My principal investigator (PI) and I tend to get along pretty well; however, he is often moody and has some quirks about him. Sometimes this means that he is in a bad mood and will take it out on me. He is also very gossipy about other people at the university. Nonetheless, he thinks I am doing very well in our lab and in the Biochemistry PhD program. I always keep my cool with him, even if he is stressing me the f*ck out.

However, there are times in which he really likes to pick on me in front of other students/faculty. It is almost exclusively when he has an audience. Sometimes it is benign - a funny joke, or something lighthearted. But other times, it really bothers me and I get extremely embarrassed. The times when it bothers me is when he makes a disparaging remark about something I said (even though he agrees with me), or will embarrass me when I am training an undergraduate research assistant on a protocol in our lab.

He has told me before that I am awkward, which makes me incredibly anxious to talk to him. He is one of those people with zero filter, but am I right in thinking that there has to be a limit to this? Again, he only really embarrasses me in front of other people. When we talk one-on-one, everything seems fine; he will even occasionally tell me that I am talented. I mean, he does talk over me at times, but it is perhaps not abnormal for a male superior-female subordinate mentorship. I am a pretty thick-skinned person, but these interactions are exhausting, anxiety-provoking, and incredibly distracting from how I want to be spending my time (i.e. on research/coursework).

Why is he acting like this? What could I do to mitigate the damage from this? Keep in mind that, ironically, he is very sensitive. I have addressed something with him before and he took it as a personal attack, which indicates that he is often anxious and paranoid himself. Thus, my options are literally to just deal with these feelings in private and push through. This is what I have been doing, but it is starting to get old.

  • 24
    More ideas: Are you the only one singled out? Do you "stand out in the lab" for gender or race (etc) reasons? Other women in the lab? How are they treated? How do others feel ("Oh that's just Buffy being Buffy")? Does anyone feed it right back at him?
    – Buffy
    Mar 3, 2021 at 16:58
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment.
    – cag51
    Mar 4, 2021 at 6:52
  • 3
    Notice: we can move comments to chat only once; if you want to provide partial answers, give pieces of advice or discuss the PI's personality, please do it in above linked chat, keeping the tone professional. Further comments will be deleted without notice. Mar 4, 2021 at 15:09
  • The general solution is to not surround yourself with weak-minded dickheads. This includes all people that are into gossip.
    – xamid
    Feb 12 at 23:15

11 Answers 11


The best way to mitigate the effects of his behavior is to be really, really clear on what's happening and stop making excuses for him. This will help you separate out blaming yourself for something you have no control over: his bad behavior. It's your best chance at preserving your mental health while you have to work with him.

This behavior you describe from him is toxic, and it is very likely intentional. He has demonstrated that he has the self control to not make you uncomfortable in one-on-one interactions. He chooses to make you uncomfortable in front of an audience.

Also, teasing in any context, but especially in professional situations, isn't fun anymore when the target repeatedly shows discomfort. Teasing is only acceptable at work when all parties are benefitting from the relaxed atmosphere.

Finally, his sensitive/negative reaction to you asking him to stop has the following effect: it creates as much friction as possible so that you won't keep complaining and will allow him to continue enjoying making you uncomfortable and embarrassing you.

He is an adult and should be able to handle hearing, "hey, this was all in good fun at first, but I'm not having fun anymore, and I'd like you to stop." A person managing a lab should have the capacity to listen to that. If he can't handle that conversation, he is the problem, not you, OP.

Also, I would try to avoid speculating about why he's like this or what's going on in his head. It's getting you more wrapped up and emotionally invested in keeping the peace with him, which will make it more painful when he decides to be cruel. Try to decouple from his thoughts/emotions, and just focus on behavior. His behavior is unacceptable. You've asked him to stop, he refuses. That means he's wrong to be saying these things to you. Try to keep that in mind, and hopefully it will help you stay less stressed out and not internalize the negative and inappropriate things he's saying.

