Edited for privacy reasons, my apologies. This has been resolved and I am getting good grades now. No longer e-mailing her/not asking for advice helped my situation. The issue, I’m pretty sure, was that I was simply bothering her too much. This added onto her already high level of annoyance that came with having to deal with a student who was not enrolled in the doctoral program.

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    In your comments on the answer, you disclosed that the disability is OCD and you state in this question that she did not respond to 90% of your emails. The latter suggests you have sent many emails. Is it possible that your OCD means you are asking lots of questions in separate emails? About how many emails have you sent? If so, it may be that she sees multiple emails on fairly similar questions and is interpreting that as you being disorganised as you keep on thinking of new things to ask.
    – JenB
    Commented Jun 24 at 13:21
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    Honestly it’s sounds like she’s exasperated and acting out in a rude and unprofessional way because of it. It sounds like you’re significantly over communicating with this professor to a level that they find extremely upsetting. There may be more going on but this sounds like part of it. From your comments you mention that this is one of your OCD issues, so I understand this is something you likely struggle with changing. But from what you’ve shared it doesn’t look like she’s picking on you (rude yes; picking on you no) but rather that you’re accidentally pestering her & she’s losing her cool.
    – bob
    Commented Jun 24 at 13:26
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    And on top of it it sounds like your in over your head in this class, so she’s very frustrated with you because from her perspective (as it appears to be) you’re in a class you shouldn’t be in as a first year student, performing poorly because you’re not prepared for it, demanding an excessive amount of her time with over communication. Could she be discriminating too? Maybe. But that doesn’t seem to be the main issue. None of this is me criticizing you by the way. But you asked for a read on the situation and this is my read given your question.
    – bob
    Commented Jun 24 at 13:30
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    I am sorry this situation is happening to you. However, I think it is far too individualized and therefore off-topic. Commented Jun 24 at 16:45
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    (1) If one person says "I send you an email about X" and the other person says "I never received an email about X", then by far the most probable explanation is that the email got lost somewhere on the way, for any of a number of reasons, not "memory issues". This is not an uncommon situation from either side, and at least in my case the explanation was never "memory issues". This seems quite central to this whole situation, as the professor probably believes you intentionally ignored her warning about the course and you believe that she is making things up or "having memory issues". Commented Jun 24 at 18:02

4 Answers 4


To give you a brief and direct answer - if you think you're being treated unfairly (which in the context of school means being treated substantially differently than other students, in a way that conflicts with the written syllabus, and/or in a way that violates disability laws) you should talk to your department chair.

I'm going to do some speculating now and try to break down your post.

I don't know exactly what your status is since, in the US at least, a post-bac student is different from a graduate student. The former usually implies that you are taking classes a la carte while the later implies working towards a degree in a structured program. If you are indeed a post-bac student that may be a source of the trouble. I have encountered more than a few professors who really do not want to engage extensively with students that are not part of the program. Not much you can do about this.

It also sounds like, regardless of your enrollment status, this class is not entry level. It may be a first year course at other programs but it apparently is not at yours. Whatever you think doesn't really matter here if the expectations are different and you are supposed to have more prerequisite knowledge. I would be very frustrated if a student was unprepared for my class and expected significant additional support. This is also tough to change at this point, since you're already enrolled. Just try to be on top of things.

As for your in-person conversation, I would not read into it too much. She doesn't know you particularly well if you don't interact with her outside of class and clearly she has some negative impression of you. It sounds like she was rude, and there is no excuse for that. In any case, she seems to be telling you exactly what she expects - that you perform at the level of the other students in the class without hand-holding. Which it seems you are not currently.

My point is that I get the impression that, while your professor isn't handling this professionally, there may be some other things going on. In the worst possible version of events (hypothetically from your professors perspective), you are an underprepared, non-degree student who is demanding attention above and beyond what is usually expected. The truth probably sits somewhere in between that and your version of things. I would try to take an honest look in the mirror. Are you properly prepared for the course? Do you have the necessary background? Are you over thinking assignments? Are you sending too many emails or pestering your professor?

If you do some serious self-reflection and you decide you are still being treated unfairly, go to your department chair or the disability office for your university (if you feel that there is discrimination related to disability/accommodations).

I'm also going to add on that her memory is not relevant here. Straight up that whole segment is ageist and personally rubs me the wrong way. By your measure, most of humanity has severe memory issues. While you may disagree with her recollection of events, I would not go around implying that your professor has "memory issues", especially in this context. You will not get any support with those sorts of accusations. You are not her doctor and are not qualified to assess her memory and frankly, it makes you look quite bad.

  • I appreciate the time you dedicated to this question. I would first like to address the memory comment. I understand that comes off as ageist so I will not repeat it. To explain, however, the reason why I stated that is because she claims that she told me many things she never stated. She told me that she sent me an email, for example, recommending me to not take this course detailing that it is online and I am a first year student. That is not true. She did not remember my project, paper, or the fact that we discussed my research experience twice over e-mail. She stated multiple facts that
    – user186954
    Commented Jun 24 at 9:35
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    were also incorrect (e.g. I talked about Freud and Jung in my project proposal but she thought that I must be referring to Adler. I was not and Adler did not make sense in the context. The reason this is relevant is because this is history of psychology). I will not say anything else about her memory, but it is purely based off of those interactions.
    – user186954
    Commented Jun 24 at 9:36
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    The rest: fair, my registrar says “Graduate, Non-degree.” Not wanting to speak with post-bacc students is unfortunate. I think that is a central issue but so is my health. I was diagnosed w/ OCD 1 mo. ago. I desperately want to end my obsession with explaining, checking, and clarifying. I have been in and out of therapy since I was 12 but I still have a lot to work on and know this. Intellectually, I do feel prepared. Other students engage with my thoughts and research in the disc. boards. I get 90-100% on tests. She said my writing isn’t the issue… I guess it is my OCD :/ Thanks for the reply
    – user186954
    Commented Jun 24 at 11:11

I would bring in a third party to oversee the situation, the department chair is a good option. I had an experience very similar to the situation you described, and I went to the dean of the department with my work and discussed the situation. He had a talk with her and immediately my grades improved. The fact that there was someone else aware of the situation protected me (even though this professor vaguely threatened me for the rest of the semester).

