I was forced to resign from a postdoctoral position in a major research institute in the US because of sexual harassment. It's been 4 months since I resigned, but I'm still struggling to move on from what happened.

It started a couple of months into my postdoc. He started leering and staring at me in public and moving too close to me during one-on-one meetings. At one point, I moved away from him slightly when he started getting too close which made him really angry. I also tried to keep the door open when we have our one-on-one meetings, but the same thing happened. He got so angry that he started criticizing my work in a loud voice. He also made everyone believe there was something going on between us. I just stopped talking to him during social gatherings and generally stayed away from him, which I think made him angrier. He also started bullying me and putting down my suggesting during lab meetings. It effected my self-esteem so much that I stopped speaking up in meetings altogether. He brought up my lack of participation in meetings during a progress review. I made excellent progress at the beginning of my postdoc and had my first manuscript ready in a matter of months. But after the harassment started, I got so depressed that I couldn't focus on my work and my progress suffered.

After putting up with his abuse for over a year, I reached my breaking point when he invited me to go to a conference with him. On the surface it seemed harmless, but it was a small conference on the other side of the country with hardly anyone I know attending it. I made a polite excuse about a prior commitment, but he didn't buy it. He got angry and started to bully and harass me even more. I was so depressed at this point that I tried to commit suicide. I almost succeeded had it not been for the fantastic work of the doctors and nurses at NYP. After 3 days in the ICU and a week in the hospital, I recovered from my suicide attempt (at least physically). I went back to work a week later. I didn't tell anyone what happened, but my postdoc supervisor made it clear that he knew. He mentioned in passing that he has access to anyone's medical record, and in another instance, made a snide comment about me trying to kill myself for my work.

I handed in my resignation a couple of months after this. I wasn't in a place to apply for jobs let alone go for interviews while I was there. So I quit without having a job lined up. I also started seeing a therapist around this time and I think my mental health has somewhat improved since then. However, I'm still so traumatized by this whole experience that I can't seem to bring myself to apply for jobs. Every time I see a job I could apply to, I get paralyzed with fear that the same thing will happen. How do I move on from this and go back to work? Any advise or suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

  • 13
    I wish we could help, but I think this is probably a question for your therapist. Expert answers to this question would come from professionals whose expertise is in helping others deal with trauma, not those whose expertise is in research and academia. The advice you'll get here is well-meaning but not necessarily good advice.
    – ff524
    Feb 12, 2019 at 16:29
  • It is definitely something to work with your therapist. It may take time but you will overcome this eventually. From an outsider perspective, it looks like you haven't completely realized yet that what happened was absolutely not your fault, you are (very likely) the victim of a crime. Your brain probably needs time to process this and realize that this is not at all supposed to happen in any work environment.
    – Erwan
    Feb 12, 2019 at 18:13

1 Answer 1


There are a lot of bad actors out there, of course, but not everyone. Your therapist can probably give you better advice on dealing with the future than you will get here.

But I'm surprised that you haven't raised the roof at the former institute, and/or consulted a lawyer. Reputable institutes and universities have offices that are supposed to deal effectively with these things. I don't know whether you still have access to them after resigning, but a lawyer is worth consulting here to give you the peace of mind that comes from fighting back against such improper, even likely illegal, behavior.

The perpetrator of these transgressions has no business being in the profession. It was, among other things, an abuse of authority as well as common decency.

I can't recommend that you fight it, as you know the overall situation better than I do. Your own health is more important than any fight. So your therapist should be your first source of advice on this. But you can explore a fight for vindication with the therapist.

  • 5
    What are you using "raise the roof" to mean? I've only ever heard that to mean "party really hard" in the 90s. Feb 12, 2019 at 17:01
  • 4
    @AzorAhai, not that. Raise a commotion. Raise hell. Raise up a protest that can't be ignored. That sort of thing. I think the usage is pretty common. An explosion raises the roof is the metaphor.
    – Buffy
    Feb 12, 2019 at 17:03
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    @Buffy Thanks for your answer. I'm not too concerned about raising the roof. The postdoc before me left under similar circumstances and I was told by someone in the lab that she did try to 'raise the roof'. Her contract was not extended after she did this. So the institute is aware of his misconduct. They just didn't do anything about it. I did get asked questions at the exit interview, and I could tell she really wanted me to say something. But I just want to move on from all this. I just want to be able to get back to work.
    – user104388
    Feb 12, 2019 at 17:28
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    The future is more important than the past, of course.
    – Buffy
    Feb 12, 2019 at 17:32
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    I agree that the future is more important than the past, but I think that after the OP has recovered from this mistreatment and has found a decent supervisor in another postdoc position, it might be good to at least consider reporting what happened. Even if the authorities did nothing for a previous victim, it becomes more difficult for them to ignore the problem if more victims come forward. Reporting the situation might not benefit the OP directly, but it could help future postdocs --- a contribution to the general public welfare. Feb 12, 2019 at 18:42

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