Note: Please bear in mind that whilst this topic does canvass opinions, it is not a fight club. You may disagree with other posters but we do ask you please to stick to our Talk Guidelines and to be civil. We don't allow personal attacks or troll-hunting. Do please report any. Thanks, MNHQ.

to think he handled this atrociously?

(53 Posts)
CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 08:41:41

My younger sis has mild cerebral palsy resulting in hemiplegia which means she has weakness on the right side of her body. She can walk and talk fine, it mainly affects her hand, which is quite weak. The way my utterly useless parents have "helped" her with this is by totally ignoring it. She didn't even know what was wrong with her until she was old enough to look it up herself.
The only positive side effect of this neglect is that she has not let her disability hold her back at all. The flip side is that she never ever asks for help.
Anyhow, she has just completed her masters in biochemistry and is starting her PhD. She has had some trouble with lab procedures but she has managed them all in the end. She did really well in the masters and supervisors were vying to have her. She now has a PhD supervisor who cosied up to her and persuaded her to work with him (partly due to her excellent funding, won off her own merit.)
He called her into his office yesterday. Apparently someone she was working with in the lab told him about her hand and he was really annoyed she had "hidden it from him" and started banging on about how the lab could lose its accreitation if she did a specific procedure incorrectly (this is bullshit btw).
DSis was in floods of tears. He didn't say anything to make her feel better or suggest any help she could get and she left his office still crying.
Aibu to think that while it would have been sensible for her to tell him clearly she can do her work and the way he treated her was atrocious? Anyone who has practical advice on how to handle this, it would be very helpful. I already advised her to go to the disability support service.

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 09:16:20

To add I'm particularly annoyed because no one has made an issue of her hand before and I'm worried it'll knock her confidence.

DrSeuss Thu 17-Oct-13 09:17:34

She must make an appointment with the Head of Department, Faculty or whoever is at the top. At the uni I attended it would have been the Dean. She should explain that she has in no way compromised the work, that he was rude and discriminatory and should heavily reference the law on disability discrimination.
What a horrible man! She also needs a new supervisor. I wish my aunt had not retired a few years ago or maybe she could have taken on your sister as she was also a biochemist.
When she is Doctor whoever, she can be his boss and remark on his physical differences!

48th Thu 17-Oct-13 09:23:06

Yeah I don't know what would be best but what a shit. I would speak to his line manager. Has she written it down whilst fresh in her mind? Wanker. Hope she bounces back and squashes him.

tunnocksteacake Thu 17-Oct-13 09:28:21

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ChippingInNeedsSleepAndCoffee Thu 17-Oct-13 09:31:02

^^ What they have all said!!

What a wanker - I hope your sister is ok.

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 09:35:28

I don't know chipping, this has brought up a lot of hard stuff for her. She sounded so worried and upset on the phone. If I could punch that fucker in the face I would. Arsehole.

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 09:44:02

Tunnocks - do you know if she had any obligation to tell him about her disability?

stowsettler Thu 17-Oct-13 09:44:15

Bloody hell. Straight to the Head of Department, that's so obviously and blatantly disability discrimination that if I were his boss I'd be crapping myself.
Hope your sister's ok. She sounds like she's made of sterner stuff than to let some twat like this keep her down for long.

stowsettler Thu 17-Oct-13 09:44:48

I don't think she has any obligation at all - particularly as it doesn't affect her work.

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 09:53:14

The hard thing is she doesn't want to change supervisors as that would mean doing a different project and she's afraid if she kicks up too much fuss it'll make her life really hard for the next three years.

OutOfCheeseError Thu 17-Oct-13 10:23:14

I'm not for one second saying that this guy isn't a total arse for the way he has behaved, but this does require careful handling. The student-supervisor relationship can make or break a PhD, not just in terms of obtaining the qualification, but for all that subtle, unquantifiable career support a good supervisor can provide. I would suggest in the first instance, that your sister makes an appointment to talk to someone at the graduate school. Hopefully they can then arrange some mediation that reinforces how utterly inappropriate and disproportionate his response was, without permanently damaging their relationship (I make a point of this since you said that she wants to continue in his lab).

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 10:33:28

I agree cheese. I would love him be hauled over the coals but I worry that it would lead to bad feeling between them. He doesn't sound like the reasonable sort who'll admit his mistake and move on.

PurpleRayne Thu 17-Oct-13 10:37:44

What they said above. It needs sorting now, and properly. Three years is a long time with the wrong supervisor, it is a very intense relationship.

quoteunquote Thu 17-Oct-13 10:38:01

^^ these people are here to help people in your sister situation, good advice, students and education.

other ^^ useful numbers.

