Research Trainee Mistreatment

DGSOM is committed to maintaining an environment where there is mutual respect between graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, faculty mentors, peers, and all members of the research and education community. Here you will find definitions and examples of mistreatment, procedures and avenues for reporting, and information about what happens when an incident is reported.

The Association of American Medical Colleges defines mistreatment as behavior that shows disrespect for the dignity of others and unreasonably interferes with the learning process. It can take many forms, and includes any behavior that humiliates, degrades, demeans, intimidates, or threatens an individual or a group. To violate this policy, the behavior should be such that a reasonable person would find that it creates inhospitable working or learning conditions.

Mistreatment can be defined, but is not limited to the following domains and examples:

Physical Mistreatment
Definition Any behavior that involves physical harm, threat of physical harm or imposition of physical punishment.
Not Mistreatment Mistreatment
A mentor grabs a student’s arm to stop them from touching a hot autoclave without gloves on. A mentor grabs a student’s arm to stop them from leaving a heated conversation.
A research tech reprimands a postdoc for handling an animal in a way that causes distress. A labmate is known to slam books, punch walls or physically block people from exiting doorways when in a disagreement.
A mentor realizes a trainee’s samples are contaminated and destroys them to prevent further spread. A trainee finds that their personal property has been deliberately damaged or destroyed by a lab member.
A mentor tells a trainee that if they do not follow safety policy, they could lose access to performing experiments in the laboratory. A mentor tells a trainee, “If you keep this up, I’m going to wring your neck and throw you out of the lab.”


Abusive Expression
Definition Includes spoken, written, visual, or nonverbal actions directed at another person that are outside the range of commonly accepted expressions of disagreement, disapproval, or critique in an academic culture and professional setting that respects free expression.
Not Mistreatment Mistreatment
The student is yelled at to “get out of the lab” by a research tech as they are cleaning up a spill of hazardous materials. A postdoc yells at a graduate student for “messing up their results.”
A mentor tells the trainee that they contaminated their plates, and instructs them to reinitiate the culture. A labmate makes fun of a trainee, calling them “incompetent” because they do not know how to run a gel.
A mentor gives a student feedback on how to improve their performance and it makes the student feel bad because they feel criticized and not appreciated for their efforts. A mentor speaks to a trainee in public or private in a way with intention to humiliate, “Did you even go to college?” “How did you get through your other rotations?”
A mentor is displeased with a trainee’s performance and is obviously upset. The trainee wants to discuss the situation now, but the mentor asks for a couple of hours to cool down before continuing. A mentor expresses displeasure with trainees by being non-responsive to requests for feedback and freezing them out of discussions.


Power Abuse
Definition Includes any abuse of authority or inappropriate actions, threats or retaliation in the exercise of authority, supervision, or guidance. This includes using trainee evaluation, grades, authorship or attribution in publications, and potential letters of recommendation as quid pro quo for behaviors.
Not Mistreatment Mistreatment
A new graduate student is in the lab for the first time and feels timid because they do not know where to be and what to do. A tech tells a student they can’t participate in an experiment, and says to the other members of the lab, “Students always mess up the results.”
After being given clear expectations at the beginning of their training, a trainee is asked to leave the room because they did not follow appropriate protocol when trying to obtain informed consent from a patient. A postdoc tells a graduate student that it is their job to keep lab notes for all of the postdoc’s projects.
The trainee stays in the lab late because there are experiments in progress to monitor and/or they have reserved shared equipment. A trainee is expected to work over 80 hours a week, and it is communicated to them that this will be the way to earn a positive letter of recommendation.
The student is asked to run down to the loading dock to pick up the lab supplies that were just delivered. A trainee is asked to pick up a mentor’s dinner or babysit their children in the office space.
A mentor tells a trainee that they would like them to review and present a paper at the lab meeting as a way to demonstrate their knowledge base and oral presentation skills. A mentee is threatened with a poor evaluation if they do not help the postdoc write a grant proposal.
Like other members of the lab, a trainee is assigned duties to help the lab with lab cleaning and maintenance, such as autoclaving supplies or stocking reagents. A trainee is singled out by being assigned lab cleaning and maintenance that hinders their ability to progress in their training compared to other lab trainees who are not assigned equivalent responsibilities.
On the first day of a new rotation, a lab member says to the new student, “You must be the newbie,” and then offers to help the student get settled. Trainees in the lab are all given nicknames by a senior postdoc that are demeaning and culturally inappropriate.
A mentor asks a postdoc to keep an eye on the new student in the lab, since they do not have a lot of experience with bench work. A mentor shares sensitive information about the trainee with others in the lab, without the trainee’s explicit permission.
A mentor asks a trainee to schedule their vacation so as not to interfere with a series of planned experiments. A mentor pressures a trainee not to take vacation because it shows a lack of dedication to research.
A mentor expects domestic trainees to submit federal fellowship applications, but does not have a similar expectation for international trainees. A mentor removes a trainee from a promising project because they have childcare responsibilities that require them to leave campus at 5pm on weekdays, even though they can meet project demands in that time frame.


