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Some UC San Diego grad researchers claim they were bullied by their supervisors

The graduate student workers say their professors either verbally or physically threatened them, and the university did nothing after they reported it.

SAN DIEGO — Graduate researchers from University of California San Diego are speaking out with saying they experienced bullying from their supervisors.

"I had a supervisor, who basically took my hair and put it between a pair of scissors and held them an inch away from my face and said, that if I did not produce any brilliant ideas then he went cut off my hair,” said UC San Diego student researcher Nancy Yuan.

Yuan is finishing her fourth year as a PhD student in computational science, but says the Basic Science Professor she worked for physically and verbally threatened her five years ago. 

Yuan said she reported the incident to the Deans of her program but nothing was done, so she left the program.

"That wasn't a safe lab environment for me to work in anymore, and I knew that I had to take action myself,” said Yuan, who attended Princeton before transferring to UT Austin for her undergraduate degree.

Yuan and two other academic workers at UC San Diego say they are all ending their dreams to become professors one day after working for hostile lab supervisors.

"Nobody wants to continue working there this is just such a bad environment, and you cannot progress, your science is not valued, and in a post-doc position, support of your supervisor is crucial,” said post-doctoral researcher Matthias Deutsch.

Deutsch says both he and his wife, who was in the same program have been yelled at and belittled repeatedly from their professor, so Deutsch plans to quit tomorrow.

"Three of my colleagues left, my wife already left, and I will leave very soon,” said Deutsch, who is also a father of two young children.

Because the pair from Germany is in the U.S. on a VISA issued by UCSD, Deutsch says his supervisor used that against them and constantly threatened to fire them to send the couple back to Europe.

"It's a very threatening experience. It is super stressful and greatly hindered my progress. I thought at first there were cultural differences with me being from another country, but then I learned from other researchers even 10 years back that it’s always been this hostile with aggressive yelling.” Deutsch said.

Deutsch filed a complaint against UCSD three months ago but says nothing changed. The head physics teaching assistant of five years, Marco, or Manho Tang complained of faculty bullying as well.

"I just don't have any faith right now in the current system that even though we know something is wrong, no department staff or no one, no officer within the UCSD or UC system is actually going to help,” said Tang, who is originally from Hong Kong.

Tang says his professor has publicly humiliated and criticized him and eight other teaching assistants in front of their entire lab class. 

“We are just labor to help them do their research, and if we are not up to their standard, we might get fired and get kicked out from the lab,” Tang said.

Yuan. Deutsch and Tang are part of the UAW Academic Workers Union, which represents 48,000 students and researchers for all University of California schools. They are currently in negotiations with the UC labor relations attorneys and are demanding that "anti-bullying measures" be included in their next contract.

In response, a statement from UC San Diego University Communications said:

The health, well-being and safety of our campus community members is our top priority. While we are not able to discuss specific incidents, all allegations of harassment and bullying are taken very seriously. Anyone experiencing harassment, discrimination, sexual and relationship violence or stalking is encouraged to reach out to UC San Diego’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination at ophd@ucsd.edu or ReportBias.ucsd.edu.

The UAW Academic Workers and UC attorneys have been meeting weekly via Zoom to negotiate contract terms. The union workers hope to have a fair contract resolved by this Fall.

WATCH RELATED: Falling eucalyptus trees posing danger to UCSD students and their families (July 2022).

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