Recently there was a new male PhD student brought in to my department with a “very good track record” at his other program. Within five minutes of meeting me he asked why I wasn’t further along in my program, why I don’t do real philosophy (because feminist philosophy isn’t), and whether I can argue against his highly specialized theory of mind (and if I can’t, well, then I’m not thinking the right thoughts…). The questions proceeded to get more deeply personal and more aggressive. When I would eek out an answer he would repeat what I said back to me and substitute in less exact and (question begging) language over what I had said to try to defeat my argument.
Looking at my family photos he asked what my father does and I said he was in real estate and now he is a teacher. The student asked why he had changed jobs and before I could answer he answered for me that obviously my father is passionless. I told him that my father had cancer and that is why he changed jobs and the student was completely unfazed. I asked him to leave me alone and stop bullying me every ten minutes for over an hour. He asked why I spent so much time in my office and before I could respond he informed me that philosophy isn’t something you do at a desk it has to be inspired. He told me that it was ridiculous that I wasn’t fully bilingual and that it was an obvious failing on my parent’s part. He asked me where the banks were in proximity to campus and I asked if he wanted a branch or an atm, he asked why anyone would want a branch. I replied because you might want cheques. He responded that I was ridiculous for even thinking anyone would pay with a cheque: he reminded me that it was 2010. This went on and on, random questions the answers for which I was belittled and berated.
He would smile and laugh when I would ask him to leave. I said at one point “if you are going to stay in my office you aren’t going to talk to me like this.” He laughed. I was so flustered by the end I started crying. I had to get so overt in the end and I said “you are being really aggressive and I want you to leave.” He wouldn’t. I just left my own office with the door open and went to a friend’s office to cry. As I slipped out he was still prying; “I don’t understand why you won’t explain yourself to me.”
I complained to my department and was told that maybe he was out of sorts or maybe he liked me, but that he has a really strong research record so this is puzzling… Thankfully I don’t have to work with him at all but I don’t think it is fair that I walked away looking like a hysteric and he’s a “brilliant genius” that I just didn’t understand.