I am a post-doc in the UK. Today, In online lab meeting, my boss said that the name of my two postdocs are in two different grants and our technician is in both but he did not take me into account as his postdoc. He then asked me, are you going back to your country? I told no please don't kill me and everyone simply laughed. I am in 18th months of my employment as a postdoc with him and my contact is until December 2021. His today statement has been a huge pain by which I have lost myself totally. I admit that after few months of my employment, from his body language and all reactions I realized that he is not happy with me, he is not taking me seriously, he is not eager to listen to me...

Do you think it is logical if I ask a private chat with him and request him at least he please pretend that he is happy with me until the end of my contract? because by each lab meeting I become such a frustrated and desperate that I have found myself in a pure darkness of hopelessness. In the morning turning the Teams app to see my colleagues who they are all happy gives me a feeling of death. I can not change myself, I can not increase my intelligence, seeing them when boss cherish them makes me hate myself and all my day like a nightmare


From all of your comments I can say, my boss is not happy with me. I have started to find a job, I hope I find somewhere needs me. This job is really cruel and you would be eliminated from the system if you are not good enough. Thank you everyone for giving the time to help me.

  • 41
    If you are feeling distressed, you need to speak to a mental health professional about your feelings. Commented May 16, 2020 at 8:52
  • Comments are not for extended discussion (nor answers, nor mental health diagnoses, ...); this conversation has been moved to chat. Please review this FAQ before posting another comment.
    – cag51
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 8:38

5 Answers 5


I would ask for a meeting, but not for the reason you suggest. You may be misinterpreting messages. I'd ask him if he was pleased or not with your work and what you can do to improve it in his opinion. If it seems like a good idea when you are having such a conversation mention that you think he is displeased and don't understand why.

Don't overthink that they laughed at your comment. It was a somewhat strange thing to say even if you were panicked.

And you should certainly talk to a personal health counselor about your emotional state. That isn't healthy, but professionals can help you deal with it.

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    I agree with this. Asking to "pretend that he is happy" is somewhat unprofessional, it is better to ask for his opinion about the progress and what he would suggest to improve.
    – user69377
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 11:49
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    This is a subtle point but, in situations like this, the specific choice of words can make a big difference: I would leave off the "in his opinion" part. That can be misinterpreted as implying that you're just trying to accommodate to his opinions regardless of whether or not they're correct. The way you say a phrase like that can make a big difference in how it's perceived so, unless you're very confident with the language, I would leave it out.
    – G. Allen
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 15:31

They laughed at your "please don't kill me" because that's something you would say as a joke/icebreaker. It would be more impolite not to laugh...

To me it sounds like you are struggling with English and Western culture. This seems to be a misunderstanding, you just gave an anxious retelling of a conversation that would happen among a group enjoying each other's presence.

You should surely not attempt the communication you are considering. That sounds awkward and out of place.

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    "some comments suggested seeing a psychologist. I would not say you seem that troubled to me" What? He doesn't seem troubled? Maybe reread his message? "bad at Western culture" Western culture is not defined by bullying. Terrible answer.
    – bomzh
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 13:54
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    This answer is highly irresponsible. You cannot determine if someone needs psychological treatment over the internet. The advice should always be to check with a professional who can make that determination. Very many people need mental health treatment but do not get it. Commented May 16, 2020 at 14:31
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    @bzomh why do you see bullying? Yes, the OP interprets it as that, but the answer suggests that this is a misunderstanding based on interpreting Western culture wrongly. And I rather agree; how would you (assuming you are from a western culture) react, if someone says the thing of "don't kill me please"? Sure, the tonality of it matters a lot, but I don't know of an appropriate reaction on such a sentence either. It's academia, people usually change jobs after a few years, no one talks about killing.Don't you suspect OP is misinterpreting this?
    – Mayou36
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 14:36
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    @AnonymousPhysicist ok, I deleted the controversial part.
    – Džuris
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 15:21
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    @bzomh reread the texts. It's pretty plausible (and it's the simplest explanation) that all of these perceived problems are because of misunderstanding the professor and group.
    – Džuris
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 15:26

I had a similar experience in my PhD so I will try to give you advice based on that.

