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The Truth About Academic Hazing in PhD: What Every Scholar Should Know

Updated: Jan 4


The concept of hazing is foreign to many, being that it is generally considered a practice associated with fraternities. It has been used in the past as a way to test an individual's endurance and commitment to their group or team, but it can also be humiliating or even dangerous.


When it comes to academic hazing, it is something different. Any action or practice by your supervisors, seniors, or fellows that keep you from achieving your academic goals or degree can be categorized as academic hazing. The problem is that many people do not understand the idea behind academic hazing and how it can ruin your career.


How to Detect Academic Hazing?

Academic hazing is sometimes hard to detect because it varies for every academic department and institute. Being a PhD scholar, you may go through many rigorous processes without even knowing that some of them are merely academic hazing and not a compulsion to complete your degree. Once you realize which one of those practices is academic hazing, you can take action to prevent them from ruining your PhD journey. Let’s take a look at some of these below:


1. Never-ending Readings


As a PhD scholar, you will be given hundreds of articles, papers, and books to read for your research. Many of them may be useful for you but some might be assigned just as a ritual of the PhD process. These readings may take a lot of your precious time and overburden you without being fruitful for your thesis. So, if you are facing a similar situation, know that you are being hazed academically.


You can probably read around only 100 papers in close detail. Sometimes, it could take you up to a month to fully understand a single paper. Often, you would have to revisit the paper several times to check if your results or understanding of these readings were correct. You just cannot go on reading and forgetting the previous information.


Mandal (2019) mentions that a study involving 5,700 PhD students, revealed that 20 per cent of the respondents were “overwhelmed” with the course and research work which have led to stress and anxiety.


What most people don’t realize is that there is a pace to the reading process. It is not something you can read and comprehend in any amount of time. The amount of information and how it is presented all play a part in how quickly you can digest the material.


The best way to deal with this hazing challenge is to handle each book one chapter at a time. This will give you a manageable goal to focus on and ensure that you don’t get overwhelmed by the reading.


2. Tiresome Revision Cycles


The PhD process often requires years of research, followed by gruelling revision cycles that can last for months. This is the most challenging part of the PhD program. Many students are unable to finish their research due to tough revision procedures. Students are required to work on their thesis every day even if they are not in the right mood or state of mind to write.


Little do they know that they are being academically hazed especially during these revision cycles just because their supervisors don’t spare time to give them proper feedback on their thesis. As a result, there is a significant dropout rate among PhD students, both during the first and the second year.


3. Humiliation by Supervisor


The process of writing a PhD is not always smooth, and it is likely that at some point in the process you will feel humiliated by your supervisors. PhD students are frequently treated as if they are a big burden to their supervisors, and they are often neglected and unsupported. Their supervisors or seniors constantly make belittling remarks that can lead them to doubt their own capabilities. As a result, even the most toxic student-supervisor relationships can last long after they've become dysfunctional, leaving the student with mental health issues due to this academic hazing.


Sometimes, your supervisor may be the main reason why you want to quit your Ph.D. studies. They can humiliate you at any time in front of other people, neglect your work, and do nothing when you report them to the university. The problem is that even though they are doing a poor job, you can’t get rid of them because you are not able to find another supervisor that matches your criteria.


4. Continuous Rejections


After successfully completing your thesis, the next part is even more challenging. Yes, you guessed it right, getting your thesis approved by your supervisor and review committee. The continuous rejections by the supervisor in PhD is a very common issue for all PhD candidates and are often considered academic hazing. It is also a very common fear among the candidates. Even in the worst case, rejection won’t be a big deal if you learn how to bounce back from failure.


But when it comes to research work, fear of failure is more than justified. When you fail, it means that no one will ever read what you’ve written and your supervisor will never find out about your incompetence. There is no worse feeling than knowing that all your work has gone down the drain for nothing. Though this phenomenon is unavoidable in some cases, it can be overcome with some perseverance.


5. Racial Disparities in Education


Scholarship can be a stressful and competitive undertaking, especially for those who are the cream of the crop. Minority scholars in particular face an even more rigorous academic environment, often leaving with little to no mental health support available to them. This is true at most institutions of higher education across America.


Minority students must meet higher grades and SAT scores than their peers, as well as deal with stereotypes and microaggressions throughout their PhD careers. This is the most unjust form of academic hazing practised at almost every institution and must be rectified on a priority basis to provide uniform education facilities to all humans.


(Willis, Malachi Bridges; Ana J. Jozkowski; Kristen N, 2021) found gender disparities for PhD holders and racial/ethnic disparities for graduate students. Specifically, female PhD holders and graduate students of colour reported fewer publications and were less likely to be included in the scientific-review process compared with male PhD holders and White graduate students, respectively.


Conclusion

Hazing is never acceptable, and it's important that everyone understands that. You can help prevent hazing in grad school by speaking out against it if you see it happening. It’s essential to be aware of the signs of hazing before it becomes a problem. You can share your experiences or thoughts in our comment section below so that we can help others to avoid falling into the same traps.


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