He needs reeducating, what a class A twonk.

CSIJanner Thu 17-Oct-13 11:00:06

I don't think she'll have to change projects if she has to change supervisor, especially as the university would have gained funding and research papers (meaning more potential funding plus publications) via your sister. If anything, I hope the supervisor is now shitting himself as he's left himself wide open for a disciplinary that would go on his permanent record. A the very less, he'll be required to do training with HR. As he called her into his office, it will be a case of he said - she said if he denies it. In those scenarios, unvitierities tend to side on the side of students as they are essentially doing the research and bringing in the funding (I'm coming at this from a computing school POV BTW). Also, usually there are lecturers/professors who's expertise overlaps to a certain regards to allow for teaching overlaps, so if the relationship is shot, she could potentially move. I've known Phd's move univisities if their funding allowed it!

You say your sister researched her condition herself and your parents ignored it? Has she actually been medically diagnosed? Has anything been mentioned on her application forms? If so, he's dropped the ball. If it easnt, she can request assement now if she wishes so the univeirity can offer support should she wish for it. Basically, because universities now rely more on outside funding and research, your sister is in a strong position as she's brought the funding with her. However she may want to talk to her sponsors/funders for their support. She also needs to take DrSeuss's advise and book an appointment with either the Dean or Head of School. She also needs to approach the universities disabilities services so she can have their support as well.

Please note, this is all from a registry and computing school POV. I know in our circles, its moe commonplace for the lecturer to be verbally lumped and the student to get support. And get her to print reems of disability laws to take into her meeting. HTH!

ffluffy Thu 17-Oct-13 11:46:41

YANBU at all. In my experience, PhD supervisors can have very few "people skills", having risen through the ranks due to their scientific ability rather than their ability to manage people. Your sister should have someone who manages her pastoral support who she can speak to. I would tell her to arrange a meeting with him/her AND the Dean/head of department to discuss what has happened.
Her disability will not effect her PhD, however her relationship with her supervisor might so I would tread carefully and see if this can be resolved amicably.

MaidOfStars Thu 17-Oct-13 11:49:46

Has he behaved badly? Yes, he's handled this dreadfully.

But...I work in a biology lab. Manual handling and dexterity is key to everything we do. This is not simply in order to get the job done, but also to be safe when handling chemicals and so on. So, I DO think she should have told him, sorry if that goes against the grain.

You say she has had trouble with lab procedures but has "managed them all in the end". It's not clear what this means. Does it mean she has found, where necessary, an effective workaround for each time she has to repeat these procedures? Does it mean she might always take just a bit longer to complete them? If she's not able to work to standardised procedures, and if such a requirement is necessary for specific accreditation (e.g. GLP, ISO certification), then it's just about reasonable that the supervisor is worried about losing said accreditation.

For me, this is a very tricky situation. If there might be genuine concerns about her ability to perform standardised work, then it becomes valid issue for discussion. Of course, it should be possible to adapt ones standardised procedures to allow for differing capacities. However, if your sister can genuinely do the job no bother, he's being a twat, and possibly discriminatory. I suspect this to be the case, as he clearly didn't notice anything until it was spelled out to him.

MoominMammasHandbag Thu 17-Oct-13 12:11:33

Surely she should change supervisors if at all possible. You cannot work with someone who has been rude, offensive and insulting to you. She needs to get angry.
I was brought up by parents to ignore and make light of my physical problems, and like your sister I never sought help, just tried to pass as "normal". Great in lots of ways.
But the problem was that my disability became something shameful, to be hidden.
Over time I have become "out and proud". This is me, yes I have a disability that makes it more difficult for me to do some things, but so what? I'm still pretty fantastic. These days no one could make me cry by pointing out my physical limitations. It's a nice place to be mentally.
On a more practical note, is it possible that your sister may benefit from physio, or simply from using adapted equipment in the lab? Being "out" can have lots of benefits for her.

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 14:22:44

Maid, I totally get you and would agree only that the thing he claimed might lose their accreditation is something DSis can definitely do (he didn't bother to ask first of course) and anyway all students have to receive training and be licensed in the procedure so if she couldn't do it then it would become obvious long before she was any threat to their accreditation.
As for other procedures it just takes her longer than others to pick them up. She knows how important accuracy is and she hasn't had an issue with it for the last five years that she's been studying in this area.

HerBigChance Thu 17-Oct-13 14:31:05

I would echo what a number of people have said. She should speak to the Dean and /or administrative head of the department or doctoral school.

While there may be safety concerns in a lab, they still need to make reasonable adjustments for your sister.

