#787: Trouble dealing with male grad students who take up all the air

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am a woman who is a graduate student. One of my fellow students, a man who I’ll call Nigel, takes up a lot of space in seminar. He speaks over people, interrupts, makes noises while other people speak, and doesn’t wait his turn. If unchecked, he will dominate seminar and prevent nearly anyone else from speaking. Nigel doesn’t seem to interrupt other men, but only other women of all ages, including our instructors. Multiple female professors in our department have noticed this behavior and taken steps to correct Nigel. Multiple women and men in our department notice and have commented on this behavior. I know of at least one occasion where one of our peers has said something to Nigel about this behavior. None of this has had an effect on Nigel, and he continues to run roughshod over his peers whenever he is able. The only professor who doesn’t seem to mind Nigel’s constant interruptions is his adviser, Dr. John Smith.

What I am struggling with is a recent turn in my relationship with Nigel. While in the past I’ve managed to hop over this missing stair, things have come to a head and I’m not sure what to do.

Nigel made a point in seminar last week that was incorrect (not to mention offensive). I spoke up, noting the factual error only. He told me that I was wrong, and something in me just couldn’t let it go, so I didn’t. This point applied broadly to my research, and was entirely unrelated to his. In the two classes we have had since this time, he has interrupted me each time I have attempted to participate. Every. Time. This has made it difficult for me to participate, and other people are noticing, which is embarrassing me. I really despise conflict, and I hate to think that this is becoming a ‘thing’–being professional is important to me. At the same time though, I refuse to let a rude dude prevent me from participating.

Today, in seminar, we came to a head–he said something, I disagreed, he told me I was wrong, I disagreed, he attempted to explain something to me, I told him that the issue wasn’t with my knowledge and that I didn’t appreciate it, and Dr. John Smith (his adviser) asked us to ‘agree to disagree’. I feel like instead of seeing the issue with Nigel, Dr. Smith thinks I’m the problem. I was harsh–my exact words were “I don’t need a lesson on this, I have google”. That wasn’t ok for me to say, so maybe I am? He also told me I didn’t know what I was talking about–how do you respond to that?

Captain Awkward, I don’t know what to do. I’m tired of having to learn around Nigel. I’m not sure there is much doing if the professor of this class doesn’t mind or notice that the missing stair is missing at all. I’m frustrated that I am being antagonized, and I’m frustrated with myself for taking the bait. I’m frustrated that I seem shrill or antagonistic. It feels to me that this is much more an issue with Nigel’s professionalism than mine, BUT it has affected mine as well and I’m upset with myself about that. I’m not afraid of letting it be awkward, but I do not want to develop a reputation of being ‘difficult’ in my department.

I am too close to this issue to see straight, so I’m reaching out to you. Any scripts, advice, or suggestions for living with Nigel and managing my own responses to him would be very much appreciated.

Thanks so much,

Grad Student, Interrupted

Dear Interrupted,

I can relate to your worry that your relationship with Dr. John Smith is possibly hosed. Just realize that if it is hosed, it’s because of his inability to run a discussion in his classroom. It is a completely false equivalence to treat a student’s constant interruption and condescension as being somehow the same as a refusal to tolerate such behavior. So write this down somewhere that you’ll remember it when it’s course evaluation time: “Professor Smith is knowledgable in his field but he has trouble moderating discussions and creating a respectful environment for all students. Perhaps some training in classroom management will help him make future seminar-style classes more inclusive and productive.” If all the female students write variations of the same thing, he may pay attention to it or he may not (one never knows with tenured folks) but at least that way it will be on record somewhere.

That doesn’t solve your problem now, and it’s impossible to solve sexism in academia in just one semester or one course. If this gives you strength (rage can be strong) then trust: Nigel is not worried that other people see him as “shrill” or “difficult.” He is not worried even though he has clearly been receiving direct feedback from many of his profs that he needs to cool it. Nigel is used to other people (including some professors) hanging back and letting him Nigel it up. He thinks it is his right. It sucks that you not only have to deal with him but that you also have to find strategies for doing it that don’t paint you as the difficult one for not putting up with it.

Let’s be clear also: Many grad students of many backgrounds can be Chatty Cathy in a seminar experience. It is the nature of academics to pontificate about, erm, enthusiastically share their ideas. “Here’s my anecdote about how women do that, too, sometimes” doesn’t cancel out the way that sexism comes into play when a male student only interrupts & talks over women, and nobody says anything about it. When people expect the women to just take the bad behavior and smooth it over. When women who speak up about mistreatment are treated like they are misbehaving and adding tension to the classroom. When women fear defending themselves for fear of being seen as “difficult” and therefore cut off from career opportunities. Intersect this with race and it becomes a total clusterfuck, where a white person talking over other students is just seen an enthusiastic intellectual in an ancient tradition of debate, but a black person saying “Hey could you not do that?” is automatically seen as the “angry” aggressor.

One of the reasons this can all be 1,000 times more frustrating in academic settings is that many professors and students see themselves as open-minded liberal sorts “who don’t see race/gender” and who labor under the illusion that they labor in a meritocracy free of the world’s tedious stereotypes and systemic problems. It is also full of people who think that their personal intentions and situations matter (“If I am not personally racist, then my department, class, institution can’t possibly be racist” mixed with “I worked hard to get where I am and a system where *I* am doing well is obviously a meritocracy” fallacies with a dash of “Even if racism or sexism is the most obvious answer for what is happening, let’s immediately interrogate any instance of such from the standpoint that it is surely not those things aka Occam’s Big Paisley Tie). So not only do women and people of color in academia get squashed when they do speak out about unfair treatment, they also get gaslit into seeing the problem as their own personal failing instead of something systemic and sick.

Now that I’ve made myself unhire-able, let’s talk specific strategies.

Strategy One: Short Sentences That You Repeat

  • “That’s incorrect, Nigel.”
  • “Do not speak when I am speaking, Nigel.”
  • “Do not talk over me, Nigel.”
  • “Please cite your source for that fact, Nigel.”
  • “This is unproductive, Nigel.”
  • “Let’s move on from this topic, Nigel.”

Brief, direct, naming the behavior, repeat like a broken record. If possible, keep your tone very flat and even. It won’t necessarily stop Nigel or kickstart an oblivious professor, but naming the behavior can be good for you and for others in the room.

Strategy Two: Act As If Nigel Has Not Spoken

When Nigel makes a bad argument leave it sitting there like a turd. Use your speaking time to call back to a good, valuable, interesting point that someone else made. You can get your friends & allies in the class to help you with this, or lead by example.

  • “Hrm. Well, getting back to Ravi’s point, what if…”
  • “Interesting. As Michelle said earlier, couldn’t we look at it through the lens of…”
  • “Actually, I want to back up for a minute to Dr. Smith’s lecture – isn’t it true that…?”

I know, Someone Is Wrong In Seminar!!!! It’s supposed to be a place for testing ideas and practicing forming arguments, so it is going to feel very unnatural to let Nigel’s comments go without challenging them, like he is winning, like you are letting him win. Resist the urge. Treat his points as if they are completely uninteresting and inconsequential to you, and redirect the discussion to other students. It will infuriate him and he won’t know why, exactly. Let him bait you. Treat his bait like it is unworthy of acknowledgement. See if you and your classmates are able to have a constructive discussion.

Strategy Three: Speak to Dr. John Smith

“Dr. Smith, I am unhappy with the way the discussion went the other day. I can hold my own in any academic argument, but I rely on my instructors to moderate the discussions and prevent one student’s rudeness and disrespect from poisoning the experience. If Nigel talks over me in the future, or doubles down on an argument that is factually incorrect, how do you recommend that I handle it?” 

In all probability, Dr. Smith doesn’t know what to do about Nigel and is hoping that your natural lady good manners will work it all out for him. Get him on the record in some way, and try whatever he recommends to see if it gets better. If he already sees you as difficult and shrill, there’s nothing you can really do to correct that, so you might as well seek his advice directly. I don’t think it will make things any worse than they are.

Strategy Four: Find Your Mentors Among The Faculty Who Get It

Women in leadership positions, women in the classroom, women mentoring other women, a variety of female perspectives = your letter is just one reason that representation matters.

If you are a professor facing down your very own Nigel, especially a younger, female, untenured professor who is hired on semesterly contracts and who can’t afford poor course evals, here is some acknowledgement that it can be exhausting and just as difficult for you to know where to start. Here are soothing pets, tea, kittens. Here are some strategies:

Strategy One: Channel His Nigelness

Nigels want to be important and get special recognition for how smart they are. They often thrive as your unofficial TA. Nigels are the perfect people to task with a) keeping the discussion on time b) recording side-questions in a “Parking Lot” for further research c) being the in-class fact-checker – “Nigel, can you quickly look up the exact date/quote for us?

Strategy Two: Link Respectful Behavior To Grades

In a private conversation:

“Nigel, as you know, 15% of your grade is class participation. The points are not assigned by volume or quantity, since participation also involves engaging respectfully with the perspectives of others. I’ve observed you talking over other students, interrupting them, and making condescending noises when they speak. I want you to work on your listening skills with your colleagues, and not use the time they are speaking to think of what you are going to say next. Please work on being a more respectful discussion perspective starting this week so that your grade is not adversely affected.”

Give him a midsemester participation grade based on behavior so far: “If I were to grade your participation right now, it would be a 4 or a 5 out of 15, because of the behaviors I’ve just mentioned. If I see improvement, I am happy to restore some points.” Document this and your conversation in case of a grade dispute later.

If Nigel claims not to know what you are talking about, I hope your university has some “social skills” coaching that can help him. Send him there.

Strategy Three: Publicly Check Him & Amplify Other Voices

  • “Nigel, we’ll listen to your point in a minute, but right now, Saeedah was speaking. Please continue, Saeedah.”
  • “Nigel, Emily says that your point about x is not correct. Instead of arguing back and forth with her, why don’t you research the question and come back with a cite next week.”
  • “Nigel, glad someone did the reading! Crispin, what did you think?”
  • “Nigel, I see your hand, but I’m afraid we don’t have time for more discussion today. Why don’t you post your thought in the online forum and we can discuss it at leisure?”
  • “Nigel, I can see you are passionate about this topic, but it is not okay to interrupt other students. Deedy, I apologize for the interruption. Please continue.”

Strategy Four: Define A Structure For Class Discussions

From the excellent thread on running meetings, one strategy for moderating a discussion is to give everyone two tokens that they “spend” when they speak. When everyone has used one token, you can use your second token. This makes it less personal to Nigel and more about finding a fair way to handle class time and more about bringing quieter voices forward.

Strategy Five: Have Some Fucking Mercy At Group Project Time

If possible, pair the assholes up with each other. Yes, everyone has to learn to work with others and even work with difficult people, but trust: The nice people already know how to work with others, including difficult people. The assholes need a taste of their own medicine. If you only have one Nigel, privately address his behavior specifically in terms of group projects. “Nigel, one side effect of your rudeness in class is that I am reluctant to pair you with anyone. In this collaborative field, I worry that your good ideas will not achieve the reach they deserve because of your difficulty in working with others. On this project, I expect you to be professional and kind to your partner. Show me that you can do good work and be a part of a team.

It can also be a good idea to have the class generate a list of ground rules for group projects and expected behavior for collaborators – responding to communications within 24 hours, dividing work equally, being on time to meetings, running drafts by each other at set dates, etc. With some guidance from you, a class can generate a pretty great list of standards independently and hold each other to those standards.

Strategy Six: Let Nigel’s Victims Know That You Know What’s Up

I’ve had some subtle and not so subtle bullying behavior go down in my classes before. Transphobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, ableism. Some white selective deafness when black students are speaking. Some sea lioning about people’s lived experiences, like wealthy students trying to make the student pitching a documentary about food deserts ‘prove’ that those are real during her pitch. Sometimes the right thing to do is to address the behavior publicly and swiftly, i.e. “Food deserts are real. If you don’t know about them, look them up, or help (student) brainstorm some ways to visually inform you about them on screen when we ask for comments & questions. Please, Student, continue your pitch.” Sometimes the right thing is to pull the offending student aside and gently say “I’m sure your intentions were not to cause harm/I’m sure you were acting out of ignorance, but what you did there was not okay, and I need you to understand that so that you can make sure not to do that really embarrassing (for you) behavior again in class.” See also “Don’t apologize to me. Work on making it right with the other students and being more aware of your behavior, and that will clean the slate.

Students who do jerky stuff are my students, too, and while I won’t let them continue operating at the expense of others sometimes the best way to get through to them is to help them save face by doing it privately and not calling even more attention to the awkwardness & pain of those they hurt. In those cases, telling the victims, “I saw what that person did, it was definitely not okay, I am sorry. I’ve addressed it directly & privately with the student, please let me know if it happens again” goes a long way toward making those students not feel alone or like they need to suffer in silence.

Mostly, realize that it is your job as a teacher to make sure that classroom discussions are fair and respectful and to teach people how they can behave in your courses. Students will take their cues from you how to treat each other, so if you never call on women or people of color, or never seem to hear a point unless a white man makes it, if you let men talk over women and white students talk over nonwhite students unchecked, or if you feel the need to top or “clarify” everything certain colleagues say while letting white men’s points be “agree to disagree” points, if every reading you assign and every example you name and every clip you show is All White Men, All The Time, then you become part of the problem.

269 thoughts on “#787: Trouble dealing with male grad students who take up all the air

  1. I love how the first 4 strategies apply also to try to educate a toddler. We can all start to see the Nigels in our lives like that 3 year old who doesn’t quite get it.

  2. I think all this advice is great advice! As a former grad student, current professor, I’d also recommend considering a discussion with your department’s Director of Graduate Studies. Talk to Dr. Smith first, to get his response and see if any suggestions he has works. Then, depending on how productive the discussion with Dr. Smith is and the results of applying any advice he offers are, consider meeting with the DGS. You don’t have to–and may not want to–make a formal complaint, but you can also ask for the DGS’s advice. The DGS’s role typically includes advisement and advocacy for the graduate students in the department’s program, so they may be able to help, and they’ll certainly appreciate learning (if they’re not already aware) that this student is causing problems and may need intervention from faculty.

    1. Absolutely agree. It shouldn’t be the LW’s job to fix the whole program, but a conversation with someone who can make some changes can be both professional and effective.

    2. I also think that this is a great idea. Dr. Smith may not be flustered with Nigel at all. He may, himself, be a Nigel.

      1. Yes. Or one of those people who secretly wishes could act like Nigel, and so happily enables Nigel.

        1. Or one of those academics who mistake bullying for authority in men.

          They tend to encourage it in favoured male students while thinking women who do it are b****es and women who speak up are uppity/too sensitive/whiners/shrill.

      2. And he may not, as well. Talking to Dr. Smith face to face and expressing concerns about Nigel’s behavior would be my step #1, because at the very least, Smith’s handling of the situation is (by the sound of it) inappropriate, though he may not have the perspective to see it that way. Bringing it up directly will at least hopefully clear up that confusion, and if Smith is a problem, then you’re both closer to positively identifying the problem, and if you wind up going over his head, you can cite an attempt to handle the situation head on.

        1. Personally, my step 1 would be an email or something else that will create a paper trail to show that hey, I’ve attempted to resolve this problem. That way if (when) it needs to be kicked further up the ladder? I have *proof* that yes, I actually did talk to Dr. Smith on Y date about Nigel’s behaviour, he gave me this advice on how to deal with it, I attempted to implement the advice in the next seminar on X date, and as you can see from my follow-up letter two days later, Dr. Smith’s advice was not helpful. (Alternately, “Dr. Smith did not provide advice which took the situation with the seriousness it merits; instead of acknowledging that allowing one student to dominate the seminar is a problem, he effectively told me to be more polite / to get used to it / that it wasn’t important for women to contribute to the conversation,” in the event that the advice is completely useless.)

          Especially after having been told to “agree to disagree” after basically being shouted down by Nigel for having dared to disagree with him, I’d be really reluctant to trust Dr. Smith to back me up on ANYTHING, much less something that would call his judgement and teaching skills into question.

          1. Having that conversation via email is maybe a more prudent approach for exactly the reason of keeping a paper-trail, but in my own experience I’ve found I have a bit more success with face-to-face conversations with my own documentation (as in, have a notepad and paper with you and write down everything the professor says) than with email. Otherwise I agree completely about the process when going over his head if that becomes necessary.

            Regarding the “agree to disagree” comment, that’s the part of the original letter that I am most inclined to keep my assumptions at bay about. There’s a lot of murk in that interaction that comes from a single point of perspective and doesn’t lend it to an easy assumption about Dr. Smith’s character in total. The LW specifically says that Dr. Smith told “us” to agree to disagree, along with acknowledging that her response to Nigel’s criticism hadn’t been among her best moments either. I can easily see that being a situation where it appears to Dr. Smith as though both students have gone disruptively off-topic and the comment being his way of putting an end to it rather than airing the problem in the classroom setting. We also don’t know what his interactions with Nigel are like away from that setting. It’s entirely possible (though I’ll admit, sadly unlikely) that Dr. Smith reprimanded Nigel for his behavior privately after the fact instead of making it a public shaming.

            Now, even if we lean on the best-case scenario (or at least the best case that I see), where Dr. Smith is aware of Nigel’s problematic behavior, ended the argument abruptly to keep the discussion on topic, and handed out stern reprimands in private after the fact, it still wasn’t handled right. A simple “agree to disagree” directed at both participants essentially puts both sets of problematic behavior on equal footing, and they’re not. If he’s reprimanding Nigel in private (again, sadly unlikely), then A) It’s woefully ineffective since he keeps doing it, and B) That should also come paired with Dr. Smith contacting LW and saying something along the lines of “Nigel’s behavior isn’t something I condone and it’s being addressed,” and that clearly hasn’t happened. I don’t think this best case scenario is probable, mind you. Smith could be anywhere on the spectrum from that all the way down to being a Nigel himself, or worse.

            Realistically, I think Smith probably thinks Nigel is a bit arrogant, but doesn’t have the perspective to see it as sexist, or even consider the possibility. Whatever the case, where ever he is on that spectrum, there’s no doubt that there’s a problem, and it needs to be addressed. I’m not saying that I disagree with your reluctance to trust him to back the LW up (prepare for the worst, as they say), but setting assumptions aside and making an effort often goes a long way. It’s very possible Smith will take calling his judgment into question as a threat, and respond like a big jerk baby about it. I think it’s also very possible that going to him with this problem directly will help him see it in a context he hasn’t already, and may effect a change that his own perspective was too limited to let him see prior.

        2. Absolutely seconding this advice – get your issues/complaints out in the open ASAP, because if something unexpectedly comes to a head with Nigel or Mr. Smith and the heads of department get involved, they’ll say, “well you say this was a problem, but why didn’t you try to address it with your teacher or someone in the department?” And RECORD EVERYTHING – seriously, sit down right now and write out every single incident with Nigel and all the details you can recall, and keep this list handy in case you need it. My added suggestion is that if this unit contains a teaching evaluation, speak to some of your fellow students and tell them you plan to mention Mr. Smith’s sub-par class management, and if they noticed the same issues encourage them to say something along those lines in their evals. Many voices are better than one.

          1. Yeah, sad to say. This is the very first thing you’ll hear, no matter what your complaint is or how obvious the answer. I even got, “Why didn’t you write a student eval?” from my program head. There were FIVE students in my workshop. FIVE, (5) STUDENTS. FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE. THIS MANY: !!!!!

      3. Every grad program seems to have at least one Nigel at any given time, so at least some of them must graduate and eventually get tenure-track positions.

        Memorably, my department’s Nigel decided to move to another school and there was much (secret) rejoicing. The next quarter we had a few new students come in… and one of them was our brand new Nigel. Sigh. He once tried to sign up for an advanced seminar in a (coincidentally? female-dominated) subfield outside his area of expertise and for which he lacked the prerequisites, and tried to tell the professor he could catch up by ‘reading a few papers’. Because you know, the rest of us had to take like 12 credits of coursework to qualify, but Nigel could catch up to us with a weekend of reading.

        Luckily the professor told him where he could shove it.

    3. In my experience, addressing (significant) problems led to me being labelled a troublemaker and no changes. Grad students in my department are dependent upon the goodwill of the professors for TAships, RAships, large grant nominations, teaching positions, and reference letters. I unfortunately learned that it was better *for me* to prepare well for the seminars so I could keep a secret tally of when I defeated the patriarchy with my excellent points, make friends with women who understood the issues and our relative powerlessness, and, unfortunately, smile and be pleasant. I wasn’t one of “those” feminists; I was a “Cool Feminist”. It kills me that I couldn’t burn the patriarchy to the ground. But my department was not going to address systemic problems or behaviour of tenured professors. So I will graduate without debt, with glowing letters, and the opportunity to teach hundreds of undergrads about women’s history because I was “The Feminist” of the department. Sometimes in this unfair, patriarchal world, you have to look out for yourself and be satisfied the small victories you can take over Nigels.

      LW, I hope your department is different from mine and this advice is not helpful. But it’s okay for you to look out for yourself and your future if that’s what you need to do.

      1. Reality doesn’t always hurt; you’ve done the work according to their rules and will claim your reward. Please try to change things as you advance. You are a voice of practical reason , and that can turn a feminist foothold into an empire!

