PGs have come to me for help in stopping exploitation by one of my colleagues

(11 Posts)
SomePig Mon 30-Jan-17 21:42:27

PG student in my department with whom I have a good relationship has come to me and told me that she was asked to do some editorial/RA work by a colleague. The work was unpaid, and when she did not do it perfectly he was cross and criticised her. I think she was more upset about the criticism than she was (initially) about being asked to do the unpaid task in the first place, which I think would have taken a few hours or less.

Now I have heard that this same colleague has asked other PG students - all women - to do similar unpaid editorial/RA work. Some did the work, fearing the repercussions when he wrote them references. One refused to do the work and then got a lukewarm reference.

When I heard all of this I wanted to immediately report it to my head of department, but I didn't as the PGs didn't want to go down that route. I feel my hands are tied - the PGs (understandably) are very leery of 'reporting' him because they fear that there will be repercussions for them, they will look like troublemakers etc. As well as the blatant abuse of power by my colleague, I am dismayed because I remember so well the feeling of having to stay on the right side of academics as a PG because you never knew when they would have power of life or death job or no-job over you.

Colleague is senior to me. When I first arrived I had to fend off a few requests from him to do work that should have been his job but that he was trying to get me to do. I have spoken up a few times fairly robustly in meetings against decisions he has made - courteously and not in an attacking way, just to show I am not a doormat - and thankfully no more requests have come my way. I don't like him, but I have to work with him, and there is a fair amount of overlap in our areas so I don't want to antagonise him unnecessarily. I'd just like him to stop asking grown women to do unpaid wifework for him angry

Has anyone had a similar experience in their department? Any HoDs have advice on how best to resolve this? I will feel like a rubbish human being unless I try and do something. I just don't know what I can do.

OP’s posts: |
MarasmeAbsolu Mon 30-Jan-17 23:16:50

hmm - are you my colleague from level 3 ????

I have the same - ours never got "tackled" despite being reported, and continues with the same shit. The reporter left soon after, and he never say a good thing about them. All his people seem to take on similar no-paid work, and defend him when advised to not go into such arrangements. Very Stockholm syndrome.

In our case, the PG students are referred to the PGR convenor - but technically, there is not much to be done if they have agreed to take on the extra work for no pay.

SomePig Mon 30-Jan-17 23:38:04

I'm not on level 3, no ... but if we are in the same building then there's quite a view out the windows ...

It's interesting to know it goes on elsewhere. It's not Stockholm syndrome in my case, though - the PGs are doing it under duress. Was your reporter a student or a colleague? I am curious to know how bad it may get for me if it becomes clear I'm the person who reported it, or gave moral support to the PGs if they end up reporting it.

OP’s posts: |
BackforGood Mon 30-Jan-17 23:45:56

I think you should ask to speak to the HoD (or a more immediate line manager if there is one) and explain that it has been brought to your attention by several PGs that this has been going on, and that they are not happy but are scared to report it individually for fear of their references, which is why they have asked you to make a complaint on their behalf. It's not you complaining about your colleague - you've got nothing to gain by doing so - but it is bringing it to the attention of someone who supervises your colleague, so it is then their responsibility.
Part of your responsibility is to look after the welfare of those PGs who work alongside you.

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Tue 31-Jan-17 08:45:27

I have a female colleague that does this- gets her PhD students to do unpaid work like fix references for papers, write papers with their name second even though it's their ideas. It's very hard to show that this is beyond the usual collaborative working practices, what ends up happening is they go along with it for a few years, but at some point realise that it's not ok, then they fall out.

In her case, I rarely see her these days, and don't know her current PhD students, but in the past I have advised them on what to expect/what is permissible and encouraged them to stand up to her. I have not taken it to management though, as it's not clear she's asking for 'unpaid work' in blocks of time on unrelated work, it's more slippage in the PhD/supervisor relationship. She has been in disciplinary procedures with a research fellow and they found more or less in her favour! I pay my students for work such as fixing references, putting together literature reviews, anything where an extra pair of hands helps that gives them experience to go on their CVs. Would never allow someone to act as an unpaid intern and our university doesn't allow or advertise them so if you have a policy on this it may be a starting point.

MarasmeAbsolu Tue 31-Jan-17 09:08:23

For us - reporter was PG student.
I, and others, have been vical to our hod to what is rampant exploitation - to no avail. Seems to be the expected norm (not helped by the stockholm issue of some of the students).

CatAmongPigeons Tue 31-Jan-17 13:49:06

I'd refer it to Director of PG studies in the first instance, then HoD. Has the PhD student talked to her supervisor about this, or is the person asking her to do the work the supervisor?

SomePig Tue 31-Jan-17 14:03:32

Director of PG Studies is not likely to be helpful, unfortunately. HoD will though, I hope. There are, shall we say, supervisor-type relationships at stake so it isn't as simple as asking the students to report to the supervisor. I also want to have a chat to them about when/how to say no, but will have to figure out how to do that without being patronising.

I think I know what I need to do now. Thanks to everyone for their comments.

OP’s posts: |
Foureyesarebetterthantwo Wed 01-Feb-17 09:58:31

I think whatever you do, it's really important to let them know that this is not typical, and that it is taking advantage. It's hard for PhDs and research fellows dependent on the supervisor to say no, they may also not know what level of co-operation or co-production is normal, so by pointing out this is not normal (sounds like some of them have worked this out), this helps them work out what they want to do next.

I would advise any PhD having difficulties now to swap supervisor, the ones I know that are crap (supervisors) never get better through any amount of quiet words, and funnily enough, the ones who use the students the most are often the least responsive in terms of commenting on work. For some reason, swapping supervisors is rarely done, but I would advise students with domineering taking advantage supervisors to simply move away from them, as trying to change them is futile, they just find new victims and claim they were 'collaborating'.

MarasmeAbsolu Wed 01-Feb-17 10:24:39

Interesting re swapping 4eyes - it s done a bit here. One of mine left to other supervisors. I lost their project and funding, and while i was a bit pissed off, it was a blessing in disguise. I also took on someone who left a supervision which was "tense" - time will tell if this was strategically astute as he seems a bit of a pain. And i cannot say the supervisor who was left is too happy either (but then, they exhibit the behaviour discussed here)...

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Wed 01-Feb-17 12:51:22

marasme yes, it depends on the reason for the move, there is always the worry that the student is basically unsupervisable and that's why the supervisor is encouraging them to move on! I had a case like this and said no to the student, as it was far from clear to me why two separate supervisors in the previous department hadn't been able to resolve the difficulties with the student, they just seemed like trouble and also had a history of making complaints, again with supervisors that were successful with tens of other students.

That's probably unhelpful as it means students that make complains are treated unfairly, because the suspicion is they may do the same to you. I have taken on Masters or even UG with a history of complaints but only under strict rules for going forward (including supervising in earshot/sight of other colleagues and communicating all advice via email to avoid misinterpretation!)

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