The academic has handled it very badly; academics sometimes play the 'head in the clouds/too busy being intellectual' schtick when it comes to poor people skills. It's important they don't get away with it.

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 14:36:15

To add maid, she's now worked with him for the last 5 months and he's never noticed or been alerted to a problem - the problems he brought up were purely imaginary and only used as a way to make her feel bad.
Janner - she has been diagnosed. Her cp is due to birth injury caused by hospital negligence. My parents could have sued and obtained damages to assist her but they didn't. She had physio and OT as a toddler (but my parents didn't do the exercises with her at home as she was "too stubborn") but my parents never talked about what was wrong. It was only when she researched it for herself that they confirmed she had cp.

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 14:45:05

Moomins your story seems similar to my sister's. My parents always made her feel she should keep quiet about it - her best friend didn't know about it for a year and a half. There are lots of small but significant ways my parents could have made life easier for her, they just didn't bother.

MoominMammasHandbag Thu 17-Oct-13 15:03:06

Cailin, are you being a bit harsh on your parents? I think that's just how people handled disability until fairly recently. Don't forget we are just a couple of generations away from disabled children being whisked away to special residential schools. Heck, 70 years ago the Nazis may have been rounding me and your sister up, never to be seen again. I think my parents motives were probably protective rather than negligent. And don't underestimate how difficult it can be to get a child to do physiotherapy.
But I do really think it would help your sister, both physically and emotionally, to openly acknowledge her disability now.

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 15:18:24

Moomins, tbh, I don't know. I agree with what you say about attitudes to disability (although DSis is only 24 so it's not that long ago) but I think my parents went beyond that. It was a family joke that DSis refused to walk anywhere. She was offen quite harshly teased about it by my parents. It was only recently I learned that if she did walk anywhere she would get horrendous cramps in her leg. Even basic compassion would tell you that mocking your child for avoiding walking due to pain caused by her disability is going a bit far, wouldn't it?

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 15:20:30

They actively pretended she wasn't disabled and if she told anyone about it my mother would act like she had revealed some deep dark family secret.

MoominMammasHandbag Thu 17-Oct-13 15:35:17

That's actually pretty awful Cailin. My parents teased me a bit - I still can't quite get my head around it.
But your sister sounds like she has managed to take some positives from it, learned to be resourceful and solve problems for herself. I imagine you are pretty proud of her. She needs to be really proud of herself now and not let this idiot get away with treating her like shit.

JuliaScurr Thu 17-Oct-13 15:42:55

I'm fairly sure this is illegal
Contact NUS

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 15:46:06

Tbh I feel quite guilty that I didn't pick up on all this sooner. I'm 7 years older and always pkayed a sort of motherly role with her as my parents are so immature. If she told my mum about this incident she would either start bawling and wailing how upset she is about it or (more likely) she would act like DSis is an embarrassment and make her worry she was going to get kicked out of uni.
Growing up she was always incredibly strong and independent but now I see a lot of that was just a part of playing along with my parents and in fact she would prefer to be "out and proud" as you call it. But yes I am always impressed by her - she is an extremely resourceful person.
One thing I worry about is that this has really caught her off guard and it's forcing her to face up to years of shit all at once.

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 16:16:38

Ffs it gets worse. Apparently he had another go at her today and said "seeing as you're not crying we need to discuss this" then tried to make out that she broke equipment due to her hand (not the case). Arsehole.
Oh and he is very high up in the department (won't say his position as don't want to give too much detail).

KeatsiePie Thu 17-Oct-13 16:36:26

What! He's now trying to blame her for breaking things she didn't break?!

I agree w/Dr. Seuss. She needs to talk to the dean or department head. Especially now. She needs to go in, reference the links, point out that it has never held her back before and that she would not allow it to compromise the lab's certification or licensing or whatever it is. And then she needs to make a big fuss about the fact that this man is actually trying to sabotage her career. She can't stay in his lab. Even if he is forced to apologize now, two years on someone will fuck something up and he will manage to make it her fault. What a horrible man.

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 17:03:25

She did break it Keats but not due to her hand, it was a genuine accident. The odd breakage here and there is normal and not a problem usually but now she feels she'll be under scrutiny for the most minor things.
Unfortunately she really doesn't want to leave his lab as that would mean completely changing project.

TallGiraffe Thu 17-Oct-13 17:12:42

I think she should put some serious thought into changing lab and project. I adored my primary supervisor and we are still very good friends afterwards. I loved my lab work, got great results etc etc. still the write up was the hardest 6 months of my life. My secondary supervisor could reduce me to tears with his corrections. The only PhD fails I've known about have all been due to relationship breakdown. Of course breakages happen.

