Harassment in research: “We must change the culture of scientific supervision”

The cross : How do you react to the cases of harassment in the laboratories denounced in the book of‘Adèle B. Combes, How theuniversity crushes young researchers ?

jonathan Weitzman : The situations reported in this book shocked me a great deal, because teaching and supporting researchers is very close to my heart. We discover, for example, that some thesis supervisors work in the same laboratory as their spouse, which can put the student in an extremely delicate situation in the event of a conflict with one or the other. It should be banned.

→ ANALYSIS. “I don’t want to go through the same hell again”: research, fertile ground for harassment

What is the origin of these situations of harassment?

JW: The precariousness of the status of young researcher, the lack of funding for research, the stress and the risk of burn-out weaken the students. This can expose them to harassment if they come across the wrong people. In my university, we prepare, from the master’s degree, students to choose their research laboratory. This prevents them from misdirecting themselves. Today, there are more thesis offers than candidates, so a good student has the opportunity to choose his laboratory.

The duration of financing can also be an issue. In biology, you can’t do a thesis if you don’t have three-year funding. But in the human sciences, the average duration of the thesis is five years, which reinforces the precariousness of PhD students and often forces them to work on the side.

Are the thesis supervisors and supervisors able to manage conflicts?

JW: No, they don’t know anything about crisis management. They were recruited on the basis of their scientific results, not on their ability to manage human resources. We need to change the culture of scientific supervision and provide for specific training. The authorization to direct research (HDR), required in certain laboratories, should thus be delivered not only on a scientific evaluation, but also on the capacity to supervise. We often only talk about supervision when a crisis arises. It would be necessary to imagine solutions to enhance this skill upstream. In the United States, for example, there are “mentoring awards” to recognize researchers who invest in mentoring.

What advice do you have for students who are victims of bullying?

JW: You have to document your harassment. The individual monitoring committee, responsible for supporting the doctoral student, the doctoral school, the director of the research unit can only react if evidence exists. And we must not wait for a serious problem to arise to speak. The student must find the courage to say: “Stop, it’s not okay”.


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