ETA: Upon rereading your question, it looks like you may not have directly asked him to stop teasing, but that you know him well enough to know it will go badly. You have the higher moral high ground if you directly ask him to stop, and I would try it once, but you know him best. If he's created an environment where you are sure speaking up will just cause more difficulty, he's still the problem and my advice stands.

  • 3
    He seems to be engaged in jockeying among the hierarchy in social contexts. One on one, he feels no need to jockey, because the hierarchy is well-defined; in groups, he’s (perhaps lacking the insight on exactly what is motivating his behavior), putting down the OP to make clear his relative status. This likely comes from a lack on confidence in his own status. It also comports with his sensitivity to critique around these topics — such critiques force him to reconcile with his own perception of his shortcomings.
    – Greenstick
    Mar 4, 2021 at 19:09
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    Yes, ideally ‘as an adult’, he would be able to modify his behavior. In reality, I suspect this is a compulsion he himself finds unpalatable (no doubt he’s been on the receiving end before). Two solutions: 1. Appeal to him with empathy (‘when you do x, it makes me feel y’) and couch it in a way that you think will resonate with his own experiences. It seems he’s not a bad person, just one with an inferiority complex. Which brings me to 2. He needs to address his own perception of his shortcomings in a group contexts.
    – Greenstick
    Mar 4, 2021 at 19:15
  • One way to do that is to learn what would make him feel successful and help him realize that in a tangible way, signaling that you see your successes as being intertwined (and in such situations, they often are). This is the ‘long term’ fix; to commit to empowering each other and to make it clear through a conversation and subsequent action that you are both aligned to each others success. I’m not necessarily advocating it; there’s a reasonable argument that it’s ‘not your job.’ But I would venture this is a level of compassion worth trying; PIs don’t manage students, often it’s the reverse.
    – Greenstick
    Mar 4, 2021 at 19:20
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    I think I mostly agree with you, but I'd put it simpler: he is a bully and the way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them; at least, that is the short story. We can be understanding of his personal issues, but he is, like quite a few academics I know of, just a misogynistic bully, at the end of the day. One can stand up to bullying in a kind and controlled way, but he needs to be left in no doubt that this behaviour has to stop.
    – j4nd3r53n
    Mar 5, 2021 at 10:01
  • The above answer is correct. I'd add you need to have a conversation with him, in person, so he can see the emotion on your face. If you are young and more comfortable with written conversation as so many are, I encourage you to read "Reclaiming Conversation" by Sherry Turkle, take a deep breath, and do it in person anyway. Finally, if you live in a one-part consent state for recording conversations, consider quietly and subtly recording your talk. If he persists, you will have a record of your request to take to his superiors. Consider carefully before escalating to superiors, of course. Mar 5, 2021 at 16:09

Over many years, I have learned how to deal with people like this. There are several ways forward but they depend on your character. For this reason there is no "correct" answer.

A very simple riposte to a cruel joke is just to say, "That's not very nice." I learned this from a woman who was an out and out bully to others and would go out of her way to embarrass them. If anyone tried to do it back to her, she would literally say, "That's not very nice" in a calm and collected way and then change the subject.

People who are quick-thinking can come back with a funny remark. I'm not like that. Sometimes I don't even realise I've been insulted until afterwards. The method that works for me as a slow but deep thinker is to ask questions at an opportune moment, even weeks later, and keep going until I get an answer.


I've been meaning to ask you. A couple of weeks ago, you said XYZ in front of the students. Was that a joke or did you intend it as a real criticism?

If they say it's a real criticism, say, "Thanks for the feedback. I'll give it some thought"

If they say it's a joke, then next time he says something you can say to the room in general, "Don't worry, he's always like that. He's just joking."

If they continue at a later date, you can simply ask in private, in a neutral tone, "Were you trying to embarrass me the other day?"

If they say Yes, you can say, "Oh, that's a bit mean of you. I hope you won't do it again."

If they say No, you can say, "Oh well, you did embarrass me. I'd prefer it if you didn't."