Wish your sister all the best from someone on the other side.

What an arse. I leave all the legal/legislative side of it to those with more knowledge than me.

However, as a final-year biology PhD student: Is this guy her principal supervisor? Does she work with him daily, need him for practical and emotional support? Or is he just the guy in the office she'll see a couple of times a week while other lab-mates or a secondary supervisor are her real support?

Because if it's the former, she should change supervisors now. She will need a very good working and emotional relationship with her "daily contact". It would be stupidly hard to get through a PhD with a close-contact supervisor you don't like or respect.

However, if it's the latter, she should be fine. I'm in a similar position with my principal supervisor, but as I only have to see her here and there, and an well-supported by a good secondary supervisor and friends in the lab, it's okay.

CailinDana Thu 17-Oct-13 17:31:44

I'm not sure Annie. She hasn't mentioned a second supervisor so I fear she's stuck with him. Good luck with your work.

I totally agree TallGiraffe but I would seriously be fucked off if this wankbadger pushed her into doing a different project with his idiocy.

SeaSickSal Thu 17-Oct-13 17:38:17

Take it right up to the top. That is discrimination and it's disgusting.

Cailin - the actual project really is secondary to the training experience of the PhD. Most people move off into completely different fields afterwards. The supervisor and group you work with is what's really important, they're the ones who will carry you through the tough times and find those all-important opportunities and networks for career progression. Bad blood between a student and supervisor is no good for anyone, no matter how good the project seems on paper.

maddening Thu 17-Oct-13 20:39:37

If I was your dsis I would try and get some evidence - eg email to discuss what was said in the meeting - if he acknowledges what was said she would have a stronger case to take further. I think she needs a different supervisor too - they have a lot of input. If she isn't too far down the line changing sooner rather than later is a best bet.

murasaki Thu 17-Oct-13 20:54:42

She will have a second supervisor, you have to, but how involved they are can vary.

Basically she doesn't have to disclose unless she wants mitigating treatment, i.e. extra time in exams (obviously not relevant here) or someting like that.

But it can be in her interests to do so, although I totally get why she wouldn't.

It can be a minefield. I got in a tricky one where an MSc student disclosed to his supervisor that he was HIV+, as he was going to work part time in a lab at another institution (having told our disability (yeah yeah, but it's all we've got, if I know it seems odd) people). The supervisor, being a green academic himself came to me, I hadn;t a clue, so called the disability people.

They basically said it was down to me to decide what he should do, which as support staff I wasn't happy with, but he was happy to disclose, so we went ahead. I've still not forgiven the disability officer for basically shunting it onto me though.

She doesn't need to say if she doesn't want to and it doens't affect her work, health, and anyone elses, is what I'm trying to say.

And breakages happen everywhere, and the supervisor is an arse. And I would find working with him pretty tricky after this. Is there no one else in the institution who works in the same field? They won't want to lose her and her funding. Good luck.

CSIJanner Thu 17-Oct-13 21:00:04

Righteo - have just spoken to DH who is currently supervising 5 Phd's at the mo. he is disgusted on behalf of your sister. It doesn't matter how far up this man is, his behaviour is disgraceful and will bring the university into disrepute. Universities doesn't tend to like that muchly....

She needs to escalate this to disability and to either the head of school or Dean, preferably tomorrow. Can she talk to the graduate school or to her secondary supervisor (all Phd's have secondary supervisors)? It would be ideal if she has witnesses as well. Her secondary supervisor can take over as her main supervisor if it all gets heated/bitter, but the university in all likelihood will support your sister in this. Hope it gets better for her

FudgefaceMcZ Thu 17-Oct-13 21:09:33

I work in an accredited lab and have dyspraxia, and her supervisor is talking out of his arse. Accreditation is about record keeping and quality control, so you can trace things to see where something has gone wrong- not about nothing ever going wrong, which it will, even if labs are staffed only by completely able bodied people ffs. She also is under no obligation at all to disclose a disability unless she is requesting adaptations for it.

Sadly academic (and especially scientific) environments can be a bit backward about disability (along with gender, race, family obligations, etc etc), but there will be a member of staff responsible for pastoral care and conflict resolution regards supervisors being so horribly unprofessional, and she should probably seek them out and see if they can mediate or even just send her supervisor back for some diversity training which he ought to have had before supervising (most unis require this now).

Best wishes to your sister and hope she has success in completing her research.

KeatsiePie Fri 25-Oct-13 03:22:11

Shit, I just realized I somehow missed your response to me Cailin, I'm sorry. How is your sister? Was she able to escalate and get some appropriate intervention?

