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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 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.

AnnieLobeseder Thu 17-Oct-13 17:21:52

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.

AnnieLobeseder Thu 17-Oct-13 18:41:41

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.

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