How to handle toxic former co-author

(16 Posts)
whowhowhoeee Mon 31-Oct-16 12:15:18

Hello everybody, will try to keep this brief.

I have this co-author with whom I have (theoretically) written three papers now in 3/4* journals and two book chapters. In reality, she has not written a single word of any one of these. They are based on my research, my data, and my ideas. Her role was to read them and comment but since she is not familiar with the relevant literature and refused to read it, her comments were (I now realise with more experience) at best superficial, at worst, misguided, sending me in the wrong direction. During the past three years or so, she has published just one other peer reviewed paper, which was written by someone else too. But, she is powerful in her field for reasons that would take a while to explain.

The point I am getting to is that she is often verbally aggressive towards me, in front of other people. At a meeting last week with some distinguished academics I feel that she deliberately set out to humiliate me. She is also often highly inappropriate - at one meeting she suggested I should get my tits out, for example! But on the other hand she can also do a kind of faux nicey-nice, which implies that she is a great support to the lowly whowho. She is convinced that I owe everything to her and that she has done me many great favours (she hasn't).

I no longer 'write' with her (thank God), but now I have reached the point that I don't actually want to be in the same room with her. In a few weeks, I am meant to be presenting at a meeting she has arranged, but desperately want to withdraw. (There is no advantage to me in presenting). But I am scared about pissing her off.

Has anyone been in a similar situation, not specifically, but generally, with someone like this? Is this part of academic life and should I just suck it up? Or should I stand up for myself and say enough is enough? (I am a lecturer, she is a professor, and we are no longer at the same institution).

whowhowhoeee Mon 31-Oct-16 12:15:54

Just realised that was not brief at all!

impostersyndrome Mon 31-Oct-16 14:24:31

I didn't want to read and run, though I have no easy solution to the long-term problem with this person, other than to avoid. I know in other circles it might make sense to confront her toxicity, but you're unlikely to get a fair hearing, from what you've described. As for the short-term workshop, I'd make up a rock-solid excuse and withdraw. Don't be afraid of her being angry with you for doing so.

By the way, if she's stupid enough to be aggressive in public, (that comment she made sounds like she's completely nuts!!) then she's the one who looks a fool, not you. Can you recruit anyone in your circle who has the seniority to create some sort of buffer between you at such events? It's not fair on you.

Lastly, rest assured that this is not a normal part of academic life. I've been in academia for many years (quite senior myself, in fact) and only rarely have I seen bad behaviour such as this. In a completely different scenario in fact, when stupid nastiness was directed against me, I managed to gather my wits and nerve and say the (male) professor was out of order and even got an apology. He still continued to be a so-and-so though, just a tad more respectful to me. Only you can judge whether a public confrontation would work.

Not brief either, I'm afraid. Hope that helps nevertheless.

whowhowhoeee Mon 31-Oct-16 16:15:38

Thanks so much for responding imposter. I have drafted an email to her this afternoon, to withdraw, but am chickening out. It's a bit like being in an abusive relationship, I keep thinking that perhaps I'm over-reacting. Wish this wasn't preoccupying me so badly.

fluffikins Mon 31-Oct-16 20:40:15

Sounds like she just likes having power over you. Take that away, send her the email saying you've double booked or whatever and then completely disengage

bumpetybumpbumpbump Tue 01-Nov-16 20:17:05

Is she allowed to only publish one paper in three years? It sounds like she could be using her behaviour to get ahead -or try to. There will be so many others who feel the way you do about this professor. So DO NOT take it personally. And I completely agree, disengage if possible. Don't explain, just say you can't make it. Keep doing your thing and working hard. I bet people love you.

Bountybarsyuk Tue 01-Nov-16 22:05:33

I don't think you were at my institution, but I know someone just like this! Egoistical, always pronouncing herself as right, uses others around her.

The rest of the faculty know the score, though. You mustn't think everyone else is convinced, they all know.

