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I am doing my PostDoc with a reputable professor, who achieved a lot in our research area. I really learnt a lot of things from him, but the problem is that I am uncomfortable with his supervision.

He is kind of person who wants to show that they are open and accept different opinion but when we start discussing he does not accept the other opinion and very often justifies his opinion by "If I was a reviewer I would reject ....". After a few discussions with him, I just say you are right. He has also an annoying attitude; he points out what he does not like directly (which is not always from the aspect of wrong and true) and if he believes something is wrong, he shouts and says it is wrong (even if you are presenting). At work, he has opinions about everything and I should apply (not because it is his opinions but because we discussed and his opinion is always true).

When we write something together based on one line idea, of course, I write what I think is right, but he just gives the feeling that you are doing something stupid and says it does not work (it is still an idea). Overall, I am allowed neither to do mistakes, to disagree with him nor to give wrong assumptions. -I would prefer that he gives his opinion by saying I prefer this idea better and pointing out a wrong assumption by saying I don't think this works. Evaluating me (monthly for example) instead of just saying directly you are wrong (because most of the time the mistake does not affect the work). -

Since I started working with him, some colleagues just left because not agreeing with him (I don't know the details) but he told me that because they were not able to do what I asked them for. Also, during our meetings, he made so many people cry, especially girls because of his way of criticism.

We are now writing a proposal together and he asked me to write about his ideas, but he does not like that I am just doing what was assigned to me and not taking lead and drive the proposal. Actually, I don't feel that I am allowed to do thing by myself because he is pointing out everything so I just wait for his orders.

Before, I just accepted this fact and to deliver the work and accomplish his orders until I finish my PostDoc contract, but now he behaves as a micromanager and wants me to take lead. The two things don't match in my opinion.

I don't know how to deal with this situation.

  • How long till your postdoc finishes? – user68958 Dec 4 '18 at 21:30
  • Less than one year. – Capsule Dec 4 '18 at 21:31
  • @Capsule Just out of curiosity, if he is not open to accept/discuss the difference of opinion then how and what did you learn from him? – MBK Dec 5 '18 at 3:15
  • He is one of the famous researchers in the field (which I think what he made him like this). I really learnt from his knowledge. Working under these conditions was also benefiting to learn how to deal with different people characters. I didn't find it professional to just leave because of this. Of course, I am not judging his person or his knowledge. I don't agree with his way of managing his team because it makes people robot and at the same time he wants his employees to take lead. I don't believe that he even knows about his difficult character. – Capsule Dec 5 '18 at 8:51
  • Is he wrong in asserting If I was a reviewer I would reject ....? This is a skill that comes with experience. Maybe he is guiding you towards a solution that a reviewer is more likely to accept? Of course, this is rather subjective. – user2768 Dec 5 '18 at 10:33
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It is a difficult situation but you can try the following:

  1. Tell your supervisor the following:

    I would prefer that he gives his opinion by saying I prefer this idea better and pointing out a wrong assumption by saying I don't think this works. Evaluating me (monthly for example) instead of just saying directly you are wrong (because most of the time the mistake does not affect the work). -

It is not guaranteed to work — if he's certain he's always right, he's probably certain that he's right in how he does the supervision. But it may hive him the food for thought and eventually lead him to adapt to your needs.

  1. Take a more leading role in collaboration. He explicitly expects you to do it. Yes, you will probably be criticised for your mistakes, but if you manage to process this feedback constructively, you will get a lot of useful knowledge and experience.

I don't feel that I am allowed to do thing by myself because he is pointing out everything so I just wait for his orders.

Don't wait for his orders. He explicitly wants you to try and fail and receive his feedback on it and try again. This is his supervision method. It's annoying but it's not the worst. Maybe, ask him also to note and appreciate good things about your proposals when he sees them.

Micromanaging requires a lot of time, effort and thought. It's not an easy or pleasant strategy. Being control freak is not fun. PI's are pushed into it often because they:

  • are responsible for large and complex projects
  • do not have time to do all the work personally and have to rely on postdocs
  • do not receive the expected outcome from their postdocs — for various reasons postdocs may waste project time and funds and achieve nothing.

There is a delicate balance to strike between developing a postdoc as an independent researcher (i.e. allow them to take lead, try and fail), and achieving project goals (i.e. get excellent results and produce top-level publications). These two goals contradict each other, and any PI is under a pressure to deliver both. This may lead to the conflict you describe as:

he behaves as a micromanager and wants me to take lead. The two things don't match in my opinion.

Unfortunately, this is a direct consequence of modern funding system and culture of success in academia.

I disagree with another answer suggesting to "blame the professor". My advice is to try to help your professor.

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In my opinion there is no middle ground and you have only few possible options:

  • You politely leave, blaming something external while thanking him for the support (just to have a slight chance to get good references).

  • You confront him honestly, and say what you think it is not working and that your plan was to leave as soon as the contract ended so you did not plan to lead any research projects for more than the remaining time. Probably here he will fire you, but there is still a chance he might understand and he will listen to your feedback (nothing is impossible).

  • You fake politeness and productivity until the end of the year while trying to do your best. This might give wrong signals to the professor, but if you really want to leave only after the end of the contract, it is one of the fewer options I can see.

  • Alternatively, you can try to earn his respect and have what you want in a more subtle way. At the beginning, this would include: compliments, self blaming, high work productivity and so on. I have seen people do that and also achieving their goals, however, I can see why you would rather not go towards this path.

Moreover, by better reading what you wrote (also about other people leaving the group and students crying) I can totally see this as a mobbing case. In such situations, the university should have some people you could talk to about this (I understand there are consequences). Of course, I only heard your opinion and I am assuming that you are totally honest with us.

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Control freak. You can learn a lot about getting things done, but it will be high stress. If you are asking how to win with such a person, well you need to become their "star". This requires you put in long days, 7 days a week, at being the world's greatest bootlicking assistant. You decisions will have no value, your hard efforts can be discarded on a whim for an alternative approach that only differs in that he thought of it instead of you, and you may never be allowed to get full credit for any major aspect of the project.

I'd say the real danger is the recommendation you need from this person. In my experience such people write pretty bad recommendations, even for their "stars". Look into how much he has helped previous students and postdocs. If they struggle, just leave asap.

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    -1: previous students and postdocs may struggle or succeed for reasons not linked with their former supervisor. – Dmitry Savostyanov Dec 4 '18 at 23:36
  • @DmitrySavostyanov Of course. But in the face of uncertainty the most robust decision is to blame the professor. You have some idea on how to reach a better decision? – A Simple Algorithm Dec 5 '18 at 0:40

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