How to Avoid a Toxic Relationship with a Professor

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October 6th, 2010

Most professors choosing to teach in universities and colleges are professionals who care about the expansion and betterment of quality education. However there are, unfortunately, good and bad eggs in every profession. Because students are at a major power disadvantage to professors, it can be very uncomfortable to feel sucked in to an educator's own negative mindset or desires. We have all heard of toxic friendships, and, if you work with a professor who has issues of his or her own, it can potentially be harmful and destructive.

If you work with a professor on a personal project or as an assistant (like a T.A.) during your time in college, you will more than likely work closely with him or her. You may also have a mentor assigned to help with the direction of your education or class selection. It can be a great experience to work closely with a professor, but, if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t, and you should listen to your gut.

If you have the suspicion that your professor doesn't have your best interests at heart, there are a few ways to know if you have a truly toxic relationship on your hands. Professors with these kind of issues may demonstrate manipulative or demeaning behavior, find some fault in everything you do, discount your thoughts and opinions, give subtle jabs and put downs that are almost unnoticeable, make fun of your ideas or blame you for their problems without taking responsibility. They may also be unreliable, jealous and needy.

If your superior is acting in these ways, there are a few things you can do. Until the situation changes, avoid seeing them alone. Then, as soon as you can, change mentors or avoid working with that prof again. Sometimes, however, there is no way to avoid contact with the individual, and, in that case, you need to weigh the severity of the situation with how intertwined your relationship has become. If this professional stands in the way of you and your educational future, take action before things get out of control. This kind of behavior from a professor is never okay, and, if it is negatively affecting your education, you should talk to another professor in his or her department. Choose someone you trust, and that person will most likely know how to handle things delicately and help you change your situation.

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