I have a number of problems with my postdoc supervisor.

  1. First of all, I do not have any funds for my research. According to local university rules, I can't submit any grant proposals myself; this is the supervisor's responsibility. When I request this, he always answers that he doesn't care and I must do research using existing resources. However, I am the first person here who started doing research in my area, and there are no facilities, equipment or even consumables available.

  2. At the same time he requires me to publish research papers, and his suggestion is just to write low-quality papers using research methods from the early sixties.

  3. When I manage to find a collaborator in another university, he replies that he is not going to work with anyone because other researchers will steal his (but actually my) results.

  4. After seven months of my study I accidentally figured out that I could request funds from one of his projects, but when I suggested to do this, he simply rejected my idea.

  5. When I ask about other possibilities to do research in this university, he replies that I must "search in Google" or "walk around and find them yourself", and he is not going to provide any information.

  6. Despite this I have managed to finish one piece of research, and he included three persons as authors whom I have never even seen and their background is not relevant at all, explaining that they are a part of his team. Additionally, it is a common thing for him to come and start explaining to me that I am not able to do anything. These are just words, and I am confident in my qualifications, but still it is annoying.

Before I started working here, I had five years of experience as a principal investigator, and I am able to do research without any supervision. However, his behavior totally blocks any possibility.

Question: Is there any legal procedure to request external check of my working conditions or his qualification as a supervisor? I will appreciate any other recommendations as well.

  • 25
    Don't walk. Run! – Shake Baby Jul 10 '17 at 2:34
  • 12
    Fire your postdoc supervisor. He is abusing you. He has demonstrated that he has no respect for you, either professionally or personally. He will not write you a strong recommendation letter when you go on the academic job market. Get out now. You can do far better. – JeffE Jul 10 '17 at 8:55
  • 5
    Why do you stay? – Captain Emacs Jul 10 '17 at 13:16
  • If you already have PI experience, you most probably already have enough experience to get some better (independent) position even if your present job has only limited success. The longer you stay here, the higher chance that you have a long, fruitless period in your CV. Leave as fast as you can. – Greg Jul 10 '17 at 16:11
  • We can't answer legal questions -- you'll need to talk to a lawyer if you're serious about that. Putting that aside, do you have a question? – David Ketcheson May 5 '18 at 19:22

I'm not sure how did you get to work with him, and if you can simply leave whenever you have a better offer. But, if you are to continue with him, he will bury your career. He wants from you to publish low quality papers, he doesn't provide you the minimal resources and cuts your ties with collaborators. Going like that, it should not surprise you that in two more years you're not employable anymore as a postdoc. So, the first advise is to run as soon as you can.

Where I live there are quite a few of this kind of "supervisors". They only need to publish a little every year to meet the requirements of the institution. They are also very good at isolating their students and postdocs from the rest of the community. That way they make sure they have enough people to supervise (needed to keep their research team leader status). People working with them slowly lose trust in their ability as scientists and cannot leave anymore to other labs. Worse even, many of these people are on temporary positions, so the supervisor uses this for their own gain.

It is unlikely that this person will change. If you cannot leave the university, it would be a good idea to try moving to a different supervisor at the same place. That will most likely make your current supervisor your enemy, but you aren't much better off with him as your friend. One of my colleagues did this because her supervisor would not assign her any work. The supervisor hates her now, but, at this moment, she's doing good research, so it seems to have been a good decision. In any case, it would be a bad idea to let your supervisor know of your intentions before having a new position.


First off, many post-doc positions are funded by a grant in the name of the supervisor for you (as the post-doc) to do the research of the grant-holder. That is, the supervisor applied for some grant funding with their own idea, was successful, and employed you to conduct the research. This is normal. You are not employed to write grant applications (which are time consuming), you are employed to do the research. In fact, in the previous EU research funding arrangements, employed post-docs had to keep timesheets and the university was only paid for time that the post-doc spent on the funded research - no time allocated for grant writing, teaching or even university meetings.

So it may be that you are have unreasonable expectations. If so, being suspicious will deteriorate the relationship further. Part of the reason I think there may be some miscommunication is your statement that the supervisor refuses to let you apply for grants. You don't say what country you are in, but rules about whether a post-doc can apply for grants are usually set by the funder, not the university. For example, grants labelled as Fellowships are for post-docs in United Kingdom. Most universities have some sort of 'research funding management' group, who can help identify sources of funds.

Having said that though, most supervisors are much more supportive about developing the employed post-doc and encouraging grant applications etc, and this is often part of the formal performance review. If you want to try and stay, then you will need to have a conversation about what you want out of the post-doc position - with an open mind about what is possible. If the supervisor says 'that's not possible' then you need to ask why, and ask what can be done instead.

Talk to some of the post-docs working with other supervisors and find out about their experiences. They may also have some suggestions about who to talk to at the university (eg a career development team).

If you don't care about staying, you probably need to apply for other positions as quickly as possible. You want to be able to use your previous supervisors for references.

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