Ph.D. Harassment Story – “He used to call me ‘idiot’, ‘stupid’, ‘dumb’, ‘callous’ and what not”

To begin with, while I was going through my Ph.D. interview in IIT, I was asked to give a preference list of three potential Ph.D. supervisors. But I was assigned, Dr. S. A (name changed) even though I had not listed his name. Later I received a call from Dr. S. A (name changed) who informed me that I had been selected and he’d be supervising me because he liked me during the interview; he further wanted to know if I’d be joining the institute or not.

S.A (name changed) has his specialization in Behavioural Economics, however, I was not really willing to work on that area. I was disappointed when I wasn’t assigned anyone from my preference list, nevertheless, I decided to take admission as I was under the impression that an institution which prides itself on its academic potential and excellence would be able to nurture my research interests.

I tried to meet Dr. S. A (name changed) while I was still finishing my mandatory Pre-PhD course work, to convey my research ideas but he’d hardly entertain them. He asked me to write proposals, which he would check after one and a half months (on average) but since he never gave me a chance to discuss my ideas before writing, the proposal never came out to be the way he wanted.

During the second semester, his other scholars told me to stay and work in his cabin from 11 am to 6 pm, instead of sitting in the scholar room or library, if I really wish to receive some supervision from him for my Ph.D. Although I was reluctant about it, I started sitting in his cabin from the end of the second semester. It was from that time, he started treating me like an RA.

He used to order me to do data entries and literature reviews for his personal projects for which he was given external grants. He also asked me to do his field surveys along with his other scholars. Although he never once discussed how we’ll be compensated for our work. I had been on two field surveys.

Secondly, I had to put up with Dr. S. A (name changed)’s insults and temperamental outbursts. He used to call me ‘idiot’, ‘stupid’, ‘dumb’, ‘callous’ and what not. There had been instances when he said: “I will break your teeth if you speak over me”. Besides, he used to comment on my female friends.

Lastly, and the most humiliating of all these was when he used to ask me to make tea every day and clean the kettle. On some days, I had to make tea twice a day, when some other professor used to visit his room. Also, at times he ordered me to go to the market to bring him some snacks.

As an MHRD fellow, I was supposed to do TA work, help during examinations (invigilation and copy correction) or do other departmental work, but I was not supposed to work for more than 8 hours in a week on this kind of works. Yet, I was forced to work as his servant.

Slowly I was realizing that I had wasted a lot of my time. I was getting depressed and my mental health was deteriorating. At some point, I decided to resist and I stopped going to his cabin by the last week of August.

On the first week of September, he called me and scolded me for not coming to his cabin for a week and not wishing him for teachers’ day. Then he asked me to bring incense sticks from the market. On that day I was reluctant to take his order anymore, however, I had to go. I brought the wrong kind of incense stick by mistake. He not only scolded me for that, but he also made comments on my family and my upbringing.

On that day, I decided to resign. I wrote a complaint letter against S.A (name changed) along with my resignation and sent it to the DoSW, DoAA, HoD, S.A (name changed), DRC head and the internal member of my Ph.D. committee. Just after a few minutes S.A (name changed) called me and accused me that I have done this under some other professor’s influence, who wants to ruin his career. DoSW mailed me to go to the counseling cell.

Next day a meeting was called. However, neither DoSW nor DoAA was present in the meeting. It happened within the department. The meeting consisted of DRC head, SRC head, my Ph.D. committee members and our HoD. Firstly, S.A (name changed) was called and after he left (he stayed for around an hour) I was called.

Besides the SRC and DRC head, everyone spoke from the side of Dr. S.A (name changed).

Dr. S. A (name changed) probably produced a document where 8000 rupees was sanctioned on my name for the field surveys, however, it didn’t have my signature as that was never shown to me before. Also, given the amount of work that he had made us do, that amount was very less. However, I was accused of complaining about it.

Our departmental HoD said that I had been oversensitive and I have complained about petty things, just to be a “hero” in the department. Secondly, he said that a teacher a student is like a father and a son, so a father can ask his son to make tea. I was asked to be more humble. Lastly, I was given a chance to continue my Ph.D. if I am willing, under the guidance of a professor whom I choose, given that he/she is willing to take me.

I was happy about it as my years won’t be wasted, although what I received from the meeting was only humiliation. I spoke to one prof. in the department who was willing to take me as his student. However, S.A (name changed) kept on mailing me, claiming that I cannot work on the whole of behavioral economics! Also, I cannot use the research papers given by him (they are not written by him). Also, he made false allegations that I have used his project idea to frame my proposal so I can’t work on it, which was baseless because he never told me about the objectives of his project. I realized that staying in the department will mean a struggle on a daily basis. As he holds the power and there are other professors supporting him, it’s better to resign. So I resigned by the end of September.

After my resignation, I was in a situation where I had nothing to do. I felt extremely worthless. I had to struggle very hard as I applied for Ph.D. in different places. Thankfully, I got selected once again in just three months. The HSS department of IIT ——- is extremely good. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that I had to waste one year and three months in IIT ——-  while nothing happened at all to Dr. S.A (name changed).


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