I have completed my Ph.D. in cancer biology. I want to apply for a postdoc position in the USA, but my supervisor is not on good terms with me. She is a very quarrelsome and arrogant lady. I am suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I was a victim of domestic violence, have faced bullying at school and college. My marriage failed, my husband had an affair with another woman. He cheated on me and mentally harassed me. I had to undergo a painful abortion which left a mark on my mind. My lab members (2 women) used to bully me. They would tamper with my samples and put out false accusations about me. They wanted to remove me from the lab so they would harass me. My guide is a credulous person who would believe them and always shout at me. My family didn't support my decision to get a divorce so they never supported me emotionally.

I used to take 5 anti-depressants per day. One day I tried to commit suicide and popped 15 -20 tabs of anti-depressants. Luckily, at that time my brother called me. I revealed to him that I took the pills and he informed my supervisor. I was rushed to the hospital immediately. After a few days, I got the information that the institute authorities removed me from the girl's hostel. One of my lab members, who used to trouble me, went along with her friends to the student committe and complained that they are scared of me since one night they heard me crying out loud in pain before my suicide attempt. Instead of helping me. They demanded to have me removed from the hostel. I was traumatised.

I fell from stairs 3-4 times. I was not able to walk properly. When I resumed working at the lab, nobody spoke with me. My supervisor shouted at me that I brought her shame. She used to bully me and misbehave with me. I apologised for my behaviour so many times. She even called every scientist in the institute and told them that I am a bad person who is not even on good terms with her family. There were so many rumors. A few scientists stood in my support and I was shifted back to the hostel after a few months.

Now this incident happened one year ago. But my supervisor hates me. Although I didn't say a single word about my lab members and my supervisor in front of the police at the time of my suicide attempt. She always complains that I was depressed because of my husband and I attempted suicide. This brought shame to her. I am a little worried. Can she spoil my career? What if she doesnt give me a nice recommendation letter? Also, she delayed the submission of my papers. But now finally those two papers got submitted. The main problem is that when somebody instigates her, she immediately reacts and starts shouting without even thinking. She even gets angry if I dont click on photos with my lab members. I know it is a very long story but i am really depressed. I lost husband, a baby and have no family support. And now she is adding to my problems........

  • You should talk to a mental health professional about this. Commented May 28, 2022 at 22:04

3 Answers 3


First of all, sorry to hear that. Some environments are not particularly supportive, period. And your situation sounds terrible on many levels.

I would give a standard advice of trying to find a mental health professional, first and foremost - you seem to be taking prescription medicines, so presumably you have it partly covered. But there is more to it than just getting your prescriptions.

Concerning the recommendation letters, well, you do not have a lot of control over the actions of your supervisor. But it is not necessarily hamstringing your future career. After all, you would be applying somewhere, and there will be actual humans reading your application. Some of them would avoid dealing with mental health issues, but others would love to do some good and help you. You are still able to produce work despite an immense pressure - that also speaks volumes.

Try to focus on what is still working for you and the support you have gotten from some of your peers already. These are people who will advocate for you. Consider asking them for recommendation letters as well - they do not necessarily need to come from your supervisor. As long as you manage to stop plunging into the dark pits of depression, there will be options. Your quarrel with the advisor can be overcome.

  • 1
    This is a very thoughtful answer, which focuses on the bright side and on what can be done. Thank you for writing this answer!
    – sjaustirni
    Commented May 30, 2022 at 11:01

I have read your post and I see a good woman who is technically competent, honest, a woman who can describe her circumstances objectively without shame, a woman who sees and accepts the weakness of other people without condemning. I also see a woman who is so beaten by these events that she has forgotten how to respect herself in the way that she clearly deserves.

I can give no magic answer to your present difficulties and am not qualified to do so.

But from what I read here, I believe you are justified in respecting yourself, and that you should try regularly to tell yourself that you are good, that you can do good things, and that your place here on Earth is entirely justified.

Had you worked in my laboratory when I had a research group I would have tried hard to encourage you to see yourself as good, and always to respect yourself. For if people do not respect themselves, it is sometimes difficult for others to do so.

I wish you well and I wish you success.


I'll focus only on the practical here. I think you need to consider your options moving forward without a letter from your supervisor. The relationship seems poisonous and a letter would probably be worse than none.

You don't point to others on your faculty who might be more supportive and could write you a good letter, but see if that is possible.

You might have to take some non-standard actions to build up a career. I had to do this because of economic, not personal, conditions when I graduated, teaching at a very (very) low ranked college. But eventually I got to a good place (with supportive people).

You can probably think of more options, but teaching biology (or something) in a college might give you an economic base and some time to build a reputation along with time for working out personal/health issues with a therapist. Working in a (governmental?) research lab might be open. Both will give you contacts that can support you in future if you do well. Think about all options open to you.

A postdoc in US without a letter from your supervisor might be a difficult jump unless you can show other strong indications of success.

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