1. Not finding help here? Sign up for a free 30min tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Other Am I too sensitive for graduate school?

  1. Jun 21, 2016 #1
    This is silly, you can say it's silly and I respect that. It also seems like a thread that I would roll my eyes at and say "if you have to ask this, you probably are."

    The situation is as follows. I'm a second-year graduate student working in an experimental lab. There is a postdoc here who is very hostile to me and me only, to the point of actually shouting at me. This is a personality clash with me, since I cry easily when yelled at. I am still learning so when I do/say something wrong, he just screams "NO!" and is very frustrated with me (which I understand, this is justified), or when I go to find him I get a "what do YOU want?"

    Now, all of this is fine, great, dandy. People have clashes, postdocs get frustrated, nothing new. However, I cannot control my crying when somebody yells at me (yes, I'm a baby! haha) but I find it SO embarrassing to have this be a daily occurrence. Were it possible to speak to someone higher up I would, but having spoken to my PI only once in the 4 months I've been here it seems like a poor idea.

    The only thing I can come up with is to switch groups, but I really enjoy the work that I do and cannot think of another lab that I would be as interested in.

    I'm hoping that anyone here can give me advice. This has gotten to the point where I dread going to work in the morning which is very unlike me.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 21, 2016 #2

    MarneMath

    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    Honestly, no one should be forced to endure verbal abuse from a peer. If the person is aware that yelling or shouting makes you cry, then they should control their temperament, especially in a professional environment. Failure to do so, in my opinion, is lack of professionalism on their part and on my team would be grounds for reassignment and if the problem persist eventual termination.

    I advise you to speak to this person and document that you have notified this person that their behavior towards you is unappreciated and that you would very much like for them handle themselves in a more professional matter. If that doesn't resolve the issue, then I would speak to your PI and notify the PI of the issue. As a manager, I am often unaware of the internal strife that may occur within my teams or among cross-coordinating teams and I will remain unaware until someone mentions it to me. Usually, the person just needs to be talked to and realize that teaching a new person can be annoying but that frustration is no grounds for rudeness. Although I did have one time when I had to fire an individual for failing to correct their actions.

    So in summary. Discuss the matter with the individual. If that fails, discuss the matter with your PI. If that fails escalate more. It's your life, your career, do not like someone's actions dictate your life's direction.
     
  4. Jun 21, 2016 #3

    atyy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    If you enjoy the work and would like to stay in the group, then maybe you should consider that you are probably not the only one being embarrassed. Maybe the postdoc is embarrassed too (yeah, I made people cry too :oops:).
     
  5. Jun 21, 2016 #4

    StatGuy2000

    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    To the OP,

    You are not being silly at all by bringing this up. Workplace harassment and abuse (which is what this is) is a serious issue, and should be taken very seriously.

    I absolutely agree with what MarneMath has suggested. No one should be forced to endure verbal abuse from a peer. From what you describe it to me, the problem lies with the postdoc, who is behaving in an inappropriate, unprofessional manner, and not to you.

    Definitely discuss the matter with the individual at hand, and if that doesn't work, speak to the PI, and escalate the issue if that does not resolve the issue.
     
  6. Jun 22, 2016 #5

    Choppy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Graduate school is not about measuring how thick a person's skin is. It's about learning how to become a scientist.

    It's justified to correct you or point out what you've done wrong. It can even be justified to get frustrated with someone. Screaming is unprofessional behaviour though and is not generally a justifiable behaviour in a lab.

    This seems a little odd to me. If this person is your supervisor than you need to be meeting with him or her on a more frequent basis - even if this person has essentially handed you off to a post-doc. When someone agrees to supervise a graduate student there are certain obligations that come with that. It doesn't matter how busy this person is or what grant is due, there is an obligation to supervise your graduate work and that can't be done only once every four months - particularly if you are just beginning a project. If you can't make an appointment to speak with him or her, you need to speak to the associate chair of your department or your graduate advisor.
     
