If you wish to tell someone about your experience, or talk with someone about resources and steps you can take, you can click on this highlighted link, which will take you to a form to do so.  You can include as little or as much identifying information about yourself and/or the parties involved as you wish.  The information is confidential and will be sent to the Graduate Student Ombudsperson.

Developing coping mechanisms can help lessen the negative impacts of bullying on your quality of life whether or not you choose to go through formal channels to resolve your issues.

Being the target of bullying can cause stress related health problems.  There is no one way to reduce stress, but there are resources at the university that can help.

  • Cook Counseling offers individual and group counseling sessions free of charge to students who have paid the health fee.
  • Exercise facilities are available at McComas and War memorial gyms, as well as group exercise classes, pilates, yoga, and rec sports.
  • Finding a new activity or hobby, or taking up one you used to enjoy but dropped in grad school can help reduce stress, give you time focusing on something enjoyable, help you meet people unrelated to your research.  Gobbler Connect can help you find clubs based around your interests.

Being bullied can lower self esteem and professional confidence.  Improving your professional skills can help you build peer/support networks at the university and gain proficiency in transferable skills that will help you find a job in or outside of academia. Realizing that you have marketable skills can help you feel independent of the person who is bullying you and that you are not trapped in your situation.

We offer a number of opportunities for Professional Development and classes and certificates such as Preparing the Future Professoriate, Preparing the Future Professional, and Communicating Science

Being bullied at work can be more difficult to deal with if your identity, self-confidence, and sense of worth rests on your work.   While it can be hard to push back on the idea that you should give your all to work, having a fulfilling life outside of academia can help ground you when situations at work/school feel out of control.  Spending time with family and friends outside of work/school, getting involved with activities unrelated to your research can help bring perspective on the things that are important to you.

If needed, Cook Counseling can help you identify aspects of your life outside of work that are important to you and strategies to achieve work/life balance that improves your quality of life.

Being bullied can make you feel isolated, alone, and that no one supports you.  Reaching out to  friends and colleagues you trust can help lessen those feelings. Being bullied doesn’t make you weak or undeserving of support and help.

Bullying doesn’t always happen in isolation, it is possible that others have been or are currently being bullied by the same person.  If other students are experiencing or witnessing similar behavior, you may be able to work together to bring your concerns to relevant people in the department or university administration.  It is harder to dismiss the concerns of multiple students, especially if they can show it is a pattern of behavior.

Try to identify people in your circles who can offer different types of support.

  • Someone who can listen.
  • Someone who may be able to offer advice
  • Someone who can advocate for you
  • Someone who can problem solve.

One person may be able to take on multiple roles, but it is unlikely one person will be able to do all of these things for you. Having a support network is helpful, as you can access more people to potentially fulfill these roles.

Finding people to help isn’t always easy.  Your advisor may be the best person to approach first as they should be invested in helping you succeed.  If you are being bullied by your advisor, the graduate coordinator in your department, other members of your committee, and or your department head are options. Outside of your department, the Ombudsperson can help you work through the possible ways of getting help. The Ombudsperson is a confidential resource so will not take action or talk about your case with others without your permission.  Dr. Karen Depauw, the Graduate Dean, is concerned about academic bullying, and is someone you can go to for help.

To schedule one-on-one meetings with the Dean, contact Marilynn King (making3@vt.edu)

If you are being bullied, you are not alone. There are people here to help you.
The Support Resources page has information about places you can go for help .

Bullies thrive on the power gained from causing emotional turmoil for the targets. Eliminating this source of power can be accomplished by confronting the situation and speaking up. Consideration should be made if there are hierarchical sources of power that could compromise the target if speaking up, but if the bully is a peer the strategy of confronting the bully could eliminate the power gained from bullying behaviors.

Here are some tips to confront a bully  constructively:

First, make sure you are adequately centered and you are able to speak from a calm position. Do not engage if you are emotionally charged

Next, focus on the bullying behavior rather than the individual. For example, try not to lead with, “John, you are a obnoxious and dismissive jerk that is impossible to work with” You may find better results with a statement like, “John, working with you is becoming unproductive. I feel it is difficult to share my ideas when they are flippantly dismissed. I also feel disrespected by not being allowed to speak without interruption. The inability to express my thoughts is compromising our progress and I would like if we could communicate better so I can contribute to the work we are doing.

This simple exertion of your understanding of what is happening and your exhibition that it is not ok can lead to the end of the behaviors. Bullies know what they are doing, if even on a subconscious level and this effort may bring to his or her consciousness that it is not going to be effective.


Regardless of how your situation is resolved, recovering from being a target of bullying can be challenging.  This webpage offers some advice and tips that you may find helpful.

More Resources

Blog Posts about academic bullying and stress in graduate school by Dean Depauw:

More experiences with academic bullying:


Avoiding bullies:
Having a bully for a supervisor will negatively affect your graduate experience. This blog post  talks about a toxic mentor and contains some advice on what to keep an eye out for when looking for supervisors.