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I am a graduate student and I am more than half way through with my thesis. I was diagnosed with epilepsy 3 years ago, and in order to control my seizures I take Depakote. Now my seizures are under control, but the medicine has side effects, which hinders my productivity at times. This hindrance causes delay in my work, hence I have a feeling that my thesis will take longer to complete but he does not fund my thesis.

Should I share my medical condition directly with my supervisor or should I first contact the disability center in my college first and let them tell him that?

UPDATE So I spoke both with the disability center and my supervisor, and things worked out according to my expectations. Both the disability center and my supervisor were very understanding.

Thank you all for your support and suggestions!!!

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    Taking DEPAKOTE in conjunction with LAMICTAL impeded my ability to function so drastically that I had to withdraw from that semester retroactively and discontinue all my medications. I am sorry you’re struggling with this. Nov 6, 2020 at 17:00
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    Yeah just today I have been put on Zoloft just to suppress the side effects of depakote. I hope they work well together, fingers crossed! But I can't discontinue, as it keeps my seizures under control. Nov 6, 2020 at 19:55
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    Be wary that ZOLOFT, like all SSRIs, caries its own nasty side effect profile, especially extreme sexual dysfunction and hypomania. Nov 6, 2020 at 19:57
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    I know, but it's like I am out of options; I went to two different doctors, and both of them suggested Zoloft. If I don't take Zoloft or something else to take care of my symptoms, then it can also trigger another seizure. So, it's like I am out of options!! Nov 6, 2020 at 20:01
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    Dude, I get that. I have taken every drug there is, multiple drugs from every relevant class—SSRIs, SNRIs, NDRIs, antipsychotics, α₂-agonists, benzodiazepines, GABA analogues, serotonin modulators, anaesthesia. My psychiatrist flat-out told me there’s nothing left for me to take. I get esketamine treatments twice a week just to get by. So I get it bro. Good luck to you. Nov 6, 2020 at 20:18

4 Answers 4

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Contact the disability center first.

You haven't listed a location, but most developed nations have laws prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and mandating reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. The university disability office will likely have a better understanding of the university's policies and procedures as well as what reasonable accommodations you're entitled to than a random professor will (unless that's their research area or something). Additionally, helping you is literally their job, so you might as well take advantage of their services; it's not going to cost you or your lab/work group anything to do so, after all, and they should keep the contents of your communications with them private.

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    The best course of action is, as this answer correctly states, to contact the disability center (that's what they are for), but unless your professor is a particularly evil scientist I would certainly inform him/her after that: you would not want him to think you are lazy or slow: he is the one who will provide you with references, recommendation letters, or a job after your graduation.
    – Louic
    Nov 4, 2020 at 6:44
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    I don't know if the equivalent exists in the US, but in the UK I'd recommend contacting the disability officer of the (graduate) student union even more than the disability centre. Whereas the university disability centre's role is to protect the university from legal action, the student union's role is to actually advocate for student welfare. The disability centre is likely to ensure that you get the minimum legally required provisions, but the student union is more likely to advocate for whatever provisions you actually need
    – Tristan
    Nov 4, 2020 at 13:35
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    in general though, advice for declaring disabilities to employers is that you are usually best served by not declaring a disability except when you are requesting a specific accommodation. For these purposes, a doctoral supervisor is probably analogous to an employer and so probably unwise to declare to unless you have a specific accommodation to request. A student union would absolutely be ideal to talk to, and the university disability centre likely also suitable though
    – Tristan
    Nov 4, 2020 at 13:41
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    @Tristan "best served by not declaring a disability except when you are requesting a specific accommodation." Waiting to declare is terrible advice for something that might be very sudden, very obvious, and prevent communication, like certain kinds of seizures. Nov 5, 2020 at 10:50
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I think you're interpreting "specific accommodation" overly narrowly. Also the question appears to be asking primarily about the side effects of the medication, rather than seizures
    – Tristan
    Nov 5, 2020 at 11:36
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I will go against the other answers which unanimously suggest to talk to the disability centre first, and say that it depends.

It strongly depends on where you are, and on your relationship with your supervisor. I don't think anyone here can give you a definitive answer without a good understanding of your unique situation.

Your supervisor could be your best ally in navigating the bureaucracy at your institution, and finding a way to extend your funding if necessary. In a well-functioning research group, your supervisor would be your best ally, and could tell you what to do exactly to reach the best outcome. Of course, this is not always the case, which is why I said that it depends. I will just say that if you can expect the disability centre to give you more support than your supervisor, or even support you against your supervisor, that is a very sad state of affairs. It does happen though, which is why you need to make this call yourself.

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    With the risk of taking some downvotes, I'll point out that answers given on this site tend to come from a hyper-individualistic point of view that is prevalent in many English-speaking countries. Not every place is like that and not everyone is like that.
    – Szabolcs
    Nov 5, 2020 at 12:25
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    Agreed. Unless OP has a dificult relationship with their supervisor, it's always best to start there rather than to go over their head - this does nothing but demonstrate a lack of trust in the supervisor and they may take it as an offence that you didn't talk to them first before going to the bureaucracy. The latter may yet be OP's best option, but only if they already, as you say, have a fragile or poor relationship with their supervisor.
    – J...
    Nov 5, 2020 at 14:45
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It sounds like you have already decided to tell him one way or another, and the question is if you should speak to the disability office first. The disability office might have something helpful to add, so it should not hurt to speak to them first.

If there is any chance you might have seizures in the future, you should probably tell people you work with how they should react. Many faculty will call emergency services if they notice someone is having a seizure; if you don't want that to happen, say so.

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    Good point. As the postdoc in the lab and (outside work) a first aider I'd rather not be caught by surprise if for some reason you miss a dose, for example.
    – Chris H
    Nov 5, 2020 at 10:32
  • Does being told not to call an ambulance protect you? While I would trust an individual who says it's not necessary, I would hate even more to not call one when it was actually needed. Nov 11, 2020 at 20:17
  • @AzorAhai-him- If emergency services are not needed, calling them could endanger a third party who does need those services. In some cases seizures are very frequent. Nov 12, 2020 at 0:33
  • @Anon That's not what I asked. Nov 12, 2020 at 0:51
  • @AzorAhai-him- That's correct. My point is that calling emergency services "just in case" might provide "protection," but that does not mean it is the right thing to do. The asker and their doctor should know. Nov 12, 2020 at 0:54
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I would send an email to the disability center with a copy to the supervisor. That way your supervisor knows what is going on but doesn't have to take any action.

After the initial email, you don't have to keep the supervisor updated unless (a) they ask, or (b) the disability center reaches a decision that needs action from the supervisor.

Your email doesn't have to be complicated. It could be as simple as:


To: Disability Center

Copy: John Supervisor

Dear Disability Center

I currently have to take a prescribed medicine for a medical condition. This is making my studies difficult and I would appreciate meeting with you to discuss this.

Arthur_Mogan

If you don't mind your supervisor knowing, you could name the medical condition in the email and say, "I currently have to take a prescribed medicine for epilepsy ..."

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