Editor’s note: Minor details have been changed to protect the identity of the complainant.
Meeting My Supervisor
In early May, the sun was shining and it was unseasonably warm out. I had just wrapped up the third year of my science degree and was enjoying the time off before starting my summer position. I had found out two days prior I had been accepted into a competitive biochemistry honours program and was on top of the world.
I was almost 30 at this point and working on an accelerated clock. That sunny afternoon I ran into the 49 year old man who, that coming fall, was to be my supervisor. He was friendly and chatty and asked if once I had my smoothie I’d like to take a walk around downtown with him. He offered to discuss my future research and I said yes.
We walked, talked, stopped for iced tea and what felt like 30 mins was actually 4 hours. What started as a discussion about research turned into deeply personal conversation. I was surprised at how comfortable it all felt. It was more like a perfect first date than supervisory. The next day, he added me via email to the “words with friends” app where we would converse in the messaging function.
Inappropriate Behaviour Arises
A few days after, late at night, he gave me his phone number. I was so flattered. He was attractive, smart, funny, and interested in me. We began texting and it very quickly turned romantic. I wasn’t sure what to think. I admit I was swept up, but also intensely guilty. I was attracted to him and liked the attention, but not at the cost of my academic career.
Over the summer we continued to text. He regularly asked me to go to his place, which I never did, but I wanted to. I was deeply conflicted by my behaviour. I blamed myself. He never pushed me, instead he used subtle tactics of manipulation. He told me he took me on after other supervisors had passed me over. He told me he saw the talent the others had missed. He told me how beautiful girls throw themselves at him during office hours. He told me I was lucky.
Within weeks, I began to doubt my intelligence, my appearance, my judgement. My accomplishments didn’t taste so sweet. It all felt so cheap and ill-gotten.
As the summer wore on, I dreaded the rapidly approaching return to school. Before him, the university had been my home, my safe place. I loved it there. I wanted to go back in time and undo that sunny day. And when I told him that I needed to focus, he agreed. I was relieved; it had all been a lapse in judgement.
No Happy Ending
But my relief was short lived. By the end of August I found myself working opposite to his schedule in an attempt to avoid him. My project stalled, he pulled my funding, and he belittled me at every opportunity. I was emotionally exhausted and in November on a cold Friday afternoon, I went to the office of the Dean and reported that I had been sexually harassed by my supervisor.