supervisor Bullying

Find out valuable information about supervisor bullying and taking action.

Supervisors can provide valuable insight, guidance and experience for your research, and it is important that you establish and maintain a healthy candidate-supervisor relationship. 

You should take responsibility for your part in the relationship, and discuss expectations openly and honestly. You are strongly encouraged to address any supervisor issues and seek help as soon as possible if any problems arise. However, if this is not possible and your relationship is not constructive, there is a support network for all research candidates, which includes the Arc Postgraduate Council (PGC) and the Graduate Research School (GRS).

What is bullying?

Workplace bullying is generally defined as the repeated, less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace that may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate in workplace practice. It includes behaviour that could be expected to intimidate, offend, degrade, humiliate, undermine or threaten, and can be physical or psychological behaviour or conduct where strength and/or a position of power is misused by a person in a position of authority.

Examples of bullying behaviour that the PGC has identified within the candidate-supervisor context are given below.

Am I being bullied?

Bullying in the candidate-supervisor context may include, but is not limited to:

  • abusive or aggressive behaviour towards candidates.
  • raising of voice, shouting or yelling at candidates.
  • name calling.
  • threatening or blackmailing of candidates - for example, threatening international students to have their visa revoked.

Intimidating supervisor behaviour may include:

  • entry into a candidate's personal space
  • forcing candidates to work in a space that is not their own office desk and/or laboratory space - for example, forcing candidates to work outside or inside their supervisor's office so that their work can be continually monitored

Inappropriate supervisor behaviour may include:

  • consistently interrupting candidates while doing their work.
  • any non-accidental unwanted physical contact.
  • expectations or requirements of excessive work hours, for example the expectation to frequently work weekends, weeknights or through holiday periods.
  • excessive or profuse swearing.
  • committing any other illegal behaviour or engaging in illegal activities.

What should I do if I feel that I am being bullied by my supervisor?

  1. Wherever possible, you should raise any instance of bullying, intimidation or inappropriate behaviour with your supervisor. Sometimes supervisors are not aware that their behaviour is perceived as bullying, intimidating or inappropriate, and an honest discussion can resolve this.
  2. If the bullying behaviour is serious and/or cannot be raised with your supervisor, or if your supervisor fails to recognise and change their behaviour after you try and talk to them, then you should discuss the issues with your Postgraduate Coordinator or Head of School.

If neither 1 nor 2 above resolve the issues and/or if you are not comfortable raising them with your school, you should contact the Manager, Development and Engagement. The Manager, Development and Engagement will confidentially discuss options and possible solutions with you, and possibly, with your permission and the aim of ensuring you are fully supported and protected, enlist the help of the GRS Director or Dean.

Alternatively, the PGC can assist you and provide external advice through the Research Students Officer or Equity Officer, and if necessary direct you to Arc Legal Services.

You may also seek advice from the University's Student Conduct and Appeals Officer who manages student complaints.

Want more information?

Additional information on workplace bullying can be found from the UNSW HR website at

University procedures for Student Complaints are available at and

All UNSW staff are expected to comply to the UNSW Code of Conduct, which can be found at

For more information regarding Supervisor Bullying your PGC Research Officer.

PGC Research Officer (Shared Position)

Liam Cheney and Mariam Soomro