Forum:Bioinformatician who was retaliated against after reporting discriminatory harassment - Please help me navigate getting out of the situation I'm in
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4 weeks ago

I'm seeking guidance on how to get out of a situation I'm currently in. After reporting my former supervisor's spouse for discriminatory harassment, I've experienced multiple examples of retaliation (I say former supervisor, because I was recently given a new supervisor, but they only have a background in wet lab work). I'll refer to my former supervisor as Dr. Y and their spouse as Dr. X. They are the co-directors of the core facility I work for at a university. These are the examples of retaliation I have faced:

  • I 'm no longer allowed to work on data analysis projects with Dr. Y. So now, I rarely work on data analysis projects. This is because my core facility is relatively new and barely gets utilized by the labs on campus. Before reporting Dr. X, whenever there were no data analysis service requests for the core, I would assist Dr. Y with their analyses. Now I just mainly sit around doing nothing, it's been like this for months now.
  • I was told by Dr. Y that I would no longer be listed as an author for a project I worked on, a project where they originally told me my contributions would make me first author.
  • Dr. Y excluded me from the revision process for a paper that was in review by a top journal. The paper was recently accepted for publication, but because the reviewers wanted more samples to be included, the entire analysis had to be re-done. So, my contributions were no longer used. In other words, my programming scripts no longer align with what is presented in the paper. The R Shiny app I created for this project is also no longer associated with the paper, Dr. Y created a new one. Also, I went from being 4th author to 8th.
  • Dr. X told a PhD student who was planning to submit a data analysis request to my core not to submit the request and encouraged them to do the analysis themself. I only found out about this because that student told me what was said to them. I believe that Dr. X may have turned away other people from utilizing our data analysis service. I am the only person in the core who is responsible for fulfilling data analysis service requests.

There are a couple other examples of retaliation, but the ones I listed above have been the most damaging to my career. I have been trying very hard to find a new bioinformatics position, but the region I work in barely has bioinformatics opportunities, I'm in the midwest. I'm unwilling to relocate, because my partner is working on their PhD here and still has about 3.5 years to go.

I'd like to hear your ideas on how to make myself more appealing as an applicant, especially for remote jobs. I've applied to almost 200 jobs, but I have never landed an interview. For those interested, I can direct message you my resume and link to my portfolio. What would be your advice to a bioinformatician who only has a master's degree, less than 2 years of work experience, and only 1 publication that involves analysis of NGS data? I have some ideas, but need guidance on which ones to prioritize:

  • Reaching out to people for collaborations in order to increase my number of publications
  • Create packages based on some of my existing scripts and display them on my portfolio.
  • Right now my portfolio is on GitHub, it contains links to my repositories. I'm thinking that maybe I should instead create a GitHub Pages site to make my portfolio look nicer.
  • Learn a flavor of SQL and upload scripts I write while learning it to my portfolio.
  • Attempt to make contributions to certain nf-core pipelines.

This is my first job after graduating with my master's degree in Bioinformatics in Fall of 2022. It took me 9 years just to get my Bachelor's degree due to problems I had with depression, anxiety, and ADD. After years of therapy, I was finally able to get my bachelor's degree in Physics. I'm mentioning this because I think employer's are weary of hiring someone who took so long to get their bachelor's degree.

This experience has caused me to relapse when it comes to my mental health. I used to think that getting my degrees would allow me to finally enjoy life as a scientist. But now, I feel like I'm right back to where I used to be. It's difficult for me to do simple tasks like eating or getting out of bed. I'm beginning to lose hope. All I ever wanted to do was be a scientist. I chose the path of bioinformatics, because I wanted to use my programming skills to help people suffering from diseases like the one I lost a loved one to.

For the internal investigation of Dr. X, I presented audio recordings as evidence. Recordings of him threatening me and even saying offensive things about people with brown skin color (my skin color). I also provided proof in the form of emails that Dr. X set up a trap just to berate me. He invited me to ask questions about something and then berated me for asking the question, telling me that I should have already known the answer. I even submitted a recording of an extremely hostile confrontation where it seemed like Dr. X was on the verge of physically assaulting me. He was confronting me because I made HR aware that I was not being paid for overtime (Dr. Y told me I could not get paid for overtime and after about 6 months on the job, I found out that I was supposed to get paid for that. I ended up getting paid for over 240 hours of overtime after reporting them). I presented many other recordings of Dr. X being very hostile towards me for no good reason.

