I am going to attend a conference as I have been selected to a voluntary position and it is mandatory to meet up with the organizers. At this conference, my abusive ex-supervisor is chairing sessions and probably he is going to attend, he does not know I will be there.

I hate him so much as I was forced to leave because he was racist and narcissistic, travelling to another country with harsh conditions, it is a long story. Now I am working on the same topic with another nice supervisor.

No one knows what happened, but I am afraid of this encounter, I am so emotional and I hate him although he apologized via email after I left couple months, but I still have a grudge since he delayed my academic progress and I cannot tolerate with that, how I should react, ignore him completely, he is very awful person.

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    Related: academia.stackexchange.com/q/138243/20058 Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 13:17
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    I want you to hear (hopefully not for the first time) that you don't deserve to be treated abusively or with racism, and it definitely wasn't any fault of yours that you were treated that way. I'm very sorry you have to deal with the fallout from someone else's harmful actions, and I wish you the very best in handling it. Treat yourself very well, whatever that means for you in that situation. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 23:48
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    Same as how you would react to your abusive ex-bf (hypothetically), ignore, ignore and ignore.
    – Elizabeth
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 7:32
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    I know I missed some high school reunions (academic teams, AP classes) because I wanted to avoid certain people. Not just because they'd make me uncomfortable but because I was worried I might take their bait or lash out. I'm sad I did, but the way I look back on it now is to tell myself I'm going to defuse tensions. I can say sorry, I'm just a bit uncomfortable right now, and I recognize there are things I could've done better at. (True: I didn't cope perfectly.) Honing diplomatic "weapons" like "Well, I know there are people you want to see more than me, and hope you can see them" helps too.
    – aschultz
    Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 8:00

5 Answers 5


The best revenge is living well. You have a good start on that working on your topic with a nice supervisor, and attending the conference as a volunteer.

Ideally, treat him as just another academic you happen to know, about on the level of a professor who taught one of your undergraduate courses. I understand that may be difficult, but it tells him that his treatment of you was just a minor roadbump in your life. He is too unimportant to be even worth your anger. For a racist, seeing you happily getting on with your life will hurt far more than if you let him see he still has emotional power over you.

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    While I would never begrudge the victim of abuse the right to wish hurt upon their abuser, it's worth saying that the most important goal isn't to hurt the abuser but rather for the OP to treat themselves the best they can. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 23:46
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    Just never end up alone with him.
    – Dan Staley
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 23:58
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    +1 for this answer, it is good for the specific context of the question. Please note that, when the abusive behaviour actually happens, this philosophy should not lead you out of proper reaction (juridical for example, if compliant with country's laws) Commented Jan 25, 2020 at 12:15
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    @GregMartin I agree. I would have said something about that, except the OP seems to already be handling it, pursuing research with a supervisor they like, and attending conferences. What is important now is to not let the ex-supervisor mess up the OP's life by making them afraid to go to conferences. Commented Jan 25, 2020 at 13:37
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    @totalMongot Yes, I am assuming that the OP has done what they can, if there was any appropriate action to take. Commented Jan 25, 2020 at 13:38

Yes, ignore him as much as you can. But focus on the task at hand in your work. In professional company attacks reflect badly on the attacker, so work to ignore any negative messages from him. You want to be the good person.

If you can arrange to meet with the organizers as part of a group, of volunteers, say, it will help.


As well as the good advice to ignore him as much as possible, I suggest you have already worked out what you will say when you meet him. This will help you feel in control and less emotional as it is likely you will see him at some point. Don't approach him, but you may be in a situation where you can't avoid him. Even something blunt like "I'm really not interested in talking with you, please don't talk to me". If you ignore him then he may think you didn't hear him or whatever. Be clear and firm. You may also need a follow up in case someone else overhears and asks, something like "I worked with him for X years and it was a bad experience"

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    This should be the preferred answer: it acknowledges that entirely ignoring a senior colleague in public is not a realistic option, and offers specific advice for reducing the emotional charge of a possible encounter. Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 10:23

The feedback given here I think is helpful and mostly agree with. It's important to take what is said here and aggregate it in a way that your response to this person's presence is in line with your values.

You can only control things in your own experience, so intentional thought and intentional behavior. Your automatic thoughts, your feelings, and everyone else experience is something you can't control - and that's okay! It is what you do with these automatic thoughts and feelings in response to other's actions that is key and will help you come out on the other side of this.

It is helpful to have a few things lined up to say when (if) you come across this person. These statements should create boundaries and, again, should align with what you value. But don't try to plan out potential conversations - you've got no idea how he's going to react. Just keep in mind, and keep redirecting to, your vision on how you'd like to present yourself in this space.

Lastly, to re-iterate what Greg said above - I hope that you know that no one, ever EVER deserves to be treated in such a manner. It must have been extremely difficult to work through all of that, and I hope that you have given yourself credit for continuing to move forward with your work and what you care about. I wish you the best and good luck at the conference and all of your meetings! I hope the location is somewhere fun!

(Can you tell I've spent a serious amount of time in therapy? Ha!)


While Patricia's answer may work for some people, it would not work for me. I do not like explicitly acting as if something did not affect me, if it did. I think the best advice (for people like me) is the one given by Elizabeth in a comment:

Ignore, ignore and ignore.

As far as possible, at least. If they did not show me respect in the past, I have no obligation to show them the same amount of respect I may show other people, even if I still show the basic courtesy any other human deserves. Although I strongly encourage you to try to let go of the grudge, it is perfectly understandable if you want to minimize the possibility of getting emotionally affected by any meeting with him. And the best way to do that is to subtly avoid him. As long as you also minimize disruption to your own life (don't let your actions revolve around avoiding him), it should be fine.

Also, in case you don't want to talk to him, and don't want to tell this to him to his face, and he comes to you to attempt to talk, you can simply hold up your hand in a more or less universal 'stop' gesture. It should work for almost everyone, with minimal fuss, especially if you smile while doing so. After all, you would be happy to avoid a potentially uncomfortable talk, and he would probably be happy to just back off.

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