  3. Thank you for this, Captain. As a grad student who wants to teach one day I’m bookmarking this for probably frequent use. Some of the things that make academia such a great place to be (surrounded by smart people interested in the same things as you, environment for discussion and collaboration, etc) also makes good breeding ground for Nigels.

    One thing I’d like to add about the course evals is that, if he doesn’t conduct them or pay attention, it might be worth providing written feedback to the department head/the dean/someone with some authority. Unfortunately in my program, tenured professors have optional course evals, which means that the professors that need them usually opt out. (I look forward to graduating very soon.)

    Good luck, LW! And good luck to everyone else trying to finish this semester with a Nigel.

  4. I wish we had this question about 2 years ago! I was in a graduate program with a Nigel, and we had 7/10 core classes together. He was a white man in his mid 40’s, in a program that was about 2/3 female, with most of us in our 20’s and early 30’s. He spoke extensively, revealing his great ignorance about many things. The other members of the class spent a lot of time complaining about him when we would go out for lunch together after class (without him).

    One time we were doing presentations on individual research, and one student had done hers on the experience of gay men in the American south. “Nigel” made some homophobic comments, and the professor totally shot him down. It was awesome!

    Another strategy that I saw work was a variation of strategy 3, to call on the quieter members of the class by name, who often have very good insight when they have the opportunity to share.

    Finally, there was our professor who gently said, “Nigel, you are far enough along in the program that you really shouldn’t be making that sort of generalization. That might have been acceptable at the beginning of the program, but you really should know better by now.”

    In retrospect, the professors could have done a better job of dealing with Nigel, but I did see a lot of positive growth in his behavior and the way that they dealt with him.

    1. Yes. I had a professor in grad school who would say, “I’m not understanding how this is related to the discussion at hand,” let that hang there for a moment of silence, and then get us back on topic. Not that it worked all the time, but sometimes the mansplainers weren’t sure how to respond to it. Amusingly, this professor quickly got a reputation for being “tactless” for not letting us wander all over the place in class.

  5. As someone who tends to take up more than his fair share of space in discussions, I always appreciate it when the prof or meeting organizer is willing to say “let’s hear from some others” or “hold that thought” or otherwise remind me that it’s not supposed to be The Zatchmort Show. If you’re worried about recriminations, I agree with the Cap that phrasing it as setting ground rules for productive discussion that apply to everyone can work well.

    LW, I don’t have a lot to add about your immediate situation, but if it helps, remember that a decent person who just gets overexcited will understand when informed that they’re interfering with the educational process, and more importantly, make an effort on their own to change their behavior without constant policing. It doesn’t sound like that describes Nigel at all. You and others have already realized that his behavior is A Problem, but for people who make excuses for this rude dude (like his advisor), reminding them of the difference may help them be more supportive.

    1. “As someone who tends to take up more than his fair share of space in discussions, I always appreciate it when the prof or meeting organizer is willing to say “let’s hear from some others” or “hold that thought” or otherwise remind me that it’s not supposed to be The Zatchmort Show.”

      So much this! I am totally the person who will dominate the entire discussion FOR THE ENTIRE CLASS PERIOD if I’m allowed to. Now, it’s actually my responsibility to correct this behavior in myself (which I do on a regular basis, and I am much better about it than I used to be), but I always appreciate the extra help and reminders. So much so that I will often approach professors who don’t already know me and ask them to let me know if my incessant need to talk about my SUPER EXCITING PERSONAL THOUGHTS!!! (which are not actually any more exciting than anyone else’s) becomes a problem.

      1. I tell people this, too, especially instructors, but also meeting-runners. “I tend to talk a lot! If I talk too much, feel free to tell me to cool it.”

        Telling them this reminds me, too, and helps me keep myself under control.

    2. Seconded! I think that people often try to push back against corrective measures by saying “he’s just excited,” or socially unaware, etc. I am totally that excited person who has so many important ideas! I try to self-monitor so that I’m not using up more than my fair space, but I’m sure I don’t always succeed. And I would LOVE to get constructive feedback on how well I’m doing on that front.

      1. I witnessed this go down once at a teachers’ conference roundtable: there were about half a dozen people who clearly LOVED to talk, and there would always be a pause right at the beginning while they looked around the room and waited to see if anyone else was going to pipe up. You know this is because, as teachers, all of us have been there with the student who is always blurting out the answer right away and never gives anyone else a damn chance.

        1. Omg that pause! Where everyone looks at each other as if to say, “I’m not gonna be that asshole who speaks first. We know we all hate that asshole.”

        2. Ha, on the flip side of that, I was once at a conference for careers advisers, and someone was running what up posed to be an interactive workshop, and *no-one was talking*. You could literally see all the thought bubbles going, “no, I’m sorry, it’s just after lunch and I’m going to be the arsehole who just sits here and lets you do all the work.”

          1. I’ve been in a lot of on-the-job-training seminars, and this happened a lot, especially at the start or if my co-workers didn’t agree with the instructor. The instructor would practically beg people to speak up. No one would – and then me and the other smartass would look at each other, shrug, and start in. Generally we’d make people laugh, break the ice and get everyone participating BUT for one instructor it went from bad to worse as he’d already rubbed everyone the wrong way, with his very special “time management” training. Where if you didn’t have enough time to do everything you wanted in a day, then the only solution was to sleep less and get up earlier so that you could do all the work for work and all the work towards your personal goals. I guess that could work for some people, but there were a lot of new parents in the room and the resentment directed at the instructor was palpable.

    3. In my first semester at college a professor called on “Anybody but Angel” to answer a question. On the second day of class. In the second week, he asked me to chat in his office around the corner after class, and told me that it was clear I really knew my stuff. “Answer questions less,” he said, “so I can get everyone else up to your level”.

      I was surprised! I’d been waiting for other people to answer before I offered a response, but most of the time no one said anything so I would answer the question. After this discussion I made an effort to answer only up to one question per class, and magic happened. As I got accustomed to long, long pauses and lost the need to jump in and answer, more and more people started to respond. Because I didn’t always save the day, other people had to step up.

      This stuck with me. I’m an education major, and I plan to work as hard as possible to not allow Nigels in my classrooms. People who know their stuff will be recognized for it! And they’ll get a “response limit” conversation from me, so other people will have to step up too.

      1. In highschool a teacher once said “Kate and I could be having this conversation in a coffee shop down the street, anyone else have an opinion”. Sadly at that age it shut me up in all classes for quite a while, when looking back on it the teacher meant more in line with “you know your stuff and are clearly interested, you don’t need to be taught this”.

        So I guess I’m saying watch the students you say this to and see if they took the criticism as intended 🙂

        1. I had a teacher do this to me and one other kid in high school. He was a dick about it and it was my first class of the day, so when my reason to participate was removed I started napping during his class since I was only sleeping about four hours a night anyway.

          I got better about self-regulating in college, and professors who did need to call me on it were generally a lot more polite.

      2. Yes! Last year, in my second-last year of school, all my teachers gave the same feedback to me at parent’s evening: talk less, answer questions less, give other people a chance. It took a while, because I would often still blurt out the answer and then realise what I’d done and sink down in my chair. However, one thing which did help me learn that a long silence is not bad was to realise that if I was the only one answering, then there was no point to me talking. I already knew whatever the thing was, the teacher knew that I knew, and there was no reason I should be talking instead of the teacher. All I was doing was being annoying and showing off, even if it stemmed from enthusiasm.

        Now, when there is a long silence, I think about whether I actually have anything to add that can’t be better said by the teacher. The answer is usually no. And that’s fine.

      3. If you’re going to be teaching younger children, tread carefully. Not being heard can be very frustrating when you’re a child whose experience has been that people only listen to you when you have the right answer. Having a teacher refuse to call on or listen to you because they know you already understand the material can feel like the teacher is removing your only arena for being heard.

        In other words, I wish my first grade teacher had found a way to challenge and involve me, rather than pointedly ignoring me until I started standing on my desk and screaming math answers into the silence 🙂

        1. I had teachers try to ban me from talking occasionally through K-12, so, yeah, if you’re dealing with people below college age be tactful about how you implement this. (It was particularly fun with me because I’m autistic and academic settings are one of the only areas I can talk in, because speech is cued so frequently. So it was like ‘you answer too many questions, so we’re going to ban you from all social interaction for a week with no warning.’)

          Also, the case in the post is clearly maliciousness, but since we’re talking about probably-benign behavior in this thread:

          In general, if the problem is the student volunteering too much and not interrupting, you should probably just not call on them, which deals with the problem without forcing an embarrassing and scary confrontation. Volunteering for every question you know the answer to is pretty common behavior in some students, and it isn’t actually a problem unless the teacher calls on them every time.

          And sometimes this is not even a case of people not understanding they’re dominating the conversation. There are cultural norms that include interrupting as a normal part of speech, with the expectation that the other person will interrupt you back when they want you to stop talking — and if you DON’T keep talking until they jump in, you’re being really rude and leaving them hanging. In areas where this is cultural, local schools follow those norms too, so going to college can be a huge shock.

      4. I had an agreement with one of my high school teachers.

        He was basically like “You know all of this material. I know you want to participate, but I really need to work with everyone else. I also know you hate busywork. I will call on you once per class only, sometimes not when you have your hand raised so I know you’re paying attention, and you can skip the homework because you obviously don’t actually need it to learn the material. Deal?”

        It was amazing.

      5. Fellow recovering Nigella here. I had my ephiphany when a teacher took me aside after class and told me, “You know, Adele, what I like most about you is how you wait for the questions nobody else can answer”.

        Teacher had been smart enough to wait for an occasion when I had been indeed somewhat subdued in the class discussion for whatever reason, so I didn’t immediately read her feedback as obvious sarcasm. I just thought, “Huh, that’s not what I usually do at all; maybe I should be doing that.”

        It’s been a work in progress ever since and it certainly took me all of high school to get the slightest handle on it, but in my further academic career, I have been invited to the after-class-debriefing coffee sessions often enough to feel fairly confident that I’m usually not the worst Nigel in any given seminar.

        I mean, I still have to enter every classroom/seminar context with a conscious resolution to keep my contributions to a minimum and I still always end up talking more than I planned to. I still get carried away in the heat of an argument/when I’m really into a topic. But most well-meaning people seem to see that I’m making an effort and appreciate that. They will say “Wow, you sure talk_a_lot,” but also “at least you’re not talking nonsense.”

        It’s a tricky issue for any instructor, because you don’t want people to overcorrect in the other direction. In general I’m still a huge fan of speaking out in class, even when it _is_ nonsense (maybe especially when it’s nonsense – because it’s your intructor’s job to call you out on it, and how else would you find out about your misconceptions?), even when it might strike some colleagues as showing off. The important thing is to not hog the spotlight, to give others a chance to show off as well.

  6. I’m glad to say I’ve only ever encountered something similar once, and it’s something I actually wrote about here while it was happening! (My whole field of study is about 85% female and the professors are usually firm and assertive once an overtalker of whatever kind shows up, both things I’m very happy about.)

    In my case, I’m very sure it wasn’t a sexism thing – the guy in question mostly talked over our male professor – but it was still absolutely unbearable. So unbearable, in fact, that I didn’t return to that class after a few weeks because just seeing this guy was affecting my blood pressure. He was probably in his 70s but a regular student for some reason (there’s a special kind of study path for senior people in my country, I have no idea what his backstory is like that he doesn’t participate in that) and we shared a lecture with a subsequent small course where we could go over what was talked about in the lecture and discuss and ask questions and thelike.

    And this guy was just absolutely horrible. It was very, very obvious that this topic was not only not his major but something he didn’t actually know a lot about in general. Which is not a problem per se, I mean, we can’t all be experts and that’s what the course was there for, but he simultaneously didn’t have a clue and acted like he was hot shit. So annoying. He would constantly monopolise the course, correct our professor with wrong answers, shout and become incredibly red in the face, tell long and personal stories of no bearing to the topic at hand, the whole shebang. The last time I went to the course I almost exploded because he made me so ragey. So when he again started yelling weird stuff, I looked him in the eye and said “Wow, please don’t always shout like that, it’s horrible and super annoying!” and he looked at me like he’d never seen me before but also like he kind of didn’t really process what I’d just said? The others laughed kind of awkwardly but nothing happened after that (I don’t think our teacher heard me).

    When I wrote about it on here I was still wondering whether I should mention the whole thing to my professor but in the end I just left the discussion group (I still went to the lecture). Because that really was the crux of the whole thing: That the teacher actually engaged with this guy instead of showing him the ropes. I was especially upset about this as I really liked the professor and thaught he was a great teacher, but he was weirdly lacking in assertiveness in this one aspect. I really wish he had said something because Shouty Senior could have been like he was until he was blue in the face, it wouldn’t have helped him any had the teacher just stopped him in his tracks. But sadly that didn’t happen.

    So, yeah, no advice really, but sympathy, even if there aren’t things like sexism or racism at play. It’s still super exhausting and annoying.

  7. I’m a grad student, too, and in my department we have at least one Nigel, at least one Nigella, and at least one Prof. Nigel. My worst encounter with our Prof. Nigel was when he attended paper workshop for a visiting scholar (the paper was pre-circulated). He fell asleep while the presenter was talking, then woke up just in time for Q&A, raised his hand first, said “I didn’t read the paper, but…” and then went rambling on for about five minutes.

    Just last week Nigella held up a two-hour seminar for FIFTEEN SOLID MINUTES to talk about some book that was not on the reading list (and a friend who had read the book told me later that she had interpreted the book completely incorrectly). And our Nigel is notorious for interrupting in class and for drinking all the coffee and eating all the snacks in the grad student lounge, leaving coffee grounds, crumbs, and wrappers in his wake.

    So. It’s an issue. And the sad thing is, absolutely everyone agrees that it’s an issue, and people complain about Prof. Nigel, Nigel, and Nigella behind their backs all the time, but nobody ever does anything about it. The three of them go through their lives refusing to acknowledge the evidence of their blowhardiness, blithely unaware that they give the entire rest of the department hives.

    1. Apologies if this has already been tried, but when people start complaining about the Three Nigels, have you tried saying “So what do you think we should do about it?” It may not have occurred to anyone that they can or should do anything to change the Nigels; it shows that you agree without it degenerating into a gripefest; and it puts the onus on them to maybe do something other than vent.

      1. Yes, my fellow grad students and I have been batting around the idea of complaining to someone about the two grad student Nigels, but nobody’s actually decided to step forward as yet. The students who run the lounge are going to talk to Nigel soon about the messy eating and the food-hogging, but Nigella hasn’t broken any rules or done anything truly offensive, she’s just a blowhard and never stops talking. It might be worth a chat with the two professors who run that class. As for Prof. Nigel, he’s tenured and a Big Deal — next time he does something outrageous in public I might ask my advisor if there’s anything to be done, but she prides herself on “not getting involved in department politics”, so I dunno.

      2. I should also mention that the rest of us in class with Nigella have banded together to do Strategy One and Strategy Two with her on our own, so by those standards we are in fact “doing something,” I suppose. It’s the sheer amount of air time that she takes up that is becoming problematic, and no one wants to do a Her and interrupt. Fifteen minutes on one comment is 1/8 of our full class time; when you add on the other times she spoke in class that day she ate up close to 1/4 of the whole class, I’m pretty sure.

        1. ….but interrupting isn’t doing a Nigella, it’s shutting down a Nigella, unless you also then go on to talk for fifteen minutes?

          I’m sorry your advisor is a coward 😦

        2. Ouch, that’s a huge portion of time. I once had a year-long course where the schedule for covering material had to be repeatedly changed, eventually leaving out a whole section of material, due in large part to the massive amount of lecture time that was spent listening to our Nigel’s irrelevant comments.

          The number of professors who are otherwise good teachers, but have tremendous difficulty with classroom management amazes me.

          1. It’s because in most universities, there is absolutely no training for professors in classroom management. As a grad student you TA (which often means that you sit in a corner and collect assignments, and MAYBE but not always take over part of one class), you grade and hold office hours, but when you get a PhD and a teaching job (or in many cases are promoted to teaching a class as a grad student so you can be funded) you just sort of… figure it all out on the fly. How to write a syllabus, how to plan a lecture, how to deal with students in a lecture or a discussion- it’s all stuff you should just know because you’re smart enough to have gotten/be getting the PhD in the first place. It’s not… a good system as far as promoting effective teaching methods.

        3. I have to point out: the only one you’ve “banded together” to deal with is the female student, who you acknowledge hasn’t actually done anything other than overspeak. Nigel and Prof Nigel, both male and presenting disruptive physical activities far more outrageous, are being treated as more acceptable than a woman who speaks for a measurable time. They have not been challenged.

          If it turns out that, while you are banding together to actively correct an errant female, your group somehow manages to do nothing more than *consider* possible repercussions for the male Nigels… well. At least that would be ‘doing something’. Acting out a shadow patriarchy, is one of those things that comes to mind. We’ve all seen that unequal response, and it always seems to creep in under the banner of equality.

          1. So upon re-reading my comment I can see how you might have come to this interpretation. I should point out that Nigella is the only one of the three with whom I interact on a regular basis — I only have classes with her, so I only have direct knowledge of how students deal with her in class. I have heard reports of Nigel’s bad behavior in the classroom and from what I hear the students who have to work with him have been trying to cut him off and to appeal to the professor, with about as much success as the LW has had. I know about his poor attitude first hand only from conversations in informal settings (in which I have no problem cutting him off or correcting him). Nigel was also formally disciplined by the graduate student council for our department late last week for his misuse of the lounge. I don’t know how that conversation went, but I do know that it happened.

            As for Prof. Nigel, you try going up against a tenured professor with no assistance from your advisor and see how that goes for you.

            This comment represents an unfortunate trend I’ve seen lately in CA letters in which commenters try to score points against the LW and other commenters for saying things they perceive as ‘problematic’ based on rather scanty evidence.

    2. Best response I’ve ever seen to that, from this tiny bullet of a women, you know the sort…

      “I haven’t read the article, but–”

      “Okay, so we’ve got about five minutes for the Q&A, so you can skim the article now and I’ll answer your question at the end.” Said very quickly over him and bam, on to the next question, like it wasn’t even a possibility that he’d object.

      1. OH, that’s GENIUS, if I’m ever moderating or presenting and someone does that, I’m stealing that response for sure. Sadly I was just a bystander this particular time around!

      2. That is *amazing.* I now have to write, publish, and present an article or academic paper JUST so I can have a Q&A section, hope someone does this, and use this response. Seriously.

    1. I love the group project idea. My professor’s approach in grad school (MBA, so not academic but still had the token slackers and jerks) was that you didn’t get to pick who you work with in the business world and he was going to prepare us for that. All that meant was that those of us who cared about creating a good project picked up the slack for the few who didn’t.

      (And I am loving the scripts for how to deal with talkers – and, head hanging, am seeing myself as the person who needs to be shushed sometimes. 🙂 )

      1. Secret Group Project Making Algorithm From 9 Years of Teaching Filmmaking

        Group ambitious, prepared folks together – they need people working on their level and getting experience being pushed & challenged
        Group the quiet ones together – they will have a harmonious time and yet they probably need some experience exercising leadership skills
        Group the assholes together and kiss that project up to Jesus – they will find a way to be functional (or not)
        Group the slackers together – one or both of them will rise to the challenge (or not)
        Live with unequal groups, within certain parameters – 16 people in a class makes groups of 4 obvious, but accept groups between 3 and 5.

        1. May the saints rise up and call you blessed for not doing that bullshit thing of grouping the ambitious, prepared folks with the slackers and/or assholes.

          1. No kidding. My elementary teachers repeatedly put me at a table with ALL the slacker/asshole kids to the point where I finally rebelled in 5th grade and refused to participate in group projects and tests. As a kid with social difficulties, I would have benefited from working with people as equal partners and practicing negotiation and teamwork as opposed to being socially isolated at my table constantly.

          2. @Bibliophilian — I was a terrible, terrible child, so I preferred to be grouped with the slackers so I could take the project, do it myself, and turn it in, without any of that tedious “cooperation” business. It did not benefit me later.

          3. Amen! I was one of the prepared ones, and for three semesters, I was plagued with the girl in my major who stacked all of her classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only so she could fly to the opposite coast every Thursday to stay with her boyfriend until Monday every single week. I will let you guess how much availability she had to work on our projects when she was cramming 16 credit hours into a two-day school week. (And she graduated with honors. Because our shared major was 85% group work, and she was constantly inflicted on the most prepared people in the room, so she got the same grades. FLAMES. FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE.)

          4. @Jane me too! I guess the theory was that the high achieving kids would teach the slackers? I hated it. I just ended up doing all of it and giving free good grades to the resident slacker.

          5. @Bibliophilian Oh dear. When I was in Grade School, I had a teacher who decided to divide up the class into groups of 4, in order to encourage peer pressure-based good behavior. Basically she would group together the well-behaved kids with the generally not-so-well-behaved. Naturally, I got put in the group with someone who was so uncontrollable that he was expelled the next year and sent off to Catholic school.

