Dear Ethel | Issue 17

Dear Ethel | Issue 17

Super-unfair supervisor

Dear Ethel,

I’ve just finished a placement for my course and yesterday I found out that I have failed. I was being bullied by my supervisor the whole time and I think they deliberately failed me because they don’t like me. What can I do? I don’t want to have to repeat placement because of them—it’s so unfair!



I’m sorry to hear you had such a difficult placement. Most courses where students are required to undertake practical placement have guidelines and advice on what to do and who to speak with if you are having difficulty.

There is a power dynamic in any supervisory-student relationship and it can be problematic, especially when the person supervising you is not technically University staff. Having said that, by taking on the role of supervising University of Otago students, supervisors are considered members of the University Community and are bound by the University’s Ethical Behaviour Policy. This policy specifically identifies the ‘abuse of supervisory authority’ as unethical behaviour. 

There are both informal and formal ways of seeking redress. More informal ways, (which, in our experience, are the best first step), include meeting with someone appropriate from the department to discuss your concerns. We’d be happy to attend any such meeting in a support capacity if you wished. Or, you could discuss the matter confidentially with the University Mediator ( 

More formal processes include raising an academic grievance if you feel you have been academically disadvantaged by the conduct of your supervisor. You are also able to make a formal complaint to the University’s Human Resource department regarding a breach of the Ethical Behaviour Policy. 

As always, it’s important to look after yourself when things are difficult. Make sure you spend time with friends, eat well, sleep well and try to focus on the positive aspects of your current studies. You can be assured that we will do everything we can to get you through the rough stuff, so we look forward to seeing you at 5 Ethel B!

Whole lotta love, 

-Ethel xox

This article first appeared in Issue 17, 2016.
Posted 12:56pm Sunday 31st July 2016 by Student Support.