Psychologic Cruelty
Definition Any malicious behavior that results in psychological pain and suffering.
Not Mistreatment Mistreatment
The trainee’s question is not answered because the mentor is concentrating on a critical portion of the technique they are demonstrating. A trainee’s questions are repeatedly ignored by the mentor when other students’ questions are answered.
The trainee had to eat lunch alone because the rest of the lab members were busy with other duties. The entire lab eats lunch together every day but it is made clear that one trainee is not invited, and is laughed at or ignored when they enter the room.
The student rotating with a department chair says he feels nervous about reporting to them since the they can “make or break” their career. A mentor tells a trainee that it is their goal to make them cry before the rotation is over.
A research tech makes an error when sharing a data result with a graduate student. When the student reports the result to their mentor, who knows otherwise, the mentor gets upset at the student. A labmate purposely gives a graduate student misinformation about their experimental results. The student then overhears the labmate laughing with another lab member about messing with him.


Sexual Harassment
Definition Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature when a person’s submission to such conduct is implicitly or explicitly made the basis for employment decisions, academic evaluation, grades or advancement, or other decisions affecting participation in a University program (quid pro quo), or when such conduct creates a hostile working environment
Not Mistreatment Mistreatment
A male researcher is asked not to go into an exam room because a female subject only wants a female to take her samples. A trainee is subjected to offensive sexist remarks or name calling while in the lab.
A student is asked by the lab manager to attend a farewell party at a local bar for the students graduating this year. A student is asked by a mentor to go out after hours to a bar “so they can discuss the student’s progress.”
A research project requires trainees to interview subjects about their sexual activity. A mentor asks a trainee invasive questions about their personal life and sex life, despite it clearly making the trainee uncomfortable.
A mentor uses photographs in a professional context to help train a student in sexing and breeding their animal subjects. Two lab mates share sexually explicit photos with each other, and think it is funny to flash them at unsuspecting lab members.
A mentor occasionally tells a trainee, “You look nice today.” A mentor touches a trainee in a way they find uncomfortable, inappropriate and sexualized.


Definition Any prejudicial treatment on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender, gender expression, gender identity, gender transition status, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, medical condition (cancer-related or genetic characteristics), genetic information (including family medical history), ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, or service in the uniformed services, including protected veterans.
Not Mistreatment Mistreatment
A trainee is asked to conduct the interview with a specific experimental subject because they speak their native language. A trainee is subjected to racist or ethnically offensive remarks or names about themselves or others.
A mentor praises a student’s facility with data analysis. A mentor attributes a student’s strong mathematical skills to their ethnicity, race or gender.
A mentor allows one trainee frequent breaks and a private space to accommodate their need to pump breastmilk. A mentor has different training expectations for trainees based on gender or gender presentation.
A mentor allows a pregnant trainee to swap responsibilities with another lab member, so the trainee can avoid handling substances potentially harmful to a developing child. A mentor asks his prospective female postdocs if they plan to start a family during their training.

DGSOM Response and Mechanisms for Investigating Reports of Mistreatment:

  1. When a report is made (via online form) the Committee on Learning Environment Oversight (CLEO) receives the report and responds.
  2. Members on the Committee include:

Core Members:

      • Chair (Senior Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Education)
      • PhD student from Graduate Programs in Bioscience (GPB)
      • DGSOM Postdoctoral Scholar
      • DGSOM Faculty member from a GPB PhD program
      • Administrative/staff leaders from graduate student and postdoctoral education.

Potential Ad Hoc Members:

      • Graduate Division academic case manager
      • Representative from Behavioral Wellness Center
      • Legal Counsel
  1. When there is a report of a concern of mistreatment, it is brought to the CLEO Chair in a confidential fashion. The subsequent triage process will depend on the nature of the issue, the acuity, etc.  The Chair will make an immediate determination regarding acuity and avenue of reporting. Title IX and Title VII reports will be made within 24 hours of notification.  See CLEO Research Trainees FAQ for more information
  2. Regularly scheduled meetings of CLEO review all reports and develop an intervention plan.
  3. CLEO leadership facilitates implementation of the intervention plan.

