Prepared to be a Pioneer™

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Prepared to Be a Pioneer™ | Monica F. Cox, Ph.D.
E-mail: | Telephone: 317-721-3501
4315 Commerce Drive, Suite 440-205, Lafayette, IN 47905


Think You’re Cut Out to Be an Academic Entrepreneur?

I spent fall 2014 working with an entrepreneur who I met at an academic conference in 2013. After what seemed like an initial match made in heaven, I soon learned the difficulties associated with being an academic and working with someone who spoke a completely different language from me- the language of business and entrepreneurship.

While I, as a professor, had spent the first 10 years of my professional life focused primarily on people development, professional development, and the production of scholars, my entrepreneurial colleague, a social media expert, focused on making money and convincing people that he could make their dreams come true. Although our collaboration ended abruptly and on a rather shaky note, I learned valuable lessons that I want to share with anyone who has a passion for education and people but wants to pursue entrepreneurial pursuits while maintaining a day job as an academic.

Be explicit about the expectations for both parties within your entrepreneurial collaboration.

As a professor, I am used to individuals being somewhat equitable regarding their intellectual contributions. Each person obtains benefits that helps them in their intellectual pursuits. For example, if I am working on a project, I should be able to publish my findings and support my graduate students financially. A traditional entrepreneur, on the other hand, might be more focused on making money from a project and for having rights to expand aspects of the business for future profitability. I realized too late that my collaborator and I did not see eye to eye about compensation, project recognition, and intellectual property rights.

Confirm that you are compatible with that person BEFORE you start working with him/her.

Almost everything that I valued (e.g., open communication, transparency, equality between men and women) was opposite of my collaborator. Like a terrible dating relationship, I realized that I hardly liked anything about him as a person, especially his work style (i.e., I would do most of the detailed work, and he would do big picture work) and his entitled, egotistical attitude.

On my engineering education research team, I am the big picture person. On this project, however, I found myself completing tasks that I didn’t enjoy, engaging in activities that did not utilize my skills as a professor with a Ph.D., and feeling as if I was “babysitting” an adult who was used to doing what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it and who was not willing to compromise in the roles and responsibilities in which we would engage on the project. He was always the (self-appointed) boss, and he didn’t seem comfortable allowing others to lead the team even when he lacked the skills to lead effectively.

Being a reliable member of a team is very important to me. Unfortunately, I felt that although he appointed himself as the leader, he often didn’t demonstrate leadership skills that were important to me. His schedule seemed to supersede everyone else’s although other members of the team had full-time jobs and obligations as well. In his eyes, his projects and business were most important, and if he had to drop the team or abandon his leadership responsibilities on this project to engage in his own interests or on other projects, he would do it with little to no regard for others’ schedules, preferences, or feelings. In addition, obtaining an apology from him was like pulling grizzly bear teeth, although he expected apologies for every occurrence that offended him.

Over time, I perceived these occurrences to be inconsiderate and disrespectful, and I found myself resenting him. Unfortunately, the only way that I felt that I could get him to take the tasks on our project seriously and to be the leader that he said he was was to provoke him (e.g., Call him out for being selfish, or Remind him to not be an absolute diva).

Finally, generosity and graciousness are important to me. Countless times, I wanted to reward our team with gift cards or kind gestures. Most, if not all of my requests, however, were ignored. After months of engagement to help his entrepreneurial dreams come true, I didn’t even receive a “thank you” card for my devotion. As a result of this lack of gratitude culture, I engaged in the project often feeling that there was an expectation that I would complete the tasks for the team with little to no regard about the sacrifices that I made in my personal and professional life for the project. The focus seemed to be on things, not on people, and this definitely did not align with my values and beliefs.

Protect yourself legally.

My collaborator told me that he had never had to sign a contract with anyone before me. He even implied that I was shady for wanting to obtain legal advice about our partnership. Um…that sounded a tab bit crazy and not like a good business practice, but I found an attorney and started identifying a way for us to clarify our roles on our project.