The point is not to reproach the person. It is to make them pause and think about what they are doing. Do it repeatedly until they get the message.

I could say more but I have found this works for me.

  • 9
    This is pretty good advice if the person just a bit of a jerk which is probably most of the cases, but if someone is bad enough that they are creeping into sociopath territory, or they are trying to manipulate a situation, nothing is going give them pause for thought because that's probably how they want you to feel. What's worse, gentle push back will start to raise the stakes. This kind of situation can get very tricky to deal with.
    – Bamboo
    Mar 5, 2021 at 4:58
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    @Phill - Yes. If that's the case then get out of the situation ASAP. Mar 5, 2021 at 11:06
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    @chasly-supportsMonica Wow this is brilliant advice! Thank you so much for it!! The best part about this is that you can even say these lines in a very nice or serious tone depending on the situation and it will have different effects. Mar 6, 2021 at 0:46
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    If they claim that saying XYZ in front of the students was intended as a real criticism, I would ask them to give feedback directly to you, as its unproductive and potentially embarrassing to broadcast it to students first. Saying "thanks for the feedback" might positively encourage this behaviour
    – user160623
    Feb 13 at 16:00

He's a jackass (probably because he's insecure).

He might be unaware of how he's a jackass. In that case, you might be able to fix it. Politely asking him to stop, or asking another PI you have a good relationship with to speak with him are good options. This is most likely; academia is full of jackasses (several of them are in the comments here blaming you for this. ignore them), and it's not always the case that people can recognize this in themselves and try to address it without someone pointing it out.

He might just be a complete willful jackass. In this case you're kinda screwed - if you ask him to stop he's just gonna get more subtle about it, and probably meaner. That said, you can always leave him for a better PI, and it's better to know he's a jackass and leave then not know and try to make it work for years. Either way if you have to ditch him for someone better, it's not you, it's him.

So I guess the take-home message is that you do need to confront him about this, you should do it in a way that lets you work together in the future if he's willing to make changes, and you should immediately get out if he's not.

EDIT - My experience has also been that insecure jackasses write letters of recommendation which are more focused on themselves, and end up inadvertently sabotaging their trainees (not always intentionally). There's also the risk that if he's just a complete jackass he'll just outright sandbag you. You might think you can get through the PhD and move on but if you want to stay in academia he's going to have the ability to affect your career for at least a decade.


It is impossible for anyone here to answer the question as asked. None of us know your adviser or have observed your interactions. Moreover, we can only get the story from your perspective, so we are operating with incomplete data.

The more pertinent question to ask is: "Are there steps that I can take to change the tone or content of these interactions?" To that, I think the answer is probably yes. I would begin by speaking with him directly about the issue. It sounds like you've tried to discuss something else with him in the past, though we don't have enough information about that interaction to judge. You might start by simply saying, "I don't like when you ridicule me. It's demeaning and discouraging." It will be helpful to have specific examples ready. If he persists, you can escalate the issue to the university ombudsman.

  • 10
    +1 This is the only professional answer (though some tact when addressing the issue and speaking to the PI might be a good idea). Others just assume the OP is right and the PI is wrong and suggest moral grandstanding. It also directly addresses the fact that the OP has never been clear or straightforward with the PI or talked about the problem with him. Nobody can read minds and direct and clear communication is needed.
    – David
    Mar 3, 2021 at 20:32
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    @David You don't need to read minds to know not to demean your students. And yes, I do assume the OP is right and the PI is wrong, because we give the posters the benefit of the doubt.
    – Jeff
    Mar 3, 2021 at 21:04
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    @David The burden of providing a professional working environment is on management, not the employee. Claims to the contrary indicate a distressing inability to understand what 'professional' means, and calling it moral grandstanding just seems like virtue signalling to me.
    – user133933
    Mar 3, 2021 at 21:54
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    @David It seems like your argument boils down to "I don't believe the OP and those of you who do are moral grandstanding", so I'm just going to agree to disagree with your comments and leave it at that.
    – Jeff
    Mar 3, 2021 at 22:13
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    @David "If we look at the facts and remain objective, we can clearly see the OP has not acted in good faith and has not made any action to improve or resolve the situation at all" -- Um, that's what she's asking for advice on? Nothing suggests she has acted in bad faith. Unless you think a woman not being happy with however her male supervisor treats her is bad faith. Mar 4, 2021 at 18:13