Concern about potential violations of the DGSOM Policy Mistreatment may be handled by communication with various individuals, and trainees are strongly encouraged to formally report infractions. Options include, but are not are limited to the following:

  1. Conversation (by the trainee or others) with any or all of the following:
    1. Individual(s) involved
    2. Others such as the Faculty Mentor, Home Area/PhD Program Director, or Department Chair
    3. Dr. Alex Bui, Graduate Programs in Bioscience Director and Assoc. Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Education
    4. Dr. Lynn Talton, Director of Bioscience Postdoctoral Affairs
  2. Mistreatment Incident Reporting Form –
  3. Course Evaluations
  4. UCLA Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Discrimination Prevention Office (
  5. UCLA Title IX Office (
  6. Other options can be found on the Graduate Programs in Bioscience Resources page (

Please note that University employees are mandated reporters and are required to inform the appropriate offices if they become aware that a trainee may have experienced conduct prohibited by the UC Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Policy or by the UC Nondiscrimination Policy Statement.

Trainees should also be aware of confidential resources available to them including:

  1. Office of the Ombuds (all trainees)
  2. Behavioral Wellness Center (BWC) (Graduate Students only)
  3. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) (Graduate Students only)
  4. Staff and Faculty Counseling Center (Postdoctoral Scholars only)
  5. CARE Advocates (all trainees)

What is the Committee on Learning Environment Oversight (CLEO)?

The Committee on Learning Environment Oversight (CLEO) is responsible for the review of trainee concerns regarding the learning environment and the development of action plans in response to episodes of alleged trainee mistreatment to prevent future occurrences.  There are three CLEO Subcommittees, one for medical students, one for residents/fellows, and one for research trainees (graduate and undergraduate students, postdoctoral fellows).

Who participates in CLEO meetings?

Each Subcommittee is composed of faculty, trainees, and administrators who are dedicated to promoting a positive learning environment with a strong focus on specific and timely feedback and education. Each Subcommittee has one or two faculty chairs.  The research trainee subcommittee consists of a faculty chair (Senior Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Education), another faculty member, graduate student, postdoctoral scholar, and administrative/staff leaders of graduate student and postdoctoral education.  Each serves a three year term and signs a confidentiality agreement to keep all information regarding mistreatment reports, and the content of deliberations and meetings during the process strictly confidential. Members are recused if there is any conflict of interest including reports of mistreatment by the committee member.  Potential ad hoc members can be Graduate Division Case Managers, representative from Behavioral Wellness Center, Legal Counsel.

How often does a Subcommittee meet?

The Subcommittees have reoccurring monthly meetings scheduled. If needed, ad-hoc meetings are scheduled to address mistreatment reports in a timely manner.

What does a Subcommittee review at meetings?

The Subcommittee reviews new Mistreatment Incident Reporting Forms (MIRF) and the status of unresolved reports.

Are Mistreatment Incident Reporting Forms (MIRF) anonymous?

MIRFs may be submitted either confidentially (with contact information) or anonymously. The value in including the reporter’s contact information is that the committee can communicate information regarding the outcome of the CLEO review. In this case, all contact information and names will be kept completely confidential. Please note that in cases related to sexual harassment or discrimination, the case must be referred by CLEO to the appropriate UCLA entities that deal with sexual harassment (Title IX office) or discrimination (Discrimination Prevention Office). For reports filed anonymously, the reporter will still be able to track the case through the MIRF status dashboard (see below). The MIRF is not linked to mednet accounts to allow for anonymous submissions for those that choose this option.

Can an anonymous reporter track the status of their MIRF?

Yes, the Mistreatment Incident Reporting Form (MIRF) Status dashboard allows for tracking of all cases. When submitting a MIRF, the reporter is provided with a Case ID # (used for tracking purposes only and not linked to any identifiable information when report is submitted anonymously) at the start of the form and at submission.  By saving the Case ID #, the reporter is able to track the status on the dashboard.

What do each of the statuses on the Mistreatment Incident Reporting Form (MIRF) Status dashboard mean?

The following are definitions for each of the statuses on the MIRF Status dashboard:

MIRF Submitted: The reporter has submitted a MIRF regarding an incident that negatively impacted the learning environment.

Reviewed and Triaged by CLEO Subcommittee Chair: The MIRF has been triaged by the CLEO Subcommittee Chair and CLEO staff member within 72 hours of submission. If needed, the MIRF will be referred to the appropriate entities (Title IX or DPO) for further review during the triage process. If needed, interim measures will be implemented to provide the trainee with a safe learning environment.

Scheduled to be Reviewed during next CLEO Subcommittee meeting: The MIRF has been added to the CLEO Subcommittee monthly meeting, which is scheduled for the third week of each month. If there is a high volume of MIRFs, the committee will have an ad-hoc meeting.