The most startling aspect of this collaboration was when he tried to offer me 10% equity in the project. Imagine my confusion when I was putting the majority of my time in a project (worth at least 40% equity and co-founder status in my eyes), and he “graciously” offered me 10% equity. In the academic world, 10% of your time might represent serving a few days on an Advisory Board or as a consultant but not as someone who worked on a project on a day-to-day basis for several months. I should have known that something was wrong when he did not initiate a conversation about how we would split credit or equity from Day 1. He was satisfied with my working during my sabbatical without thinking that I might want to have something more to show for my project than minimal equity and a title as his Chief Operating Officer.

Know when to walk away.

By April 2015, I realized that I had been in this collaboration about four months too long. My collaborator, who made himself the CEO of the project, was not the type of leader that I valued or wanted to follow. I found myself questioning what he was doing for the project behind the scenes, because he did not communicate all of his external project exchanges in details that I preferred. Given his demeanor and his character, I foresaw him taking most of the credit publicly for the project. This was confirmed partially when we had a crazy argument about my role on the project. Although he had not created a prototype or proof-of-concept before I started the project, I could not be called a co-founder. When I proclaimed myself to be a catalyst, all heck broke loose on the project, and I realized that the end of the collaboration was near.

Although he claimed that I had trust issues with him, I know that he had issues with me as well. In addition, I knew that I was penalized (possibly unintentionally) for speaking my mind about his leadership weaknesses, about my expectations for the team, and about ways that I would and would not operate on the project.

My breaking point occurred when my collaborator had what I would call a “tantrum” (resulting in his not talking or communicating with me for three weeks although we had serious work to do and a deadline) and “removed” me from the project after I offended him. He offered me a position on the project’s Advisory Board or said that I could communicate to him through another person. (First of all, I am a Christian, and if I can talk directly to God, I refuse to talk to someone else to speak to another person who thinks he is more important than he is.) This startled me and angered me given the fact that I had held the project together on more than one occasion as he engaged in his numerous business and social activities. Since our “break up,” I have promptly been unfollowed by him on Twitter. (Imagine if we had started a business, and after five years, I angered him, and he fired me just because!)

In conclusion, I admit that I am still healing from this collaboration and trying to feel that I didn’t waste my time working with a really selfish person who presented himself one way in person and another way behind closed doors. In the same way that he vetted me, I’ve learned that I need to vet people who are trying to lead me. I don’t work well with people who I perceive to not operate in a spirit of excellence and who (intentionally or unintentionally) disregard the feelings, contributions, and sacrifices for others’ brands. People who are never told that they have faults and are not teachable regarding those faults are VERY dangerous. Friends, if you don’t have peace about a collaboration, and someone’s actions always overshadow their words, pay attention to the actions. If and when you leave the collaboration, be thankful that you may have been protected from great grief in the future.


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10 Myths about Being a Graduate Student Advisor- Part 1

When I graduated from graduate school at Vanderbilt University in 2005, I was pretty confident that I could establish a top-notch engineering education research program. At 29, my husband and I loaded up our moving truck and moved to Lafayette, Indiana. As a member of a new department at Purdue University, I realized that an area in which I was least prepared was advising graduate students. Below are the lessons that I’ve learned over the last 10 years. Although these tips won’t apply to everyone, they align well with my “no-nonsense” way of conducting business and allowed me to sleep well at night.graduates-351603_1280

(1) You can’t fire a student.

In this day and age, nothing is free. Trust me when I say that I have worked diligently to earn every dollar for my research group. For this reason, I don’t have time for adult students to use my research funding to “find” themselves. Although it sounds tough, obtaining research funding involves a contract, whether it is explicit or implicit. Twenty hours of financial supports means that your weekly deliverables reflect at least that much work. Producing less than this consistently via weekly deliverables means that a student may not possess a strong work ethic, may not be able to complete tasks in a timely manner, or may not care about my project. Whatever the reason, I am an advisor, and I expect work deliverables to be completed in a timely manner.