  7. Jun 22, 2016 #6

    chiro

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    In addition to the good advice offered above, I'd recommend thinking of how you can get the workplace boundaries acknowledged and dealt with.

    Getting these boundaries acknowledged is something all people who work together have to do at some point and if you do it professionally it should help clear up problems.

    Don't see that as a sign of weakness to do so - as I said, many professional people try and do this as early as possible so that what you are going through can be avoided and if necessary the dispute can be resolved effectively.
     
  8. Jun 23, 2016 #7

    Student100

    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    I don't know how I feel about the above advice. I believe it's true that no one should have to work in a hostile work environment, but it seems overly idealized to believe that no one will ever be yelled at in "professional" work environments, or that they're always "professional."

    I don't think you should quit graduate school. Even if you did that, you'll still eventually be yelled out for screwing up at the work place. You're going to be yelled at outside of the workplace. Sometimes people are hostile to one another. It's a fact of life. So do you need to develop a thicker skin? Yes. Instead of crying, you internalize the yelling into something positive. In the case of the workplace, it's generally becoming better at your job.

    It's also probably a good idea to look at the whole thing in context. Is the postdoc continuously correcting you after he's trained you to do a task? Did he try to provide constructive training on how to preform some task several times and you still mess it up? Something like that would frustrate anyone, no matter how "professional" they may be. Eventually, instead of the initial positive reinforcement and on the job training, people will often resort to negative tactics to get someone to hopefully correctly do their job, I.E, shouting. I think the majority of us who've worked a job long enough have all been there.

    From reading the post, I feel like this may be the case, correct if I'm wrong though.

    So instead of going to the PI, get better at doing your job. When you're shown how to do something or what to do, take detailed notes. When doing the same task again later on your own, take your time and analyze what exactly you're doing and why. Don't give the postdoc a justification to yell. If he does yell at you for messing up again, instead of crying, admit your mistake and learn from it. It may take a lot of time to normalize your relationship with the postdoc, so give it some time and always continue to strive to be better at your job.

    If you aren't being properly trained, or the postdoc is being hostile regardless of work performance to only you, then it justifies first speaking to the postdoc, then the PI if necessary.
     
  9. Jun 23, 2016 #8
    Thank you all so much for the advice, especially @Student100 who i believe gave the advice most suited for my situation. I do not consider my work environment to be a "hostile work environment", nor do I believe that the yelling is unjustified in many cases, but simply as a result of me not being as familiar with my work as I should be. Some things are a matter of experience and knowledge, and some things are a matter of paying attention - the latter case is something that I deserve to be yelled at for.

    Also, I wish that crying were an entirely emotional response that I could just stop doing, but I can't, hence the problem. Although the logical part of me knows that there's no reason to cry, my tear ducts don't agree, which is silly.

    However, after discussing this with a couple of labmates, I now know the reason behind the frustration and that it lies with him and not me, rendering the point of "what can I do to prevent this" null and void.

    Again, thank you all for your input!
     
  10. Jun 23, 2016 #9

    radium

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Being able to deal with criticism is one thing, but you should not have to endure constantly being yelled at. That's bullying. It's possible that the post-doc may be taking his frustration out on you because he senses that you are vulnerable.
    Is there someone in your grad program you can talk to confidentially? They might be able to give you advice to help you deal with these situations and your emotional response.
     
  11. Jun 24, 2016 #10

    Choppy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I think you're misinterpreting something here. I don't think anyone is saying that yelling will not occur in a work environment. What we're saying it that it's not appropriate. In the academic environments I've worked in, the described behaviour could very well result in disciplinary action against the person yelling. Just because something happens doesn't mean that it's appropriate or that it should be tolerated.
     
