We are all mostly aware of the inherent flaws of the academic system. Short-term contracts, unclear expectations and a real or at least perceived lack of support in situations of conflict are just some of the challenges in the journey of our PhDs. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, hugely impacting our work schedules even more uncertainties around the progress of our research projects arose. It is no surprise that many of us have been feeling under more pressure than usual. Everyone in academia, from PhD candidates to academic leaders and administrative staff, have all been faced with an exceptional situation they may not have been prepared for. In response to these trying times we try to create a greater awareness of potential conflicts and the increased risk of power abuse in academia.
In order to raise awareness of the importance of preventing power abuse, to get a closer understanding of the implications of bad leadership and to come up with some practical advice, the Leibniz PhD Network hosted their second online seminar on 4th June. The topic of the online seminar was “Prevention of Power Abuse – Leadership, Uncertainty of Working Contracts and Conflict Resolution” The online seminar was organised through a collaboration between the Prevention of Power Abuse and Mental Health Working Groups. If you missed it, you can watch it here:
In the online seminar, we were fortunate to have two exceptional guest speakers to share their perspectives:
- Prof. Claudia Peus (Technical University Munich),
Topic: Leadership in Academia
- Prof. Thomas Rigotti (Leibniz Institute for Resilience Research),
Topic: Leadership and workplace insecurities
The online seminar was moderated by Dr. Elliot Brown (Neuroscientist, Scientific Advisor and Mental Health Advocate at Charité Berlin)
This is a summary of the advice given by the speakers on how to deal with bad leadership and power abuse:
- Communication – is a two-way process, clarify expectations, ask for feedback, regard information as something that needs to be proactively spread, but also actively demanded, prepare for meetings beforehand and afterwards.
- Find out what ‘type’ your advisor is and interact accordingly (see Prof Peus’ talk)
- Find Allies – seek (and provide) social support among peers and join networks, like your local PhD network or others
- Mentors – reach out to mentors in your field and beyond
- Job crafting – Shape your job conditions proactively (link1, link2)
- Report power abuse – if lines are crossed, don’t be silent.
- Leave for a better place – toxic relationships can be a severe burden, be proactive
If you are not sure, if the situation that you are facing is “really” a power abusive situation, we propose to check the definition of the UNESCO Ethics office. The Leibniz Guidelines and the DFG Codex are the guiding principles for every current or past employee in the association to act on. Furthermore we like the more progressive Dutch Code of Conduct on Research Integrity and hope to see more of it in action in Germany soon. If the suspected case fits with the definitions, then talking to your institutes Ombudspersons, who offer both advice and mediation, can be a possible first step.
If you wonder who else to contact in various cases of conflict, we put together a guide for you that can be accessed here.
From the Prevention of Power Abuse and Mental Health Working Groups of the Leibniz PhD Network: Anja Jahn, Katharina Willenbücher, Anne-Kathrin Stroppe, Nicole Zerrer, Irene Broer, Dolly Montaño, Stefanie Do and Elliot Brown.