Although it’s tough to fire people, the experience doesn’t have to be bridge burning. Before firing students or reducing their research funding, I sit each of them down and explain what the issues are. By the time we have this meeting, they have been warned several times of issues with their job performance and have been given multiple opportunities to meet my expectations.

(2) You can’t set high expectations.

When students enter my research group, I inform them that they can work as little or as much as they want (as long as the “little” meets minimum requirements!). Although they may be supported financially on one or two projects, they are encouraged to learn something about all research projects so that they are able to jump in as needed. As a result, a couple of my students have graduated with at least 20 publications on their CVs, and they have obtained academic positions in some of the top programs nationally and internationally. I’ve found that if I don’t put them in boxes, then they don’t place themselves in boxes either.

(3) Graduate school is NOT like business.

As I mentioned earlier, nothing in life is free. Behind every cent of research funding is hard work. This may involve long nights or endless searches for ideal partners who can fill much-needed gaps for a principal investigator’s (PI’s) project. If a student is hired to work on a project, there is an understanding that he/she is agreeing to meet deadlines and to present the research group to others in a professional manner.

In the same way that an employee in a Fortune 500 company can’t go absent without leave, a graduate student needs to be accountable for his/her presence and absence. Similar to a “real” job, this means informing your advisor or employer when you will be late or absent from a meeting, making sure that your project deliverables show up even when you don’t, and being accountable to others on your project team. If you are the leader of the team, coordinate with your team prior to meeting with your supervisor. If you are a team member, complete your responsibilities in a timely manner so that your project leader can represent your team well.

(4) Adults can’t change.

Children are completely different than adults. As an only child, I have always loved conversing with older people. This may be one of the reasons that my research focus is graduate engineering education and faculty development and not K-12 education.

Graduate student advising involves direct engagement with adults. I’ve found that although many graduate students are set in their ways, they are teachable. For graduate students who see graduate school as an opportunity to enhance their current skills and to learn new ones, graduate school will be quite enjoyable. For those who are defensive and resistant to change, however, graduate school could be miserable. Although I am not telling a student to follow the advice of an abusive advisor, I am recommending that a graduate student enter an advisor-advisee relationship with an open mind.

(5) You are most compatible with people from your cultural background.

Since most graduate students pursuing degrees in science and engineering are not born in the U.S., minority graduate advisors are most likely to advise students who differ from them in multiple ways. Many people think that if you are a woman, you will work best with female students. Although the majority of my students ARE women, I’ve discovered that their backgrounds have been very different from my Alabama upbringing. Since 2005, I have advised no students from the South. I have realized, however, that I LOVE working with students from backgrounds that differ from my own. It has been an honor to learn about other cultures, and I have become a better advisor and person by working with students whose views differ from my own.

These tips are just a few of the ones that may guide you as you establish a research group and standards for your team. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my myths about being a graduate student advisor!

If you enjoyed my post, feel free to share it with others. Also check out my other blog posts, and provide your contact information so that we can stay connected. Like me on Facebook, and follow me on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.

10 Myths about Being a Graduate Student Advisor- Part 2

No matter how many conferences or workshops you attend about being a graduate student advisor, you may never feel prepared to mentor and advise graduate students. I offered initial tips based on my experiences in Part 1 of my post and conclude by thoughts below.

(6) People Will Respect You Automatically Because You Have a Ph.D.

I really didn’t want to be negative with this point, but I would be remiss if I wasn’t honest about my personal experiences. Being the first African-American female professor in engineering at a prestigious university didn’t automatically come with a congratulatory banner. I found that I had to prove myself to majority students, to minority students, to minority staff, to majority staff, to colleagues, and to almost anyone who had never interacted with a feisty, direct female faculty member in engineering with my personality and drive.