            Every time one person violated a rule/wasn’t quiet/etc, the entire group would get a demerit. And at the end of the week, those that had no or low demerits would get to have a party in class. Every single week, without fail, our group had to sit there while every other kid in the class got to participate in a party, all because that ONE kid in our group couldn’t control himself. The other two kids in my group didn’t want to make waves, but, oh no… not me. I sure as hell wasn’t being paid to be this dude’s teacher, and I was angry as hell that I was being actively punished for his behavior.

            I threw such a fit that the principal got involved and eventually the teacher had to let me sit by myself, sans group. I can’t say that I didn’t totally enjoy the day that I got to move my stuff from the old desk to the new one. I did kind of make a big production of it in front of the other students, haha.

            I don’t even want to go into my horrible academic stories where I was usually the only woman in 75% of my classes. I got out of there pronto after my Master’s. So… clearly my tactic has always been to go ahead and be DIFFICULT under these sorts of circumstances. Those people who tend to dismiss you as crazy or as an ‘overreactor’ or something similar are usually not going to support you if you play nicey-nice anyway. But… I can’t say I don’t understand why people don’t always go that route. It does unfortunately have its drawbacks (at least for women, that is).

          6. One of my high school instructors once decided to have a “group test” (so, class of 28, 7 tests, kids grouped in fours), where to make everyone participate in the test it was given in class with a timer so that each person would work for 2 minutes, and then pass the paper to the next person, so in a 50 minute class, each person got about 12 minutes of time with the test. I was placed with three people who were failing, deliberately, in order to limit the extent to which I was already setting the curve which would help everyone else, and to bring their grades up so they wouldn’t fail.

            Seriously. Test was several pages, short-answer, science topic.

            I mean, I still set the curve ON THAT TEST in my 12 damn minutes, with maybe 3 words on it written by anyone else, but in retrospect, worst group project strategy EVAR. Also, for crying out loud, teachers, if you have one student who is setting the curve by a 30% margin or something and you feel like the folks doing 70% as well as her are doing well, just change your curve-setting strategy, duh.

          7. A friend of mine did a course with a number of group projects. He was hard-working, and despite often being saddled with the slackers who took advantage of his hard work, he had good marks. So good, that the marks for last project wouldn’t really influence them any more. So when he got saddled with slackers again on that one, he deliberately didn’t make any extra effort to save them. It was a bit of an asshole move, but still very understandable. They got a very bad grade on that last projects and the slackers were rather mad.

        2. Please spread this information to the world. It’s so logical and yet so beautiful. And it would make students stop hating teachers who use group projects quite as much.

        3. I was a returning adult student when I took an undergrad class with a professor who delighted in observing group dynamics (it was a political science class, but he had us read “The Double Helix” about the discovery of DNA our first week, so we could see just how much politics, sexism, and assholishness goes into ‘objective’ science. I still love him for this).

          Anyway, he grouped us together randomly for a semester-long project. My group was five women and one man. Everyone but me was late teens/early twenties. From the start, the man dominated the conversation in really overt ways. He talked casually about all his contacts (again: poli sci class. Not uncommon), made swaggering and grandiose promises about the role he would be playing, spoke down to all of us. That’s not a metaphor. Like, literally down. Like, we were all sitting in our chairs and he would sit on TOP of his desk so he was physically above us.

          As we went about the project, it soon became obvious he was not doing anything. We had an email chain going with over 200 emails over a couple weeks and he hadn’t participated at ALL. We finally started asking in the chain where he was, and no answer (he clearly wasn’t reading it).

          My experience with young women of that age is that many are… nice to the point of being push-overs in order to avoid confrontation. We would meet, and those women would start to complain, and then IMMEDIATELY discuss all the reasons he might have for his non-involvement. Dudebro never even needed to come up with an excuse; they did it for them.

          It took till the end of the semester for me to convince them to bring this up with the professor, who had told us all that if we had a group member who didn’t participate, that person would get a zero and not to cover for them. Our situation was exactly what he was talking about, and I could read him well enough to see that he gave a damn about gender dynamics (his wife is an internationally-renowned chemist and the breadwinner of the family and he sees what she goes through at work). I had to tell the other women that if this guy got credit, I would drop out of the project, in order to get them to step up.

          Anyway. He showed up at our final meeting. Wrote a single page of the final paper which we’d already written. It was almost enough to make them reconsider their decision; I had to tell him forcefully to leave and every one of those women looked at me like I was a monster. The professor, on the other hand, became a close mentor of mine and one of my grad school app letter-writers. He was completely fascinated by this entire story.

          Age. This is how age has helped me. I hope the other women and the men look back on the whole experience as a lesson on boundaries/shit that don’t fly bro.

          1. Argh. I had a similar experience in a senior level history class for history minors/majors. We had to do a group project that he assigned groups in the third week of the semester because he expected us to devote THAT much of the semester to this project, which would constitute a pretty healthy percentage of our final grade. We were in a group of five, three women, including myself, one dudebro and one guy, Alvin, who was just so excited that dudebro was talking to him – even if it was just in context of the class project – that ANYTHING Dudebro said was golden, as far as he was concerned.

            Dudebro showed up to exactly ONE group meeting, where he said that his busy social schedule and extracurriculars really didn’t leave him time to work on the project, so just keep him updated and he’ll “sign off” on whatever we turn in. (cause we’d need his approval, I guess?) Alvin nodded enthusiastically, “Yeah, man, sure!” While the other two girls kind of glanced at each other and said, “Uh, OK.” in this soft resigned way. I felt like Mugatu, “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I FEEL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS!”

            I shrugged and said something like, “Oh, sure, just go to the professor and tell him that your social life doesn’t leave any time in your schedule for this class you need for your major, to graduate. I’m sure he’ll be cool with it.” With a big smile on my face.

            He laughed and said, “Hilarious” and left us there in the library.

            We met regularly, Dudebro didn’t show. We included him in group emails, but he never responded. I don’t know if he forgot or ignored the fact that a major component of the project, along with a huge research paper, was a presentation we had to make at the end of the semester. Maybe he thought he could just show up on the day of and we would just hand him neatly printed index cards, we’d prepared for him. But it was very obvious he didn’t plan on contributing. I mentioned going to the professor and telling him Dudebro was a no-show. The other group members looked horrified and said, “But Dudebro will be SO mad.” Alvin, in particular, was upset on Dudebro’s behalf. I said, “I’m mad, too. We’re four people doing the job of five, because Dudebro doesn’t think he should have to earn his grades. And my mad is more justified than his mad.”

            I went to the professor and showed him the email chains, which Dudebro had ignored. The professor said he understood, that another member of our group, (one of the other girls, I guessed) had also mentioned some concerns. He said we’d met our obligations in terms of trying to persuade Dudebro to participate and that we didn’t have to try any more. “Sometimes, in life, you just have to let someone’s choices catch up with him,” he told me. And then he gave me some really helpful feedback on our work so far.

            We kept working. Alvin continued to keep Dudebro updated, but the girls didn’t bother. Alvin was a creative, intelligent and pleasant person to work with, when the situation didn’t involve Dudebro. He had great ideas and contributed a LOT of work to the project. But he seemed to think he could be Dudebro’s buddy for life if he made up for the work Dudebro wasn’t doing and earned Dudebro a good grade. Professor checked in with me and the other girl in our group at the end of the semester to ask if Dudebro ever came around and rejoined the group. We said no.

            On the day of the presentation, it became clear that Dudebro DID expect to just walk up to the front of the room and be handed a stack of neatly printed index cards to read aloud. He sat with us and asked, “Which part of the presentation am I giving?” The professor called him up to the front and informed him that he would not be participating today and asked him to meet with the professor after class. Alvin was pretty upset on Dudebro’s behalf, but did a good job presenting. We got a B+. Alvin informed us later, QUITE UPSET with us for betraying Dudebro that Dudebro told him would he receive an incomplete for the class as a result of not participating in the project. He had to retake the class the next semester.

            I still remember that professor as one of the fairest and most approachable teachers I’ve ever had.

          2. Minister of Smartassery’s story reminds me of a tale from my senior undergrad capstone course. This course involved one of those long group projects that starts early on, and the professor wisely did not assign Dude Who Had Never Come To Even One Class to a project group. He didn’t drop the class or anything, he just….never showed up.

            She later told the class a story about how he came to her office a week before the end of the semester and asked if there was any way he could pass the course. (At this point the class broke down in semi-hysterical laughter, and she grinned at us, waiting for us to calm down.) “Rhetoric,” she said, “is about that cognitive moment before you say ‘fat chance in hell’ to a student.”

        4. I have been teaching high school English for 12, and this is also the method I use if I assign groups. My rationale — beyond what you’ve mentioned — is that they’re being paired with people who will bring the same quantity and quality of skill/preparation/etc. One, this genuinely helps those participating in good faith to grow as learners. Two, it makes it all kinds of difficult to mount a serious complaint about one’s group. 😉

        5. Yes, please! I agree so much with you, you can’t imagine.

          Our society seems to have an obsession with “not looking like” it’s being discriminating, but while “not looking discriminating” it actually manages to do the exact opposite. This is a perfect example. Making people with similar personalities work together is not an act of segregation, it’s an act of good management (it’s much more productive to work alongside someone compatible with you, obviously) and, sometimes, an act of mercy.

          Doing this doesn’t automatically mean that people with different personality types won’t interact with each other at all or hate each other, for heaven’s sake. I’ve met teachers who have the weirdest ideas of what makes or doesn’t make a proper work environment. The only thing I know for sure is that “adapting” is not the same as “shouldering all the burdens and being miserable” or “letting other people do my share and not learning anything” or “not saying anything and never learning how to communicate my thoughts” or “pretending I’m invisible”.

          I was also the kid who ended up doing all the work and never talked to her classmates because she thought they all were slackers, attention-seekers or aliens. Up to the day, I still have to remind myself that I don’t NEED to do other people’s work for no reward, and that I SHOULD make it known when I’m doing more than my fair share or work of fixing other people’s mistakes, and that I CAN speak my mind freely when working with others, so long as I am respectful. That’s what the educational system has taught me regarding teamwork.

          We should do everything we can to change that way of thinking 🙂 Thanks for your advice, Captain!

        6. This is fantastic. Obviously, in filmmaking, you have to work in teams, but I’m in English, so when I do group stuff, I always chunk it out so that everyone has to submit most of their part of the project independently, and everyone gets their own grade. When I announce “No group grades” on the first day of class, you can see people relax.

        7. I had this ongoing argument with my lovely tutor on my arts degree. I was doing it part time, over 6 years, so it wasn’t the same people all the time, but I was endlessly frustrated that when the structure of the course was (eg) initial ideas tutorial >progress tutorial > progress tutorial >progress tutorial > group edit of final work > hand in (or whatever) that we’d always end up at the edit stage, where it should have been about pulling the final presentation together, it would be taken up with slackers who STILL hadn’t started. I always wished the tutorials were sign-ups, where you chose where you were and spoke to other students at the same place, and then another one could be for the “help, I’ve messed up and am way behind”. My tutor was always sympathetic, but apparently couldn’t, as apparently slackers needed to see the go-getter types to show them where they should be…

          (Mind you, this was also the course where in the first few years we had our tutor groups on the same day, eg Monday 10am, Monday 2pm, etc etc, but that got changed because some students felt it was *terribly unfair* they had to come in at 10am on a Monday every week (despite the special uni buses and so on) so they all rotated… so everyone with jobs had a hell of a time coordinating schedules, and the slackers who’d used that as an excuse for poor attendance STILL didn’t show up….)

      2. One of the best group-making strategies I’ve heard was basing it on the previous homework assignment. People who did well on it were put together, as were people who didn’t turn it in. It rewarded the students putting in the effort, and provided a bit of a wake-up for the people who weren’t bothering with homework. Turn it in, or get stuck with this group forever.

        1. That’s a great idea!

          I wish one of my profs had done that in college – pairing those who used Wikipedia citations despite being explicitly told not to.

          I got stuck in a group of 3 just because the other 2 people had the same major as me. The young man had used only Wikipedia citations in his paper off of which the rest of our project was based (along with mine and another young woman’s). He got less than a 70% on it. He only came to about 2 meetings before he stopped participating entirely, and then the woman got “sick” and stopped helping about halfway through. So I got to do all of the work, as usual. I eventually broke down because it was a 4-person project that I was doing alone, and my prof was great – he told me to just do my best and accurately grade their participation (the whole thing was just about done so it was too late for him to do much else). I found out later that I got a 110%, she got an 80%, and he failed the project. I was so happy that a prof had finally graded fairly.

      3. I TA-ed for one professor who let students group up at random, but required that the cover page of all assignments included a percentage estimate of how much each student had contributed to the work. That really only works with groups of a decent size, and most of the time the estimates came back exactly equal (which for a group of three meant everyone was claiming 33% of the work… and apparently the last 1% was divine intervention or something), but at least it meant that a student who really failed to do their share could be penalized for that by the group.

        1. That’s an okay solution, but in my experience the one slacker has to be truly loathsome to be truly reported to a teacher.

          1. Often the teacher knows without you saying anything, and plays the fun game of directing many questions to the known slacker during group presentation time. 😉

          2. The way I’ve done that in the past has been that everyone privately turns in their evaluations of their fellow group members. If it’s a four-person group, then everyone has 40 points to allot as they see fit. If everyone did their fair share, give everyone (including yourself) a 10. Scores other than 10 require a brief explanation. Teacher collects the evaluations, throws out any outliers (if one person in your group gives you a 6 but everyone else gives you a 9 or 10, the 6 doesn’t count), averages what’s left, and uses that as a multiplier for the grade. If the project got a 90, and everyone in your group gave you an 8, then you get 0.8 x 90 = 72. If someone else in the group really picked up your slack, and everybody gave them an 11, that person gets 1.1 x 90 = 99.

            With some monitoring to make sure it’s not being abused, it tends to work pretty well.

          3. Not in law. Maybe we eat out young or something, but most students both loathe group work and will rat out a slacker in a New York minute.

        2. This is a little off-topic here – but please, please, please be very very careful with this ‘students rank each other to influence their group grades’. If the teacher has used the Captain’s (awesome, amazing, so helpful, yet frustratingly I’ve only ever seen this applied once in my entire learning experience and I’m in the final year of a PhD) algorithm, this might be OK. But given that most teachers don’t (it’s either ‘random’ because ‘we all have to learn to work with whoever’ or deliberate grouping of high with low so that all assignments get done, regardless of who actually does them), this ranking is a recipe for disaster. Students can be honest, sure. They can also be vindictive. In classes where there is a minority, this can be a total exclusionary tactic. I have seen it play out in a male-dominated class, where one very attractive (and exceedingly brilliant, who went on to do a PhD in mathematics) woman was consistently excluded by her male group mates, repeatedly (in different projects). And each time, despite her efforts at being engaged and doing the work, the male group mates would award her zero. This was a lie, it was a lie told repeatedly by different groups of male students, and it was public, because they all knew about it (sadly, as a woman, I only found out at the end of that semester, when she was giving up on the course and switching to maths. I had been taken in by the lies that she was unapproachable, unfriendly, uppity – all the things that get said about smart beautiful women who aren’t that interested in dating all the NiceGuysTM around them; and this was far from true, and I was horrified to learn how isolated she had become because of that). This was also a course where a lecturer had felt it acceptable to comment (publicly) (about the same student, my heart breaks) that he ‘wouldn’t kick that out of bed’ as she left the room.

          I’ve also seen this same exclusionary tactic used on international students in an English-speaking country. Never underestimate the forces of racism and sexism and the power of shared privilege.

          Relying on the students to penalise each other can be just another form of getting the students to do the work of the teacher. Group work can be great, but it needs just as much teacher involvement (and probably more) than other forms of assessment.

          1. Wow. That possible problem had, uh, honestly never occurred to me before. Thank you so much for pointing it out. I’ll pay more attention to the way that might be affecting group work going forward.

          2. Earlier, a comment noted that of three ‘Nigels’ in a single situation, it was only the ‘Nigella’ who was actively corrected by the group, which ‘teamed up’ against the female overtalker while the two Nigels went unchallenged. Always easier to turn on the powerless, and there’s always such a good reason — you just have to find the way to phrase it right. “Considering the options” rather than acting against male perps — always acceptable.

          3. That… is truly horrifying D:

            I sure as hell hope there’s never any groupwork in any of my classes if that’s really how things go. Jesus. And people wonder why I find it difficult to trust men…

          4. THANK YOU for saying this! I’ve been watching these comments pile up, dreading them, and yet feeling too emotionally invested in the issue in order to write an articulate response. I started out in college in Mechanical Engineering. Our second year, they introduced the concept of confidential peer evaluations for EVERY SINGLE PROJECT. I do not know how I was routinely rated by my all male group mates, but I do remember one group in specific. From the first day, I outlined all the times when I was unavailable to meet (unfortunately there were a lot of them, but I was told not to worry or feel guilty). Shortly before the project was due, I expressed my concern that we hadn’t met once to work on it. Apparently, we had worked on it, or rather, THEY had. However, since I hadn’t “bothered” to help otherwise, I should design the presentation “and make sure to make it pretty.” Well, I created a pretty good presentation, but I didn’t learn a thing about CAD, which was what the project had been designed to teach us. Moreover, I would lay odds that I was ranked as the member of the group who contributed the least and should be given the lowest grade for it.

            I repeat, that was in my second year of Mech E. Between my low grades and my struggles to complete work(such as CAD work) that seemed intuitive for everyone else, I did not last through my third year.

            The saddest part is that I didn’t say anything. I blamed myself, thinking that if I had just been more available, then my classmates wouldn’t have excluded me from the project, and they probably wouldn’t have given me such a low participation grade as a result. It’s been 6 years, and I still don’t want to go back to engineering school because I’m still not sure I trust myself to recognize when I ought to advocate for myself. Fortunately, I did eventually find a job I like, albeit a much, MUCH lower-paying one than anything I could have gotten with an engineering degree.

            Captain and all other teachers here, PLEASE do not use peer evaluations to grade group-work, especially for students who belong to minority in your classroom!

          5. Ezzy and EchoFlower: your stories are both awful and, unfortunately, unsurprising. Peer evaluations in grading group work have to be very carefully monitored to be effective; in the hands of an un-vigilant instructor, they’re all too easily abused. I don’t lower anyone’s grade due to peer evaluation until I’ve talked with all parties, precisely because of the kinds of things you mention. I still think they’re a useful tool, due to the fact that I don’t know what happens behind the scenes, and I had group projects as a student where one of the members seldom showed up (at a time they had agreed to), or didn’t do the part of the work they were supposed to (and didn’t tell the rest of us soon enough that we could make up for it).

            I only had maybe four or five instances of someone getting a lower grade because of peer evaluation, in the five years I was teaching multiple sections of a course that included group projects. In all but one of those cases, the student whose grade was lowered had actually evaluated hirself as deserving less credit than the others. Surprised the hell out of me the first time it happened. The one exception didn’t actually turn in a peer evaluation at all, and I checked everyone’s stories before altering grades.

            Peer evaluation isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself, but it takes a lot of work by the instructor to make it fair and effective.

          6. Thank you for acknowledging my comment. It always feels good to receive feedback that the comments I make contributed productively to the discussion.

            However, I want to address your second paragraph. If a student is honest enough to say that s/he deserves less credit than the others, then that suggests to me there’s probably something else going on there. Now, you sound like the type of teacher who would work to ferret out what the issue really was and if they TRULY deserved less credit!

            Nevertheless, for the sake of anyone else reading, let it be known that in the example I gave I was my own worst enemy. We were required to rank group-members’ contributions from most to least with no ties allowed. (Apparently, that’s how the professional business world works, and it was the department’s job to prepare us for it.) I was frustrated by my group’s exclusion of me yet I still ranked myself worst because I felt compelled to be honest about my contribution. As I said above, I blamed myself for the situation: “if I had only made myself more available,” “if I had only demonstrated more clearly that I was invested in the project,” “if I had only…[you get the idea].”

            Given how frequently this Atlantic article gets posted on Captain Awkward’s blog, most have probably read it already, but, if not, you should read http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/05/the-confidence-gap/359815/. To be fair, I’ve met men also who lack self-assurance; who believe they didn’t work as hard and/or don’t deserve as much credit as they actually do. In peer-evaluation situations, it’s important to identify those who are lacking in self-confidence. Make sure to grade them on their competence and actual contributions, not on their projected confidence.

          7. EchoFlower: I hadn’t thought about the self-confidence aspect of things. Thank you for bringing that up.

            I did usually look into why students thought they themselves deserved less credit. (The exception being a second-semester senior dudebro who missed a lot of stuff for job interviews, etc., and was pretty clear that he just needed to pass the course.) The scenario you describe sounds terrible, and really poorly designed. Group participation is not supposed to be a zero-sum game.

            The course I teach for now has no group projects, and I am SO RELIEVED. I always hated dealing with them. Our students do take group quizzes, but they’re multiple choice, using instant-feedback scratch-off cards, and are in addition to rather than instead of individual assessments. (They also score much higher on the group quizzes than on the individual ones. And we still monitor group dynamics, which is a lot easier to do than for group projects, because they’re all RIGHT THERE in the classroom.)