Professors aren't immune from biases and there are a large concentration of big egos / not much oversight, resulting in a dangerous combination when you aren't one of the favorites.

This third party (advisor, professor, dean) can look more rationally at the situation and help you decide the next best course of action. You should ideally go in person without accusations, just to discuss the situation and to ask for help navigating it.

(That said, it did get back to her in my situation. So this does carry risk if the professor is willing to rock the boat or the chair and the professor are friendly.)

  • This is very helpful and I really appreciate your empathy. I was scared to bring it up because I was fearful that would cause my grades to become worse. However, the oversight is likely to prevent that I imagine? I think I will see what my next grade is, and if it is bad without a sufficient explanation, then I will reach out to the dept. chair. Thank you.
    – user186954
    Commented Jun 24 at 17:16

Ideally professors should always remain professional and polite. That being said, it can happen on occasion that a single student takes up a disproportionate amount of time and energy by repeat e-mailing, nitpicking over details or things they could or should have solved themselves, etc.

Some students also don't take a hint or respond well to being told that this is enough and they should stop doing X.

I am not saying that this is the case here, but from the information you provided in the question and all of the comments, I think it is unlikely that the issue is 100% the professor - even if she is making mistakes in her interactions and communication with you (if only because neither of you appears to be able to understand what the other wants/needs/means).

  • Yeah, I think that makes sense... It's hard to know how to move forward, I've just been leaving her alone. I guess I had to learn this the hard way. It was just surprising to me because I usually talk to all of my professors a lot and we become quite friendly. Although, that was in undergrad (which only ended in May, but regardless). I guess things are different now especially because I am an unconventional student now.
    – user186954
    Commented Jun 25 at 5:19

This really depends on your academic institution. Some universities have student unions whose job it is to protect the interests of students, and offer them some recourse against bad behavior (at the very least, they'll point you in the right direction). In addition, some departments have student advisors or more senior students who act as points of contact for you to discuss such matters. Your department may have an associate chair/dean in charge of student affairs who also handle stuff like this sometimes. Universities often have ombudspersons that act as mediators in cases like these. This will make the complaint a bit more "official", and you'll have to go into some mediation process. Some places have an office dedicated to managing student disabilities, and ensuring that lecturers operate within the students' accommodations. Does your university offer those services?

Unless your department is really small, I don't think that contacting the department chair would be useful. First, they are usually very busy people and may take a long time to get back to you; when they do, they will likely point you to one of the resources above rather than deal with it directly. Second, the chair is very likely to take the lecturer's side, especially since this lecturer is very senior and is probably more "entrenched" in the department than the actual chair. Third, even if you are right, they are very unlikely to directly intervene in how a lecturer runs their class (regardless of rank). At best they're going to have a brief talk with that professor over coffee, where the professor will get to tell her side of things, and you will not get your desired outcome.

From what you describe, I'd guess that proving that you were discriminated against is going to be an uphill battle. You need to have some documented instance of the lecturer offering you disparate treatment (written, recorded etc.), and show that this disparate treatment was because of your race/gender/health status. Not obvious to show either step. The professor could always argue that the other extensions they gave out were due to completely different circumstances (which could very well be true, you don't know the circumstances of other students in your class). It could be that you caught her at a super busy time due to some personal/professional issue which is why she missed meetings with you (happens to every professor I know). From what you describe, she's not very nice to you; this is not great of course, but to prove that this is discrimination would be a challenge. There's no rule that says that professors should be nice to their students. Some professors take perverse pride in their meanness, seeing this as some sort of "tough love".

If you make unfounded claims of discrimination, things could be worse for you. The professor could argue that you are seeking revenge against her because you're struggling in the class, so you're coming up with these trumped up discrimination story.

I strongly suggest that you seriously consider what you want to get from this professor. Do you want her to give you a better grade? Do you truly think she's being discriminatory and want her to be accountable for it, your own grade in her class be damned? Do you want to educate her on the needs of people with your specific disability?

If you just want to get a better grade and move on, I strongly suggest that you focus your attention on that angle and that angle alone. Send her an email saying you really want to succeed in class, and ask what you need to do. Send things in early and request for specific feedback.

Finally, try and get a group of students with similar issues. You alone could be ignored, but if several students complain/ask for feedback/office hours, it's much harder to ignore.

  • Wish I could give me a more detailed reply at the moment but I appreciate all the thought you put into your comment. Yes, that is my worst fear. There is a lot of unpredictability. I suppose that discrimination might not be the best word then. I think she is biased against me because I am not in the program and, on top of that, my mental health issues can get very annoying for people. I sadly seem to lack insight into overwhelming people until it's too late but that's another thing to work on I guess. As for the grade improvement, yeah, that is my general plan. She did plan to meet me in two
    – user186954
    Commented Jun 25 at 5:23
  • (oops - forgot to finish) weeks. We will see if the "academic feedback" she provides is any more helpful. I just have to hope at this point, I guess.
    – user186954
    Commented Jun 25 at 8:38