First off, nothing about his behavior is acceptable or excusable, and if you weren't in his lab the ideal solution would be to get away from him and never look back. What you're experiencing is absolutely a form of abuse. Unfortunately, I'm assuming you want to finish your degree with minimal interruption and without having to start over, which is totally understandable.

Obviously we can't actually diagnose why he's doing this, but, far from being some kind of harmless insecurity, his behavior - particularly the combination of putting others down while being super sensitive to criticism himself - sounds a lot like narcissist traits to me. My suggestion would be to use the Grey Rock strategy of dealing with toxic relationships, which should work regardless of his motivations. These sorts of people often thrive on the disorder and attention that comes with their erratic behavior. If you're reacting negatively, or feeling bad, or trying to discuss it with him like you would a reasonable adult, or literally any other response, that's both interesting and part of the point of his behavior.

The gist of the Grey Rock strategy is to make yourself as uninteresting as possible to this sort of person. It can be hard to enact, but it can be incredibly liberating when you stick to it. Do your work, collaborate when necessary, and show zero emotional reaction to anything he does. Don't laugh, don't cry, don't complain. Another way to frame it is "customer service polite". Smile and do business with him with no real emotion behind it.

This serves two purposes. First, it helps you emotionally distance yourself from the abuse, and second, it makes you very boring and uninteresting to the abuser. Both are good.

Now obviously you will need to evaluate as you go here, in case he tries to escalate his abuse. I would also strongly suggest discussing this with an advisor or counselor in advance, both for your own well-being, and as a hedge against escalation. I'm sorry you found yourself in this spot!


I have been struggling throughout my PhD to figure out how to deal with my PI who is very much like yours.

Similar to your situation, my PI is famous for being moody. Everyone in the group must be very careful talking with him when he obviously seems mad, which happens frequently for around every three days. Sometimes, he asks someone who is unlucky enough into his office and yells at him/her for at least 2 hours. Once I was asked to stay in the lab until 11 pm to listen to his personal lectures without rest and dinner. Another student was shouted at for 5 hours in his office every week for about 2 months. During this long time, nothing was solved actually. He just complains about every mistake from us he remembers since he knows us. He just wants to release his mood.

He humiliates people using very bad words. Once in a lab meeting, a student who just asked for a sick leave said one of her family members had COVID. My PI replied, "Now I see what your family gene is like." We were shocked but nobody dared to say a word.

He provides very little help within academia. For his 2-hour lectures, the most frequent sentence is like "You did something, this shows you're xxx(lazy, not careful, not honest, not reading)." We don't dare to ask him questions because he'll judge us and just asks us to read the paper. No contributing answers were given. Our researches are all very slow and our group hasn't published any paper for nearly 5 years. He doesn't financially support us in our study and conferences. We need to write a report if we want to buy expensive reagents or use expensive equipment.

He eats his lunch 1/2 of the time in our office. This means during 12-2 pm, we need to either read the paper or join him if we want to eat in our office. This is very stressful. He'll be furious if we take a vacation for more than 3 weeks a year. Though our university allows 8 weeks of vacation per year, nobody in our lab had a break for more than 4 weeks in total every year.

The result of this toxic environment is: up to now, among the 7 students I know in this lab, 1 had the autoimmune disease during her study and her face was ruined; 1 student nearly didn't pass her PhD viva; 6 had to extend the time of study because of anxiety or depression. 2 students became toxic themselves - they not only gave my PI an insulting name, but also avoid helping others in the lab to see them being yelled at by my PI. No undergrads or master students remained in our lab after "a taste" of this environment.