Intervention Plan Developed by CLEO Subcommittee: The Subcommittee has reviewed the MIRF and assigned a triage level and determined an action plan to address the learning environment concerns.

Implementing Intervention Plan by CLEO Subcommittee Chair: CLEO Subcommittee Chair will contact the appropriate stakeholders to address the learning environment concerns. This may include but is not limited to: providing feedback to the individual reported; providing feedback to appropriate Program Director; engaging departmental leadership and if needed, developing a remediation plan; and monitoring faculty or trainees for a designated period of time in collaboration with program/departmental leadership.

Closed: CLEO leadership has confirmed that the action plan developed by the committee has been fully executed. If there was a request for continued monitoring, the case will not be categorized as “Closed” until that monitoring period has been fulfilled.

What are the steps taken by the committee after a MIRF is submitted?

The following steps are taken once a MIRF is submitted:

  • The MIRF will be triaged by the CLEO Subcommittee Chair and/or CLEO staff member within 72 hours of submission.
    1. If needed, the MIRF will be referred to the appropriate entities (Title IX or DPO) for further review during the triage process.
    2. If needed, interim measures will be implemented to provide the trainee with a safe environment associated with all aspects of training .
  • The MIRF will be added to the next monthly CLEO Subcommittee meeting for review.
  • Prior to committee meetings, all members are provided with a summary of the case along with a redacted version of the MIRF. Any identifying information about the reporter and the individual being reported is redacted.
  • During committee meetings, the case is presented by the CLEO Subcommittee Chair and discussion occurs to determine an action plan to address the concerns.
  • The CLEO Subcommittee Chair will implement the action plan as determined by the committee.
  • All information regarding the case and actions taken are entered into the database for tracking purposes.

How are mistreatment incidents reported for those that occur at an affiliate site?

All incidents of mistreatment that occur involving a DGSOM trainee should be formally reported through the Mistreatment Incident Reporting Form (MIRF). Regardless of the site, the committee will partner with the appropriate stakeholders to address concerns at affiliate sites.

How does the committee determine action plans?

The committee assigns a triage level to all cases of mistreatment on a 0-3 scale. The following are action plans determined that are assigned based on the triage level:

Level 0 – The incident was determined not to have met the definition of the AAMC for mistreatment. Nonetheless, the committee recognizes that the behavior had a negative impact on the training environment and/or reporter, which requires an action. The CLEO Subcommittee Chair will provide the reported individual with a letter outlining the impact that the reported behavior created on the training environment. If the individual reported is in a training program, the program director may be tasked with providing the feedback.

Level 1: The incident was determined to meet the definition of the AAMC for mistreatment. The incident was deemed not to be egregious and was the first reported incident for the individual reported. The CLEO Subcommittee Chair will arrange a meeting with the reported individual to review a redacted version of the MIRF and to provide feedback. If the individual reported is in a training program, the program director may be tasked with providing the feedback.

Level 2: The incident was determined to meet the definition of the AAMC for mistreatment. The incident was of higher severity than a Level 1 or was a repeat incident for the individual reported. The CLEO Subcommittee Chair will communicate with the appropriate departmental/program leadership to request feedback and an appropriate action plan be provided to the faculty member or trainee.

Level 3: The incident was determined to meet the definition of the AAMC for mistreatment. The incident was egregious or there is an observed pattern of mistreatment. The CLEO Subcommittee Chair will contact the Vice Dean for Faculty and Department Chair to notify them of the incident. Leadership is responsible for developing a remediation plan to address concerns.

What types of incidents should be reported through the MIRF?

We encourage trainees to submit any incident they perceive shows lack of respect for the dignity of others and negatively impacts the training environment. Examples would include abuse, psychological cruelty, discrimination and harassment. It is best to report if you are not sure. The committee reviews all concerns.

How soon after the incident should a MIRF be submitted?

We encourage trainees to submit a MIRF as soon as possible, preferably the day of the incident. By doing so, CLEO leadership is able to triage the MIRF and allow for interim measures to be implemented, if needed. CLEO Subcommittee Chair is also able to notify program/departmental leadership to monitor for any possibility of retaliation that might occur following the MIRF submission.

What steps are taken to assess for retaliation?

DGSOM has zero tolerance for retaliation and any form of retaliation is considered an egregious form of mistreatment (level 3 on the scale described above). When a trainee includes their name on a MIRF, CLEO leadership works with program/department leadership to closely observe for any possible retaliatory behavior. If a trainee suspects retaliation, we encourage them to submit a MIRF. If the committee deems the incident to be retaliation, a level 3 action plan (see above) will be put into effect.