  12. Jun 24, 2016 #11

    radium

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I strongly agree with the above. The postdoc himself would benefit if this is dealt with in the proper manner since this could get him in trouble later on when there are higher stakes:

    I also sense (based on your name) that there may possibly be a gender thing going on. I say this because I know of several cases where women were bullied by someone in their research group (sometimes even by their PI) and it corresponds to a pattern of behavior for the agressor. It may not be intentional on their part, but like I said, when people sense someone is vulnerable it makes it likely that they will become a target.
     
  13. Jun 24, 2016 #12
    You should definitely talk to someone about this and not let this go on further. I don't think you are being too sensitive, I think that post doc is being extremely unprofessional!


    Consider talking to another professor that you can trust and seek their advice as well.
     
  14. Jun 24, 2016 #13

    vela

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor

    Your and Student100's expectations seem kind of wacky to me. It's one thing to understand that repeated failures may frustrate your co-workers; it's another to think that verbal abuse is an appropriate and deserved response.
     
  15. Jun 24, 2016 #14

    ZapperZ

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    I completely agree with vela.

    Verbal abuse is NEVER appropriate in the workplace, regardless on whether it happens frequently or not. In many US labs, anyone could get into REAL trouble for dishing out such abuse.

    I've trained many students, both graduates and undergraduates of both genders. Have they screwed up now and then? Of course! Have I gotten frustrated? Many times! And have I lost my temper? You betcha! But none of these occurs frequently, and I often sat down later on with the student in question and calmly explained why such and such shouldn't have been done. A mistake is wasted if the person making the mistake cannot or did not learn from it.

    There is also a difference between passionate, heated arguments, versus verbal abuse. Someone with a higher authority will have an unfair advantage in any kind of "arguments" in the sense that you can't yell back at that person.

    Here's the "take-home point": if you do not look forward to doing your job because of how you feel you are being treated, then it is a valid problem and MUST be addressed, rather than being swept under the rug and ignored. You are unconsciously being "trained" to accept being abused and you are self-blaming this on you. It doesn't matter if you are prone to bouts of crying. Being repeatedly yelled at at ANY job is not acceptable.

    Is your PI inaccessible via e-mail? Is there no one at your school who can help? Is there no one at your department who you can talk to? Are you not aware of your Dean of Student office? Any school worth its salt (especially in the US) WILL and SHOULD have some sort of support for you especially if your supervisor is not accessible.

    There are plenty of things here that just do not sound right.

    Zz.
     
  16. Jun 24, 2016 #15

    Student100

    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    I'm not only trying to argue that it happens, but that in some cases it is an appropriate response. Maybe I'm more okay with than others since I was desensitized to shouting in the military and the defense industry.

    The case I'm thinking about, the one of the shouting being justified if nothing else seems to be working, I'd ask whats the alternative ? Not caring or giving up on someone? Firing/Removal from the work group? Personally, I'd rather be yelled at and at least have another chance to fix whatever the issue is that's causing that much frustration. Some people respond better to negative stimuli, and it's in my view it's worth trying before letting someone go.
     
  17. Jun 24, 2016 #16

    ZapperZ

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    Check with your HR if this is an appropriate behavior. It doesn't matter a hoot what you or I think. If the company or organization or institution that you work for says it should not be done, then it should not be done. Period.

    Zz.
     
  18. Jun 24, 2016 #17

    Student100

    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    I don't necessarily understand her response, and was trying to read into context in the original post that may or may not be actually there. I originally replied because it seemed like many of the posters were turning the OP into a victim, which they may or may not actually be. So I offered my point of view, with that said, my expectations of work place etiquette do certainly veer off from norm, I'd reckon.
     
  19. Jun 24, 2016 #18

    MarneMath

    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    I spent 10 years in the infantry and I can honestly say that even a dumb grunt like myself knows very well that yelling is unacceptable outside of the military. I would even argue that yelling at young privates was my least efficient way of training them in new task while calm, patient and repetitive feedback produced soldiers who were able to think calmly quickly and efficiently.