When I found the situation unhealthy in the first year of my PhD, I started to try many solutions:

(1) Directly tell him that I'm not happy about this. He didn't care and thought I challenged his authority. He said directly: "I won't change. You need to change." After this, I was worse treated like a punishment. His "punishment" is: first, he said my writing/experiment was very bad and I need to change; when I did according to what he said, he judged me again and changed back to the previous way. He used this method with other “brave” students as I heard and success every time.

(2) Cry. This worked to his tone and reduced humiliating words. But he used a soft tone giving lectures for even longer. He would also add "I do this because I care about you" when he sees us cry.

(3) Tell my college tutor and advisor. They helped me a lot. They listened to me and calmed me down. They even talked to my PI to let him stop using threatening/humiliating words. They provided suggestions on how to pull the talk with him onto academia and tell my examiners about this situation in my PhD viva. It's definitely very important to let someone in your supervisor group know about your situation.

(4) Avoid talking to my PI. During the lockdown, we are able to not see him every day and this truly helped. We just had weekly lab meetings and everybody talked very shortly. When he asked whether anyone needed individual meetings with him, no one replied. When he asked for personal meetings himself, what we do is lowing down the speaker and looking at other websites when he starts to list our previous mistakes and repeat judging us.

(5) Agree on everything he says without emotion. This is the best way I found to deal with him for now. You know that a PI like him just wants to release his emotions. It's totally not your problem. We cannot escape this environment for now, so just let him do. Whatever he says, I say 'Yes you're right. Yes I understand.' Keep in mind what he says is not always right. Then I discovered that the time wasted on him repeating himself, judging me or listing my previous mistakes largely reduced. Why is this? I think I just let his bad mood quickly released and he feels satisfying in announcing his authority.

Sorry that all my practical suggestions sound passive. This is because aggressive ways didn't work for my situation. However, I know what I am inside. Now I am able to protect myself in the lab, and show my personality in other areas. My PI is the reason I plan to quit academia after my PhD, but he is also the reason for me to look into other opportunities and open other doors. Although I spent nearly one year to rebuild myself, now I'm as confident as before and on my way to use my talent in other areas. Consider your PI as a difficulty that you have to pass to become stronger.

  • 1
    Have you considered reporting him to HR? I imagine that the way he's treating you is violating workplace policies.
    – nick012000
    Mar 5, 2021 at 3:39
  • 1
    @nick012000 Not yet. I worried about what he would do to me if I report him to HR. But I'll definitely consider reporting after graduation.
    – Metis533
    Mar 5, 2021 at 10:07
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    It sounds like everyone who works under him hates him, so make your report anonymous and he'll have no idea who to retaliate against.
    – nick012000
    Mar 5, 2021 at 10:12
  • 1
    @nick012000 Good point. I'll do that. Thank you!
    – Metis533
    Mar 5, 2021 at 10:53
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    @Metis533: Wish you all the best! Take care! =)
    – user21820
    Mar 5, 2021 at 16:24

I think his behavior is wrong. I've worked with two people who routinely did that to me. The first one almost ran me out of academia. The second was my PhD adviser who did that just because he was a bully. Actually, they were both bullies, if I think of it.

Working with the first guy was really stressful for me, and we never really made progress. With my PhD adviser, I just found a way to tolerate his occasionally insufferable personality, and we did a lot of great work together. I actually think it was one of the good periods in my academic life.

The difference between the two guys was that my PhD adviser really cared if I made it or not. So, although I thought of leaving him, I stayed because he took his role seriously. After three years of PhD, I got used to his rough edges, and him to mine, and we were finally doing good research together.

What I mean to say by this example is that the main thing to look at is your bottom line. Is the adviser helping you advance with your PhD research? Are you getting published together? Is he paying for your research? Is he sending you to summer schools, conferences, is he connecting you with future collaborators or employers?

If all those questions above have a positive answer, maybe you should find ways to deal with his quirks and inappropriate behavior. If not, you should just leave him.