          8. Other Becky:

            “The scenario you describe sounds terrible, and really poorly designed. Group participation is not supposed to be a zero-sum game.”

            I think the goal was to shape our graduates into being the best in the field using ‘trial by the fire that killed Bambi’s mother.’

          9. @Echoflower – out of nesting, but I would just like to mention that not one place I’ve worked in does “peer evaluations” for team members. Perhaps it’s different in academe, or customer service, the upper echelons of finance, or even the US in general, but it’s not universal.

            Over the last 2 decades, I’ve worked in three countries, in universities, print firms, law firms, insurance, public sector. Yes, I’ve generally participated in performance appraisals, but for myself. It’s an opportunity to bring up any actual concerns about your colleagues, if you have any, but certainly no rankings.

            So, maybe your career sector does do this, but I hope it’s clear what that expectation applies to. Sounds hideous, frankly (and I’ve been lucky enough to work in plenty of great teams).

      4. I call BS on the “group work will prepare you for the business world” line. Working with other professionals in my field has never looked anything remotely like the nightmare of group work at uni. In my career there have been incompetent people, and annoying people, but uni slackers are a whole special breed of “I refuse to engage with group members or do anything to contribute whatsoever, I will just go AWOL for 5 weeks with no notice”. In the business world, that person would be fired quick-smart. In fact they often don’t even make it into the business world in the first place because their 4 years of mooching through uni has given them no marketable skills whatsoever.

        1. Most of my higher level courses took the strategy of letting us pick our own groups for projects. It was a smallish program, so by that point in our studies everyone was familiar with each other and we could team up based on our own work styles, interests and schedules. Hard workers ended up with other hard workers, slackers with slackers, people who annoyed the crap out of each other were never stuck in the same group. It was wonderful. Literally every group I was in we worked well together, cooperated, and played to everyone’s strengths.

          I realize this is the exception to the rule – most people seem to have had pretty terrible experiences with college group projects.

          1. That was the practice in my programme as well, and it made me go from hating group projects to genuinely enjoying them. Got some lasting friendships out of those experiences too.

            Turns out, working with competent people who are equally invested in the outcome and can teach you a thing or two is actually delightful. It’s not always necessarily plain sailing either, becausing even competent motivated people can disagree about the best approach to any given problem (in fact, there are likely going to be a lot more actually content-related arguments than in random groups with their inevitable proportion of slackers who don’t care one way or another, as long as they can get away with doing as little as possible) – so it’s not like you don’t get to practice some of those social skills. But it helps to start with some common ground as to what quality of outcome you’re aiming for.

            Of course, it’s only nice if you actually get your pick. Sometimes students won’t decide based on competence and motivation alone, and then competent and motivated students might get saddled with the slackers anyway, because competence (for limited values of competence) and motivation is no magical protection against racism/sexism/classism after all. It never occured to me at the time, but listening to people now, I get the strong sense that my own very positive experience with that approach might just have been a form of privilege in the end.

        2. I have to agree. I’ve even been in one or two situations where someone has put active roadblocks in the way, and we simply un-include them from the rest of the project, or go to their boss and express our concerns. One instance resulted in their being told to pull their socks up; another, we got a replacement team member.

          But those were extremely rare situations. Also, I dislike hierarchies in general, but they can be useful for action on this kind of thing.

        3. Yes. All the yes to this. Never, never, ever has the dynamics of a work project approached anything like that of a group project. I’m a project manager. It’s my job to deliver group projects. But if the programmer isn’t programming? I flag it, talk to them, if they continue to not program, I flag it again and escalate to their boss. Done. There was absolutely no recourse like that in school. Even with profs who said, “Come to me with issues with your group” – it turned into, “Well maybe you just haven’t said it exactly right” or “Now you have to use your listening and engagement skills.” Never was it, “Oh, maybe Nigel is an ass and we should have a way to fire someone from our group project”. Never.

          Seriously, I have been contemplating doing an advanced degree for years, but even the local MBA programs now have required group projects in every class, and I hate group projects so much that I can’t make myself even apply to start the degree.

    2. I had one class where every assignment was a group assignment. Normally I HATE group assignments. But the (super awesome) professor organized the groups randomly, I think by us counting off? I can’t remember. I just remember that since we were changing groups every couple of weeks, even if your current group suuuuuuuucked you knew you wouldn’t get stuck with the exact formation next time. And the professor was wise enough to see who in each group did more/better work and rewarded them. The experience helped my collaboration skills and I learned that I really enjoying group brainstorming but I want to do the actual work alone. Also, I was super shy and terrified of public speaking but by the end of semester I had become the main presenter in each group, usually ended up leading, and nailed a highly coveted internship.

      All to say, group projects *can* be awesome but the professor has to be savvy enough to use them to benefit the students.

  8. I was once taking an introductory level philosophy class called something like “Evaluation of Argument) and we had some dudes who just couldn’t WAIT to argue in it. My favorite moment was when our gentle, underestimated by these dudes, instructor said to one of them (after yet another attempt to derail) “Thank for the interesting comment that I’m going to set aside right now.” And then she continued talking about the current topic.

  9. “Pair the assholes with each other” is such great, great advice. Such a pairing is occurring in my workplace these days. These two people are the worst, and they are exactly like each other, and OMG it is SO MUCH FUN for the non-assholes to watch them making each other miserable. Sometimes we pop corn, it’s so entertaining.

    1. I have (and I bet a bunch of other people have too) been doing group projects since elementary school. And since then I’ve been paired with the assholes/slackers to pull up grades and keep the peace. I can remember and count on one hand vividly the group projects I enjoyed – all of which were when I got to choose my group.

      In grad schoool, we were assigned a project by a new professor. Our group looked it over and there wasn’t an easy way to break up the work. It wasn’t that much work, so we just did it all ourselves and turned in four separate projects. (Seriously it was just the amount of work of a regular assignment for that program.) Turned out every single group had made that decision. Our professor laughed and did some course design modification. I appreciated that she was willing to learn with us and recognized our complete weariness with group projects.

  10. I don’t work in academia, but at a place where I experience sexism and racism like this. The Captain is spot on and her advice is timely because I have to make a presentation next week that may draw out behavior that she describes. Sadly, my issue is with the person at the top, so there isn’t anywhere else I can take the problem, but at least now I have the strategy of leaving the comments there like a turd.

  11. I’m a big fan of a firm “Stop interrupting me.” You have to be oh-so-calm when you do it, but loud enough to be heard, which is a difficult balance. You SHOULDN’T have to be calm, because they’re being rude and upsetting, but we all know if you aren’t, they’ll make it about you being “unreasonable.”

    (Side note: if you think someone–okay, let’s be honest, a guy–is about to tell you to “Calm Down” for being upset-but-not-uncalm, beat them to it. It infuriates them.)

    But yeah, that’s gross and awful that you have to deal with it. Personally, I’d go to your adviser before going to his, just to see if they have any suggestions with how to handle either of them. That’s what they’re there for!

    ‘ telling the victims, “I saw what that person did, it was definitely not okay, I am sorry. I’ve addressed it directly & privately with the student, please let me know if it happens again”’

    I don’t have words to explain how much it meant to me when a higher-level coworker was picking on me in subtle ways and my supervisor still let me know that she saw it and didn’t think it was okay. If you’re in a position of power and you notice this stuff, even if you can’t actually stop it, yes, at least let the people dealing with it know that you saw it.

    1. I haven’t tried “Stop interrupting me.” (I live in the southeastern US and the idea of using an imperative statement in that kind of setting feels MASSIVELY uncomfortable.) I have, however, had some luck with “I would like to finish my sentence, please” or “May I please finish my sentence?” Calm, pleasant delivery at about 90% of normal volume seems to work well. YMMV, depending on the cultural norms where you live.

      1. Meanwhile, here in NYC I say “Please stop interrupting me, thanks” or “I’d like to finish my own sentence, thanks” at about 105% of normal volume (not even really louder than usual, just with a bit of projection/ringing/speaking from the diaphragm to catch the attention). The final “thanks” makes it clear that no actual input or response is needed and that compliance is assumed. It’s very effective.

        1. I’ve said (not that I planned it, it just came out that way), “Stop interrupting me, how old are you?” The last part isn’t necessarily nice, but it did throw this particular Nigel enough that he shut up while he tried to figure out a way to respond, and by then, I’d made my point.

          We also had a Nigel in one of my classes who was always talking over the professor (who was an older, tenured white man, like the stereotypical professor figure) as well as all the students. Finally one of the undergrad guys interrupted him and said “I don’t know what financial aid you’re getting, dude, but I’m paying a lot of money to learn from [Professor], so can you shut up and let us do some [subject] or should we move the class to a time when you’re not talking?” It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen to this day.

          1. At one point in time we were working on teaching my nephews not to interrupt, and I’d gotten used to stopping them. I was talking with a friend when someone else (a young man, about 18 or so; I was a woman in my 30s) interrupted me. Not just interrupted, but with a comment right in the middle of my sentence, on such a different topic that it was clear he hadn’t even registered the fact that I was talking. It was beyond rude, right at the point of laughable. Without even thinking, I turned to him and said (in my best “aunt to nephew” quelling voice), “Excuse me, young man, but I was talking. You need to be quiet and wait your turn.” I couldn’t normally manage that level of quelling-ness, but it worked. His eyes got huge, and he stopped talking immediately and waited for me to finish. I only wish I’d figure out how to do that on command and be that convincing.

      2. I live relatively close to you, and I can say with a fair amount of authority that it works even – and especially – in the dance-around-absolutely-everything-you-want-to-say south. I actually pulled this off twice in one class with Professor Nigel and fellow grad student Nigel. Actually, what I said was, “I need you to stop interrupting me, please,” and very softly, like you’re calling a frightened animal. Nigels find it extremely unsettling, and sometimes you get written off as a bitch, but more like “Crazy Bitch We Should All Work Harder Not to Piss Off Because Have You Heard When She Speaks Softly” than “Crazy Bitch We Should All Ignore.” Which, I’m okay that the Nigels of the world see me in that light.

  12. LW, I’m so frustrated for you and your professor’s lack of support for the situation! My personal Nigel is in my online class. He never makes his own discussion posts (even though it’s a required part of participation) but he will go through and make nitpicky comments on everyone else’s posts making sure we all know that we are Wrong. Fortunately the online format means there’s no actual interruption, but it’s still frustrating to deal with. When he showed up in a current class I proactively told the professor I did not want to be paired with him for a group project.

  13. I love the Captain’s advice for teachers here- as a grad student who runs her own course every term it feels really spot on.

    LW – You are not a terrible out of line person. You’re an intelligent expert-in-training in your field, and in a more fair world your voice would get listened to as such. It’s totally natural and okay to be frustrated with your situation.

    The Captain’s suggestion to pretend Nigel is mute is great advice. Make a pact with your friends in seminar to ignore Nigel’s input, especially when it’s awful. I’m not saying let him talk, but do like the Captain suggests for the discussion moderator, and re-direct. Let him say something, and then jump in with “I was really interested in what Carlota was saying. Carlota, can you expand on you point about X?” Just constantly use questions like that to amplify other voices, and hopefully the professor will take the hint.

    Also consider filing a formal, or semi-formal complaint with your graduate chair or advisor, or looking into some kind of department mediation. Focus on how it’s making the seminar environment uncomfortable, and how you personally aren’t getting the experience you need to really learn and be successful. “I’m not hearing diverse viewpoints.” “I notice quiet students are getting talked over, and I never get to hear what they say.” “I can’t get feedback on my own thoughts because I can’t ever get to the end of a sentence.” If you’re not comfortable doing this, ask around your group of friends/fellow seminarists and see if one of them is. Not everyone can or wants to go to the matt on things like this, but academia has a lot of inertia and sometimes you have to prod it get things moving in a better direction.

    Best of luck LW!

  14. LW, you have my sympathy. And my kudos because dude! You actually said “I have Google for that!” That is a good answer.

    This doesn’t help LW until LW has a class discussion to run on her own, but!

    1) This is more preventative, but. In undergrad classrooms particularly, you can make good discussion listening skills a requirement and then *quantify them* by putting a rubric together. Using an active listening resource to describe exactly what students should be able to do. “Students show active listening by using follow up questions effectively.” And grade by it!

    2) You can frame it as an issue of professionalization. “In conference panels one of the worst things to sit through is a comment framed as a question. In a round table one of the worst things you can sit through is… I am going to arm you with skillz to neutralize that kind of non-collegial behavior without having a smackdown.” Putting the active listening features in before the head them off at the pass features means you can say “best resource is… your own conduct is sterling.” And “these things make you more hirable if only because you are known to be good to work with. Brilliance does not make difficult acceptable.”

    3) I know that seems basic for advanced students, and I suppose it kind of is. But you know, how to have a discussion isn’t a thing we teach like we teach research and writing. But we should! These aren’t things folks necessarily intuit, and they aren’t things- obviously- that other people make clear as expectations.

    4) For those with how to group project fairly… a peer evaluation usually is a good way to make sure your expectations are clear. Folks will be honest.

    I am not always a great listener in my natural state. I have to actively remind myself to do things to be a good listener. And I think I could have learned that a lot earlier if “how to be a good discussant” had been a thing we learn like “how to ask for money” or “how to cite a source.”

  15. One thing the Captain doesn’t mention that I think is crucial in this effort, LW, is to enlist other grad students in your campaign. Talk to other students, find allies, and enlist these strategies as a group. Petition the department head/professor/etc. as a group. There is always power in numbers, and if you all can pinch-hit for each other in seminars, it makes it much less exhausting and that more empowering. Also, there’s a lot less mileage for the sexist bullshit you might experience as a lone petitioner.

  16. Oh, LW, I am delurking to say: you have many, many academic sisters out there who know EXACTLY what you’re going through, because every grad program has a Nigel. I vividly remember the Nigels of my grad program, and oh my god, the RAGE. The Captain is right, btw, about rage as a source of strength; I channeled a lot of my Nigel-hate into motivational rage-writing because I didn’t want the Nigels to “win.” It was petty, but it really did lend me energy to do some great work, so hey, whatever!

    The Captain’s advice is really great (especially the advice to be the person who amplifies the voices of everyone else who’s being interrupted; in my experience, this is the best thing you can do in this situation), and I’m totally going to use a lot of these Nigel-management tips in my own teaching. I just wanted to speak to your concern about Dr. John Smith’s opinion of you. So, if this is a doctoral program in the humanities, and Dr. Smith is not someone you see as a future dissertation committee member for you, then his opinion of this incident probably doesn’t actually matter that much. It may feel big right now, but as far as “difficulty” goes, this is just one pretty routine conflict in a seminar, and I suspect Dr. Smith has seen much, much more intense contention than this. The people you really want to build good relationships with are your prospective mentors, people who might be on your committee, and even then, you do it by doing good work for them and showing that you’re a generous, engaged member of the intellectual community, but that doesn’t mean you never have conflict in public or that you make everyone happy all the time. None of us make everyone happy all the time. Anyone who expects total deference is not a good mentor, and you don’t want to work closely with them anyway. You sound like you’re already extremely polite and professional, and so I think the occasional spell of being assertive and not-necessarily-totally-accommodating in public is not at all a bad thing for your reputation. Honestly, being an academic means you have to tell people things they don’t want to hear (both in classrooms and department meetings), so it’s actually a very good skill to cultivate; you don’t need to feel guilty that you’ve done something terribly wrong by causing some much-needed social friction here, and people ought to respect you for your willingness to speak up. Sometimes, in order to be generous and ethical, you actually have to be “difficult.” (And sometimes, in order to get credit for your own work and promote yourself, you have to be “difficult,” and that’s ok, too!)

    The good thing is that once you’re done with coursework, you can mostly avoid Nigel. His rage-inducing pedantry will happen mostly elsewhere. You can build your own networks of scholars you actually want to talk to. None of the Nigels from my program are in my specific subfield, so now that I’ve graduated and moved on, I do not see or hear from them EVER, they have no impact on my career or life, and it is FABULOUS.

    Good luck!

  17. There were Nigels in both my grad and my doctoral programme, and to some extent you just have to be reasonable, drag discussion back on topic in a way that doesn’t reward Nigel for his Nigelling, and try to avoid socialising with him much when you don’t absolutely have to (this will prevent his Nigelism, unchecked by the presence of someone he actually respects, from making him so repugnant to you that you cannot AVOID arguing back in seminar). The best strategies are those that involve a pause as you visibly evaluate and then discard his argument as not germane or valid or worthwhile, and then return to the previous point.

    Our grad Nigel actually started trying to repair his behaviour when he realised that no one felt his ideas were worth engaging, and though he had some spectacular missteps, apparently his doctoral programme found him significantly less trying than we did.

  18. LW, as a grad student myself, and a former college lecturer, I just want to say that when you stood your ground and didn’t let Nigel’s BS pass in class, everyone was cheering inside. There were a lot of silent “Amen’s!” But I bet that nobody was brave enough to indicate that at the time, or even tell you later. Nevertheless, you had a lot of silent gratitude.

  19. As a former grad student, current professor and administrator, this advice could not be better! Thanks so much for stating it so well, CA!

  20. As director of a graduate program, I enthusiastically endorse going to the DGS if the professor continues to be unwilling or unable to rectify the issue. And also a hearty endorse to the “act like he never said anything” strategy. Nigels thrive on eliciting responses, and if they are ignored, they’ll eventually peter out and seek greener pastures.

  21. Excellent advice.

    A friend of mine in college took a woman studies class with a Nigel (early 90s, private liberal arts college). He was the orginal mansplainer, before the term existed and he also didn’t respond to any interventions. Another, female, classmate got annoyed and made and distributed “Shut Up [redacted]” signs. They worked better than any other method, although I wouldn’t recommend it.

  22. “Have Some Fucking Mercy At Group Project Time”

    Thank you! I would add to this–evaluate whether or not a group project is even needed in your course (if it’s not required by your school/department.) The main rationale given for assigning group work is that people need to learn to work in groups; however, there are so many differences between academic group work and professional group work that I give MASSIVE side-eye to that rationale. Also…look at your demographics. If you are teaching a group that is primarily of “back in school after years in the field, picking up a cert” folks in their 30s-50s, they mostly already know how to work in groups. They probably also have so much going on in their lives that having to coordinate to meet with group memebers + the special stress that comes with academic group work can be incredibly overwhelming.

    1. Yes, this. Sometimes group projects work well in certain disciplines. In mine? Not so much, and when I was in grad school, massive side-eye to people who assign it. (Papers are *rarely* written by more than one person. Everyone is pretty spread out in research, etc.) I can see where it might be useful in some fields, but in others it’s really not necessary.

      1. The last course I had group assignments in was a paralegal course at a community college. Easily 80% of the students had a minimum of 10 years in the workforce and over half had more like 15-20+. There was maybe 1 student who had no workforce experience at all. The group work was not for our benefit. It was so that the teacher only had to grade 3 presentations (yes, only 3 groups) instead of 20-25. Nothing about the group resembled the way teams functioned in any workplace I have experienced, and I’ve been in the full-time workforce since the mid 90s. And our local legal community is fairly small, so the likely dynamic the people in the class would experience is an office with 1-5 paralegals where even if multiple paralegals are working on the same case, you “own” whatever piece of it you are working on that day.

    2. I went back to library school in my 40s, after having been a college instructor myself, and so many people in my cohort were just out of college. With one or two notable exceptions, group projects were nightmares for me because so many fellow students still operated like undergrads — everything done at the very last moment, etc., when I wanted to plan ahead, not pull all-nighters, be able to manage my time (full-time student wth half-time internship) like a grownup. I don’t think any of my professors planned our groups (blessings, Cap’n, for the algorithm, I’ll be using that), but if they had, it would probably have been “sophylou is the leader, because old and former instructor.” I was always sooooooo happy on the rare occasions when we got to write research papers all by ourselves.

    3. There often is a requirement that there be set group experiences imposed by institutions, so we do have to make it happen sometimes.

      I hate the agita, so I avoid groups assessments and don’t impose them if possible.

      Dirty secret: One reason some academics like them is that they think it cuts the marking. (Groups of 4 = 1/4 work in their mind.)

      I think this is fallacious, by the time you set up groups, deal with complaints etc, etc.

    4. Yeah. It also makes things difficult for undergrad students who are atypical in a lot of ways — students who have to work full time, for instance, or disabled students who have a very limited amount of energy. Or, alternatively, disabled students who can’t manage parts of academic group work that are irrelevant to the subject — ie. I can’t produce speech and assimilate new information simultaneously, and navigating a conversation takes up almost all of my brain. Job-type group work is fine. Group work that is supposed to teach you something, not fine.

      Realistically, people who have made it into their twenties without knowing how to work in groups probably have other issues going on that need to be addressed by a method other than sink-or-swim. Unless there’s some type of collaboration specific to your field that they need to learn in undergrad, maybe don’t.

  23. I don’t know why you feel bad about saying “I don’t need a lesson on this, I have google”. That’s the kind of hilarious quick comeback I *wish* I could dish out on the spot when dealing with Nigels.

  24. I actually had a prof. who handled the Nigel in our class wonderfully. Basically what he would do was when “Nigel” started taking over the discussion was say something like “Well, that’s something that would be interesting to talk about over a couple beers. However, since we don’t have beer I’d like to get back on track.”

