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I’m an undergraduate doing research in the bioinformatics department, and we are researching drug addiction. We are also attempting to incorporate the psychology cooccurrences (i.e. suicide ideation, anxiety, depression) of addiction. Personally I have not experienced drug addiction, but I am very familiar with two different addictions (one ongoing) and the cooccurrences mentioned above.

A benefit of this has been that my first paper and project was very well received by the professor because I understood the subtleties of the topic. However, this also means I am mentally unhealthy.

I have always considered telling the professor about this, but I don’t know if this would be encouraged/acceptable, and if I would still be allowed to stay in this research area.

Any input is appreciated, thank you!

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    Why exactly do you feel that it would be helpful/relevant/important for the professor to know this? – Mowgli Jan 11 at 2:25
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    @Mowgli because sometimes I feel like I’m pulling “facts” out of the air lol (because no citation), where actually the “fact” came from experience and interaction with people similar to me. For example if I get asked, “why did you choose this as the next step?” – chy00 Jan 11 at 6:13
  • The logical flow in the second paragraph is not apparent to me. If the situation is that you have mental health issues as a consequence of dealing with addiction in loved ones, then I think that phrasing is clearer. As a follow-on, it's not clear whether "this" in the third paragraph is your experience with addicts, your mental health issues, or both. – Peter Taylor Jan 11 at 8:49
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    @chy00 If it is a research project, I don't think your personal experience is a valid justification for scientific choices. Every person is different and, as an individual, you are certainly not representative enough to assume that if something applies to you, then it also applies to the rest of the people affected by whatever issue you're working on; I think your personal connection to the issue is not relevant to the way you should build your research project. If you have no citation: either find one, or work on building a dataset to justify your initial claims (that's research!) – Mowgli Jan 11 at 16:21
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Okay, first off, I do not think you should mention it unless you think it negatively affects your work. But then I think you should absolutely do it.

You do have to be critical about this. I don't know your situation. But if you are currently suffering from an addiction, you might be prone to some of the same psychological defense mechanisms. And this might give you a bias in your work. But it might also be the complete opposite. So... just be critical and honest with yourself. If it negatively affects your work, you should not be doing this kind of research.

Also think about the worst case scenario: What if someone else finds out? Would that be a career destroying situation? If that is a chance, then it is always better to admit it yourself before someone else can. It will help you stay in control of the narrative, and people will not hear about it from rumours.

Your second point was that your personal experiences have actually helped you in some way. That might be true because you do not shrug something off as a minor issue if you personally know that it can be a big problem, etc. However, your personal experience is NOT science. You write in a comment that you "feel like [you are] pulling “facts” out of the air lol (because no citation), where actually the “fact” came from experience and interaction with people similar to me". Don't do that! Your scientific work cannot rely on anecdotes. You either have to cite a reference or you have to apply the scientific method, make people fill out questionnaires, write a study and evaluate its significance, and so on.

If it feels like you are pulling facts out of thin air, then you are not doing good scientific work, no matter how true those facts are. You have to have some kind of measure of the truth of your facts. Personal experience is not a valid one. So if you think about using your personal experience to help you in your research, do so by using it to find areas that still need to be considered, but then consider those areas with the scientific method.

Finally, I want to emphasize that it is not a good idea to self-medicate or to power through an addiction, just in case that is something you're doing. Whatever your situation might be, I hope you deal with it by getting some professional help.

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Yes you can. Even may.

The question is should you? What is the motivation? To brag your worldliness? To earn pity?

I advise no. Concentrate on learning the topic academically. Let your personal experience enrich your learning but more as deep background.

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Your suitability as a candidate vis-a-vis the research area is very rarely dependent on a physical or psychological characteristic. For example, you don’t need to have Tourette’s syndrome to do good research into Tourette’s syndrome and some of the best researchers in prostate cancer don’t even have prostates. In fact, many countries have laws against using specific characteristics in selection processes.

I think that having personal insight into a particular object of research can certainly give someone empathy for subjects and this can come across in presentations or writings. However, that your research into addiction has been well-received is less likely to be due to your own experience as it is from the quality of your research — the rigour of your methods, the appropriateness of your analyses, the sensible ness of your inferences, and the weight of your contribution to the field.

I would strongly advise against your plan.

  • I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think anti-discrimination laws apply here, at least not in the way you suggest. If anything, they should protect people who suffer from addiction from being discriminated against in the hiring-process. – henning Jan 11 at 8:52
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    @henning the arguments are practically the same, in my view. The OP seems to suggest that possessing a psychological trait — addiction, in this case — makes his or her research better received. By the same argument, Chinese should do better in China Studies or only women who’ve become pregnant can produce insightful research in obstetrics. I’m pointing out that the quality of the work or suitability of a candidate is not dependent on physical or psychological factors. – St. Inkbug Jan 11 at 12:13
  • I see your point now. – henning Jan 11 at 12:14
  • @henning I might edit the answer to make the point clea. On reflection, I can see how the discrimination angle can be the focus of the piece. – St. Inkbug Jan 11 at 12:15

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