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Condition

I have been suffering from day time sleepiness (9-10 hrs of sleep and still struggle to stay awake), fatigue, memory loss and lack of concentration. The doctor found that I suffocate in my sleep: I stop breathing several times per hour.

In a few days, I will be undergoing surgery to modify my airway (nose, throat) that, according to the doctor, will completely resolve these problems.

Background

My profile is OK: undergrad valedictorian, scholarships, awards, numerous research experiences and skills. But my condition was exacerbated during the masters and I graduated "B+" instead of continuing my straight "A" performance during undergrad. Also, I felt that I could have performed better in standardized tests (GREs), do more research etc without my condition.

Questions

  1. Should I make this medical condition known in my research/personal statement? I fear the reader might assume that I am not as "able" as completely healthy candidates. Or perhaps there is no benefits at all to bringing this up?

  2. If so, how should I put it to avoid sounding like I am making excuses or whining?

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Alas, I don't know anything sensible on disclosing; but as someone who through airway surgery went from apnea index of 52 to apnea index of 12, good luck and I hope you'll get a lot better afterwards. – Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson Nov 6 '12 at 8:24
    
@MikaelVejdemo-Johansson - Thanks! Can't wait to finally get some decent sleep! – Legendre Nov 6 '12 at 10:53
    
narcolepsy? Afaik, first world universities have their own disability office to handle things like this – BCLC Apr 12 at 6:57
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Should I make this medical condition known in my research/personal statement? I fear the reader might assume that I am not as "able" as completely healthy candidates. Or perhaps there is no benefits at all to bringing this up? If so, how should I put it to avoid sounding like I am making excuses or whining?

If you can frame this medical condition as a situation you have learned to work through and around, then yes you can talk about it. It makes you sound like you are able to adapt to difficult circumstances. You are under no requirement to bring it up, and, at least in the US, if you don't bring it up, then you cannot legally be judged based on it.

However, if the condition reasonably or seriously will interfere with the work you are planning to do, then you need to disclose it eventually, although perhaps only after you are accepted and only to your research adviser. Sleepiness is one thing, but what about narcolepsy? A narcoleptic might be a safety hazard in a synthetic chemistry lab for example.

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I guess from the sound of things, it might not be advantageous for me to disclose this. Especially since the surgery should resolve it. I'm doing mathematics, so the only thing I'll be hazardous to is the coffee machine. – Legendre Nov 8 '12 at 11:20

Your potential advisor is interested in (mostly) one thing: your potential as a graduate student. To that end, your personal statement/interviews/etc. should serve to convince him that you will be able to do excellent research. Any issues that could be a potential problem should be noted and addressed.

With that background, do you think this condition could be perceived as affecting your output as a graduate student? From the way you posed it, I would suggest that the answer is "yes". As such, I would mention the condition towards the end of the letter/interview, but I would state with confidence that past performance has demonstrated that it will not affect output, and you're confident it would not be a problem in the future. Don't dwell; just mention it as you would a disclosure and move on.

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Any issues that could be a potential problem should be noted and addressed. No, no, no. By Section 504, admissions decisions come first, and then accommodations are explored as needed. The candidate does not need to talk about his disability during the admissions process any more than a job candidate needs to talk about his sexual orientation during a job interview. – aparente001 Nov 14 '15 at 2:37

Only mention your medical condition in the research/personal statement if it is specifically relevant to your research interests, and you feel that your personal experience strengthens your ability to carry out research in your chosen area. (Example: you wish to do medical research about epileptics' sensory perceptions prior to a seizure, or auras; you might conceivably want to mention your personal experience with auras, if you think this will help convince a committee that they should assist you in doing such research. Although this is the best example I was able to come up with, it's still pretty lousy, in my opinion. There are plenty of people in the world who experience auras, but who aren't qualified to do graduate level research on auras! It's the person's academic qualifications, I think, that would be the most meaningful thing for a committee to look at.)

Under Section 504 regulations, pre-admission inquiries as to whether an applicant is handicapped are specifically barred.

If you are accepted, on your academic merits, the next step is to contact your institution's student disability office in order to document the disability and request accommodations if needed. The student disability office will work with you and your professors. No one will perceive you as whining. You will be perceived as someone who is a strong health advocate, and you will be admired for persevering in spite of adversity.

A person with a disability has as much right to an education as a non-disabled person. You are a person first, and a person with a medical condition that makes studying more challenging second.

Note that in Section 504, the definition of a “handicapped person” is not only a person with a mental or physical impairment which substantially limits one or more of his major life activities, but also anyone who either has a record of such an impairment in his past or is regarded as having such an impairment.


About the B+ average in your Masters and your perhaps reduced GRE performance.

What should have happened: as an undergrad, you work out a 504 plan with the Student Disability office at your school, with accommodations, including, for example, in the GRE, extra time, and rest breaks.

A helpful resource: A Layperson's Guide to Section 504

Some related, inspiring reading: A Short History of the 504 Sit-In

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