I suffer from anxiety, and this condition has led to some situations that hurt my relationships and reputation at my undergraduate institution. Anxiety also affects me in other ways -- for example, I fear flying.

Now I want to apply to graduate school for a master's degree. At what point should I disclose my mental health conditions? It seems like my advisor would need to know about some or all of my history, and best case, they could use this knowledge to provide better advising. But it could also mean that my preferred advisors would decline to advise me at all.


I fear flying.

Nearly all PhD students go to conferences. They usually go there by flying. There is no way to hide that you fear flying. Therefore, I suggest disclosing so that your advisor can arrange for your to participate in conferences without flying. Disclose before you enroll, and find out if your advisor can help you be successful before you enroll.

Should you disclose before you apply? It depends. If you can disclose in a way that shows you will be successful in the program (e.g. "Following treatment, my symptoms are improving so I expect my future achievements will be better than my past achievements...") that may increase your chances of admission. Show you have a plan for success. If you disclose and indicate you cannot be successful in the program, then you probably will not be admitted. But why would you apply if you cannot be successful?

Anecdote: One of my colleagues disclosed a fear of flying to me when he was a PhD student. He is now an assistant professor. He does fly from time to time.

  • 4
    Flying or not flying has nothing to do with your competence as a scholar. Nothing. FWIW, I don't fly either, but just because it has become so incredibly painful to do nowadays.
    – Buffy
    Jun 6 '20 at 12:17

A bit different from the other answer.

Do not disclose any mental health trouble. Disclose you fear to flight only when you are successful enough to envision your attendance to conferences and not at any earlier stage. When eventually it will happen, present your fear as very focused fear and do not mention anything else. I can't think of any real trouble as far your PhD is concerned. Do that when and if necessary in a strict way. Your supervisor or a coworker can present the work on your behalf if a particular conference is strategic for the group/supervisor. As already said by others there will surely be a conference that you could attend without flying. Consider that, yet and unfortunately, attending overseas conferences is still difficult for many people in the academy worldwide. So it won't be particularly problematic for your supervisor to only "send" you to locations reachable by train.

  • A supervision/PhD student relation is not a regular job. Quitting it when things do not work out is painful, difficult and sometimes seriously career and confidence-damaging. It is better for OP to be upfront, because if the superviser discovers it too late, expectation may not match up and the damage can not easily be reverted. This is bad advice. You want a supervisor that OP can convince that they do good work, despite the condition because the condition is part of OP's makeup, there is no denying it; and it has real consequences as the other questions of OP has shown. Jun 6 '20 at 12:02
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    @CaptainEmacs, actually this is good (great) advice. There is no need to reveal it. It is a personal thing. If it becomes an issue in the future then you deal with it then, either by revealing it or taking alternate action as appropriate. Don't project the anticipation of problems in such situations. Mental health issues are a matter between you and a doctor/therapist. It isn't an academic consideration.
    – Buffy
    Jun 6 '20 at 12:07
  • @CaptainEmacs having witnessed many PhD I can't think of one failing because one doctoral student refuse to flight. That is the meaning of my answer, taking what Buffy said as as the ground.
    – Alchimista
    Jun 6 '20 at 12:16
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    @Buffy In principle, if it has no effect on their environment or OP have enough control over it to shield their environment or to prepare them of how to deal with it, I would completely agree with you. OP, however, has - and here the history plays a role - had a chain of past incidents where it did spill over to their environment in multiple phases, creating significant distress. Unless it is clear that it will not repeat, there should be a signal of reflection by OP that they are working on keeping things under control. And I do not see it. The supervisor is in for a bad surprise. Jun 6 '20 at 12:35
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    @Captain Emacs. Uh I see the situation. I therefore let my answer stand here for a general audience and for whom might indeed suffering a precise, punctual phobia. As far as the OP is concerned I can only suggest him/het to ask the same question to the professional(s) who follow him/her. This is already out of the Academia scope.
    – Alchimista
    Jun 6 '20 at 13:17

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