If one has a "red flag" in their history (in terms of non-academic issues), is it best to disclose it to a potential supervisor? This can apply to any type of situation (a conflict with a faculty member, another student, a mental health issue that affected one's behavior etc.) Obviously, one wouldn't want to disclose something minor when the supervisor/university probably wouldn't hear about it anyway; I'm referring to situations that reach administration and that might be mentioned in a "letter of recommendation" (or when there might not be any letters from one's dept. etc.)?

  • 3
    This depends strongly on the kind of "red flag" we are talking about. Your health or past conflicts with other people are your own business, and not that of potential supervisors, so you would tend not to disclose them. But if there is a reasonably high chance that the potential supervisor will find out and that it will affect the evaluation of your application or your performance, you might want to preemptively disclose it.
    – wimi
    Sep 13, 2020 at 10:48

1 Answer 1


I would treat this like dating. You'll need to be honest and disclose red flags before you get engaged/married. But it doesn't need to come out on the first date. The reason is that so many other things might happen that would make disclosing the red flag totally unnecessary.

For example, you write a professor expressing interest in working with him/her, and he/she writes back "sorry I'm going on sabbatical next year and not taking new students", or "sorry my lab is full right now I don't have room for new students". In those cases, disclosing a red flag is pointless. He/she isn't going to work with you anyway, so why bring it up?

Or maybe, he/she writes back "yes I would love to work with you, I have an immediate opening for <extremely boring project>". In that case, you don't want to work on that boring project, so why bring anything else up?

Now if you've exchanged a few e-mails, or a phone call, and it looks like there is some mutual interest, you are interested in his/her projects, and he/she is interested in you, but before you have formally accepted the position, that's when you should probably say, "before we go any further, I wanted to be honest with you and let you know about <potential red flag>."

  • I already told the new advisor some of the situation (Just my initial misunderstanding with the professor; not the drama with admin.), and she seemed understanding but didn't explicitly agree (or decline) to advise me. However, the program isn't accepting students until next year, so it was probably too early for her to make a commitment. Once I'm closer to applying, however, I plan on contacting her again. I'm afraid that if I disclose too much, she could come up with an excuse as to why she can't take me on. However, if I don't ...
    – user124395
    Sep 13, 2020 at 21:12
  • disclose the full situation (maybe not in detail but letting her know that I ended up in conflict with admin. from trying to retract a grievance) and the admission committee finds out part of what happened (i.e. that I tried to have the chair demoted or that the LOR request came from the Gen. Counsel's Office), then I'm risking being rejected over it.
    – user124395
    Sep 13, 2020 at 21:17

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