Degustibusnonestdisputandem Fri 25-Oct-13 08:34:58

To agree with other posters here, (I am a lab manager in Cambridge) this is utter bullshit, the supervisors behaviour is an absolute disgrace!

QuacksForDoughnuts Fri 25-Oct-13 11:24:00

Cailin, I have to admit I know bugger all about your sister's field as my PhD was in a social science, but having been in the equivalent position for three years (turned out to be the first half of a part time PhD, which I hadn't intended - that was part of the fallout) I echo everyone here who says your sister should get the fuck out of there as soon as possible. The longer she sticks around the more opportunity that guy has to gaslight her, mess up her reputation with other members of staff, give the other grad students the impression that she's somehow inferior, automatically pass her over for any opportunities that arise - you get the idea. I know it won't be easy, hell it may involve changing universities, but it's still better that she makes any move now while she's still considered someone departments would compete over and - more importantly - while she still has some conviction that the problem is with him rather than her. Because eventually that conviction will get eroded and it will be very difficult to rebuild any confidence afterwards. In my case it is still having knock-on effects as I try to publish, look for jobs etc.

CailinDana Fri 25-Oct-13 13:44:28

Sorry I've not been back sooner.

She's talked a couple more times with her supervisor who has displayed a staggering lack of understanding. She told him she wanted to have a meeting with another person (prob from disability support) present and his reply was that it wasn't necessary as she "can just tell him what she can and can't do." The bloody point is thar there's pretty much nothing she can't do - there has never previously been an issue in the last 24 years! He then went on to say that he was going to start telling people about her "problems" to which she replied very firmly that it was not his place to tell anybody and that he was not to discuss it with anyone without her being present. His response was "but we talk about students' academic issues all the time" prompting her to explain in very short words what the difference between a disability and an academic issue was. He sounds like a total twat.
Quacks your situation

CailinDana Fri 25-Oct-13 13:45:37

Quacks your situation sounds awful - can I ask what specifically happened?

CailinDana Fri 25-Oct-13 13:46:54

Quacks your situation sounds awful - can I ask what specifically happened?

MaidOfStars Fri 25-Oct-13 16:06:00

I'm just going to jump back on here....In light of your most recent post, I really think she needs to involve others here IMMEDIATELY. She should speak to BOTH university and student union disability officers. She will have a pastoral supervisor, charged with looking after her wellbeing - she needs to find out who this is (if she doesn't know) and go to them with this. She should also register her concerns with the academic in charge of postgraduate student research - they will be called the Postgraduate Tutor or something, and there will be one assigned to her department, if not her research theme. I also think a call to main university HR wouldn't go amiss either.

raisah Fri 25-Oct-13 16:59:49

Straight to the disability support service and a letter of complaint to the dean of the faculty copying in the head of dept, principle of the university & the student union. Once the union gets involved they wont let it go and your sister should go and speak to her student representative.

msrisotto Fri 25-Oct-13 17:20:51

Jesus he is a total shit. I do agree that she needs to involve higher ups, particularly as he is threatening to tell other people, he probably has already to be honest, if he's this cavalier about it in front of her.

KeatsiePie Fri 25-Oct-13 17:44:48

Good for her for saying he has no right and no business to "start telling people." What an asshole. I hope she's going to get the department and whoever else would be appropriate (sorry not in the UK so don't know who exactly) involved. She really cannot allow him to wreck her career and it sounds like he is hoping if he "starts telling people" enough (totally unwarranted) negativity will accumulate that she will have to leave the lab under a cloud.

I kind of think she should leave the lab anyway, though, is it too late for her to change to a different PhD supervisor? Seems like it would be better if she switched, if that can be done in a way that makes it clear that she is going to another professor's lab and will be an asset there as she would have been to this idiot.

Scrubberfucker Fri 25-Oct-13 18:19:55

My brother had an arsehole supervisor for his PhD who tried to jeopardize his data and results every step of the way. It took him 8 long years to finish it and it was a nightmare, but he did it. Not wanting to give in to the bastard and leave spurred him on.

Hope your sis stays strong.

I too have mild right hemiparesis with most of the damage concentrated in the hand. Rarely if ever declare it on job applications as it just wouldn't occur to me to do so.

The definition of a disability under the DDA is an impairment which has a "substantial and long term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities".. Does this apply to your sister? Doesn't sound like it. And if not, why should she have to declare something before any hypothetical obstacles materialise?

She should definitely seek advice from the uni's disability service. If the supervisor is so concerned about her ability to carry out her role, his first thought should be around what reasonable adjustments can be put in place to help with various tasks she finds difficult.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now