    It usually worked, but the one time it didn’t it went down something like this, it basically resulted in the prof – who was one of the most respectful guys I’ve ever met – taking off the kiddie gloves and saying “Look. You either need to stop trying to take over this lecture, or you will be asked to leave.”* After that the Nigel got a *lot* better.

    *”Nigel” was…well. He was basically insisting that a group of people (not a minority but still) was complete idiots because they didn’t share his view on something, and would not let the lecture go forward as a result

  25. Seconding the advice to speak with Dr. John Smith, if at all possible. We have a Nigel in my former postdoc lab (and omg, dear reader, I shared a house with him for one veeeerrrryyy long year, too), and the only thing that has finally, FINALLY toned him down after nearly 3 years is for his male co-advisor to call him on his bs by failing him in his comps on the first try. Our Nigel completely disregarded everything said by his female co-advisor, myself, or any other woman while hanging on every word of his male co-advisor and other men in the department (even ones with far less knowledge or experience in the relevant fields). He presents himself as a complete know-it-all in everything, and the frustrating part was that people believed him for a long time!

    Also, too, the advice to let his BS sit there like the turd it is. Earlier this year I heard through the grapevine that he had taken some of my work, claimed it as his own (I’d publicly shared it so the taking wasn’t a problem so much as the misattribution), and used it to present himself as an expert in [my specialty] to other younger students. It annoyed the heck out of me, but I let it go because I figured it would blow back on him sooner or later, as he knows nothing about [my specialty]. Literally, he has never done that kind of work once even though I and his advisors have been telling him for 2+ years that he needs to learn and use those techniques in his research, and I and others have repeatedly given him resources and offered to help him learn them. Sure enough, I heard a few months later that some students actually took him up on his “generous” offer to “share some of his great knowledge” in [my specialty], and promptly discovered that he didn’t have the slightest clue how to actually use those techniques. So here he is in the third year of his PhD, still not able to use these core techniques because he refuses to admit he doesn’t know how to do something, while he’s being surpassed by first-year grad students and even high school students who have put in the time and effort to learn. Moral of the story: sometimes (not always obvs, but sometimes) even Nigels get their comeuppance, sooner or later, and maybe even become slightly more humble people.

    1. ahahahahahaa this guy has a twin and he’s in my postdoc lab. he’s only been there a year and he has so many people fooled and i just….UUUGGGHH.

    2. Augh, failing a comp exam is like a public academic spanking. That was probably the only thing that could convince him that he was in the wrong. I shudder to even imagine.

  26. When I am feeling confident, my preferred response to attempted rude-interruptions (as opposed to collaborative speech styles etc.) is to keep talking, possibly with the volume upped a tick. I am not done speaking; learn2turntake, nubcake. But I have never been in an all-out feud with someone I’ve had to communicate in the vicinity of every single day. Even if we assume 100% confidence-meter all day every day, having to do that all the time sounds utterly exhausting. It is pretty tiring just to keep up for just one session of interrupty people.

    (When I am not feeling confident…. er.)

    1. A warning: I utilized this “Don’t Let The Interrupters Win” strategy in my professional life last year, and I got written up by my boss for being rude in meetings. And then for insubordination because when he told me he was writing me up for being rude, specifically speaking over people, I said, “You mean like you did to me repeatedly in our previous group meeting that ended twenty minutes ago where I was on the agenda as Moderator?”

      That boss was totally a Nigel, and this wasn’t our first clash over managing meetings (as you can tell by my fallow field of Effs). I totally quit that gig shortly thereafter.

      1. Yeah, I didn’t get the job when I pointed out to the hiring manager that “man power” didn’t really apply to me.

        (Which was fine by me, the place was scary nasty)

  27. I no longer have to deal with things like this on a regular basis (woo gender transition?), but I just wanted to say… becoming okay with being the “difficult” one was one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. I’m not saying it was easy; quite the opposite. Like a lot of people who were raised as women, I was socialized very strongly to be Friendly And Agreeable At All Times. It is a steep learning curve to guide yourself out of that, and it’s just not worth it for some folks. For me, it was, so I practiced. A lot. (And went to a therapist.)

    I totally get your desire not to be the difficult one. It’s still an internal struggle for me to let myself take a stand and refuse to budge on something, and I’ve been presenting as male (which creates a much less censoring environment) for 3 years. But I say, if you can swing it: go ahead and just BE the difficult one. Be the one who stands up to sexist bullshit in the classroom even if it makes certain (probably male but possibly female) professors see you as “overly confrontational.” HE is the one who is being an unprofessional ass; you’re just pointing it out and asking (loudly, repeatedly) for it to stop.

    There are repercussions to this: every professor may not like you. Every professor may not consider you professional. Sometimes you need those people, and the line to walk is very fine. Other times, though? It’s worth it to let them not like you, if you can find others among the faculty who do.

    Also, as always, the advice here is excellent.

  28. LW, this is excellent advice, and I plead with you to excise words (and concepts) like “shrill” and “difficult” from your vocabulary. Like “nagging” and “hen party”, those are are things that are used to shame women for acting in ways considered perfectly acceptable and even admirable in men. You know, like having opinions, standing up for yourself and being right.

    I know you have said you dislike conflict – most people do – but keep in mind that when Nigel does his act, he has created conflict. It’s already there. By shutting him down, you are ending the conflict.

    I don’t know how this would work in an academic setting, but one way I have found to deal with Won’t Stop Interrupting Nigel is to give Nigel a cold stare and speak OVER him, in my sharpest mom voice, to say “Excuse me, I wasn’t finished.” That almost always stuns Nigel for a few seconds, which is long enough to get back to what you were saying; it calls out his rude behavior for exactly what it is; and it hands the responsibility for creating conflict and disrupting everybody’s veneer of collegiality right back to Nigel, because what’s he going to do, say “yes you were”?

    (NB: it is not actually necessary to be a mom to use the mom voice. It’s an excellent skill to develop and will make you feel like you’re a Bene Gesserit.)

      1. I used to work for a phone contractor in a county jail. I was in one of the direct supervision housing units checking on phone access (1 correctional officer with about ~65 inmates in a day room with TVs & tables & such) one day. The CO was a woman who was about 5 feet tall and *maybe* 100 lbs soaking wet, and it was a men’s unit. The conversation volume got really loud while I was there, and the CO suddenly bellowed, “GENTLEMEN! KEEP IT DOWN!” The silence was instantaneous, and several of the guys looked like she had called them by first-middle-last name. I turned to her and said, “How many kids do you have?” She looked surprised, and I said, “You’ve got a hell of a mom voice.”

        1. Someday we’ll quit qualifying a legitimate voice of authority with that phrase. It’s not actually praise, is it? It’s a form of ‘– for a girl’.

          1. Or maybe just call it “parent voice”. I’ve used the phrase “dad voice” when talking about the same thing for a guy. Parent voice is a particular type of voice of authority, in my experience.

          2. It’s not praise, and no, isn’t not ‘for a girl’, because it’s referring to a particular kind of I Am Done With This Shit voice harmonics. I think Courtney’s suggestion of ‘parent voice’ was probably a more productive way to say that, though.

          3. @neverjaunty – Exactly! It’s the kind of voice of authority that stops people in their tracks and brings up feelings of being caught doing something they know they shouldn’t.

          4. I think the ‘mom voice’ is a specific thing, because for a lot of women, the ONLY arena where they expect as a matter of course to be listened to and respected is when dealing with children (their own or others). Which is a whole different level of depressing, I suppose.

    1. As a public defender who often has to corral problematic people of all stripes (clients, witnesses, officers, solicitors), the mom voice paired with an “As I was saying” is my daily bread. I’m not sure I can turn the mom voice off.

        1. Once there were two students in the back of the room obviously watching a video on a laptop rather than paying attention. I didn’t mean to use mom voice when I chastised them, but it came out anyway. The entire class snapped to attention. I’ve never gotten that immediate and total a response before or since.

  29. One thing that stuck out to me from the LW’s letter was the concern about being professional – I think it’s important to repeat that conflict is not unprofessional! Direct communication of acceptable professional behaviour and boundaries is *not* unprofessional. People may make you feel like it is. Those people are not fostering professional work places, they are fostering workplaces where bullies and egotists thrive and unprofessionalism runs rampant.

    I work with a Nigel and think this is stellar advice. After a month or so of quiet, seething frustration I heard one of my (female) colleagues say, when interrupted, “Please do not talk over me.” She said it loud, she said it startlingly, she was clearly annoyed, but she was also measured and professional about it which just made it all the more obvious to everyone in the room that talking over her was a hugely inappropriate, unprofessional move and she had every right to be annoyed and point it out. It was *glorious*. Nigel was surprised enough to stop talking. A bit like when you make a loud but non-angry noise to startle your puppy to stop peeing on the carpet long enough to take him outside. Now when I am interrupted I act like I was interrupted and it was annoying. It requires him to notice how many times a day he interrupts the women he works with. I am noticing slow improvement in fits and starts. (It has the side benefit of being deliciously hard to complain about from his side.)

    1. Admittedly I’m not in academia, but I am in an industry that deals quite directly with workplace behavior, and I want to echo that dealing with conflict is not just no unprofessional – it’s actually a very necessary professional skill. Especially if you ever plan to be in a management-type position. People who *don’t* deal with conflict in the workplace are much worse from a professional standpoint than people who do, provided they deal with it appropriately.

      The trick is to keep the focus on behavior (don’t pick up any personally-directed bait – it’s all on the behavior or the issue). And honestly, just act like you assume they’re going to listen to you. Don’t let it enter your mind that any reasonable person would possibly have a problem with what you’re saying. People are surprisingly suggestible, and if you behave as if they already agree with you, they usually will. It may not help with the Nigels of this world, but it does a lot of good with onlookers and managers.

  30. When I was in my first year of undergrad, I took a class that was supposed to be a small discussion seminar but had so many students than when we tried to sit in a circle to facilitate conversation, everyone’s backs were up against the walls. It was almost impossible for everyone to get an equal turn speaking.
    I was one of the people who talked a *lot*. I wasn’t an interrupter, but I took up a lot of space with loud, enthusiastic freshman energy. Our professor, an excellent discussion facilitator, would eventually look at my raised hand and say “Cricket, I think you’ve talked enough for the day.” I am grateful to this day for his clear, kind approach to facilitation and think the experience left me a more thoughtful, less needlessly verbose student.
    LW, students interested in personal growth can accept being shut down or contradicted in discussions with grace and appreciation for the learning experience. Nigel is not one of those students. Hold this in your mind when he is unwilling to accept critique and remember that he is the one making this awkward, not you or anyone else who tries to address his behavior.

  31. I wish I had realized the brilliance of strategy #2 earlier during my social science grad degree….

    In my social science field, after some basic theory and research methods, what people are actually experts in can be really diverse. And also leaves large areas where people know “some” to have an “educated” conversation on hypotheses/theories that can quickly devolve into “I’m stating a fact”. My most frustrating moment was when a European lecturer in my European university presented a scene from American History X as an example of southern California. Now as an American who had lived in southern California, I felt I knew enough to say his connection was overstated and aggressively over dramatized – but the reality was also that I am not a southern California expert and didn’t study what he was talking about. I definitely had that moment of “OMG this is so bizarrely overstated and not correct and I must speak up!!!!!!” – but in that moment of squirming in my seat and feeling the need to speak, I also saw a few other students rolling their eyes and not paying attention – and that by the overall class discussion of the film clip being small and dull – the whole point was passed by far more quickly (and never returned to).

    Another thing I’ve found to do with Nigels – especially in a field that usually has far more women then men – is to also not manage for the professor classroom participation. As a woman, I’ve been coached that making sure I speak up and I’m heard and I don’t get lost is important. So I’ve been told to make the effort to ensure that I get my voice heard among the Nigels. However, if the moderator truly isn’t doing their job – just let Nigel talk and talk and make it freakishly obvious that he’s the only one speaking and the professor/moderator can’t go home and say “since Jane Doe got in one 30 second comment, Nigel isn’t the problem and the rest of the women in the class just need to be more like Jane”. If called upon after Nigel speaks, and he interrupts – don’t try to re-enter the conversation and make the professor actually have to say to you “do you have a response/follow up”. The lecturers are relying on the female students to insert themselves and challenge Nigel – but if you entirely stop, then it makes it look far more like the problem that it is rather than a “discussion”.

    1. You could even make it double-awkward if, every time Nigel interrupts you, you stop talking and look directly at the professor, making it clear that you expect him to be doing something right about now.

  32. I wish I’d had this advice in grad school. I had a guy in one workshop who always interrupted me and when I started pushing back (not necessarily well, but still within the range of acceptable ladylike behaviors), I got pulled aside by an older female peer (I was the youngest in my program by several years, a factor which exacerbated this issue) who told me the way to deal with it was “to ignore it.” Looking back, I will give her the benefit of the doubt that she meant something along the lines of strategy 2 (pretend he didn’t speak), but in the moment I heard “suck it up and make it not awkward.” I was more demoralized by that advice than by the jerk’s behavior.

    As a teacher myself now, I love all of the Captain’s strategies, and would like to add that, depending on your school/environment, this might be a situation where (if it continues or worsens) it’s worth it to go outside your department. This is obviously politically tricky, and works best if you can enlist some other allies who will come with you, but if Dr. John Smith is your chair, or wields a lot of power in some other way (maybe you will eventually need him on your dissertation committee), or just is not good at dealing with this stuff, if there is a dean or provost of your corner of the university (or a university wide Dean of Students), or better yet, you have easy access to your Title IX person on campus, those can be safer spaces to ask for help. I should emphasize YMMV in a serious way, but in an ideal setting, all of those options SHOULD be places you can go, confidentially, and ask for help or advice. I would be very very very very wary of doing anything official or on the record like filing a formal complaint (which would likely be difficult to do anyway, unless your school as a very progressive conduct code), but much though academics often like to vilify the administration, this is one reason why they exist: to be more objective about a situation than faculty can be. If you can have a conversation with the right person, they can do some behind the scenes work that may help. If it continues past this semester and you’ve all taken the Captain’s advice about what to write in Dr. Smith’s evals, you’ll have even better credibility. Start documenting specific incidents and encourage your friends to do the same. If you are fellowshiped grad students and/or school employees of any kind, you may also have access to your university’s HR department or even a union (as some lucky grad students do).

    Do some research about all of these options and, of course, tread carefully. The more people you can get to participate in this process with you, the better, but do be careful. All of the above are suggestions that SHOULD work in any school, but the effectiveness and fairness of them will vary wildly. Situations like these can be a Catch 22, since your education is being disrupted by an asshole, but trying to fix that can also disrupt your education since schools/faculty will sometimes (often?) treat you like you’re the problem. Protect yourself and DOCUMENT and find some reliable allies. In an ideal situation you could go to a higher up, request anonymity, explain the situation, offer your evidence, and then someone would be in touch with Nigel/Dr.Smith/Your Chair, depending on what’s appropriate to let them know there’s a problem that needs fixing. You are legally entitled to fair treatment at your school. Repeat that to yourself as necessary when people give you pushback.

    Good luck!

    p.s. This post obviously assumes the writer attends school in the U.S. That’s perhaps an unfair assumption, but much of what I say here still applies (minus the legal jargon, which I wouldn’t know for other places). The vast majority of universities have some structures in place meant to deal with issues like this, what only the LW can know is if her school actually deals with them in a meaningful way or whether these structures are just a smokescreen to offer the school plausible deniability.

    1. If it continues past this semester and you’ve all taken the Captain’s advice about what to write in Dr. Smith’s evals, you’ll have even better credibility. Start documenting specific incidents and encourage your friends to do the same.

      I’m not in grad school myself (though I hope to be eventually) but I was wondering this, if documenting would be helpful. Both “I met with Professors 1 & 2 on x dates and they offered me a & b helpful suggestions, I met with Dr John Smith on x dates and he blew me off and then lowered my participation grade (in a worst case scenario)” type documenting, and “Nigel interrupts female students x times per class, male students y times per class, and me z times per class” type documentation. If nothing else, keeping a little running tally in the side of her notes might help LW feel validated that “yes, I’m not making this up, he really does interrupt this much” and help fight back against any potential gaslighting pressure. It also might help LW feel like she has at least a little bit of control in the situation, and give her an alternative of something to do instead of arguing back against Nigel when he’s wrong in an area he doesn’t actually know about.

  33. Just in general, LW, I am so sorry you are having this experience. As a women in academia, now tenured, I have seen the behavior you describe a LOT. I now use all the strategies the Captain has outlined, especially pair up the assholes together! DO work on strategizing with your colleagues to ding Prof. Smith, en mass on his evals… at my institution, the numbers are linked to raises, even for tenured folks, so if you can get his numbers on the evaluations low enough overall, it could have a pretty big impact. Solidarity to you!!!

  34. I’m a woman in physics and now a lecturer and I’ve dealt with so, so many Nigels, both when I was a grad student and now as faculty. Mostly I just ignore them and go about my business when possible (and when they aren’t my students). When it’s a colleague that I can’t ignore, Strategy 2 up there is just perfect. Act as if they didn’t just go on and on (and on and on and on) about whatever thing they’re bloviating about. It will piss them off and they really won’t know why. It’s amazing.
    When I get a Nigel in one of my classes, I make sure to shut that shit down way early in the semester. I have a reputation for being kind of a ball busting bitch in classes, specifically because I won’t put up with that kind of behavior. It doesn’t make me popular with the engineers and it makes my evals less than stellar, because the Nigels are the ones who will leave the terrible comments, but it makes the rest of the class go more or less smoothly.

    1. I for one, would thoroughly enjoy your classes. I consider it a good sign when the prof is strict right off the bat.

      Just out of curiosity, do engineering students have a reputation among the physics/math majors? I’m remembering the dumb jokes we made about basically all BA subjects and… Idk. I wondered.

      1. Thanks. I used to be a substitute teacher in junior highs and honestly, controlling a room full of hormonal 12 year olds isn’t that different from controlling a room full of 18 year olds. Start strict and get nicer, but don’t start out nice, because it is way harder to get stricter as time goes on.

        And at least here, it really depends on the type of engineer. The college of engineering here is way larger than the physics department, even though all the engineers have to go through us initially, so it’s kind of a mixed bag. Some of our physics majors are super smart kids, but not very good students, while many (not all, but a large chunk of them) of the engineering kids are good students, in the sense that they work really hard at it and can follow an algorithm and retain information well, but they’re not so good at thinking “outside the box” or solving problems that aren’t exactly like the examples we did in class. In other words, they’re really good at memorizing stuff, but not all that great at actual thinking.

        1. Both of those points make a whole lot of sense, actually. Just based on my experiences as a student anyway. A manager a couple rungs up the ladder from me at work constantly complains about the structural engineers never thinking outside the box, so it looks like the trend continues into engineers’ careers.

        2. Hi KS! If you are a regular attendee at AAPT/PERC, we may have met at some point.

          I am a physics education grad student now, who sometimes gets to teach my own intro courses and frequently teaches labs/etc. I am a petite-young looking woman (students have pegged me as ~20, whereas I am far closer to 30). I see so, so, many Nigels among the freshman engineers. They do not believe they can learn anything from me, because obviously, I don’t really know physics because I’m a woman and I don’t do “real” physics. I do think, being in this field, women tend to be forced to develop a pretty tough classroom persona. In general, I am not a fan of the “I am in charge, therefore you must respect/listen to me.” attitude, but it’s necessary much of the time (I actually found that, when teaching high school, I needed this *less* than I do now. The kids respected me a lot more by default, making it easier to handle Nigels).

          I feel tremendously lucky that there are only two Nigels on the faculty in my current department, and both of those are regarded as missing stairs by the other faculty. As in, the department chair has actually said, “Yes, Nigel is an ass. But he’s been tenured since before I go here, and the most I can do is keep him away from intro or premed classes where he is likely to deeply upset female students.” Even the chair has the expectation that our female majors (of which there are few) develop more tolerance for this shit over time.

          I think that some of that comes from the fact that, disproportionately, the women who stay in physics tend to be better than the average physics major. It has been my way of dealing with a Nigel grad student in my program–I am a rockstar at coursework and deeply respected by the most respected faculty in the department. One very respected faculty person once said to Nigel “You need to listen to her. You can learn much from her. She is one of the best students I have seen at finding the heart of a problem, and so when she says an approach is wrong, it is wrong.” And I have never been interrupted by that Nigel since. While I appreciated it, I shouldn’t *need* that sort of help from a professor. And women shouldn’t need to be better than their male peers to be respected.

          LW, befriend the other women grad students. Even if you can do nothing else, it is nice to go and get a drink and complain about the unfairness of it all.

          1. I’ve only been to a few of the PER conferences, as I got into the field kind of late, but I’m presenting at AAPT in January. We should meet up if you’re going. 🙂

  35. “Strategy Five: Have Some Fucking Mercy At Group Project Time”

    Oh glory hallelujah. Please, professors, do this. DO NOT RANDOMLY PAIR STUDENTS. Seriously. Some poor sap will have to be with the Asshole and their grade will suffer. Give out groups yourself. There’s nothing worse than being set up with a slacker team and having to pull the entire project, or being matched with someone who hates you.

