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Problems with a PhD student- personal not academic

31 replies

GameOldBirdz · 05/10/2016 14:38

Sorry if this is lengthy but I want to explain the situation fully.

I have a very good RCUK funded PhD student just into his second year.

In March, he split up from his long-term girlfriend. The day after she told him it was over, he came in for a pre-arranged supervision. He was heartbroken, cried and the meeting turned into more of a therapy session than supervision. I didn't mind at all.

After that he became a bit more needy with supervision. That was okay but I mentioned it to him in a friendly way. He said his personal issues had knocked his confidence and made him question why he was even in the UK doing a PhD any more. The plan had been for them both to come to the UK (from EU countries) and do their PhDs. Now he's here alone. So, that was all understandable.

Then on a few occasions I'd mentioned workshops/events that I was going to and when I arrived I'd find he was there even though it was irrelevant to his work. After these workshop/events, he'd make a point of coming to find me to travel back to the department/city together. I, again, put this down to him being a bit needy and also procrastinating because he had a big review to write!

A couple of weeks ago, we were at the same conference. The conference was in the city I grew up in so I met up with an old friend who's gay (relevant) and a party animal. After the conference dinner, a group of us delegates (about 15 people, mix of PhDs, postdocs, lecturers and SLs) went out to a club. My gay, party animal old friend met us there.
At the club, me and my old friend were dancing the way only fag hags and gay men can (dirty dancing, grinding basically). A couple of times my PhD student also started dancing with me like this which I felt really uncomfortable with so I laughed it off and walked away.

We were all pissed that night by my PhD student was more drunk than the rest of us. At one point he told he he thought I was really sexy, that he'd fancied me for ages and when we arrived back at the hotel he tried following me to my room and I had to work quite hard to persuade him he wasn't coming in.

I should say that this clubbing with PhD students isn't atypical in my discipline or at this particular conference. The group I was out with had a few PhD/supervisors. I also don't think I overstepped the boundary in offering him support when his relationship broke down. Okay, grinding with a friend in a club with my PhD student wasn't my best show but this conference is well known for being a hot bed of debauchery so others have done much worse (not that that's an excuse).

He's been back home for a couple of weeks but is due in for supervision on Friday. I'm a bit apprehensive about him coming in. He's hurting from his relationship breakdown and is on the rebound. I've been kind to him and he's attached himself to that.

Do I mention that I feel things have become murky and that we need to reset some boundaries? Or do I leave it and assume he'll get over his heartbreak and move on from whatever weird crush he has on me?

Sorry for the long post. I feel really conflicted about it all and there's no-one in my department to really speak to about it.

OP posts:

GameOldBirdz · 07/10/2016 13:34

OneFoot He's great. He's always been a very nice colleague but I was still pleasantly surprised by the hugely, unwaveringly supportive tone Smile

The student's coming along at 2pm. I'm feeling very nervous about- I'm shit at awkward conversations at the best of times.

I'm MNing until he gets here.

OP posts:

GameOldBirdz · 07/10/2016 15:12

Oh wow, that was the worst supervision session ever. Awkward as fuck.

I'm in another meeting in 15 minutes so not much time to update.

He claims to not remember much at all from that night but was, nonetheless, hugely apologetic when I said he'd said some inappropriate things and acted in an inappropriate way towards me.

I said I think we just need to be clear what the relationship is about and where the boundaries are. I stressed that I'm able to support him as a supervisor when personal issues get in the way of research but that's it. "This is", I said "a professional relationship".

He looked at me like I'd grown another head and I was wondering if he's wondering why on earth I'm saying all of this if he actually can't remember what happened. Then I thought "Fuuuuck, what if he thinks we slept together or kissed or whatever". But I didn't want to give him the thought that we might have done so I didn't say anything more but I could feel myself going red which, in my head, was completely cementing his thoughts that we'd definitely had a fumble.

So, then we talked about his plans for the next few weeks and that's all good.

Then at the end of the meeting, he produces a huge box of chocolates for me which he brought back from his visit him. Now, this isn't unusual- last time he went home he brought me back some beer Grin. This last time he was with his girlfriend so I don't necessarily think the chocolates are anything to do with his 'crush'.

Well, I know I should have said "Remember what we just spoke about, a professional relationship... I can't accept these" or "..I'll put them in the staff kitchen for everyone to share". But instead I stood there, surrounded by my office nick-nack collection comprised wholly of presents from students, and say "Ah, that's really kind, thanks" and started salivating over the idea of munching my way through them tonight.

I know I should put them in the kitchen, send an email around telling everyone that he's brought chocolates for us all. But, everyone but me and the administrator has gone home and, well, I want them all to myself.

OP posts:

OneFootinFront · 07/10/2016 15:21

Put the email around, mentioning the student & how he brought chocolates for everyone, eat most of them, leave a few, put the box in the kitchen.

Done Grin

Congratulations on a direct address to the problem. He may have been faking not remembering to save face (his and yours).


GameOldBirdz · 07/10/2016 15:42

Hmm, I did wonder if he was faking that TBH.

I've just sent the email around and put them in the kitchen. Sad

OP posts:

Bountybarsyuk · 07/10/2016 19:35

The support from your colleague was excellent- but you haven't actually taken it up. It's still you and him, awkward experiences, boxes of chocolates. I know cultures differ, but you now really really can't afford to just leave it as the status quo. Email the Dr of Postgrad studies, thank them for their support and then ask who the new mentor/second supervisor is going to be and make the next meeting with all of you.


GameOldBirdz · 10/10/2016 11:37

Bounty Thanks for that. Sorry I didn't update over the weekend.

I took your advice and emailed the Director of PG Studies this morning.

I said that I'd appreciate another supervisor coming on board with the project for personal more than academic reasons. I'm not sure this is going to happen TBH- we're thin on the ground in terms of staff numbers and there's huge resistance to taking on additional workload (as there should be, the university is being shit in not letting us advertise jobs).

Thanks for your support as well Smile

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