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Welcome to Graduate Self-Advocacy Group (GSAG)!

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

What does that mean, exactly? A current hot-topic within the field of academia right now in the United States (US) is the concept of workplace inequity or "academic bullying". As a graduate student, especially in a highly competitive PhD program that offers a comprehensive tuition-free education, with stipend and benefits, it is often a mystery to the outsider looking in why someone would have the audacity to speak up or complain about working in this highly coveted environment. The problem is, the outsider doesn't fully understand or appreciate the underlying corruption, workplace politics, and discriminatory behavior which is all too prevalent in US work culture.

This type of culture is not exclusive to corporate America, and can actually be much worse in an academic setting. A "Graduate Research Assistant", the formal title given by Human Resources to a student-worker undertaking a PhD project, is kind of a strange, awkward blend somewhere between an employee and a student. Depending on what is most convenient to the institution at the time, you may be treated primarily as an employee in some instances, and as a student in other instances.

For example, you may be treated as a student to ensure you have the lowest quality healthcare package offered to you by the institution. On the other hand, you may be treated as an employee when it comes to income taxes or intellectual property. Cha-ching! Thank you very much for making our school billions of dollars! Remember that non-disclosure agreement you signed? All of your ideas past, present and future are the institution's by default! What a great deal!

Then, there is the PhD advisor --- have you ever heard of the saying, "beggars can't be choosers"? This is especially the case in US higher education. As a PhD student, you should be eternally grateful to your principal investigator (PI) for offering you such a generous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You should do everything that is asked of you in the lab, and sometimes, more often than not, outside of the school, long after the sun went down. You should always aim to please, demonstrate your collegiality to other members in your lab, and if you so much as furrow your eyebrows in frustration, you will suffer the consequences. Your pain and suffering makes your PI look like a jackass, and we can't have that now, can we?

Why do I know all of this? I was a survivor of this extremely toxic work culture, and had to learn how to advocate for my rights as this twilight between "student" and "employee". It is my hope that I can use my past experiences to help people find the help they need when they find themselves trapped in these types of situations.

Since my overall goal is to provide individuals with tips, tricks, and other self-advocacy resources, I am more than open to suggestions from outsiders. Good luck, and remember, you're not alone. Many other unfortunate souls have endured similar experiences of mistreatment, abuse, neglect, and manipulation. At the end of the day, YOU are your own best advocate, and it is up to you to put your foot down and say, "enough is enough!"

"Did I give you permission to drink coffee!? What have you been doing all day!?"

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