You have to act officially on this matter. It has got to the point where any risk of confrontation is outweighed by the reality of distress on your part.

With a trusted friend (perferably someone working outside the institution) as a witness, go to the Head of Department (do not entertain any attempts by the HoD to demote the matter to a professor in your research group) and say that you have a serious complaint to make about the PI. The HoD, in the interest of fairness, should immediately summon the PI (plus a witness of their choice) to the meeting so that the accused can hear the accuser with the HoD listening. The PI has a right of reply. The HoD can ask questions of both parties. At the end, the HoD may either decide there and then or else ask you to let the matter be considered for a while.

if the HoD's decisions on the matter are not workable to you, you have to consider your next steps in the context of university procedure and in law.

  • -1 This answer seems to outline a formal policy at a particular institution, which is unlikely to be applicable at the OP's institution. Mar 6, 2021 at 8:22

I have decided to offer a second answer from a different point of view. That of the bully.


Years ago I went on a residential course in the US (I'm British). It was about personal development and I paid for it myself. It lasted for 8 weeks and the participants did a lot of sharing in front of the group.

One session was about "the worst thing you have ever done". A young woman stood up and said that she had been a bully at school. She picked on one particular girl whenever she could. She said that she had no understanding of the damage it was causing and did it because it made her friends laugh and made her feel clever and popular.

She had only come to realise the profound damage this caused to another young person after hearing another member of our course confessing their own experience of being bullied.

Some bullies, especially verbal bullies, are blind to the effect on the recipient, they simply revel in the acclaim and laughter of their friends.

Is it a good idea to admit your vulnerability to the bully? In my opinion this is a strong No. Outside of the long-term close-knit group situation, where others are listening, this could be seen as an encouragement to escalate. Be strong, not vulnerable.

  1. Me as the bully. When I was in my early teens I was annoying in class to teachers who could not keep good order. It was all verbal - silly noises, chanting, etc.

One day, when I was about fourteen, I noticed that our French teacher almost ran to the back of the room and stood behind us with his back against the wall. I turned to look and realised that he had tears in his eyes. This was the first time I had thought of a teacher as a human being with feelings. From that day onwards I observed him and came to understand that he was really enthusiastic about his subject and all he wanted to do was treat us like adults who wanted to learn. He would have done well at an evening class but he had no idea how to control unruly teenagers.

At that point I also started to notice that other teachers somehow had a presence that precluded anyone trying to make fun of them. I've never fully understood it but it was somehow a manner that simply expected good manners and would be disappointed with anything less. We were more interested in getting their approval than that of our classmates. I think it was because they showed their approval for good thinking in class.

  1. My father

He was not a bully, or at least not much of one. However he completely lacked any understanding of another's point of view. When I wanted to go to music college, he was testing me by playing simple tunes on the piano that I had to write down in music notation without looking. He grew very impatient with me at one point. In frustration, I said, "Let's swap". He was amazed to discover that he had as much trouble as I did. Some people are like that - they simply can't stand in the shoes of another.

  1. A woman at work

I came to think of her as evil. She would deliberately make fun of anyone who she perceived to be vulnerable - especially if they were going through a difficult time. Example: Someone said their mother had died and they had scattered the ashes in her favourite place. Her remark was, "Oh, you can never be sure you get the right ashes, they could be anybody's." She was acutely sensitive to weakness but had zero empathy.

I later discovered that she recorded conversations on her phone so that if anyone said anything nasty to her, she could complain they were the bully. I know of at least two people who left their jobs because of her.

Moral: Never try to use a true bully's tactics back to them. They have a lifetime of experience and you will lose, just as surely as if you are an amateur at chess playing a grand master.. Retain your own morals and standards.


The true sociopaths are rare. They will never give you credit for anything, in private or in public. Their purpose is to pull you down. There are two ways forward,

(a) Leave and avoid them as much as possible. If you stay nearby, they will still continue to undermine when possible

(b) Become sure of your own worth. This may not be at all easy. Keep your behaviour impeccable including being polite to the bully - but firm. Have a few phrases, e.g. "Please don't speak to me like that", "That's not very nice" or a fake laugh pronounced as words, "Ha ha" if they try to be funny.

