My Name is Carla

My Worst Moment: At my new job, over a year and a half after leaving his lab, I get an inappropriate email from my ex-supervisor. And then another. And another. All together, more than 30 emails over a few hours. Revealing that he had feelings for me, personal information from his past, and “reminiscing” about things that had never happened between us. It was shocking and out of nowhere, and I was so upset I had to leave work early and go cry on my spouse.

It got worse when I finally got the courage to mention it to people who had worked with me at the same time, months later. One said “oh, everyone knew he was obsessed with you”, another revealed he had asked her why I wasn’t married at the time to my partner, because if he was with me, he would have married me ages ago. (Just typing that made me feel nauseous).

He had struggled with mental health problems during my time in the lab, so one person thought that should excuse his behavior. Instead, it made me even more afraid.

Carla was harassed by her previous supervisor and now avoids contact with him. She has nightmares about what he might do if they ever spoke alone again. Carla declined to provide a photo. Photo by Lukas on

I Have Given Up On: Feeling comfortable communicating with him, so I do not use him as a reference, and avoid conferences I think he might be at. We are still in similar fields and know some of the same people, but nobody outside of my closest colleagues knows what happened.

Ever truly sharing this story. I know that if I ever revealed it in real life, the only outcome would be that his behavior would be brushed off as part of his mental health struggles, and my work, my reputation, my life would be forever marred.

I’m Afraid: Someone in a position of power or influence will find out, and they will just focus on my behaviour and use it to doubt my accomplishments. That they will take the fact that we napped in the same hotel room once while traveling for a conference as evidence that I encouraged this somehow. Looking back on that now, I am so ashamed that I didn’t realize how incredibly inappropriate it was.

I am also afraid that someday at a conference or professional event I won’t be able to avoid talking to him alone, and I am terrified about what he will say or do. I have literal nightmares about that.

And I am afraid that people will think that this doesn’t “count” as harassment or misconduct because I was no longer working for him, even though he still had (and has) power over my career and reputation.

This Has Cost Me: At least a year of training, and a lot of mental anxiety. Hard to put a figure on, but I would estimate ~ 30-40k.

Something You Should Know About Me: I persevered. Despite all this, I kept going in my training and am now a new prof. And I will watch for and defend every other woman who follows me, because nobody should have to deal with crap like this to do what they love.

Is There a Bright Side: I cannot imagine what would have happened if I knew what he was thinking about me when I was in the lab. The fact that it came out after I left almost certainly saved my career, I would never have been able to finish my degree if I had known.

Secret Weapon: A very solid sense of self, and an incredibly supportive spouse.