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As you may know, I have been working on a specific point of research during one year of my PhD. I am extremely passionate about that topic, because I found problems that can be solved and improvements for the system. For this reason, they did not like me. In particular, one collaborator always underestimated me and later persuaded my ex-PI that my work is doubtful.

Now, I am a research assistant in another distant country. The current PI knows my situation and takes advantage of me. They forced me to work on a topic way off from my background. Moreover, I was shocked to see that they don't have any experience and that there are hostile vibes between senior researchers, which bazzled me, besides the very low payment I receive.

Now, I am trying to apply for other projects, more similar to what I have been working on before. The dilemma is the collaborator is mainly involved in different projects by different research institutes. I have to confess they are the most dominant collaborator, and it is a very small circle. I am literally expelled and a pariah. Even if I tried to find funding for the project, I am afraid they will not approve of my work. I feel in a dead end. I tried to apply for other research topics too, but I failed. I am really passionate and see the potential behind continuing in this research line, it feels like I'm fighting against the Gods of this research line. I am totally hopeless. What I can do in that case?

  • When you accepted the job offer, were you aware of the topic you have to research in your current lab? – Dmitry Savostyanov Feb 26 at 11:26
  • No, they take advantage of my situation! upon arrival, they told me we can kick you outside, they pay me 350 Euro and giving me a room to live in and I didn't have any options after what happened to me. – Monika Feb 26 at 11:28
  • Have you signed a contract with them? – Dmitry Savostyanov Feb 26 at 11:30
  • @DmitrySavostyanov, yes, I was kind of forced, they wrote horribles clauses which I argue with them politely that this is illogical, I was under test for two months and then renew the contract. I do that because I was in a need for financial support, and of course, I didn't get any favoured reply from other potential PIs. – Monika Feb 26 at 11:35
  • I strongly agree with Dmitry's answer - but you don't seem to. So let me ask a couple of more pragmatic questions about your career. What is your short-term career plan for after your sabbatical ends? (For example, do you intend to apply for more PhD programmes?) What benefits are you getting from this sabbatical that will help you to achieve that plan? (Is it allowing you to pursue your desired research? Are you getting publications from it? Will you get a good reference from your PI and/or collaborators?) – Billy Feb 26 at 13:49
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Your current situation is troubling primarily due to non-academic aspects of your employment. You seem to be concerned mostly about academic factors, but let me try to refocus you on what is in my opinion more important: your safety and security.

You are in a foreign country (I presume), and you were forced into your current contract. You were in need of money and you signed an agreement which you find unfair and abusive. You feel insecure, you are not properly payed, and you are provided housing by your employer, whom you fully depend upon. This situation is short of what is known as modern slavery.

Academic aspects of your current situation are irrelevant and academic nature of your work is irrelevant too. Your current working arrangement falls short of basic requirements. While 350 EUR + housing may be appropriate level of pay in some third-world countries, the lack of security and forced nature of this arrangement are not acceptable.

My advice would be to get out as soon as possible. Ask for help in the consulate of your own country, if you need money or legal protection to get out.

When you are safe, please reflect on your experience and ask yourself a question: why do you want an academic work so much, that you agree to work in conditions which are worse compared to what you can get by doing a non-skilled work in your own country? What other (non-academic) career directions you can imagine for yourself and how could you learn more about these opportunities?

  • Firstly, this is in European country! second, I am basically an assistant lecturer at my home country and take sabbatical leave for sake of doing good research as I lack from supervision. I doubt my country can do something to help me. – Monika Feb 26 at 12:01
  • Of course, I had the question, and I am not materialistic and accept to live with this small amount, of course, I didnot eat well, but I was doing that because this only place accepted me, of course, I cry sometimes because I didnot find a solution yet, I dont want to fail. Going out now without any money is my biggest fear! Unfortunately, my family cannot support me financially. – Monika Feb 26 at 12:03
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    @Monkia You sound very emotionally involved, and your situation is clearly very stressful to you. I think you need to separate your academic dream from your objective situation including professional and personal aspects. Do you think a discussion with a professional may help you with it? – Dmitry Savostyanov Feb 26 at 12:18
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    To clarify, by professional I mean a healthcare professional such as a therapist or psychiatrist, not your former PI. A job search coach or employment advisor could also help. – Dmitry Savostyanov Feb 26 at 12:33
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    "Firstly, this is in European country" - @Monkia Some European countries have a lot of protections for students/employees. Others don't. That said, I strongly agree with Dmitry here, you've had seemingly constant issues in more than one lab. Address your mental health first. – Bryan Krause Feb 26 at 15:40

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