A sad story about a toxic lab

A quick post about a story I have been reading this morning. The Wisconsin State Journal reported last week about a graduate student who committed suicide after spending seven years working for an abusive Engineering professor at UW-Madison.

The article does not mention scientific misconduct, but it gives a glimpse behind the scenes of the toxic environments that some principal investigators (PIs) create. Something that is very much related to science misconduct, because extreme pressure by a professor might be one of the reasons that scientific studies might include fabricated or falsified data.

In this story, Steve Apps reports on some horrible behavior of the Engineering professor, who would regularly scream at his students, call them “monkeys” and “chimpanzees”, and treated them as slaves. The PI also threatened to lower grades or delay their graduation if they did not put in 60+ hours per week, even if the students had only part-time appointments.

Other faculty members were sometimes present during these outbreaks, and the PI’s behavior was reported to the head of the department, but the university did nothing for years.

The graduate student committed suicide after not being able to meet a manuscript deadline that his PI had set.

The College of Engineering now states that they have made several changes after the graduate student’s suicide, to better evaluate students’s feedback on their mentors.

You can read the story here: ‘Toxic’ lab lasted for years. UW-Madison had little idea until a student died by suicide – Steve Apps – Wisconsin State Journal

If you professor or another academic person in power is treating you unkindly, by threatening you, belittling you, screaming at you, withholding your passport or salary, or pressuring to falsify results, please know that this is not a normal situation. Your professor should be your mentor, not treating you like a slave or pressuring you into science misconduct. Please talk to a department head or your university’s science integrity specialist, and report.

If you have suicidal thoughts, please get help. In the US, you can call 911, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) anytime of day, 24/7. The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) provides a list of Crisis Centers for European countries.

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