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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?

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