In the end, despite all the evidence I presented, the school's civil rights compliance office determined that although Dr. X's behavior was inappropriate, he was not treating me that way due to the color of my skin. They also believed him when he said that he did not turn that student away from submitting a data analysis service request, despite the fact that I presented an audio recording of that student repeatedly telling me that they found it strange a co-director of my core would tell them not to submit a service request. That student did not want to be interviewed for the investigation. As for the other examples of retaliation carried out by his spouse, Dr. Y, the investigator told me they would not investigate those things unless I initiated a separate investigation of them. I was too afraid of doing that though, because I was afraid it would just lead to more retaliation.

I completely regret reporting Dr. X. I am now in a position where I rarely have the opportunity to carry out data analysis. I am stagnating. I've held this position for about 1.5 years, but in reality, I only have professional experience equivalent to about 8 months. If I had just kept my mouth shut and was willing to be Dr. X's punching bag, at least I would have been gaining valuable experience. I was so naive about how much power PhD's have in academia, especially PhD's that secure millions of dollars in grant funding each year. I did not think that they'd be able to get away with retaliating against me, especially retaliation involving reducing my workload. I was told by HR that if I went through with formally reporting them, we'd all sit down and have a mediation together where Dr. X's behavior towards me would be addressed. That mediation never happened and HR also never addressed any of the retaliation I experienced.

I'm struggling with coming up with how to explain why I want to leave my job without talking about what I've gone through. I've been thinking that maybe I could say that my core is relatively new and volume is low, so I'm looking for a new role where I'd have more work to do. Would this be a good idea? Please share with me other ideas on how to explain why I want to leave my job.

I'm also worried about potential employers realizing that the code presented in my portfolio does not align with what is presented in the paper that was accepted for publication. I've thought about saying it's because I didn't have time to work on the revisions, but that would contradict my reason for leaving being low volume of work.

If I finally get an interview, I should refrain from talking about my experience right? I filed a charges of discrimination and retaliation against this university with the EEOC and an investigation is currently taking place. Sometimes I wonder if I should send the interviewers a link to my Drive account that contains all my evidence so I could prove to them that this is something that I really have been going through.

Please, if you have any advice whatsoever, please please please feel free to share it with me. I am so incredibly desperate.

Career advice • 2.0k views
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Delete this post and get a lawyer ASAP.

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I have one and the EEOC is currently investigating this.

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I think hiding things from potential new employers is not a good thing. I'd consider stating that you were discriminated against and that's why you're leaving after dealing with retaliation owing to disciplinary actions so the potential employer is clear they're hiring a fighter and someone with integrity and the courage to speak truth to power. Don't be intimidated into hiding parts of your own life just because someone else dared to judge you unfairly, you'll regret that and have no one to blame but yourself.

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Thank you, I will take this into consideration.

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I completely regret reporting Dr. X.

Please do not say this. If this individual -- and their partner potentially -- are the kind to behave unprofessionally towards their (more junior) colleagues and harass them, you have done the right thing. You have potentially spared at least one other individual the misery of having to experience what you have alleged to have had experienced yourself. You have also potentially saved yourself from even more horrendous events that may have awaited you had you not taken the step to hold this individual accountable.

I would have been gaining valuable experience.

You did the right thing. You chose to stand up to inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. Very few people know how to stand up against such "tyranny". This is also a kind of experience, although, in this case an unwelcome one. This is also something you could leverage in the future.

Do not falter. Have faith in yourself.

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4 weeks ago
Mensur Dlakic ★ 27k

It is not easy being treated poorly, but it is even more difficult when a person is fired to boot. From what I understand you have not been fired, and there is no immediate danger of it. That should give you some time to find a job. Realistically, you are not going to be given a real project because they don't know how long you will be working there, and probably because they don't want to work with you or rely on you. Still, I suggest you keep asking your superiors for work, and document both your requests and their responses.

My advice is to stay professional, and not bad-mouth your current employers at your future interviews, nor to share any incriminating details. Future employers want to learn about your abilities rather than to gossip about your current workplace. I think it is perfectly acceptable to say that you are involved in a litigation and that the discovery process is ongoing. This has nothing to do with your expertise or accomplishments, as evidenced by the fact that you are still employed and not under any suspension (I assume you are not). It also explains why you likely don't have recommendation letters from your current employer.

Everything else being the same or similar, most employers will take an applicant without a baggage, even if that baggage was not of their own doing. It is a tricky situation, and you may have to work for less money or take less than a full-time job. It should work in your favor that you have a publication in less than two years, even if you are a middle author. Good luck.

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Thank you so much for your response, I really appreciate it.

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