  • As others have said, it would be good to set up a meeting with him and directly tell him that you are feeling that he isnt happy with your work and ask him how you could improve it. This is a professional way to deal with the bosses who arent happy with the employee's performance.
  • When there are cultural differences involved (as you said, everyone is from the UK and that Greek-German lady is somewhat local already), sometimes when you are the "different" one, it makes you feel so lonely and isnt easy to tell people about your feelings and plans. Have you ever told anyone about your plans to stay? Have you ever expressed directly an interest to participate in a grant? If you havent, maybe you could try to tell your professor that you would like to stay more in the UK and ask if he has any offer for you.
  • When you are saying "I am not good enough to be kept and wherever I go I would end with the same sad story," it shows that you have self esteem problems and they will interfere at any moment of your life. Please try to take care of that, in any way that you can, be it therapy or not.
  • Is there anyone in your lab who is friendly towards you? Not necessarily a researcher but maybe some secretary, HR, etc? Maybe you could try to talk to someone and express your feelings about feeling excluded as you are from another country? (Not complaining about the professor but asking for some assistance as you have some cultural differences.)
  • Also, can you talk to any other professor whose work is somewhat to yours and who probably would be willing to take you into some of their projects later on?

I agree that OP should talk to supervisor to clarify the situation and comment. Note that Western culture often permits a level of sarcasm/irony which is not common in other countries, and where it is considered highly aggressive communication. Nonetheless, OP's supervisor and group are supremely insensitive. Clarifying the situation makes sense. OP should consider changing groups/topics/workplace. This is not a nice group to work in.

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    No idea where this is coming from. Asking when you are going home is considered extremely vulgar. At least in Germany
    – SSimon
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 4:28
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    @SSimon I feel that there is some background that we are not told, because the whole situation is almost the caricature of a bullying situation as you would see in a movie. Without knowing more about what is going on here, how it came to the situation, etc., I am careful to make a judgement - it might be possible that OP undergoes some cultural misunderstanding that may have a less malign interpretation. I do know of cases like that, so I'd rather not advise under the assumption of a fully antagonistic situation. Check other responses of mine, I have no tolerance for established bullying. Commented May 16, 2020 at 5:30
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    Dears all, I did not feel any bullying from his statement yesterday at all. Basically, he is a cool and charismatic professor. When I joined the lab as a data analyst he was very caring and welcoming but by the time I have shown I am not what he expects. Two current postdoc are really deserved to be cherished. Now, my concern is that everyday feedbacks from his body language and ignorance is a killing pain for me. All of last night I have been a numb body by remembering why I could not be good enough to be evaluated. I know life is not fair but accepting the reality is hard at the moment.
    – Mahta Mira
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 8:06
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    @SSimon it was "if" not "when" and that's a reasonable thing to ask.
    – Džuris
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 9:59
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    I have asked many Germans (students and non-students) if/when they are going back to Germany, permanently or for a short period, and nobody considered it extremely vulgar. I fail to see the problem with e.g. "What are your future plans, are you going back to X?"
    – user117109
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 11:10

When he asked "are you going back", he may have been trying to show (to you and to the others) that the reason he didn't mention your name in the plan was because you might not be there anymore. I think it is very unlikely that this was intended as an insult. Just the opposite. He was showing that he was also considering your future, same as the others. He just (incorrectly) thought you may be returning to your home country soon, like many people do. Clearly you haven't discussed your plans with him, and he doesn't even know that you plan to stay in the UK, so it is definitely unreasonable to expect him to make plans that depend on you staying.

I agree with Buffy that when you said "no don't kill me", it was a joke. Maybe you didn't mean it as a joke, and maybe it was a very painful moment for you, but everyone will assume you were intentionally making a joke. Even if you just said "please don't fire me", it still wouldn't make any sense to think you are serious when you say that, unless it is normal for him to suddenly fire people during meetings. Assuming that is not how he operates, it must be a joke. They laughed to be nice, to show that they appreciate your funny comments and that they appreciate your ability to keep a sense of humor even on difficult topics. You should understand that they support you. If they did not like you, they would not laugh at your jokes.

I think you should ask to talk to him. Tell him you are thinking about your future and you would like his advice. This is a completely normal request. During this conversation he will learn about your plans, and you will learn what he thinks your best options are.

Also, assuming you are right that he has been avoiding interaction with you, having a normal conversation will help to normalize your relationship with him.

During the conversation, I would stick to the topic of what you should do with your future. I would not try to discuss your relationship with him. That can quickly become more awkward and/or more confrontational, and there is a risk that he might avoid you even more if the conversation gets weird like that. I would also not ask about the possibility to keep working with him. You should not stay somewhere that has made you miserable.

You feel horrible right now, and when you feel horrible it is natural to interpret other people's words and actions in overly negative ways. Talking to him directly will give you a chance to learn what he actually thinks. The truth is probably not as bad as all the bad things you are thinking right now.

  • Thank you @Matt, very clear points for me you mentioned. In my June monthly meeting with him, I would try to convey this message to him that I love my job and which value I can bring to any future research project. When he mentioned the name of two postdoc he stated that in the grant there is money for these people that means no money for you that is why I got hurt
    – Mahta Mira
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 12:07

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