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I am a person who does not have an "invisible personality". I talk, help around and friendly with everyone. It took me a great deal of efforts to be finally able to open up, which let me make many connections at workplace and otherwise. This attitude helps me learn from their experiences too. Recently, I was slut shamed in my absence, in front of everyone (in a meeting) for being able to talk and hangout with the guys (majority of lab mates were guys). I was even accused of many things and the professor insulted me which stripped me of my dignity (again, in a meeting with the entire lab). I believe everything was blown out of proportion based on some baseless rumors. The PI even commented about my personal life. I could not stand being insulted and left the lab.

I would be soon starting my PhD and I do not want to face a similar situation again. What are the Do's and Don'ts that I should be taking into consideration while entering into a purely professional environment for smooth sailing of 4yrs of PhD? What if my superior at the new workplace is equally toxic? Is work environment at research labs generally so toxic? Since many people normalized this behavior?

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    Are you in an environment where you can meet (and perhaps take a course with) potential advisors? Or is it a blind process? Also, the frequency probably varies around the world and even by field.
    – Buffy
    Aug 23, 2021 at 14:04
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    Run, run for your life. First red flag, change your advisor
    – looktook
    Aug 23, 2021 at 14:17
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    Which country? I do think that today, in most western countries, you have a wide arsenal of recourse. If there are witnesses, you can bring a rain of fire and brimstone on the perpetrators. Such behaviour on the side of your superiors and colleagues is utterly unacceptable. Aug 23, 2021 at 14:38
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    @CaptainEmacs, and some "boys", whatever their age need to be taken to the woodshed.
    – Buffy
    Aug 23, 2021 at 15:06
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    @Buffy I am not in favour of woodsheds, but I agree with the epithet "boys". Aug 23, 2021 at 15:17

1 Answer 1

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I only have partial information, so can only offer general/partial solutions. The correct way to deal with a toxic advisor is to move elsewhere, even if it means changing universities. If you can do so safely (to yourself and your career) report them to university authorities. Whether it has any effect or not depends on how widespread are the poor attitudes.

These things happen and when they do, a sort of whipsaw effect seems to magnify them, so where they exist they can be very intense. But they don't exist everywhere. Oddly enough, all of my doctoral students were women, somewhat like yourself. The other women in our program mostly all seemed similar (outspoken, contributors, ...) and were taken for their skills and knowledge. So, the opposite thing can and does occur.

The way to avoid it is to first look closely at any environment you are jumping into, either for a degree or for a job later. Try to meet people before you make any commitments. Try to meet some of the students. Evaluate. If you sense creepiness or other poor attitudes keep looking. This is actually true for other issues as well as for sexism, but for this case, try to find other female students (or graduates) and get their advice on what it is like to work with a given professor on in a given lab.

If there are other women around, collective action may be possible, for protection, even if it won't change the environment.

Don't get chased out. Your "personality" is perfectly fine.

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  • +1 Make sure you get a chance to communicate with current and/or former students on their own, in a reasonably private venue, not in the presence of the supervisor (e-mail can be OK, although face-to-face is best for picking up on cues)
    – Ben Bolker
    Aug 23, 2021 at 18:27

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