As for you, the most significant thing is that it is almost like an abusive relationship- these people make you feel sorry for them and bad if you try to move on. So, don't. You need to get away, break contact and not go to her workshop (just make up any excuse). You then need to distance yourself from her entirely.

You can't reason with people like this as they are not reasonable else they wouldn't have published nothing but your work and treat you like crap in public. They are convinced by their own genius, but no-one else will be, so just move on and chalk it up to experience.

It's not a standard part of being an academic, but it's a very common one where the younger/junior person isn't sure of the boundaries so gets taken advantage of, often these type of people deliberately employ or have students who are very nice (too nice), trusting and don't want to rock the boat, and sometimes more vulnerable.

This person is not nice, you don't owe them anything, just move on and out of their little circle, it won't break your career as it's not made by one person.

lougle Tue 01-Nov-16 22:43:26

Don't make the mistake of thinking that you're the only one who feels like this. People like this create an air about them that causes those they pick on to believe that everyone else thinks they're wonderful. Generally, most everyone else will be just glad that they are under the radar of this person and will be fully aware of her traits.

Draft a very simple email. 'Thank you for your kind invitation to attend x event. I am now unable to attend so must regretfully withdraw my acceptance. I wish you every success for the evening. Best wishes, whowhowhoeee.' Then don't think about it again.

bumpetybumpbumpbump Wed 02-Nov-16 10:14:20

Are teachers allowed to swear?

QuinionsRainbow Wed 02-Nov-16 11:27:13

* Her role was to read them and comment but since she is not familiar with the relevant literature and refused to read it, her comments were (I now realise with more experience) at best superficial, at worst, misguided, sending me in the wrong direction.*

So why did she end up being a co-author on your work?

bumpetybumpbumpbump Wed 02-Nov-16 12:55:36

Sorry I posted on the wrong thread there-woops!

cordeliavorkosigan Mon 28-Nov-16 21:01:55

Get your ducks in a row before you go up for promotion -- make sure there are people they can ask for promotion letters who aren't her and aren't likely to have been swayed by anything she might be saying about you. Perhaps when it comes time for that you can point out that as she is a close co-author she has a conflict of interest and should not be asked to write for you.

cordeliavorkosigan Mon 28-Nov-16 21:03:24

And yes, I agree -- unless there is a professional advantage to you to go and speak at this event (and you've said there isn't), make a solid excuse (hospital, child, phd viva you'd put in the diary for the wrong date, whatever) and just don't bother. Probably long done by now anyway smile

anonymice Mon 28-Nov-16 21:10:28

Disengage. This happened to me. Best thing I ever did. I did it politely and just said I was too tied up with other commitments. We are also no longer at the same institution, nor am I reliant on her for references or any favours. Definitely disengage.

whowhowhoeee Mon 05-Dec-16 16:34:21

Hi all. A belated thanks for all your answers. I have been caught up in all the end of term madness and kept meaning to write a reply and not quite managing it. Well I didn't do the talk, but I think I wasn't quite as temperate as I could have been in my interaction with her. Silly me. I am not sure what will happen next but hopefully no major negative repercussions. Thanks again for replying, it has been a help.

MarasmeAbsolu Wed 07-Dec-16 22:20:32

I have to deal with a similar prized twat, who sadly has got the power to make my life crap [administratively]. We are talking passive-aggressive to full aggressive public comments and put downs in meeting [never heard anything like the tits thing though - that s hard].

My strategy is to channel my very blunt DH. I take all my emotions, package them tightly, start speaking rather slowly and in a deeper voice that I actually feel like and say dumb stuff like "Mary, I hear what you are saying, and I find it rather inappropriate / unfair / a moot point / unreasonable / whatever else is appropriate". And then I pause. And I pause a little more. And I look around the room. And then I add... "but maybe it's just me".

My DH does this to me, and it drives me crazy. It drives her crazy too.

But at the end of the day, it has stopped me crying like an idiot in very public meetings after one of her shitty little put-down.

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