Very long post alert!

Background: I have a complicated situation and need advice about how to deal with it. I had joined as a postdoc with a faculty member (a senior professor) in an esteemed research institution in India. However, my postdoc mentor (let's call him Prof. X) abused, bullied, threatened and harassed me. He does it regularly with all his students or postdocs but with me, unfortunately it was much severe and had a different angle. I think I can call it sexual harassment as he invited me to his home alone for dinner repeatedly that I denied and even said he had possessive feelings towards me. Finally, he stopped my fellowship at a day's notice after December. Naturally, he denied having said such things when I had publicly said this out at the height of frustration in front of another student. His behaviour had affected me very badly and deeply and is affecting me even now after many months. My mental peace, academic confidence, career everything has been damaged. I had approached the sexual harassment cell of the institute but there was no real help. I have managed to get a temporary alternate position at the same institute.

This incident and the behaviour of senior members of the department or institute has traumatised me deeply, more that I had anticipated. I try to be positive and get things back on course, but it is difficult. Repeated insensitive behaviour from other members of the department who grudge my temporary position at the institute only worsens things.

Particular problem: This being the background, there is an issue on which I need your advice. Just after joining, last November, I had agreed to act as a guest editor for a special issue of a journal. The journal had invited Prof. X to host a special issue and he chose a topic which was new to him but in which I had worked since my PhD. Out of his interest in this new subject, he had probably hired me. I did the necessary preparatory work and invitations were sent out by Prof. X, last November with both his and my name, as is the custom. For some reason, the assistant editor from the journal, say Ms. Y, used to communicate with me separately about whom to invite etc. and I communicated with her. She was sending out these invitations so there as no issue. However, recently, the question of inviting some other senior researchers has surfaced and she has requested me to invite them. I'll list below the issues I am facing and the related questions:

  1. I was not sure whether I could send emails inviting contributions without a formal `approval' from my co-editor Prof. X. So, I had to write to Ms. Y that owing to certain serious issues, collaboration or communication with Prof. Y was not possible and as I probably couldn't send invitations by myself, it would be good if she could request him to send them. I also requested her not to send common mails to Prof. X and me, as she was anyway not doing.
  2. Ms. Y said she would ask Prof. X to send those two invitations but asked me how would we go with the review process. This is a question I have also.
  3. Ms. Y has sent me another list of people to invite. Also, of the two people that Ms. Y had asked Prof. X to invite, he has written back to her suggesting I should invite one of them as that person was my PhD advisor.
  4. Any kind of communication with Prof. X disturbs me immensely. With this exchange going on in the past few days, I have again become very disturbed, can't sleep etc. So, on the one hand I want to carry out my responsibilities as a guest editor, but on the other I cannot take any communication with Prof. X. So, what can I do?
  5. Is it ok if, on being asked by the journal assistant editor (Ms. Y), I send invitations where I do not cc to Prof. X and only sign off the mail with my name. In the body of the mail, I can mention the names of both guest editors. Can I say something like, " I am inviting you, on behalf of the editorial team, to contribute to the special issue on ... Prof. X and I are serving as the GEs for the same"? Or, should I sign off the emails with both names though I would not be CC-ing Prof. X?
  6. Ms. Y has asked me if there is any problem between me and Prof. X and that there has been a circular from the jounal managers that they should write to all GEs together. I am not at all, comfortable with this. Can you suggest what I may tell them?
  7. I can offer to resign as a GE but I do not want that as that would entail not keeping my promise. Since, Prof. X is not an expert in this field, I think that would ruin the project.

Look forward to suggestions from you about what can be done in such a situation.

  • 1
    I’m voting to close this question because it is a complaint rather than a question. Jun 9 at 7:37

If I were you, I would take the approach that the default outcome here is that you cannot continue with your role as guest editor. From this position you can then start to think about what changes would be necessary for you to be able to continue in the role.

If you feel able to, I would discuss with Ms. Y. One approach would be to tell her that you are no longer able to work with Prof X, and that you don't want to abandon the project without the subject specific knowledge and not meet your promise, but you are struggling to find an alternative. If there are courses of action that you are uncomfortable with them taking, you should say so (e.g. emailing around all the other GEs). Obviously it is easier for me to sit here and say this than it is for you to do, and I understand that this would take a lot of bravery. Perhaps at this time you are not up to doing this.

I understand that you have probably put a lot of work into this, and you don't want to abandon it after that, but the benefit you will gain is small compared to the pain it might give you. I also understand that you don't want to let people down, or leave them in the lurch, but you have to put yourself first. Once not continuing is the default, hopefully you will feel less trapped by the situation, and other solutions might even present themselves.

  • Yes, you are right. I would be relieved if I could discontinue working for this special issue. Any overlap with Prof. X is difficult for me. Can you give me an idea how ok is it to refuse such a commitment (being a GE) midway?
    – damaihati
    Jun 9 at 10:38

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