Notice their criticisms and internalise them as feedback. Compare with your honest beliefs about yourself. If you know deep down that what you are doing is okay, then think that to yourself when necessary


They may simply be unaware of others feelings - help them to understand but without showing weakness. They may be a genuinely nasty person. Do not stoop to their level -- they will win. Behave impeccably but make a non-emotional response when they cross the line. Prepare the phrases ahead of time. You only need a few and they don't need to be funny - just an expression of disapproval as from a parent who expects better.


Treat the whole thing as a fascinating psychological experiment that does not affect you or your emotions. Observe their behaviour and your own behaviour as would a third party. Have fun analysing what is happening.

You may like to experiment with complimenting the bully in public when they do something good. This will give a pleasant shock to their system. If you combine this with mild criticism when they are not good, they will start to crave your praise. It's like dog training.

Above all, keep clean yourself. The more you define your standards and stick to them, the more you can expect from others. Don't lower yourself to anyone else's level.


You are not alone, and not the only one embarrassed. For sure, other people are taking notice and finding the behavior cringe-inducing when he says something humiliating, which is confirmed that way by your reaction.

Also, quite likely, some recipients of his gossip are unwilling, but polite about it. People just don't say anything because they don't want to generate animosity, let alone between themselves and someone who oversteps boundaries. When people are confronted with a gossiper, of course they don't want that person saying anything negative about themselves to anyone, so they nod and act nice.

I think, someone needs to send this person an anonymous, but kindly worded letter about their obnoxious social behaviors, keeping in mind that it could be the first piece of concrete feedback they have ever received, and therefore surprising and shocking. Any specifics that could identify the author of the letter should be carefully omitted using anonymized examples. The letter could even take the form of a fictional story about a similar person, with a different name, at a different institution.


This is not specific to Academia, you have assholes everywhere.

What you can do depends on your character.

Case 1: Professor A

I was in your case with a very, very senior professor A. He told me publicly in front of 200 people that my research is for kindergarten and his precious time is wasted. I answered that this is research that requires a minimum level of intelligence so I understand that he does not get it.

PhD student: 1 - professor A: 0

He made sure to make my life a hell, and I made sure to pay back. I went to the dean and what not to tell I was harassed, they told me that he is a well known professor etc. so I told the dean that I will now call Prof A "Dumb Prick" publicly and I want him to know it in advance.

Fun times. My PhD defence was moved at a time Dumb Prick was in hospital.

I left academia mostly for this. Not because of Dumb Prick but because of the medieval state of mind.

My recommendation: if you want to go for the fight, make sure you enjoy it because otherwise it will be very, very tough. The documentary about how to best do this is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pJC0FLA3Sk

Case 2: Professor B

I had an exam in quantum mechanics with Prof B. We did not like each other (these were the only two cases in my academia time, do not think that I had an issue with everyone :)).

Prof B told me once that I can call him by name because "all clever grad students realize that they can call him by name by year 5". To what I replied "Well, I guess I will have to keep on calling you Professor, then". Quelle ambiance, quelle ambiance! as a French movies says.

Comes the time of the exam (an oral one). I get 5 questions, 4 are easy and one is extra super mega complicated. I am sure I won't be able to do it.

I answer easily to the first 4 and tell him that I only have a partial answer for answer 5. To what he says "Well, only the very good students can answer it. Sorry, I will have to only give you a 20/20 mark - you could have gotten more" (20 is the highest mark, you could in exceptional cases get a small extra).

I was seriously impressed. Despite our relationship, he remained extremely fair. It was a great lesson learned for me.

I visited my lab some 15 years later and met him. I told him that we will never get along but I would like to highlight how much I was impressed by what he did and it was something I learned from. We had lunch together, it was quite stiff but I will never forget that prof.

My recommendation: it is sometimes useful to take a step back.

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