If you haven’t read this article, about a completely out-of-control conflict (in the Lee Rubin stem cell lab at Harvard) between a graduate student and his advisor, have a look. I’ve seen some pretty dysregulated relationships in that area, but nothing like this one: misconduct allegations, forced psychiatric evaluations, and this:
German, however, believes the forced evaluation was an act of revenge by Rubin, retaliation prompted by German’s allegation of scientific misconduct against Rubin and two of his students. (The allegation was later dismissed.) And this past August, a Massachusetts judge agreed with German, concluding that Rubin was “motivated by bias and revenge, not by a legitimate interest in keeping German safe.” The judge issued an order that has created an extraordinary situation: Rubin must allow German to work in his laboratory, but stay at least 30.5 meters away from him, and have no direct or indirect contact. Rubin must also provide German with all of the lab resources he had before the problems began.
Rubin vehemently objects to the findings and the decision, his lawyer says, and is filing an appeal. “At no time did I ever act with malice toward Mr. German,” Rubin stated in an affidavit filed with the court this past July. “At all times, I strove in good faith to resolve the tensions which developed between him and me.”
All sides say the order has created tense and difficult working conditions. Among other things, it means Rubin can’t be in his office or laboratory when German is there, according to German. And the dispute has left bystanders wondering how a conflict between a mentor and his student spiraled so dramatically out of control, jeopardizing the reputation of a prominent scientist and an elite research university, along with the future of a promising young scientist.
Holy herd of cows. But given the tensions and personalities involved in academic research labs, I can certainly see how things could get to this point. It’s easy to believe that a grad student or postdoc would have some sort of breakdown – that happens all too frequently. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to believe that a research advisor might act vengefully towards someone in their group, because that happens way too often as well. This particular case is, as the article says, “especially bizarre and destructive”, but it’s a matter of degree, not one of kind.