    I feel like Strategy 1, though, will just annoy Dr. Smith. He clearly wants this to blow over quickly during class, and while #1 may actually work some, it will piss off Nigel while stopping the discussion, and thus Dr. Smith will intervene and blame the LW for pissing off Nigel. #2 is better, because it makes LW look attentive and useful to the discussion, and if Nigel gets mad that the discussion is happening, there’s no way to blame LW for it.

    I will add that if you try #3 and talk to Dr. Smith, and he’s a dickwad about it, go to someone higher up in your campus. At least where I went, we have places we can report shitty professor behavior that will put pressure on the professors to be sane. Say, your prof refuses to let you make up an exam you missed while you had the flu, this group will crank down and force him to do it. I hope your university has this.

  36. LW, your situation sounds very frustrating, and (as an erstwhile grad student and now professor) I can certainly relate. In my experience, it really does get better. I knew many Nigels over the course of graduate school. While they tended to be very loud during coursework, they often flamed out in later years, as their overconfidence and underpreparation caught up to them. Happily, some of them figured out that they were doing grad school wrong, and they improved. Some of them washed out. Choosing to remain a Nigel is often career suicide: see Karen Kelsky’s “Women Fail, but Men Bomb”: http://theprofessorisin.com/2011/10/12/women-fail-but-men-bomb-a-special-request-post-on-guys/

    Some Nigels are so busy positioning themselves as experts within their graduate school cohorts that they fail to publish anything (career death in my field). Some publish strings of minor pieces in low-ranking journals with poor reputations, then preen themselves on the length of their CVs, not realizing that, on the job market, publication quality counts over quantity. Nigels often go to lots of conferences and give polished but mediocre presentations (again: see quantity vs quality). They get first round interviews but bomb them all and fail to get final round interviews/campus visits; or they get campus visits and then horrify the committee with their bloviating.

    Dr. John Smith doesn’t realize it, but he may well be sabotaging Nigel’s career by putting up with this BS from him while he is still in coursework: if you are in a Ph.D. program, then he is setting him up to fail at the later, more important parts of the degree, whereas you are much more likely to do very well. If my experience is any indication, Nigel is likely to a) get at least somewhat better eventually or b) wash out. In the meantime, the best thing I can hope for you is that you continue to do rigorous, well-informed work–like you do–and find yourself with many many powerful mentors, especially women, who encourage you to keep standing up for yourself.

  37. Just want to say, wow YES. Even though my college courses focused on esthetics and women were the majority in class, it was so much this.
    High school too, and I can’t even think of how that sort of constant second class treatment altered the course of my entire life.
    Hugely important stuff- so grateful you are sharing these strategies with so many others. Thank you again, Captain.

  38. Obviously, Nigel sounds like a dick. However, regarding the talking over people – I have a hearing impairment and cant always tell if someone is speaking, especially if they arent directly facing me. Also, I can hear men more easily than higher pitched voices.

    The difference is that when I realise I jumped in and spoke over someone who hadnt finished, Im mortified and I apologise.

    But I wonder if it is something Nigel is juggling, perhaps without even realising? I say that in all seriousness.

    Of course LW, if you dont think this applies but if you want to make the point, you could ask Nigel whether he has had a hearing test, as he often talks over people without seeming to realise that they are still speaking… Depends how brave and confrontational youre feeling!

    1. Not a hearing issue if he is interrupting to argue what was just said. Although I think it would be hilarious if someone asked Nigel if he could actually hear them for other reasons.

      1. I love this idea. Let him get rolling then very loudly say, “Excuse me Nigel, but do you have a hearing difficulty? Emma was talking and you didn’t seem to notice, so I was wondering if you were slightly deaf?”

        Then when he interrupts again, very loudly, “Nigel, I think you should get your hearing tested!”

        1. This is kind of rude to Deaf/HOH people, most of whom are not obnoxious jerks. If you think he’s an obnoxious jerk, say so–don’t make jokes about a disability to get out of the awkwardness of being honest.

          1. As a hard-of-hearing person myself, I have said things such as “Nigel, did you hear that Norah was speaking? Because I heard Norah just fine, and I’m partly deaf. If you are having trouble hearing others, I would be happy to direct you towards resources that have helped me.”

            In my case, I am pretty open with people about being hard-of-hearing and I don’t mind joking about it, but I think that if a hearing person said something similar, I would be upset about it. And I think “these resources helped me” is a slightly different message than “get your hearing tested!”

            Also, one strategy I use in classroom settings a lot is I watch other people all the time. If some of my classmates are looking at Norah, I will turn around and glance at Norah to see if she is saying something that I didn’t hear. If she does appear to be speaking, then I try to piece together the sounds I can hear, and watch the motions of her lips, and hope that it magically turns into comprehensible speech. It’s exhausting and I really hate the process of trying to force myself to make sense out of words that I can barely hear, but it helps me deal with group situations and classrooms.

            So there are strategies that hard-of-hearing folks can use to reduce the likelihood of interrupting someone by accident, and whether or not Nigel has a hearing problem, he could undoubtedly benefit from learning some of those skills. If Nigel watched other people and noticed where they directed their attention, he might find that other people are not nearly as riveted by his monologues as he expected them to be.

    2. I find it very difficult to believe that Nigel just happens to have a hearing disability that leads him to always mishear women and never men, such that he has been unable to take any steps to notice, correct or apologize for his behavior.

      Agree it’s important to be aware that hearing difficulties are a Thing, but this isn’t an issue like making a lecture accessible to Deaf students. It feels a bit like the “maybe he has Asperger’s” that gets whipped out when a dude is creepy. Disability should not be the go-to explanation for privileged male behavior.

  39. This is such a fantastic post. I often think back to the one humanities elective with a few hours of seminar I had in engineering school (in my country, engineering is a professional school, not a major, so engineers have only 1 or 2 non-technical classes in their whole degree) and wish I’d had this kind of sexism unpacked for me then. In one of the seminar sessions, a guy made a point that was identical to one that a woman had just made a few minutes before. It was about a dozen poeple around a table, and all the women just made eye contact with each other and gave knowing/supportive looks to the woman who had originally made the point. I always wish one of us had had the nerve to say, “Um, thanks, Nigel. Tania said the exact same thing 2 minutes ago,” but we were young and mansplaining hadn’t really been identified and named yet.

    1. Ten or twelve years ago I worked with a very senior man who would do this. I was in a fairly large meeting with him and a bunch of people from very different contexts in our organization. I saw a solution to the problem at hand and proposed it, but no one took me up on it. A few minutes later, he proposed the same solution. “That’s an excellent idea,” exclaimed the meeting chair.

      “Yes,” he replied calmly, “That’s what I thought when Abi proposed it.”

      The meeting went briefly silent. It was a beautiful silence, one I will treasure for a long, long time.

      1. I am also picturing the look on the face of the meeting chair, but that’s really just gilding the lily.

  40. I hate Nigels like that. I actually had someone just like this in a seminar class last year- except she was a woman as well as a self-admitted (she could pass for white) POC and fat activist.

    I’ve got no issue with any of those things, and as a out lesbian woman, I understand her frustration at the sexism and some aspects of oppression. But that oppression doesn’t mean you get to talk literally half the class time! No one ever addressed it because they were afraid of coming across as racist/sexist/fatphobic, but during group projects and informal after-class meetings for drinks, we all complained about her.

    I don’t know if it was her or the classroom setup or access issues either, but all the left-handed in the class got pissed off, some at her. Disability services provides one table for each classroom, for wheelchairs and etc., and she took it because fitting in the little college desks was doable, but tight, for her. The table brought would easily have worked for two people (one of those giant ones where you can spread everything out, or work with a partner), but she was really possessive of it. In the meantime, there were five left-handed people and only one left-handed desk, the services wouldn’t bring another table, and we couldn’t steal left-handed desks. I am left-handed, and I kept trying to remind myself that wasn’t her fault, but I still got annoyed.

    But mostly, I wonder- if a Nigel is not male or lacks privilege in another way, how does one deal with it in the classroom?

    1. Jeepers, hope it’s not too off-topic to say that your furniture arrangements sucked. Disability services shouldn’t have to provide separate tables for left-handers, (most) wheelchair users or larger people – those variations are common enough that all desks/tables should work for the vast majority of people.

      1. They were the flip-desk thingies where the hinge flipped the top down on the right side, know what I mean? There was one that did it on the left side for left-handers, but no other arrangements.

      2. As far as left-handed tables go, if you have the chairs with the small attached desks that only extend in front of half the chair so you can slide into them, it does matter. Those desk/chair conglomerations are usually designed for right-handed people, with the half-desk on the right side. I can’t imagine trying to use one as a left-handed person. There would have to be special mirrored chairs for those people.

        1. Yes, as a lefty who had to deal with those sorts of desks, they are a TERRIBLE design. Just make all of your desks ambidextrous. I mean, seriously; should a DESK be only suitable for right-handed people?

        2. This is just a horrible aside, but as a right-handed person I always loved the left-handed desks. (I took the “tilt the paper” approach to handwriting I was taught in Catholic school way, way too far–my paper was usually turned 90 degrees or more–and the lefty desks let me write with my arms in the right positions.) I always made sure I wasn’t stealing one from an actual lefty, though!

    2. But mostly, I wonder- if a Nigel is not male or lacks privilege in another way, how does one deal with it in the classroom?

      I actually think strategies 1 and 2 in the Captain’s post work just fine regardless of why someone is being rude, dominating the conversation, or interrupting you. Go ahead and combine that with some self-reflection after the fact to make sure that this person isn’t interrupting simply in an attempt to be heard. Maybe quantify in some way as others have said, if that will help you feel more assured. But overall, while it’s good to be sensitive to these things, you don’t really need to be privileged to be a jerk.

      1. I am a part-time instructor and it does not matter to me if a student’s rudeness is motivated by bigotry or of that student is simply being a jerk. Rudeness is unacceptable. If they are in my class, they are expected to treat me and their fellow students with respect. In order to guarantee that they understand this fact, I have my students sign a statement at the beginning of the semester stating that they have read a civility statement.

        I have also told my students that I want my class to be a safe learning environment. If they have any problems with being bullied, they are to contact me and I will deal with it.

  41. The Captain’s got some great scripts for handling Nigels. However…has anyone–not necessarily the LW, but more of a professor or one of Nigel’s committee–actually told Nigel he’s a problem? It sounds like he’s a big problem for the department, and will be a big problem in the future. The kind of problem most people on hiring committees won’t tolerate, especially if he’s rude/talks over/targets a woman on it. Graduate departments can be hotbeds of passivity and passive-aggressive behaviour. Grad school is also a good place for socially stunted individuals, too. (I place myself in this category. My God, if only my post-defense self could’ve had a talk with my first-year self.)

    IMO, it might be time for one of the profs on Nigel’s committee to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with Nigel. He’s pissed off his fellow colleagues. He’s pissed off profs in the department. He’s not getting polite hints, nor are people bluntly countering his opinion getting through to him. He might not be aware he’s specifically targeting women. If he is doing it consciously, then it’s a problem that’s in need of some blunt correction, because he’s a walking, breathing, shitting Title IX complaint, if he ever gets in a classroom of his own.

    LW, do y’all have any teaching responsibilities? If so, and if Nigel’s in front of a classroom, then another angle would be some sort of observation. Because if he’s pulling this shit with other students, he’s most likely doing the same sorts of things with undergrads. That’s a big, big problem for the department and for his further career.

    All this, of course, posits a functional, healthy graduate department. Do what you need to do, LW, in order to protect yourself/your mental health.

    1. (Hi hi! This is my first time commenting.)

      I’m wondering if this isn’t a job for the Director of Grad Studies in the department, in terms of telling Nigel’s advisor that he’s got a problem student and something needs to be done, because it’s possible that the advisor either doesn’t know (sometimes advisors have annoying blind spots) or they don’t care (either because they see Nigel’s behavior as acceptable or because they think he’ll straighten out). A lot of advisors, though, jealously defend their territory when it comes to how and when they professionalize their students. A good DGS can address the advisor’s shortcomings and intervene as a relatively neutral third party who isn’t involved in these issues personally but does have a stake in their resolution, i.e. the reputation of the department, the success of its graduate students, and its ability to attract and develop a scholarly community that isn’t infamous for providing a breeding ground for the next wave of Nigels.

      Unfortunately, the trick here is figuring out a way to get the DGS involved, if that person isn’t already; it would involve LW (or an ally) going to a trusted mentor and asking them to intervene. (An added catch is the necessity of having a functional department, or at least knowing someone who can work within a shambolic department and get things done.) We’ve done this in my department for our own incorrigible Nigels, and while it is INCREDIBLY awkward and uncomfortable and not at all fun, it at least gets things out of an intolerable limbo–and it has resulted in chastened Nigels who de-escalate their Nigelosity, or unchastened Nigels who go on to utterly fail at finding jobs because as it turns out no one likes working with Nigels!

      Ugh, Nigel. Nigel Nigel Nigel.

      *Jedi hugs for LW*

  42. This is among the reasons I’m leaving academia. It’s annoying watching the straight white guys and “hot” girls get all the opportunities while getting told off for being too quiet.

    Anyway, I find calling attention to the interrupting politely can sometimes help depending on the moderator. “Nigel, if you’d let me finish.” “Nigel, please let me finish first.” “Nigel, I’m making a point right now.” “Nigel, please wait for me to finish first.” “Nigel, please stop interrupting me.” If you call attention to that, hopefully your instructor will at least help cut him off to let you finish talking. This method doesn’t make it about him being wrong and you being right (where your prof might not care or might side with him), and instead focuses only on the fact that you aren’t even being allowed to finish your sentence (which hopefully your prof will recognize is shitty and annoying).

    Another note to instructors too, you know those grad classes where participation is mandatory or else you lose marks? You really need to tell people who don’t shut up to shut up in those cases, because exhausted quiet people feel like your class is a constant shitty battle to put their hand up first before the overenthusiastic assholes who already talked 5 times or else they won’t do well, and no one is listening to anyone because they’re waiting for the last person to finish so they can jump on the dead air so they won’t lose those precious marks. The captain’s suggestion of having tokens to talk in this situation is amazing.

    1. Other strategies:

      Have instructor pose a question (write it on the board) and give every student 5 minutes to write down a response, gives quiet people a moment to prepare their thoughts, and gives instructor the opportunity to call on people at random b/c everyone will have something to say.

      Mix it up with small group discussions, so students can participate by talking among themselves and not trying to fill up the whole room. Do the thing where you pose a question or assign a task or problem and have groups alternate who presents their results. Instructors & TAs can walk around to check with groups.

      Give more structured opportunities for students to earn participation points by having students alternate presenting on topic of day & leading class discussion and have them moderate it themselves. Teacher helps facilitate.

      I like the idea upthread of having a rubric for participation points.

      1. These are all great ideas, but it bothers me that so few academics seem to get training in good class management and facilitation. Or is it that some academics just won’t apply it? The LW should be able to expect a certain standard of facilitation from her professors, and should be able to request more training/better performance from professors that aren’t up to the mark.

        1. It bothers me, too, believe.

          Many if not most college teachers never got any training in how to teach. Many, of course, are good at metacognition and can successfully observe and apply things from their own educational process to how they teach. Many are not and cannot. It’s a mixed bag and you don’t know what you’re gonna get as a student. And if you add in sexism and racism and an environment where admitting you don’t know something is scary, little incentive to learn for the ones who don’t do it successfully.

          I really appreciate all the commenters who suggested Graduate Advising/Services & how to successfully take things up the chain. Sometimes there IS no chain, and nobody to make what *should* happen happen, so knowing how to defuse stuff yourself to the extent that you can is useful.

          1. Even the ones that are trained aren’t always any good at it.

            I was in education to be an educator, taught by expert educators on the topic of education. The best summary I have of those years is that we were taught “never make your students listen for more than 20 minutes without a break”… during a 2 hours lecture with no break.

        2. As the Captain said, many/most of them never get the training. Compounding the issues is that some universities just don’t care about the teaching aspect, they only the care about the research that the faculty are doing.

          1. This is particularly a problem in the sciences and engineering. People are hired in tenure track positions on the strength of their research and ability to get grant money for more research and mentoring graduate students and using said research to bring prestige to the university. Teaching is way, way down at the bottom of the list of things that they are evaluated on, usually. And they certainly aren’t trained in how to do it effectively.

            I’m in physics, but I do physics education research rather than pure science and getting the other professors in my department, especially the ones with (or working toward getting) tenure to think about their teaching other than just basically preparing lectures and presenting derivations to the class is like beating my head repeatedly against a wall. They all agree that students have trouble learning physics, but they see it as a problem of the students rather than a problem of the teaching–they learned “just fine” from lectures and textbooks and therefore so should their students. Getting them to understand that people who become physics professors are not the norm in society and most students they come across aren’t like them and don’t learn like them is difficult, at best. Add in the fact that I’m a woman and a lecturer (i.e., not tenure track), and I get lots of head patting and other sexist nonsense whenever I bring up teaching effectiveness in the faculty meetings.

          2. ks: Ugh, that’s super-frustrating. I’m also in a “focusing on education research rather than science research” position (although I’m an instructor rather than a professor, and don’t actually *do* research at all). SO MUCH of the best stuff on effectively teaching science has come from physics! I find it really aggravating that so many of our research faculty refuse to adapt to teaching strategies that actually have solid research and empirical data behind them, but it must be even worse when those strategies come straight from your subject area.

          3. It’s a huge issue in the field I’m in too. I work in faculty development in a higher education field (health sciences). (I am not faculty, just to be clear. I work as staff in program development, research, etc., and if all goes well I’ll be switching over to the full-time science PhD student side soon, yayyy.)

            In the field and institution where I work, there are a percentage of people who are incredibly devoted to developing themselves as educators and there are lots of resources available to the folks who want to avail themselves of them. So there’s this cadre of people who are constantly refining their processes, becoming better and better, evaluating their curricula and their teaching to see how their learners are doing, performing educational research, reading journals and attending programs to figure out what they could be doing better in terms of teaching, talking to their colleagues about education. The trouble is, you don’t have to be a devoted educator to be teaching in this field — pretty much everyone who teaches here and at peer institutions is primarily either a clinician or a researcher — and no one gets tenured and/or promoted solely by being great at teaching. Figuring out how to grow the community of people who are interested in becoming better teachers is a constant issue for everyone here who does education work.

          4. @OtherBecky:
            It really, really is. Right now, my position is mostly teaching and service, although I am “strongly encouraged” (but not technically required) to do research. And since I love teaching even more than planetary atmospheres (which was my original area of research, a long time ago), when I went back to finally finish my PhD after taking a long break from grad school and being an adjunct while my kids were little, I decided that PER was more interesting and did that instead. But my institution doesn’t actually have any PER people, so I had to do a hybrid degree between the physics department and the college of education to get it.
            I’m lucky in that I have support from our department chair and especially from the dean to continue with evidence-based teaching practices and that they know that doing it this way will make my student evals worse in the short term, so I’m not penalized for it. But it is difficult to get buy-in from the students when I’m the only one and when other people teaching other sections of my same classes are doing straight lecture with very little student engagement, even though I know (and my students come back later to tell me, even though they complain bitterly at the time) that it is better for their actual learning in the long run.

          5. @ks: We once polled some of our students about traditional versus flipped courses, and the general consensus was that a) they learned more in the flipped courses, but they hated them because b) they were more work, and (my personal favorite), c) if you didn’t do the reading or watch the video and came to class unprepared, it was really hard and it made you feel bad about yourself.

          6. @OtherBecky
            That’s pretty much the consensus among students here as well. As part of my dissertation, I used a semi-flipped method in a large, algebra based physics class (mostly for pre-med and pre-pharmacy students). During the study, we interviewed some students and gave the rest the same questions in an open-ended survey and the overwhelming consensus was that yes, interactive teaching (tutorials, flipping the classroom, etc.) helped them learn physics much more than in a lecture class, but that they didn’t like it because “it’s hard when she makes us learn it ourselves; we wish she would just tell us what we need to know for the test.” It is incredibly frustrating.

        3. My master’s programme included a half-credit (not counting toward the degree) per term of a pedagogy seminar in which a rotating series of faculty gave presentations about teaching strategies and other things, and further had meetings weekly for everyone teaching a specific course, whether GTA or graduate lecturer, in which we brought up issues and got feedback from our convener and assistance from our peers. My master’s programme was unusual. The faculty started trying to formalize pedagogical training because they’d discovered that formal pedagogy courses had gone the way of the dodo, so while they’d been assuming that they were sending their shiny MAs (my masters programme was terminal) off to doctoral programmes that would offer pedagogy, instead, everyone was just learning on the job. Some people have the combination of innate teaching ability and self-reflection and adaptability necessary to *still* become great teachers under this system of more or less benign neglect. Many do not.

          So–no. We don’t get training. Most people learn on the job as best they can. In my discipline, most people who do advanced study want to be good teachers, because teaching is a big part of our discipline at least as done in N. America, but most programmes give absolutely no support. My doctoral programme offered a lot of professional development seminars, but no pedagogical training at all.