For some reason, others’ rejection and doubt motivate me. When someone assumes that I can’t do something, I am driven to achieve even more. As a result, within my professor life, I have worked diligently to stay up long nights writing grants, to push my students to write more papers than they thought they could, and to engage in collaborations that forced to me get out of my comfort zone. I took on some leadership positions that no one else wanted, and I confronted people and issues that no one wanted to confront. As a result, I was threatened by students who didn’t like the decisions I made, I was undermined by a colleague who overruled by decisions as a graduate advisor, and I was even approached by a delusional woman who didn’t like how I treated her husband at a statewide conference for undergraduate students. The point of all of this is that having a Ph.D. didn’t prevent heartache and trouble. Having a Ph.D., however, did remind me that I am stronger than any obstacle that comes my way, and when I put my mind and heart into an activity that is near and dear to my values and beliefs, I can emerge victoriously.

(7) Your colleagues will always have your back.

I found my graduate school environment to be quite supportive. Once I graduated with my Ph.D. and became an Assistant Professor, however, I found that I was no longer automatically on a collaborative research team. This means that I had to develop my own organizational structure and rules of engagement with students and potential colleagues as I developed my research enterprise.

Since I began my career in a cohort with two other Assistant Professors in a newly created department, I quickly realized that the competition was on as never before. Early in my career, I invited a couple of my departmental peers to partner with me on a small internal grant. Unfortunately, we soon learned that in a field with limited resources and emerging visibility, being a member of a team would not earn us brownie points. This realization hit home for me when, during my second year as a professor, I competed with three other colleagues in my department for a prestigious grant. Given governmental funding patterns, the reality was that one, or at most, two of us, would earn funding. One of my colleagues reminded me that it would not be wise for us to help each other since all four of us would not earn an award. From that day forward, I realized that I was in a “sink or swim” environment- a place where there would be no guarantee that the rules of the professoriate game would be played fairly.

The positive aspect of this is that although I didn’t create and maintain lasting research relationships with colleagues in my department, I did branch out to form relationships with people who represented diverse perspectives inside and outside of engineering. The blessing is that I never entered a comfort zone in my environment, and I pushed myself to meet new people who could offer new insight about innovations. When life (seemingly) gives you lemons, build a lemonade factory.

(8) You have to know all the answers.

When I first began my career as a professor, I was nervous. I wondered if I had enrolled in enough research methods classes or had studied enough  theoretical frameworks during graduate school. In the end, I realized that I didn’t have to have all of the answers once I earned my Ph.D. I just needed to have enough gumption to admit when I didn’t know the answers and to seek out the resources that would help me to obtain the answers that I needed. Over time, my graduate students have taught me much of the content that they have learned in their classes. Toward the end of their Ph.D. processes, my students have become the content experts, and I have become the “student”. Start your advising career realizing that there is always something new to learn, and you will never be insecure about not having all of the answers!

(9) All of your students will be ethical and will care about the welfare of you and your group.

Although the majority of my students have been amazingly generous and great contributors to my research enterprise, I’ve had a few bad experiences. One involved my engagement with a male student who seemed to have issues working with women in authority positions. I had to remind him that I was the graduate advisor, and he was the student, meaning that if I offered a suggestion about how we would approach a problem, this was the vision for the project. He also wanted to work alone and not engage with other members of my group. Since teamwork is a foundational tenet of my research group’s success, his work style didn’t work well for me, and we eventually parted ways.

Another issue that has occurred continuously for me is having to “bail” students out of tough situations that could have been avoided with some foresight and consideration. These situations might involve students working with other faculty who I know have questionable reputations with students or students committing to a project and later leaving that project without completing tasks sufficiently.

In the end, I realize that graduate school is a learning process for students even if they are adults. Making decisions as graduate students and as adults can require different skill sets, and at the end of the day, I’ve concluded that I sometimes must facilitate conversations with students about deeper, political aspects of higher education and collaborations.

(10) You can advise students the same way.

