Blog confidential: Parasitical patriarch

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online

April 1, 2010

This week: Parasitical patriarch

Plagiarism in the academy has been a problem for several years. My experience of the issue does not involve students, but a fellow member of staff.

I am a female academic who for some time has been concerned about the actions of a departmental colleague who is in effect my line manager.

He is a veteran professor who abuses my talent. He takes my ideas and claims them for his own. He asks me to draft keynote papers for him and gives me research applications that he submits under his name. I know this sort of thing happens in the workplace: some call it "teamwork", but it feels more like assault.

He will say: "What's your take on these issues?" If I respond, I'll later hear the same concepts regurgitated by him, perhaps in keynote addresses. When I am invited to speak at events or write for journals, he unashamedly and unapologetically poaches the work.

At first I was flattered by the attention, but it quickly became apparent that he never acknowledged or attributed anything to me, even in the most informal way - and he never will. He is my supervisor and I his junior, and he has grown fat on my labour.

I have applied for other posts but I think he is sabotaging my efforts to escape. To make matters worse, I recently discovered that he has obtained several consultancies at my expense. While this does not seem that unusual - men breaking the backs of women and taking the accolades - his latest research evaluations were all my work, and I mean all. Yet he took the plaudits and is now rumoured to be in line for the honours list.

I find most men in our faculty to be lazy, introspective, dependent and narcissistic. Most don't have a clue what real work is. He is living on my talents, but I have nowhere to turn. Help!

I can appreciate your dilemma. When I was a research student, I had a male professor who constantly set me to work for him - little projects here and there, which were snatched from me when the hard graft was done.

Who said patriarchy was dead? Universities are notorious for it. Despite the advances of the past 40 years, they remain a male-dominated part of the education system, and the glass ceiling has not shattered.

How's about massaging his ego to get what you want? Butter him up by explaining that you need a fresh academic challenge and that you would value his support. Ask him if he would still be willing to correspond. Say that you are a "backroom worker" who shuns the limelight, and that he is an active scholar who deserves the spotlight. Play on his arrogance by saying that you desperately want to stay in contact with him when you go.

Explain all of this with a winning combination of naivety, sadness and regret. He'll be flattered and his ego will short-circuit his critical faculties. If and when you get out, dump him. What do others think?

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