This question is a personal one. I feel like going in circles inside my mind, so I might as well formulate it here for my peace of mind. Apologies if it is not in the right format, or if it does create discussion rather than precise answers.

Academia is rife with bullying, and there is little doubt about that. I have been to counseling to deal with the effects of the lowest self esteem that I found myself in, during my previous job. I couldn't be promoted, I was actively avoided by the colleagues in my research group and my (many) requests for collaboration shunted. Counselling helped a lot, and it made me stronger and more resilient. I found a better job, including the promotion I was after, and now I am well respected and have a group that I can call 'home'.

I was recently called on a duty by a former colleague (nothing fancy, just reviewing some papers for them), and I was tempted to spill all the beans, an aggressive reply and Close the door to the past. I slept on it, and the morning after I accepted the duty. Now I finally realised that the grand scheme of things was for this same colleague to boot everybody else, and become head of the group there, with only lower ranking colleagues around.

So people, what to do... a bloody (well, relatively speaking) revenge that lasts a second but cleanses my soul, or a forgive&forget attitude, swearing not to become the same despicable bully myself?

  • I'm not sure I understand. It sounds like a former colleague at this toxic department (the same department where you work now?) asked you to review their paper, and you graciously agreed, but now you have reflected on past events and formed an even more negative impression of this person? And the question is whether you should become a "despicable bully" (what would that entail?) vs. doing what you promised or withdrawing gracefully?
    – cag51
    Nov 18, 2020 at 8:01
  • 1
    Thanks. I have moved on and very happy and enthusiastic about my new department. I also want to be an adult and not a crying baby, so I accepted the duty. When doing so, all memories resurfaced and got me a new clarity about their real intentions. I think I will follow the suggestion of @Erwan and not do the task that I was requested
    – ElCid
    Nov 18, 2020 at 8:47

2 Answers 2


Regardless of what labels are applied to the situation, it sounds like you left to get away from these people. Continuing to engage with them seems like it will undermine that plan and keep you involved (at least mentally) in a situation that's not doing you any good. I think I'd suggest at least contemplating the idea of cutting the cord.

There's no need to choose between taking revenge or forgiving and forgetting. The better option is to just accept that you no longer work with them, and that they're no longer a part of your life, and get back to living for youself. Trying to decide between revenge and forgiveness is (a) just your brain trying to keep you psychologically involved in a situation that ought to no longer concern you, and (b) a waste of valuable time in your new life.

TL;DR: In the kindest possible way, try not to let your brain get in the way of your new happiness, and move on.

p.s. To be specific, if they ask you to do any further reviews, a polite 'sorry, I don't have time right now' is more than enough.

  • 2
    Agreed. I would even suggest that OP can probably still change their mind about the recent reviews they accepted.
    – Erwan
    Nov 17, 2020 at 13:00
  • for what it matters: this is a very good answer and on paper that's exactly what I should do. The feelings of injustice (one of my "buttons") trigger me when they resurface, so that's where my question stems from
    – ElCid
    Nov 18, 2020 at 9:03

If you try to take revenge, you are focusing on them. It is no longer about them: it is about you, your new home, your new success.

Do the duty as best and professionally as you can, and show the world what a professional academic looks like.

  • thanks. Living through these situations is difficult to describe, so a "let me fix it" approach, albeit appreciated, does not always work even though I tried many times what you propose.
    – ElCid
    Nov 18, 2020 at 8:51
  • then you misunderstood my suggestion. I read your question that you already agreed to do that one thing, and you were wondering if you would "use" that to do revenge or not. Since you already agreed to do that one thing, my suggestion was to do that as best as you can without revenge, and then not interact with that group ever again. Nov 18, 2020 at 9:33

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