There is no one-size-fits-all model of graduate education. This the beauty and the frustration of being a graduate advisor. As soon as you think that you have things figured out, you find yourself having to develop a completely different framework for student engagement.  The key is to see each student as an individual with a unique background and with different career goals. This means that some students will be stronger writers or better idea generators. Others will be phenomenal team members or leaders while others may be somewhat selfish and isolated in their work styles and preferences. In the end, it is the responsibility of the advisor to be flexible and to see the bigger picture. Create a vision for your research enterprise and manage your team based on your goals and objectives. Communicate this vision and your leadership style to your team as early as possible by utilizing feedback from current members of your team (See mine here.).


If you enjoyed my post, feel free to share it with others. Also check out my other blog posts, and provide your contact information so that we can stay connected. Like me on Facebook, and follow me on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.

5 Reasons Why You Must Forgive People Who Do You Wrong

If you’ve read any of my posts, you will realize that my academic ride hasn’t been the smoothest one. I have come face to face with conflict and confrontation on more than one occasion. Every time I’ve engaged with these situations, I have had a choice either to retaliate in anger or to turn the other cheek. Although I have (almost always!) turned that proverbial cheek, I am learning that if I don’t forgive others, bitterness can settle in my heart quite quickly and can cause a host of problems (e.g., stress, frustration, and resentment).

Most recently, the topic of forgiveness was highlighted by the families of the nine people murdered during a Wednesday night Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. As the confessed murderer stood handcuffed before the family via a television screen, numerous family members spoke through their pain to say that they prayed for the killer’s soul. A barrage of media commentators voiced astonishment at how people could forgive in the midst of such vicious assassinations.

The theme of forgiveness resonated with me, and I reflected on how forgiveness plays a role in my professional life. In true Reverend Dr. Monica Cox fashion, allow me to break down why you need to forgive your professional colleagues even when they don’t seem to deserve your forgiveness.

1. You delay your happiness.

A few years ago, I was involved in a research misconduct case. A team of individuals across several campuses and I worked together to submit a $2.5 million grant to a federal agency. Our proposal was not funded, but I realized after several months that content from our grant was duplicated in another grant that was eventually funded by the same agency. I chose to follow proper protocol and file a complaint against the only person who was engaged on both grant teams. After 1 1/2 years of research investigations and questioning across two institutions, the research misconduct committee confirmed that duplication had occurred, but they couldn’t prove who duplicated the content.

Imagine my anger and distress. I had worked diligently to lead efforts on this grant submission, and at the end of the day, no one would be held accountable for the “duplication.” I could not understand why someone would lie about copying my work, but I realized that I couldn’t force this person to come clean just because it was the (seemingly) right thing to do. Just three weeks ago, I saw my work on the funded grant’s project website. Surprisingly, I didn’t blow up. In my heart, I knew that the ideas on that page originated from my team, but I actually had compassion for her, an individual who felt the need to copy someone else’s ideas. That woman had moved on with her life, and I should do the same.

Takeaway: You can kick and scream, but sometimes bad things happen to good people. After you’ve done all that you can ethically and from a policy perspective, know that the people who are dishonest must live with their actions. Forgive them, because you have other ideas to pursue and other people to impact.

2. You remain connected to people who add little to no value to your life.

My Pastor presented a great analogy about forgiveness. He said that unforgiveness is like a poison that you drink while the person who does you wrong sits back and watches. In other words, you are killing yourself, yet the other person is walking around as free as a bird.

This hit home for me when I realized that if anything important happened to me, the people who had done me wrong would not care, and if the thing that happened to me was negative, some of these people would be quite happy about my demise. Birthdays would come and go, and there would be no message. A significant life event would happen, and there would be no acknowledgment of it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how stupid it was for me to expect a person who had hurt me to care about me as much as I cared about them.

Takeaway: You can stalk a person’s social media page all day to see what they are doing, but they aren’t giving a rat’s tail about you. Count your losses and move on. Learn from your experience, and forgive them for trespassing against you. Believe me when I say that they forgot about you a long time ago. 

3. You strain relationships with those closest to you.

Thank God that I married a patient man. When I go through drama with people, I talk about it, talk about it some more, and then talk about it again. Then I analyze it, flip it 50 times, and analyze it once more. Believe me when I say that doing this is extremely unfair to those closest to you. Fortunately, I have a great Bad Day Buddy and amazing spiritual mentors and friends. They can listen to my drama only so long, however.