  43. LW, this may not be helpful to you, but as I read your letter, I wanted to give you a big hug, and tell you to stop worrying about your behaviour THIS INSTANT. Sometimes people get your goat, and that’s ok, you’re allowed to be imperfect sometimes, even according to your own standards of behaviour. The worrying you are doing is part of the system that allows Nigel to be Nigel, and you are suffering as a result. To the extent you can, set yourself free.

    This comes in the context of being a naturally people-pleasing female person in a very high conflict job. I have had to stop worrying about what people think of me, and just focus on what I need to do, and it’s very freeing.

  44. Lots of sympathy for you LW! Aargh those people.

    As a non-grad-student I have a wish to grab this one little non-academic thing in what the Captain said and expand on it, because I love it and it’s something I’ve been thinking about re: That Guy Who Claims Loudly That The Sky Is Pink. In a nutshell it’s this: “That’s interesting,” said in the right tone, can be a subtle but pointed insult. And as far as my understanding of professionalism goes (my professional interactions are rare as I’m a fiction author and the reclusive kind at that), you can remain professional while delivering that insult. In any case, you can remain self-possessed and dignified. And it’s got plausible deniability—if the guy tries to start something over it, you can raise your eyebrows and ask him what the problem is.


    Nigel: …and so it’s clear that, contrary to popular belief, the sky is in fact pink.
    You: (clear throat so people will listen) That’s (long pause) very interesting. (tone is dry, a little haughty, a little patronizing) As Michelle said earlier, couldn’t we look at it through the lens of…

    If Nigel’s all “What do you mean interesting?” the effective reply is to repeat the phrase in a blander tone and a manner that implies you are baffled as to what could be wrong. “I said it was very interesting.” If he persists, raised eyebrows and silence are enough, as by this point it’s clear who is being unprofessional.

    I remember a long-ago LW whose male “friends” were continually pressing her to defend her position that the sky is not pink, for their own amusement. I went away and thought about that a lot, and—although now after several years I probably agree with the Captain that life’s too short to spend any more of it on those glassbowls—what I decided at the time that I would recommend was rolled eyes and rude noises (the casual version of the cold and patronizing “Interesting”) and sudden, pressing interests in snacks in the kitchen, the books on that bookshelf over there, and whatever’s going on outside. But not as a sneaking escape, y’know? In an obvious, scornful, “you are boring” way.

    Basically, I’m advocating for scorn, directed at those who deserve it. I’m advocating for the idea that if a dude says the sky is pink and, for one reason or another, it’s not going to be worth it to debate that shit, you don’t have to swallow it: you can use your body language and tone to let him and everyone know that you think he is an idiot, in a way that actually lets the matter rest there because if he tries not to let it, you can repeat it till he looks stupid. Stonewall. Boom.

    I think people think of this as passive-aggressive sometimes. What I’ve been working on is: so what? What’s actually wrong with passive-aggressive? The same thing that’s wrong with aggressive-aggressive: it’s a bad way to be with people who don’t deserve it. With people who do, you have to think through the force & form of your response, yes, but a certain measure of aggression is necessary in your own or others’ defense. So, I sometimes think of this sort of thing as passive-defensive, although I don’t tend to use that term with people given the negative connotations loaded on both those words in our culture.

    I think that scorn has actually been a traditional female weapon for a long time. Maybe it’s because of its connotations of The Old Ways that we’ve dropped it in favor of more direct approaches, but I honestly can’t see anything disempowering about it, when used in appropriate circumstances.

    1. I’ve long noticed that contempt shuts people down a lot faster than anger does. Probably because it engages them less – it doesn’t entertain the idea that they might be an equal opponent.

      It’s one of those things that sucks when it’s undeserved, but is a fantastic tool when someone is just being unreasonable.

    2. I’ve also noticed this, and often use it to my advantage. I have resting bitch face anyway. Also, honestly? I’ve been thanked afterwards in private more than once. You have to use it sparingly, because otherwise you’re just cruel, but properly executed it can save conversations and get bullshitting assholes to show themselves the door. I see it more as an intimidation technique than passive aggression. But maybe that’s because I have been told I “stare daggers”.

    3. “I remember a long-ago LW whose male ‘friends’ were continually pressing her to defend her position that the sky is not pink, for their own amusement.”

      Ahh, yes. In my composition classes, I’m always sure to talk about arguing just to argue: how we won’t be doing that in my class, how people who argue just to win and who try to trip you up just to score points off you are jerks, and how you don’t have to waste your life arguing with jerks. That’s always a good day for lightbulbs. 🙂

  45. This is exactly why I have never once enjoyed a group project, right up to and including grad school. I am a ridiculously peace-keeping person, so teachers would see me as a good person to pair with the trouble-makers. Always. Even for projects where we got to choose our own groups, it was, “Oh, and Nigel, you’d better go with, hmm… yes, with Pen.” Lucky me. I got to do all the work and put up with an asshole as well. Yay. And classroom participation? Oh boy, that was never fun for me. I’d get consistently steamrolled a dozen times by a Nigel and realise it was futile to even try, and would get a poor mark at the end. “But Nigel was interrupting me every time before I could even get two words out–I was prevented from participating!” “Well, that’s going to happen in life, and you should learn to cope with it.” Not speaking is just about the only way of coping when the teacher is not managing the classroom. It is absurd to insist that people participate, but then do nothing when it is apparent that participating is impossible without some kind of intervention. Penalizing them for something they weren’t allowed to do is shockingly bad teaching. So many frustrating memories.

    As the Captain very correctly points out, non-Nigels won’t learn from being paired with a Nigel. They already have social skills, which is why they aren’t Nigel in the first place. But they will have to put it an unfair amount of work while putting up with an unreasonable amount of stress from Nigel in the meantime. Nigel, on the other hand, learns nothing from this arrangement, except perhaps a reinforcement of his knowledge that he can browbeat others into doing what he wants. It’s lose-lose. Putting the Nigels together gives them an opportunity and motivation to actually learn something, and allows the other students to learn from doing the group work (which was the whole point of doing a group project in the first place).

  46. LW, one more strategy to add to the Captain’s excellent list:


    I cannot emphasize enough how powerful this is. Alone, you are one lady grad student versus all the Nigels of the world. Together, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. I’ve been in seminars which would’ve been insufferable except that other ladies had my back — either by backing up my argument, or by commiserating after class, or (rarely) interrupting our Nigel. Cocktail hour / talk receptions immediately went from excruciating performances of feigned professionalism while dying the death of a thousand cuts from privileged assholes to Feminist Funtime, wherein I network, trade workplace fashion tips, and build solidarity. These are the people I run to when Dr. John Smith takes a dump on my life or Nigel sends me a nasty email. These women will help you with your health care claims, will proofread your job letters, will attend your papers so there’s at least one person in the audience who can ask you a smart question. They are the life raft that will carry you across the Oppression Ocean to the shores of Intersectional Island. They will nourish you.

    Trust me: against your united front, the Nigels of the world will feel like nothing more than flies you brush from your shoulder.

    1. This is such a great point. Years ago I was paired with a Nigel, in a class where you were supposed to do all of your coursework with the same partner for the entire term. It was in advertising, so we were also being graded on how well we were able to get along with said partner. My Nigel took every opportunity to sexually harass me whenever we’d meet off campus to work on our coursework together, and then when we’d get into class to present it, he’d humiliate me by making sexist comments about my appearance or grooming in front of the other students and the teacher. Meanwhile, I was doing 100% of the work.

      A few sessions into the semester, when I was well and truly miserable, another female students followed me into the ladies room and said, “I just want you to know – we see you. We all see what’s happening to you. Everyone in this class knows you are doing all the work. People have been complaining to the prof about this guy’s behavior toward you. It isn’t right. If you feel safe enough to complain about him, all of us will have your back.”

      I will never forget how it felt to have those feelings validated. Those women in that class eventually became my professional network. And that woman and I are still friends today, and we have helped each other out professionally for the last ten years.

    2. Also befriend Lady Junior Faculty.

      Possibly the best thing for my career development was meeting regularly with a couple of lady postdocs and lady assistant professors and talking to them about exactly these kind of issues. And asking them – how do you handle these things? What are your strategies? Do you have any tips on classroom management?

      Sometimes, what I get out of it is great mentorship and solidarity, which is itself a wonderful and necessary thing. Other times – and this takes a while – is that they take my questions to THEIR mentors, and move them up the ladder. And that is what creates institutional change.

  47. When I was in grad school, it was normal for us to take turns leading the discussion. Each student was assigned a day, assigned an critical article to summarize and discuss. It was understood that part of our grade depended on how well we called on our classmates, engaged them to speak, and basically managed the class. I don’t know how well that would work with Nigel since I imagine he’d use the time to pontificate and would blow off whatever points were taken off his grade. Besides, if the professor isn’t on board it can’t work, but I throw this out there as an idea anyway. It might help for someone who’s not quite so Nigel-y, maybe someone who’s only little league obnoxious and not the whole thing.

  48. The whole: “That’s incorrect, Nigel.”, etc part put me in mind of the excellent Soraya Chemaly article “Ten Simple Words Every Girl Should Learn” (terrible headline, great article – http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2014-05-10-simple-words-every-girl-learn/) which discusses similar strategies to help confront patronising garbage, as well as providing a lot of social context for how men and women end up socialised so differently from a very young age. Well worth a read!

  49. By my last year of grad school, I had identified certain “dealbreaker” students whom I wouldn’t take a class with, even if I liked the instructor/topic. Obviously that’s not always possible and does nothing to actually solve the situation, but it made my life a lot easier.

  50. My sympathies as this can suck the fun out of any educational experience. Definitely agree with Cap’s excellent strategies. I have been interrupted while speaking on panels by many incarnations of “That Guy” – You know that guy who has to show that he is the smartest, wittiest, most experienced and most important person on the panel by constantly re-routing any question back to some random-ass anecdote that actually has f&#$ all to do with the original question? When I’m interrupted by That Guy, I usually wait for him to finish and with a somewhat deadpan expression, raise my hand and say, “As I was saying, just a minute ago…” and continue my thought.

    If That Guy dares to employe the “Translation Technique,” interrupting my would-be answer to “interpret it’ for the audience, i.e. “What Minister of Smartassery is trying to say is…'” I wait for That Guy to finish, raising my hand and say, “Actually, as I was saying, just a minute ago…”

    Don’t relinquish control of the floor. If it’s your time to speak, speak, and make it known that you notice Nigel’s rudeness. His inability to control his outbursts are not your problem.

    This really sucks. I once saw a college class devolve to the point of violence when a Nigel was left to run unchecked. Our own Nigel interrupted, talked-over people, re-routed class conversations to fit his agenda, was a rampantly misogynist and offensive and WRONG, stared people down in a creepy manner if they dared contradict him or took up conversational air space he believed to be his, and just generally obnoxious to be around. The professor did nothing to curb his behavior, which enabled Nigel to do whatever he damn well pleased and control a class of almost 50 students. We came to a discussion topic that was sensitive anyway, and the professor meekly asked everybody to be respectful during class discussion, while looking right at Nigel. Thirty minutes later, Nigel, who had pulled all of his usual tricks, said something so offensive and massively trigger-y that the student next to him reached across the row and slapped him across the face.

    We all just kind of sat there, shocked, unsure of what to do. The slapping student got up and walked out with her books. Nigel sat there stunned. The professor continued class discussion, which was stilted and super awkward after that. Neither she or Nigel came back to class. From what I heard, they’d both been transferred to other classes at different times, so they wouldn’t cross paths. While the majority of the class waned to buy her a beer, others were upset with the professor, feeling that if he’d maintained control of the classroom, the situation wouldn’t have escalated to that point.

    PS, I do realize that “That Guy” can also be female..

    1. Forget beer. I want to throw her a parade. Did the Nigel get any better? Or did he just see himself as a martyr for free speech?

      1. I was in a literature class with him the following semester. (Oh, the joys of small colleges.) He had lessened his tendencies, but they were still there and if it was a topic he was particularly enthusiastic about, he would let glimpses of “pre-slap Nigel” loose.

        The plus side was that he recognized me from the ‘slap class.” So he knew that I remembered the slap, which made him sort of skittish around me, like he was afraid I’d told everybody in the new class about it. (FTR, I didn’t tell anyone in the new class about the slap. I think I was still worried about the slapping student getting into trouble.) And there were two occasions when he was being particularly loud and nasty. I turned around and made eye contact with him. And he sort of caught himself and lost his point.

        But most of the time he was a more muted, but still very obnoxious, Nigel.

    2. I am usually not in favor of escalating someone else’s verbal violence to a physical level… but damn if I don’t just want to shower her in confetti and declare her Queen of My Heart for a day.

  51. I’m the LW for this letter and I am so grateful for all the wonderful suggestions, teaching advice, and support. I am a TA who myself is struggling to manage the two Nigels in the honors class I’m teaching, so I am really excited to put these suggestions to use. Come for the advice, stay for the pedagogy.

    I am lucky that I benefit from a group of fellow grads that I am close to in the department, with the two I’m closest to being other women. They counseled me to just drop it when it came to Nigel, but have been really good about passing the metaphorical ‘discussion spirit stick’ around the seminar to try and head off Nigel at the pass. I’m not certain approaching Dr. Smith is a good idea due to department politics and the fact that this past week he giggled when Nigel interrupted me, so I’m just going to ride this out and rejoice that this is the last class I’ll ever take with either of them. I’m sorry I can’t put that part of the advice into practice, but I am going to bring all these great suggestions into my classroom.

    1. Oh, but there is plenty I am going to try with regards to addressing when he interrupts me and by pretending he doesn’t exist. Didn’t want to leave that out!

    2. Do you and Nigel share an advisor? Is it Dr Smith?

      If not, go to your advisor and say “I’m having a conflict with another grad student and I want your advice,” and then explain. If your advisor brushes you off (especially if your advisor is a white male), go to your favourite female professor and do the same thing. If anyone offers to advocate for you, accept the help.

      I’ve never had a situation that needed to be brought to my department level, but a friend was stalked by a grad student from another department, and this is what she had to do. When the female professor advocated for her to her male advisor, he took it seriously and our department was able to take steps, but unfortunately, that’s what it took.

    3. He giggled? Fucking hell. If you are keeping a log of incidents, I would definitely include that.

  52. So, I have a related problem: a professor who seems to be discriminating against me… although I have no idea why. It started slowly: grades just frustratingly lower than anything I was getting elsewhere, a seeming obtuseness to points I was trying to make. Then a refusal to grade my work on grounds that an academic committee later overturned, but put me through a lot of bureaucratic hassle. Since then she “forgets” my place in the stack to speak, and in a round-robin will just skip over my head. If I try to speak, she flat out talks over me. If I don’t speak, I get downgraded for lack of participation.
    My lovely, lovely cohort is as confused as I am as to what’s going on, and have been really great about trying to throw the conversation my way. When they confirmed it wasn’t just all in my head I tried to bring it up with the professor in question, only to get a flat out denial that there was any problem at all, or that she treated me differently to any other student.
    Any suggestions for a student caught in a class of bees? My advisor and the majority of the faculty are absolutely brilliant, but do tend to back staff in staff/student issues.
    I get that this could be read as “gross student cannot understand why long suffering professor is frustrated with them” but… can you take it on faith that I have soul searched, and gone to my peers, and my faculty about my classroom behavior, and talked to my therapist, and would frankly love to be the one making the problem because then I could fix it, but I’m not?

    1. Can you switch out of this class? If you really can’t, that’s fine. But to be honest the most satisfying feeling in the world is to be able to walk out. You’re an adult. You’re not obligated to stay in a place where you’re being bullied. Seriously think about this and discuss it with your advisors. Keep in mind that academia tends to say, “Oh nooo…this thing you’re doing will have Very Heavy Consequences!” And much of the time, those consequences are not actually heavy or are not actually better than the alternative.

      If you don’t leave, can you avoid this professor after this class is done? The semester’s almost over.

      If it’s not worth the fallout, again, that’s fine. Here are a couple things I would do:

      1. Look at the rubric. Does it have anything quantitative on it? Do those things +1 and write them down when you do them. Collaborate with your awesome friends. If the professor is talking over you every single time, they should throw the conversation back to you every single time.

      2. Gird your loins to be the most perfect goddamn student the world has seen. Even if the professor’s reasons for not grading your work were entirely specious, work to seem like you’re addressing those reasons.

      3. Talk to your advisor. “I’m concerned that I’ve already had some bureaucratic battles with this professor, and I really need to do well in this professor’s class. I’m already putting my head down and working really hard. What do you recommend I do to improve in her class?”
      a. I’d recommend results-oriented evidence. Not, “I spent X hours” but “I’ve been doing all the additional readings for X weeks, handing in my assignments on time and at exactly the correct wordcount,” etc etc.

      4. Talk to the professor.
      a. Don’t confront her about her dislike of you
      b. Tell her kind of what you told your advisor
      c. “I really want to do well, but I’m afraid my grades are in jeopardy. I’ve been doing X and Y things. What do you recommend to do better in your class?”
      d. If she says something like “speak up more,” then address it. “Thank you! I’ve been attempting to do so. I seem to be missing my chance–either in the round robin or I start to speak when you’re about to speak. What do you recommend to address this?”
      e. Keep on it until she gives you something concrete that you can do. Email her afterward (like an hour or two) to say, “thank you so much for meeting with me earlier today and the advice you gave me. I’ll be doing X and Y things in class from now on, as you recommended.”

      5. This is unfair. Let me validate that as strongly as I can. But you have to identify your priorities and follow them. I think the above steps help (though do not completely address) the priority which is: not failing this class. You may have other priorities, but identify them and do them.

    2. CA will probably have much sounder advice, but speaking as someone who just went through this:

      1) Are you a member of a protected class, unlike the other people in the class? Because if so she could absolutely be hostile to you for that reason, and it is definitely something you can bring up when you punt this over her head.

      2) This is a real, significant problem! Don’t underestimate the effect it’s having on your academic performance and emotional wellbeing! This kind of interpersonal nastiness is damaging in many situations, but especially given the vulnerability of students to teachers.

      3) Document everything, as far back as you remember.

      4) Go to your superiors, and then to the head of graduate studies, and explain that your professor is excluding you from class discussion, ignoring your contributions, and talking over you. Explain that you are also getting punished for your inability to participate in class discussion. Point to the academic-committee and refusal to grade stuff. Explain that you went to speak to her and that she could give no reason for the bad treatment and denied that she was treating you badly. Explain that you have spoken to other students in your class (ask if they would be willing to speak up as well) and that they have confirmed that this is not in your head. Emphasize that this is impairing your ability to participate in class and that it is making you stressed out and deeply unhappy. Argue that your professor is singling you out for mistreatment and that her bias towards you is reflected in your grades, and that you cannot use her as an educational resource because she refuses to teach you.

      5) Then ask what the avenues are for filing a formal complaint. My university has policies against “caprice,” which is simply “unequal treatment.” It’s difficult to establish, but if you can document a consistent freeze-out, get backup from classmates, and include references to the refusal to grade thing (was it related to a belief on her part that you had violated academic honesty standards or something? because that might have something to do with her dislike of you. so, sadly, could any disability-related accommodation).

      That’s about it. You may not see any change, but you will get this on record and help fireproof yourself against further, worse grade fuckery.

      There’s also the eval; since she already obviously hates you and is willing to treat you like crap, there’s no downside to laying all of this out in that format.

      1. Are you a member of a protected class, unlike the other people in the class?

        In the US, at least, that can’t be true. EVERYONE is a ‘member of a protected class’, because with a few exceptions (like disability) what is ‘protected’ are categories. Black people are not a protected class; race is. Women are not a protected class; gender is.

        Of course those protections benefit some people more than others, in that racism is exponentially more likely to affect a black student than a white one.

        1. Thanks.

          If Healy is the only trans person in the room, or the only person who had to go to SDS to demand extra time on tests due to a disability, then the professor could very easily be singling Healy out for abuse for that reason. (And I don’t want to speculate on something Healy didn’t choose to reveal, but accommodations-backlash is A Thing.)

          And if the professor is displaying some *mysterious* inchoate animus towards a student who just happens to be different from everyone else in ways historically associated with massive unexamined bigotry, then that is definitely something to consider. Even if the professor has never admitted to bias or made bigoted statements.

          And, although God knows it doesn’t always work, it could very well be something to bring up. Healy might find that the professor has had unusually bad relationships with people like Healy.

          1. Agree absolutely. Just wanted to footnote that because people sometimes thing they are (or aren’t) in a “protected class” when everybody is, or miss that discrimination can be intersectional too.

          2. I got you!

            And it’s true – it’s just that…idk, every time I repeat this I feel like adding more caveats about how life is not Finding Forrester (or, at least, not the third act of Finding Forrester), but I want to make sure that Healy doesn’t second-guess their own impressions of this woman.

            And although plenty of administrators are lackadaisical to the point of enabling, some of them will be able to do the math here.