    The case you may be thinking about doesn't even seem to apply here. This person is training the individual and is not their supervisor and has no ability to "remove or fire" the person. They may complain, be annoyed or whatever, but I doubt the conflict between one person is ever enough grounds to eliminate a student from a PhD program. If you feel that your methods are not working then have a discussion with the individual or ask your supervisor to remove you from the mentorship since you feel inefficient. There's a myriad of solutions that exist outside of yelling.

    Lastly, if a person dreads the prospect of going to work, then clearly the person is the victim of some form of abuse at work. As a manager, and as a human begin, I have a responsibility to be inclusive for my team members and give them the opportunity to grow. Part of growth is making mistakes and when people start to fear making mistakes you have to be aware that you created a toxic environment. I doubt that the OP is the only person who feels the way they do with regards to this person.
     
  20. Jun 24, 2016 #19

    Student100

    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Did you read my original post? There's a difference between yelling at someone when trying to teach them a new task, and yelling when they repeatedly fail to properly carry out a task they've been trained to do.

    Did you read the same OP? Even the OP believed it was justified.

    Sure, lets just remove them from a group they want to work for- that's the PC thing to do I guess.

    There's plenty of times I've dreaded going to work, none of them ever involved some form of abuse. Further, repeatedly making the same mistakes often resulted in people getting fired, at least at most of the jobs I worked. Toxic environment? Being that thin skinned where you feel fear from being justifiably corrected will result in you being the victim the rest of your life.


    I'm sure it isn't. I'm also sure there are lots of things work groups and individuals do which are against HR policy. Part of being a team is first trying to resolve your own internal team issues- which takes all parties involved.

    Regardless, I would talk to the postdoc himself before going to HR/the PI/ other people to try and resolve the issue.

    The OP should communicate more with the PI in general though, that's something I do agree with.

    Anyway, to each their own. If someone yells at me for making mistakes or not paying attention when I should know better, I try to become better at whatever it was, not documenting occurrences or getting HR involved. I'll just agree to disagree with everyone. You do what you feel best OP from the well rounded advice given.
     
  21. Jun 24, 2016 #20

    MarneMath

    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    Not really. The end result is yelling is wrong. Furthermore, just because you've shown someone how to do something once or twice doesn't change the "newness" of a task. It takes many months for complex task to eventually be ingrained and all the small nuisances with working with new technology to be fully appreciated. Nevertheless, it is never okay to yell at someone, regardless if it's new or old material.

    Women of verbal or physical abuse often feel that the abuse is justified, so clearly we should remain silent since the victim "deserved" the abuse Also, what's with the false dichotomy ? Are the only options in your mind to accept the abuse or leave the group? Is having a meaningful discussion with the individual or the PI just a huge hurdle that no good could possibly from such action? There exist reasonable middle grounds that result in no yelling and the person remaining at the job. However, those resolutions do not occur in the vacuum. It requires the person to discuss the issue and raise it as an issue.

    Sure, sometimes I dread going to work because of 6 hour meetings. However, the OP specifically stated that THIS issue (i.e. the verbal abuse) is the cause for why they dreads going to work, so it's rather moot that you, as an individual never faced this or that there exist other reasons why someone would dread going to work. Yes, repeated mistakes do lead to a person being fired, but prior to getting fired a person should not be abused as some misguided attempt to save the person. Honestly, I feel like a supervisor talking to the individual about the performances and clearly stating that more mistakes of similar nature will lead to an immediate termination would probably reenforce the need to be proficient more so than a peer yelling at them and essentially instilling the fear of making mistakes into the person. This has nothing to do with being "thick skinned" or proving how tough you are as a person. While I am the type of individual to take things in stride and not much of anything really bother me, I'm also empathic and responsible enough to know that some people require a more gentle approach to bring the best out of them. Part of being a good leader and a good teammate is knowing which approach works for different people instead of forcing them to adapt to you. Perhaps you should be less concerned with growing thick skin and more concerned with learning how to manage a team where victims aren't created in the first person.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted