Scary story of my doctoral life..

I thought a lot whether I should write this or not. This is my travel blog, not my professional social media. People here are from different industry and field than mine. But then I decided maybe that’s a positive point. Also my readers personally don’t know me, neither they know the characters of my story. So, it helps getting me honest feedback and neutral point of views. Maybe that will help me to get over the distress I am in right now.

Being a trained medical doctor and MD physician and Pathologist, I do not need strictly to pursue a PhD for my career, especially in India. I was earning a hefty pay cheque and having a good life. My husband’s ambition to finish his Master’s in Sweden, brought me to Europe. I was still working from home in my old research lab as digital pathology slides can be accessed from remote. My the-then supervisor, an ex-Harvard instructor motivated me to get a PhD while I am in Europe anyway. I applied for 2 positions in Germany as I believed it is a fair country with open mind for scientific research. I was contacted by both the professor, but one ahead of the other and she moved very fast and I was called for Skype interview and face to face as well. I mentioned clearly, I have no background in a so called science ‘wet lab’ , but I can learn if I was provided opportunity and guidance. She contacted my the-then colleagues and later I knew both of the colleagues gave excellent feedback. So I was offered this position in Nov2019 under 2 supervisors- a clinician and this lady, let’s call her E. Due to late Visa appointment I could only get a joining date in March 2020. In the meantime, I came to know I have conceived Ellie. In Germany it is illegal for the employer to ask this information to an employee, this I came to know later. However, I wanted to inform my 2 supervisors that I am pregnant because I did not want to move to a country with my supervisors already unaccepting me. It may sound weird, but there are people who do not want to hire a pregnant student. One week I did not receive any reply. After that I was informed that it is fine and I can join. So I reached Germany one gloomy day with a suitcase in my hand and a baby inside me from Stockholm. I met several students in Frankfurt airport, everyone fleeing to India as covid pandemic is increasing exponentially in Germany. I was the only one to the opposite direction. Anyway, I lived in hotel for 15 days as it is very difficult to get an apartment even when the rent was as high as 1000 to 1200 Euro. Then I perosnally met the international student office and they were kind enough to give me a contact of a private dorm. I stayed there for a month with shared bathroom and kitchen which was difficult as I was 6 months pregnant and alone. I won’t describe the pain and mental stress I endured that time as that is another story. I was diagniosed with gestational diabetes and would take insulin alone at night. I always feared I would have hypoglycaemia and die alone with no-one knowing at night. In this situation, corona helped as lab was closed and people were in home office. I would mention the 21st May Thursday, because I had a meeting with E. She kept pressuring me through the meeting and kept arguing about every slide I made with a humiliating way. Maybe that’s how it works, but I could not take this stress and my water broke prematurely that night. I went to radiologist next day and talked with my gynaecologist and was admitted to hospital immediately. My due date was still one month later, by that time I was expecting my husband could come. I did not tell this episode to anyone, because E was the only one who came to the hospital to see me as I did not know anyone else. Following days she behaved so well that I forgot everything and considered her as my sister. She also brought me and my daughter home from the hospital. After that I was on maternal leave for 3 months and still I was taking meetings. Such a stupid I was! As I was back from this leave, in Germany I am entitled to get a parental leave upto 3 years of baby’s age, first 14 months paid 66% of the salary paid by the state. I did not want that long as I came here to work, not to vacay. I wanted to take just 2 months and get back fitter. But E did not let me. That is done so cleverly.There is an option for taking a student helper for mothers with young babies for their thesis work, as they cannot be physically at par with other students. E hired a student on my name to pay for his Master’s thesis. So, officially university knew I am hiring a helper and I wont be able to take a parental leave. But actually that person does not help me at all, because he is just getting paid for his own Master’s thesis. I still did not raise any red flag, as I remembered she helped me during my homecoming with my baby. On the other hand, I could not physically work as much as the other 2 girls I was assigned with. They got angry on me as they did not understand my situation, I was breastfeeding and getting tired so much. I did not come everyday to the lab, some days I worked from home office. These girls started believing I was given special advantage by my superior. However, I noticed they also don’t stay all working hours, sometime they just come for 2 hours and someday they also had home office. Anyhow, there was a breech of camaraderie which continued. Gradually I gained back my physical strength and started working more.I noticed a change in the attitude of E. She picked small issues and tried to blame me and my country. She did not give me feedbacks and did not encourage my perspective. She also fought with my other supervisor and got angry when I asked if I can show my project update to him. There was a grant proposal which would give us 10000 euro worth materials for a side project. I wrote it independently and it was approved. She did not take any interest in it but instigate one girl working with me in this project to fight with me. Also, when I went to buy some stuff for the project, I was told the fund is already depleted. I knew what I already bought, so I wrote to the grant office and they send me a list of purchase by my lab( not by me), on this grant account. I was shocked to see things were brought in my name such as hard disc etc which never reached me. I informed the grant office that I never received them and this proof still exists with me.

Gradually in time , E tried to isolate me from other students subtly and was successful because I could not hang out with them as I need to run for the baby after 4 pm and spent the evenings with her. I also worked all the time when I am in the lab as I did not stay longer hours, so I did not want to waste a single minute for coffee, small talks or long lunches. I noticed some students came late, took long breaks in between and left late. One of the girls assigned with me left the lab in 2022 Jan but the other girl became more vicious and tried ganging up on me. There is one boy, who helped me since the beginning and also called me sister. I also helped him for understanding concepts and with exams. But I came to know E was encouraging him not to hang out with me. Though I hardly hang out with anyone, he was my only friend in the lab. With lack of encouragement and feedback, I talked with 2 different coaches provided by the university, both of them independently told me to change the supervisor and keep daily record of her misbehaviour. They told me also to meet our coordinator and warned me that there will be sudden situation created I wont be able to handle. I took their advice and briefly talked to our coordinator. For few months, situation seemed to be improved. For the first time in 2 years, I was given a clear vision about the project and I enthusiastically started filling the gaps in figure schemes. In this situation, E asked me to take one Indian student named P. I agreed and explained P everything. P showed interest and said she needed a mini-job as she was on loan and if I could help her. Even P made her mom call me. I wrote to the graduate school if they can assign her as my student helper and they approved. I had regular meetings with P explaining things and had several experiment for her. I noticed P is not able to perform any job without making some bad mistakes. I ignored it because she was new, so may be it will take time to learn. Another thing I noticed is she is always chatting over phone while on experiments. I told her, these are expensive resources and better to be focused while using them because we don’t want our experiments to fail. It was all falling in a deaf ear. In the meantime, P had several health issues and I was constantly supporting her throughout even in odd hours. After that things changed suddenly, P assumed she does not need to come for the job, and just draw money. P also did not submit me her report for lab rotation which I am supposed to correct. I asked P several times, but got a reply that she has enough time and she is not able to write with practical and classes. Meanwhile, in my last meeting with E, she only screamed at me for some work was not done as per expectation ( which changes every time we meet). There was an exam which to be taken in front of a veterinarian, who told me I passed. But E told me I did not do well in this exam and the mouse died while I was performing surgery. I was shocked with this complete lie because the mouse had a visible heart beat and did not die at all. E mentioned now she is a full time professor and did not care if I get my degree or not and screamed at me. Though I was upset, I made my mind strong and from next day I started working hard again. I hoped I would make her happy. Little did I know !

Last Friday P said she had a deadline on 23rd and pressured me on correcting her report in a week. I have my own experiments and meetings and also I feared if I did not correct it carefully I may be in trouble. I told P it is too less time, but if she gives me her coordinator’s email, I can talk to arrange few days extension of the deadline. If that does not work, we will figure a way out. P did not share it. Anyway, next day I found out coordinator’s email and wrote her for a brief extension of deadline. Then I got busy with my own experiment and came home at 20 pm. Then over the weekend I came to know from my Supervisor’s email that E and P are now bestest friends and E is shifting P to another student. E claimed in the email she is talking to P last few weeks and I did not give enough knowledge to P, so she could not write her lab report and submit, so it is my ‘fault’. I realised that E assigned an Indian to me just to make me look bad while she manipulated the situation on her favour. She could never forgot that I went to the coordinator with our issues and wanted me to face a situation like this as revenge. I am utterly fooled and maybe I deserve the mental pain I am enduring last 2 years because I am a fool. I could not eat or sleep last 2 days and the most unfortunate thing is my daughter senses something is wrong with mamma and she gets anxious and scared. I do not know what to do as I invested 2 precious years of my life for this. I rejected 3 leadership position opportunities from Bayar, Boehringer Ingelheim and Foundation medicine in Germany. My health is being a mess , both mental and physical. I am thriving by the support of my family and friends from other departments, but not really doing well. One of my coach told me there will be a situation ‘you will have self doubt that may be it is my fault. Maybe I am the one who has something wrong’. I think I reached there. With this story I also feel bare as the world can see the naked pain in me and they can judge me for good or bad. But I could not focus on anything. I may have to leave the dream of my doctorate, because ultimately living is more important than a degree, both for me and my daughter.


10 thoughts on “Scary story of my doctoral life..

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  1. I am so sorry that you are having a terrible time at work. It certainly sounds like you have been taken advantage of. In the past, I have left jobs where someone was manipulating or bullying me. With hindsight, I would have gone to Human Resources to address the situation. I hope that whatever you decide to do makes you and your family happy. We live a short life and work should not make us miserable. K x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your kind words Kerry, it means a lot. I always hated this when someone in a position of power exploit the situation of a person without power. But it is a lesson in life too. I hope I can finish my thesis and leave so that I never have to come back to this person.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry to hear of attempts to sabotage you. I have a Ph.D. and was not negatively impacted during the pursuit of my degree, but later was by a group of male colleagues who (illegally) colluded in our requirement to make individual bids for an upcoming new contract. These guys obviously colluded and all bid the same, and were upset I had made so much more money than each of them. We previously got paid a set amount for each forensic court psych eval and related services, so my making the second most money of about 30 people was because I had worked the second most hours. BTW, they had no issues with a males who earned 50% more than me. I ended up not even getting the referrals to which I was entitled and the administrative managers wouldn´t even give me the new referrals to which I was entitled. So I took an early retirement, liquified all my US physical assets, retired and moved to Spain, I was told this week that after 8 years, the District Attorneys still miss my reports and testimony. My point is to be vigilant throughout your education and career, as you never know who and when may attack you. Talk to a small number of trusted colleagues, friends and/or loved ones for feedback and support. Best of luck.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hear you, and thanks for sharing your experience. I know this happens and now a days it is a fashion to mask this behind the term ‘ team work,’ . If it is a sabotaging team, team work is just an excuse to vindicate a victim. I am glad that you could retire, but always this hurts because you could have earned a lot more money too. I hope you have a wonderful retirement. Would love to meet you if you are in Köln or this part of Germany .


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