaborations. It doesn't mean they can affect the decision of anybody outside their department.

And if somebody is trying to tell me about their bad former student, the first questions come to mind will be: why this guy needs to spend so much effort going after a random student? why does he think I will care? why can't he just move on?

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    Well, this is far from something that can be resolved logically, but: I agree with this answer. Badmouthing your own graduated students makes you look bad whether the comments are true or not. It is so unprofessional that I have almost never witnessed it. Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 19:50
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    I am the OP, what I can do now, it is unfair! I dont know whether I have to present my poster tomorrow or just be afraid and go away! I like my research so much! In the same time, when I see this PI, i felt so sick besides the mental health I suffer, my body is burning out! It is unfair what I should, I am going to lose my mind, all of that I did something new and the PI didnot accept it, and now want to damage me and monopoly this field! Why the destiny not to revenge from those people, they think they control every think in the life! I am so tired
    – user39171
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 20:11
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    @Monika You should present your poster!
    – sean
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 20:28
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    I agree with @PeteL.Clark. In my experience, a professor going out of their way to bad-mouth their own former graduate student is a serious red flag against the professor, not the student.
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 22:41
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    @JeffE My former supervisor routinely badmouthed his own grad students, other faculty, and other people in his field. He even badmouthed me to a professor who was hired after I left the program. He's now the department chair. I haven't seen a single shred of evidence that his unprofessional behavior raised a red flag to anyone.
    – user113878
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 19:01

You do need to be very careful with authorship rules. According to many funding agencies in the US, the student doesn't own the data if you are in funded in the lab. It is the university who accepts the funds owns all of the data and the PI is the steward of the data. Your professor may be justified in requiring authorship given some of these rules. I would dig into this and find out the specifics before making a big claim about what you want to do. If you're not in the US, or even if you're in the US, I would check with your university's research or ethics offices. They will likely know the legality of data ownership that is implied by the granting agencies and help you know what you can and cannot do. I would suspect this data ownership rule is more similar than different when looking around the world.

But my advice is to just not fight it. Some battles are not worth it. This can be messy, and putting a name on a paper is a cheap fix. That's the safe and courteous way to handle what could possibly be legal issues due to data ownership.


There were some questions in comments, so here's more details. The primary resource is very dense, but most university research departments are pretty explicit about data ownership. At least the NIH and the NSF has this rule. A Good overview and quick summary of what counts are provided here. There was a pretty big case awhile ago where postdocs published without the data owner's consent, and it had to be retracted (this one is a very interesting data ownership case!). As you can see, ask your university research department, and if you don't know the specifics, assume you do not own any of the data.

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    @Monika If you don't take the people's advice here and want to present your work, so what's the point of asking question here? If you really want to do that and ignore your former adviser, so go ahead and do that but keep mind you should deal with its consequences and that's it. At the end of the day, it's really a personal decision and you should consider all positive/negative sides. Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 23:50
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    Just because your PhD is not in the US doesn't mean that the data ownership rules are not similar. You need to check your local rules to make sure it's even legal to claim sole ownership of the work. Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 0:48
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    You are conflating legal issues and academic authorship here. Academic authorship is about creative contributions. Supplying some data (whose acquisition procedure was already published) doesn’t count for this – though this rule is often broken, but that does not matter here. As for legal issues, I have never heard that you can “own” data in a way that gives you control about results obtained from that data (publishing the entire database may be subject to copyright though), except for specific contracts, which I would consider very questionable if they cover this case.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 6:42
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    I have presented the poster, and there were audience interested and asked me for more details to send them and a professor who understand my situation! I would like to clarify something what I have presented is my own methodology not data related to university or something like that, it is my own idea and they dont have the right to put their names as what they have mentioned they doubt my proposed methodology without any evidence and based on that they forced me to resign and now they want their names to be displayed and threaten me and he already made badmouthing as I figured out
    – user39171
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 14:03
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    , it is a long story, but I think I am thankful for left this lab,stroy me and already that has been done to another senior student. I dont care what will be the sequences as in the both case s(he) have already hurt my emotionally and trying to destroy me in away or another. However, I am expecting the worst from him/here
    – user39171
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 14:04

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