    3. dr_silverware and jessincambodia have great suggestions. I would add a suggestion that you try transforming yourself into a polite, slightly needy pain in the neck. See the prof in office hours and ask sincerely for her guidance in improving your class performance. Follow the meeting up with a slightly fawning thank-you email. Find excuses to ask a quick question after class. Ask her to glance over any work you have in progress to make sure you’re on the right track, and thank her profusely for her time. This will a) help you do the kind of work she’s looking for and b) establish you as a tenacious advocate for your education and your grade. You’ll be sending a signal that any irregularities will not pass unnoticed, and chances are she’ll give you the grade you deserve just to get rid of you.

  53. This might not make you feel better, but I spent four years in a PhD program, and there were definitely instances of grad students and faculty members who could not work together because of specific incidences. If your working relationship with Dr. John Smith is now hosed, your career in grad school (and after grad school, which matters a lot more) is not also hosed.

    Honestly, in your shoes, I would take this higher up. There should be the head of your program or your department whom you can speak to. Be respectful but honest, and frame it as detrimental to your experience and ability to be a productive graduate student.

    And UGH I am sorry you’re dealing with this awful person.

  54. I’m in academia.
    I read through most of the comments, and I didn’t see anyone suggest this, so I thought I’d add: both the Captain and one other person acknowledged that Nigel’s behaviour is a kind of bullying.
    At my university, and all the universities in my country, there are nominated contact people that you are invited to go to if you are bullied or harassed in any way. There are posters around saying who the contact people are. There are university policies on how such complaints are handled. Mediation can be an option if it’s appropriate, or other options are there if it’s not.
    Can I suggest you look into whether there’s such a system in place in your university? And if there is, use it – that’s what it’s there for. That’s what your no doubt extortionate fees are in part paying for.
    If there’s not, perhaps suggest such a system could be set up? There will be plenty of policy models at other universities if they need a template. Though of course grad school has plenty of stresses, and it is not your job to fix problems with the university, so don’t feel guilty if you don’t have the energy for it.

  55. LW, just tacking on a bit of advice to the excellent advice above: documentation is your friend. If you go to speak to Dr. John Smith about Nigel, send him an e-mail first to explain why you want to meet (the Cap’s strategy three script above) and CC your DSG on it; after your meeting, send him a follow-up e-mail where you outline what you discussed. If you ever need to kick this matter up to a dean, the paper trail will be of help. (I speak from sad experience!) Keeping specific track of Nigel’s disruptive behavior for a class or two before this meeting may also be useful: ‘On Wednesday, Nigel interrupted Neveah three times, Loretta twice, me once, and derailed discussion for fifteen minutes’ is a set of specific facts that cannot be argued with.

    And remember, too, when talking to either your professor or your DSG that the only thing you have to do is lay out the facts: Nigel is a disruptive presence in the classroom, and your professor’s refusal to manage that classroom means that you are not getting the education that either a) you are paying for, or b) you were promised. You don’t have to defend yourself: your position is unassailable.

  56. Very good suggestions from the Captain! I just wanted to add an extra scoop of sympathy for the LW, who is probably already busy enough with the work of her degree program, without having the extra bullshit that dealing with Nigel entails.
    Sorry this is happening to you.

  57. Disclaimer: I am not a Nigella, but am a excited participant who very often asks questions or combines information in ways that are different. I distinguish this because I don’t interrupt )(hopefully), disrupt, ignore, comment when uninformed, or otherwise belittle the participation of others.

    I appreciate almost everything said her and many if the strategies outlined are nothing short of brilliant. I particularly like the idea refusing to engage when the point is irrelevant or flat out wrong. I also work incredibly hard to wait before jumping I. And to decide if I am really adding anything new to the discussion before speaking at all.

    I am also, however, concerned about points where this entire conversation revolves entirely to “fixing” the “problem person” rather than examining one’s own social awkwardness that allows trampling. At a graduate level I don’t think it is reasonable for anyone to expect their shyness in participation be accommodated. If you are afraid to speak up and demand your space, please take a course on public speaking, join toastmasters, take an assertiveness class, practice yelling (for those who can only speak in tiny voices), or carry a microphone (seriously) and start standing when you speak to command the floor.

    Please understand that I am not victim blaming, there are truly those who are just assholes and they need to be handled appropriately, but if you are intimidated into silence and lack of participation, there are also things you need to address in your own attitude and approach that will bolster your ability to hold your own space. Off the top, stop worrying about whether someone thinks you are shrill (they do) or if they like you (they don’t). You aren’t here for a social gathering but to get your education. It is your money, your time, and your right to ensuring you get your due. There is a point at which it isn’t up to those of with less anxiety to pave your entryway. Yes, we must be hyper-aware of our ability to become blocks, but any of us with real awareness are also happy to encourage and allow others to join, even assist with that entry, as long as we aren’t held entirely responsible for your apprehension. Just as we acknowledge our need to be reminded when we get excited, you must also recognize the areas in which assistance and guidance would be helpful, and seek it.

    There is a big difference between a blow-hard and someone who is capable of accepting constructive feedback. For those who hate to be wrong, the difference is that the former doesn’t care and just ejoys the sound of their voice, while the latter prefers and appreciates instant correction so they spend less time being wrong. The second group are your allies and colleagues, and are just as frustrated by the “Nigels” as you. Sit beside me, make a pact with me so we can support each other as we conquer our social foibles in seminars and learn to become expert leaders: you touch my hand when I’m excited and racing ahead, and I’ll poke your ribs when you are holding back and denying us your input.

    Finally, think carefully on whether someone is actually interrupting to change focus to their point or to get clarification and/or move you along when you are reiterating something you’ve already made clear or is tangential; often women’s style to “speak over” one another is a means of acknowledging they understand what you are saying. If point making rather than communication is the goal, this becomes interruption rather than conversation. Decide your goal when speaking and then determine if you are being heard, understood, and moved forward or simply being over-taken and silenced.

    1. This is really rubbing me the wrong way. We’re mostly not talking about people being interrupted or argued with because they’re shy or socially awkward, but because the person arguing and interrupting is unwilling to listen.

      I am not shy, nor am I socially awkward. I am a very assertive speaker who has to consciously curb my own tendencies to interrupt or do more than my share of talking. (This is particularly an issue with my husband, for whom auditory processing is not a strong point, which means he needs more time and more direct invitation to participate in a group conversation.)

      Oddly enough, none of this prevents men from interrupting me, ignoring what I say, or pointlessly arguing with me. Some of these men are my superiors at work. Some of these men are my 19-year-old students. The latter get shut down very rapidly and with extreme prejudice every time they do it, including being reminded that part of their grade is based on professionalism. Some of them continue to do it anyway.

      It’s not a shyness or awkwardness problem. It’s a privilege and entitlement problem.

    2. I am also, however, concerned about points where this entire conversation revolves entirely to “fixing” the “problem person” rather than examining one’s own social awkwardness that allows trampling.

      1) It didn’t get discussed because it isn’t relevant. The OP did not say they were awkward in any way and Nigel is doing this to other students and professors. The letter wasn’t about how to hold your own in group discussions when you’re shy, it was about dealing with an aggressively rude cohort.

      2) The idea that someone ‘allows trampling’ by being shy, anxious, or whatever is ridiculous. They aren’t allowing people to treat them badly, the people doing the trampling are taking advantage of the fact that it’s harder for them to push back. You may not have meant for this to be be victim blaming, but it is.

      1. Yeah, this kind of smacks of ‘have you considered that maybe people are treating you badly because there’s something wrong with you?’

        Which, nope. Being a very verbally assertive person who doesn’t particularly give a shit about anyone’s opinion of them can help blunt this kind of behavior (I am that person), but it’s not a trade that men usually have to make, and that’s not fucking fair. Also, there’s a big difference between ‘incapable of speaking in public’ and ‘uncomfortable with getting into a shouting match with a rude asshole every time you try to speak’.

    3. Please understand that I am not victim blaming, there are truly those who are just assholes and they need to be handled appropriately, but if you are intimidated into silence and lack of participation

      No, you are victim blaming. This is not a conversation about what how to be heard when you have anxiety, this is a conversation about how to deal with those assholes. I encourage you to re-read the LW’s letter and consider what in your own assumptions is causing you (perhaps unconsciously) to interpret the LW as being anxious and reluctant to speak up, because there is nothing of that in the actual content of the letter. It sounds to me like you are projecting a lot on the LW.

      This He speaks over people, interrupts, makes noises while other people speak, and doesn’t wait his turn. If unchecked, he will dominate seminar and prevent nearly anyone else from speaking. Nigel doesn’t seem to interrupt other men, but only other women of all ages, including our instructors. Multiple female professors in our department have noticed this behavior and taken steps to correct Nigel. Multiple women and men in our department notice and have commented on this behavior. I know of at least one occasion where one of our peers has said something to Nigel about this behavior. None of this has had an effect on Nigel, and he continues to run roughshod over his peers whenever he is able. has nothing to do with any one individual person’s anxiety about speaking in class, it has to do with a bad pattern of behavior from Nigel which is unacceptable in the classroom situation and needs to stop. No one is talking about “fixing” Nigel, they are talking about to stop the disruption.

      Even if there were some kind of anxiety issue, the LW *did* stand up for herself and call Nigel out, and he started targeting her specifically and harassing her *more* because of it, so your advice to become better at speaking up for yourself is not actually going to solve the problem in this situation.

      1. These comments were not directed to the OP. I was quite clear that I was responding directly to comments left by readers, not the original post, which I said was “nothing short of brilliant”.

        Be offended if you want, but there are definitely those who blame their lack of participation on the “space taking” of those who do speak up, claiming intimidation and that is an issue that cannot be corrected except by personal assertion. And it does bear mentioning in this discussion, because the combination of an entitled ass in a room with someone who has trouble speaking up at the best of times requires even more effort to adequately address.

        1. You may have meant to be clear, but three commenters read contrary to your intent, so I don’t think you were. And you didn’t make it clear, at all, that you were not also addressing the LW. Your opening reference to “This entire conversation” strongly implies that you *were* talking about the LW.

          I think your advice, absent context, is generally good. However, in a sexist context women (and other marginalized groups) who speak up for themselves can face swift backlash. I advised another commenter to document and complain, but I have to admit: I haven’t done that yet. I have plans to do so, along with a whole stack of daydreams, but I’m waiting until I’m safely graduated and out of here before I challenge anyone in a position of power. I’m hesitating because I know perfectly well that if I complain I run the risk of hurting myself and stunting my academic career. That happens more often than anyone wants to think about. The professor I have problems with has a reputation for retaliating against people in deeply unprofessional, unethical ways.

          That danger extends to class discussions too. The LW is aware that getting too feisty with Nigel puts her at risk of being labeled “difficult” or “aggressive” or “defensive” or any of the other words academics use to imply that a woman is a bitch. We’re all tacitly aware of that possibility. It’s the dynamic that trained up Nigel in the first place. Women who respond to Nigels by becoming more assertive can face social and professional consequences – and in academia, those are one and the same.

          Academia is afflicted with myriad cults of personality and almost devoid of accountability or transparency. LW could suffer in ways she never even understands, all because some tenured bastard with a bunch of oblivious tenured friends saw her hackles rise over sexist mistreatment and decided to quietly nudge her reputation in a bad direction.

          In general terms, students have a certain level of freedom and certain forms of recourse. But smoothing all this over into a problem of “shyness” or easily-bruised feelings – for enthusiastic nerds who have been straight-A students all their lives, yet! – is not helpful.

        2. Since you’re in favor of speaking up and not being shy, and as you have planted your flag on Team No Social Anxiety About Speaking Up, speaking myself as a fucking captain emeritus of that team: You are hijacking a conversation about “how to deal with an entitled asshole without torpedoing your own career” into a different conversation, and in the process, you decided to take the route of victim-blaming, and of being offended that those horrible shy people might affect our robust discussions. Snark like “be offended if you want” makes it crystal-clear you didn’t come here to have a discussion, even a robust one; you came to deliver a patronizing lecture. Rather like Nigel.

        3. I was responding directly to comments left by readers

          How is this better than victim blaming the OP?

          it does bear mentioning in this discussion

          No it doesn’t, because that’s not what we’re discussing.

  58. Multiple women and men in our department notice and have commented on this behavior.

    Is this happening in the moment, right when he is interrupting someone? If not, would your peers be willing to do that? It can be very effective for a third party to call someone out on their bad behavior. It removes the plausibility of it just being two people who disagree or don’t get along and places it firmly in the territory of, “this dude is out of line AND EVERYONE KNOWS IT”. Nigel and Prof Smith can’t argue you’re the problem when you aren’t the one complaining.

    It should.work similarly to step one except it is a peer saying, “OP wasn’t finished talking” and you continuing right after they say that.

    (If a 4th party is also willing to interject a, “Dude, that’s not cool” if Nigel tries to keep talking anway, even better.)

    1. As a bystander in these situations, I’ve had success from saying things like, “I would like to hear the point that LW was making, actually” or “Nigel, I would like to hear the lecture that the professor prepared, please.” And then when they object, saying something like, “That’s fine, but LW/professor was talking and I didn’t get to hear what they had to say.” The professor or other discussion moderator usually jumps in after that, if necessary, but it tends to shut them up before then.

      With this guy, it sounds like you could really benefit from getting some of the *male* members of your classes to do this, though.

    2. My revenge fantasy on behalf of the LW is that somebody (probably LW) idly suggests in a safe environment (amongst others who have noticed Nigel’s behavior and Dr. Smith’s lack of action) that they stage a Nigel intervention. The idea takes hold. They wait for Nigel to interrupt or contradict all the women in Dr. John Smith’s seminar while letting the men’s points stand. Then, 15 minutes before the end of the seminar, designated volunteer 1 raises his/her hand to say, “Dr. Smith, I know you’ve wanted to say something but haven’t felt comfortable because of your position as a member of the faculty. However, as a fellow student interested in a supportive learning environment I want to ask Nigel: Did you notice that you interrupted every single female student in this seminar today?” Then, designated volunteer 2 speaks up: “I also saw that. I’m sure, Dr. Smith, you were as much, if not more, as interested as the rest of us in what Mary had to say about the topic she’s been researching for the past three years, but, Nigel, you unwittingly interrupted to contradict her two sentences in.” After that, volunteer 3 says something along the lines of, “I was very interested in what Mary’s contribution to the discussion might have been as well. I’m so glad I got to hear everything John, and later, Alfred had to say!” And on and on and on with each volunteer contributing more evidence of Nigel’s gendered interruptiness.

      Of course, Dr. Smith was never uncomfortable and never wanted to say anything, but how’s he going to contradict when 3 or 4+ students are all providing evidence of a disrupted learning environment? Similarly, Nigel’s interruptions and contradictions were probably not unwitting, but saying they were allows him to save face while giving him no other option than to change his behavior in the future.

      Unfortunately, this is a fantasy. Even if some of the professors LW mentioned who had noticed Nigel’s Nigelness lent their support in the background, there’s still the challenge of getting enough people to want an intervention. (Maybe choose a better word? Personal interventions in a classroom setting do sound unprofessional.) Then there’s the challenge of getting students to volunteer to speak up. If enough people do, then Dr. John Smith/Nigel can’t pursue revenge on EVERYONE, right? And, since no one person stood out as the leader, they won’t know who to pick to get revenge on, so they can’t pursue revenge at all.

    3. If possible, it can be really helpful if you recruit men to do some of the speaking up against Nigel. He is more likely to listen to their words.

  59. I just reread the letter: “makes noises when other people speak”!?
    What kinds of noises? Flat out sarcastic raspberry noises? I’m flabbergasted.
    Here’s a small strategy that can help a little in the interim while implementing the other excellent strategies above. In those instances when Nigel has interrupted and is still speaking, it’s normal to look at him while waiting for him to catch his breath so you can interrupt the interrupter and go back to what you were saying. Or else it’s normal to wait for him to finish while looking at the floor. But try physically turning around so your back is to him. By pre-arrangement, others in the class can do the same. Nigel pontificates inappropriately, and he finds that he’s pontificating to a bunch of people’s backs. If the professor does nothing to shut him up, the classmates wait until he’s done while facing the other way. He talks himself blue until he runs out of steam. The class counts 10 before doing anything. At that point, either the professor starts talking, and all turn to pay attention to the prof, or a student, after a long uncomfortable pause, begins with “As I was saying before I was interrupted …” This is basically an elaboration of leaving Nigel’s bad arguments sitting there like a turd, but the body language of turning away makes it particularly obvious that you’re not rewarding Nigel’s outbursts with attention.

  60. LW I also reccomend enlisting a friend or ally for Nigel-herding. A supportive nod can help a lot.

    I fully support the broken record technique. As a talker who interrupts other people a gentle poke will have me quieting down.

  61. I had a ‘Nigel’ in my MA seminars as well. All the (female) students noticed it, and it was the subject of much frustrated discussion. The profs, however, seemed perfectly oblivious – even when he started talking about his porn preferences/kinks in class (he’s into BDSM! Both dom and sub!) he was never redirected. The kicker? This was a Women’s Studies master’s program. All the professors were professional, feminist women. Yet they didn’t notice the Nigel in the room, continually talking over and man-splaining to the women.

  62. I teach Primary kids – 5-11yrs – but the rule in my classes is: if you interrupt or – more often with kids – shout out, then I will not acknowledge your raised hand/input the next time round. My line is “you didn’t listen to us, so we’re not going to listen to you”.

    HUGE CAVEAT: Obviously I know the kids in my classes, and I know the genuinely over-excited / socially unaware from the just shouty, and my tone changes accordingly, but the rule stands. If you want to be listened to, then you must also do the listening.

    I have on many, many occasions been pulled up by my friends for using the ‘teacher voice’ on grown adults, but at least half my friends are also teachers and agree that some adults absolutely need/deserve it…

  63. For teachers with Nigels, I’d propose some protocols or have a norming discussion at the beginning of the class, before the behaviors start popping up. Airing underlying assumptions (how do we get airtime? Is it ok to interrupt someone? Should we raise hands? Do we popcorn, with the last person speaking getting to call on the next person to speak?)

    As a participant, I wonder what opportunities you might find to propose a structure. Maybe asking a question “Today when we discuss, are we doing hand raising or just speaking up when we’re ready?” “Who is facilitating the conversation?” “Who decides who gets to speak when?” can help surface some of the hidden assumptions that various people have about the norms of your particular seminar. It sounds like Nigel has (unexamined?) sexism going on, but some people don’t realize that they come from families where you continue speaking until someone interrupts, while others come from situations where you wait for a pause and interruption is rude. It’s easy to assume that a small group conversation would be fine and equitable as long as people are respectful, but I find that norming conversations also help.

    Finally, can you collect some data about the patterns that you see? I don’t mean tape-recording a seminar without people’s consent. You could make a talk map of who speaks and how long they speak for. (This could be a diagram of the room, and drawing a line from the person who last spoke to the person who followed up. Maybe starring the lines that represent an interruption?) Or, just writing down the names and times that Nigel interrupts someone. It sounds like you have noticed these patterns occurring, and that they are showing some clear sexist patterns. Some data might be useful in showing the patterns of who gets to speak uninterrupted and who gets Nigeled. You might choose to share it with Dr Smith, you might choose to approach Nigel with the data, or you might want to show the group a talk map as a way of checking in about how they feel the current norms are working for group discussion.

    1. LW said somewhere in the comments that Dr. John Smith actually giggled one of the times Nigel contradicted her after he started viewing her as “difficult.” So, I don’t think sharing the chart with Dr. Smith would help. He’s not oblivious; he’s intentionally facilitating Nigel. Otherwise, however, I really like your suggestions. I come from the type of family where you continue speaking until someone interrupts. I actually find it quite frustrating.

      Going back to the chart idea, there’s not much point arguing with hard data. That’s how it was determined that men interrupt more and talk more than women in spite of societal perceptions to the contrary. Multiple linguistic anthropologists ran multiple studies where they timed how long women spent talking (on average) versus how long men spent talking (on average) in a group setting, and how many times were members of each gender interrupted.

  64. I’m a prof, and I suggest that you tread very very carefully here. You have received some really good suggestions, but I think you need to be extra sure that you understand the lay of the land before you put any of them into action. The things that concern me about your letter are your observations that 1) Dr. Smith doesn’t care about Nigel’s behavior 2) being spoken to by other profs has made no difference in the behavior and 3) the professor running the seminar has done nothing. How well do you understand Dr. Smith’s position in the department? Is he a bigshot/extremely influential? To me, this suggests that perhaps Nigel has been marked out as a favored student who receives special treatment and is being protected by Dr. Smith. The reasons for this may not be clear, and unfortunately they may not become clear to you- when you are a grad student departmental politics can be very opaque and it’s hard to see them in their entirety. If it is indeed the case that Nigel has been marked out for special treatment by an influential faculty member, trying to fix the Nigel situation could be detrimental to you. I am sorry- this situation must be really frustrating. But look out for yourself FIRST. Maybe chat up some trusted people and make really sure you understand what the situation is with Nigel before you enter into conflict with him.

  65. You put some laxative in Nigel’s drink. Can’t interrupt you if he’s not in the classroom.

  66. Sorry to come so late to the party, but I add this–procure a whistle, buzzer or even a small siren, and every time Nigel butts in on someone, give it a good blast. If that doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will. Seriously, though, many good ideas have been provided here. Good luck.

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