While your haters are sipping on mimosas and living the good life, you are torturing those closest to you with the most intimate details of the wrongdoing. STOP IT! If you are used to being in control of most aspects of your life (like me!), you must learn to count your losses for the sake of your personal relationships. My faith gives me assurance that for every loss, I will see many more successes in the future. The sooner you adopt this philosophy, the sooner you can move on and strengthen your relationships with those closest to you.

Takeaway: Identify a way to release those who have done you wrong. Although you may secretly await their public humiliation (not a good look, by the way!), move on with your life. Keep your loved ones out of this mess. If you have to, immerse yourself in your work, pray, or take up a new hobby. Whatever you do, try to expel your perpetrators from your mind and life.  

4. You stifle your creativity.

When you are focused on drama and revenge, you’re not focused on your purpose and potential. You have too much to do in life to dwell on who did you wrong and how you’re going to pay them back. What’s done is done. Get over it.

You only have so many hours in a day. If you spend 30 minutes dwelling on how much you dislike someone, you want to spend another 30 minutes talking to someone else how much you dislike them. You then spend an hour processing the conversation. By then, it’s lunch time, and you haven’t done a lick of work. Why waste your day on foolishness? Start your day focused on YOUR purpose, and you won’t have time to dwell on  those who have done you wrong.

Takeaway: Fast from negativity. If you are reminded of negativity and who did you wrong via social media or TV, turn off your computer or TV. If you are tempted to call someone to discuss your disgruntlement, turn off your phone. The lesson is to be extreme in your focus. Until you can control your thoughts, control your environment in a way that helps you to remained focused on your work and goals. 

5. You stay in a holding pattern.

There’s nothing like doing the same thing over and over. Although routines are good in some instances, engaging in a routine of revenge and unforgiveness isn’t cool at all.

My most recent challenge involved an entrepreneur with whom I had devoted a lot of my personal and professional time. I helped his professional brand via my resources, yet, when I challenged him, he cut me off. There was no professional courtesy (e.g., this is how we are going to handle issues of intellectual property) or anything. Just a “straight up” dismissal.  Although I think that doing business this way is extremely tacky, there is really nothing I can do to make this man respond to me, particularly in a positive, mature, and professional manner. If I saw him on the street today, I’m not sure how I would respond. I know, however, that knocking him in the head with my 20 pound purse several times is not an option, although it might make me feel like a real winner at the time. I am a work in progress, and I’d like to think that one day I’ll see him and sincerely promote him and his brand.

Takeaway: Although it may be really, really difficult, you have to let go of your anger so that you can soar. We have all been taken advantage of at some point in our lives, and we will probably be taken advantage of several more times in the future no matter how much we think otherwise. The real victors are the people who move beyond the hurt and the pain. You have an entire life to live with people who want to sow good seeds into you and want you to succeed. Connect to them, and leave the negative people behind.

In conclusion, unforgiveness will keep you from reaching your destiny at the appointed time that you are supposed to reach that destiny. Let today be the day that you say goodbye to the past and to any hurts associated with it. Start anew, declaring that you will be surrounded by people who lift you to higher professional levels. Be thankful that the ones who caused you grief have been revealed and are no longer in your life. After all, life goes on.


If you enjoyed my post, feel free to share it with others. Also check out my other blog posts, and provide your contact information so that we can stay connected. Like me on Facebook, and follow me on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.

A Real-life Workplace Policies Guide for Professionals

At the beginning of each school year, students are given checklists to help them to succeed during the academic year. After 10 years of being a professor, however, I have decided to create a “Real-life Workplace Policies Guide for Professionals,” particularly for individuals working  in the academy. My thoughts and suggestions align with the work of Phillips and Hall, who explore five biases pushing Women of Color out of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers). This guide is one that you can bookmark on your computer as you encounter situations that you’ve never had to navigate before, particularly in the workplace, an environment where most people spend the majority of their time during their working years.

