I am at the very end of my PhD, and my PhD advisor has been repeatedly inappropriate and overstepped boundaries that would probably fall into "mandated reporter" territory, if I were to tell anyone. I do not say this lightly, but I literally feel traumatized by the majority of my PhD experience. I also worry my professor might be mentally or medically suffering, and they might need serious help. tldr; I am confused about whether I should tell anyone at my university about my advisor's behavior or just walk away, as soon as I can graduate.
tw: Substance abuse and sexual harassment (?)
While intoxicated, my professor told me in detail about their sexual history (including detailed description of specific sex acts), while I was at a work event with them, which has made me incredibly uncomfortable (I tried to change the subject and then walked away). It was completely unsolicited and off-topic. I really hope they don't remember telling me these things, but I feel very disturbed. It didn't seem like they were propositioning me, but more of uninhibited exhibitionism.
My advisor also pressures people in the lab to drink at lab events (while they themselves get intoxicated: entire bottles of wine or several bottles of beer/hard liquor) and to do unsafe things ("don't wear a seat-belt" while on group trips, insisting on driving after several drinks, and telling us we have to tell white lies to cover for them when they break university policy). I have tried to change the lab culture around this, by always bringing and offering non-alcoholic drinks and other distractions.
My advisor has also pressured us (PhD students/postdocs) to stay overnight at their house or share a hotel room with them at conferences, for various reasons. I sincerely don't think they have gone so far as to ever assault anyone, but I am the only student of theirs that has not staid overnight at their house, which I feel caused a social divide and stigma towards me. It is super awkward, at best, to share sleeping arrangements with a drunk advisor (sometimes, they are an angry drunk).
There have been other major behaviors that would be too identifying to describe, but they are very abnormal, threatening, controlling, and/or point to mental instability or some kind of illness that seriously impairs judgement. I have experienced extreme stress in response to these cycles of instability, and it has taken a toll on my mental and physical health.
My plan has always been to graduate as fast as I can, try to have the "best" relationship I possibly can with my advisor, move on, and forget all of this. I feel ashamed, because I wish I listened to my gut and switched labs, the first time my advisor used threatening language towards me and/or behaved in ways that made me feel very uncomfortable, years ago. I have a next job lined up, and I'm just waiting for my advisor to give any final edits on my complete thesis and sign-off. This last part has been a huge struggle and has been dragging on for a very long time. The thesis is in good shape (it is "ready to submit to journals" according to my committee), but it still needs to be published as several separate manuscripts (which requires extended collaboration with my advisor).
I am worried if I talk to someone at my university about these concerns, it will be career ending for me (I will not be able to get a letter for any future fellowship or job applications from my PhD advisor, which will "raise a red flag," and my papers will be in jeopardy). My advisor has tenure, so I don't know if it would even have any proactive or mediating outcome.
I recently learned, however, that another student has also been experiencing extremely similar verbal/emotional abuse as I have, and I am especially wondering if I should say something to someone. This other student is extremely emotionally distressed and worried about their professional and financial future. I also feel worried about the several more junior students in the lab that I will leave behind.
Does anyone have any advice/experience in such a situation?
- Who should I talk to, if anyone: Should I talk to an ombudsman? Should I talk to my department head, but only share a selection of these issues (leaving out things that could fall into mandated reporter territory, ie sex and otherwise; things I didn't write about here, but are worse)? Or should I tell someone everything? I tried talking to my thesis committee, but they stopped me and told me there were mandated reporters (so I decided not to proceed in asking for their advice).
- When should I talk to someone? After the ink dries on my graduation papers? After my publications are accepted? After I get my first non-trainee job offer? What should I do if their behavior gets worse in the meantime?
- Is there any way my career can recover, if I am transparent about my experiences to someone who is a mandated reporter? I am not so naive to think "reporting" my concerns would actually change anything or make my situation better: it would be throwing myself under the bus, to potentially generate awareness or encourage this advisor to get help, if I'm lucky.
- What special care can/should I take, if I worry this behavior might be driven by substance abuse or some other untreated medical issue?
Thank you to anyone who read all the way through, this hot mess. I really appreciate it.