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Workplace Bullying

One of my higher education experiences with bullying occurred when, as a faculty member, I offered my perspective about ways to diversity my workplace to a senior administrator at my institution. Although numerous staff at this institution wanted to express similar views about ways to improve efficiency in this particular office, several seemed to be afraid that their views would be perceived as insubordination. As a result, for years, I was one of the few people to challenge this administrator, a person who isolated people who did not agree with her and who created a clique among minorities at the institution.

Although many people may think that bullying starts and stops in elementary or high school, the reality is that bullying often occurs in the workplace. This may occur when you express unpopular views or when you refuse to comply with pre-set standards. Although Human Resources policies might be in place in your workplace, people may be afraid to report injustices or to enforce these policies. If you are being bullied in the workplace, document the dates of these occurrences along with details about what is occurring. If interactions are making you uncomfortable, don’t ignore your concerns. Follow proper protocol (i.e., research organizational policies), and always remember that you do have a right to work in a safe, productive environment. If the system at your workplace is ineffective, consider seeking outside legal counsel to address your workplace concerns.

Public Humiliation

Similar to workplace bullying, public humiliation has no place on the job. Unfortunately, some people only know how to get their points across by shaming or isolating others. This might include ridiculing a person who dares to speak out again injustices or an individual creating a culture of fear such that a person will no longer have the boldness to express his/her opinions in public. Once again, you have a right to work in an environment where you can voice your perspective, even if you are the only person with that particular perspective. If someone is trying to shut you down, examine why that person is doing that. If you feel safe doing so, talk to that person face-to-face about your concerns with an understanding that this person may not admit that a problem exists. If you do not feel safe talking to that person by yourself, use an audio recording device to record your conversation with that person (inform the person of your intention to do this first), or ask a neutral party or trained mediator in the organization to attend a meeting with you and that person. If you are unsure about whether you are overreacting to a situation, engage with colleagues who witnessed your incident so that you can gauge whether your interpretation of the incident is accurate.

Veiled or Actual Threats

More often than not, I have heard faculty talk about feeling unsafe around colleagues or students. In the midst of these situations, many people don’t respond appropriately. When I was the director of a program for students at my institution, a graduate student lurked around my office but never made an appointment to discuss his concerns with me. He did, however, approach numerous other colleagues with his perspective about injustices that were done to him. As a result, confusion ensued across multiple departments and people, and the situation with this student got out of hand. After going through proper channels, reporting his suspicious behavior and threatening e-mails, and still obtaining no closure to this situation, I realized that people have their own reasons (not all of them justified, however) for not following proper protocol or for not wanting to address workplace problems. If you feel threatened by anyone in your workplace, don’t try to handle the situation yourself. Document occurrences, and call the police if this person is speaking of harming you or if the person is behaving in a suspicious manner.

In conclusion, remember the following:

  • Many people don’t like confrontation and are not willing to address problems. If you follow proper protocols and nothing is done in a timely manner, continue to report incidents until someone listens. If you feel threatened, call the police immediately. It’s better to be safe than sorry. This is your right.
  • You should not have to work in a workplace that makes you uncomfortable. If someone is treating you unfairly or is denying you access to information or resources, report this. Although a fear of retaliation is a possibility within your environment, you can choose to be silent and ignored or visible and disliked. Dreading your work environment should not be a norm.
  • If you have done all that you can done to addresses the issues within your environment, consider looking for another job. There is so much work to do to help others who want to benefit from your skills and talents, and if you spend the majority of your professional time trying to convince people in your workplace to do the right thing, you might not impact the people who are meant to benefit from your gifts. There is nothing like working in a place where your values align with your organization. Dig deep to see whether that is occurring, and do what you need to do to work in a happy, productive place.


If you enjoyed my post, feel free to share it with others. Also check out my other blog posts, and provide your contact information so that we can stay connected. Like me on Facebook, and follow me on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.

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