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I completed my masters in mathematics in my home country in June 2020. I didn't had success in 4th semester of my masters with PhD Applications. So, I thought I would try next year in both my home country and abroad (Europe). I didn't apply earlier to any of my home country's universities.

So, I started studying for the qualifying exam in my home country while side by side studying some more mathematics to apply for PhD programmes abroad. But I fell in depression and wasted 1 month and 1 week in stomach infection till now.

The depression problem: I took the exam for PhD admission in my home country in December and received the result in early January. The result was lower than I had hoped for, although I don't yet know if I've been accepted.

My father is using this to make cruel comments to me, hurting my mental health. This contributed to me being depressed and missing several application deadlines for European universities. I completed only one application on time. Since then I have received medical help for my mental health problems and for 1 week I could not study due to pretty bad stomachache.

Question 1: Should I email the professors which will be sending letter of recommendation, and tell them what I have been doing since I completed my masters in June 2020? It would be only list of topics I have studied till now.

Question 2: If so, should I also include episodes of depression along with stomach infection?

Question 3: If so, should I also describe the reason behind the depression?

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  • Does this answer your question regarding mentioning depressions (or other mental health issues): academia.stackexchange.com/questions/80655/… ? – Mark Feb 19 at 12:32
  • A recommendation letter should not be a list of topics you studied, but an individuals (professor or other supervisor or more senier collaborator) judgement of your qualities. – Mark Feb 19 at 12:33
  • @Mark It is not same as in my case the gap is of only 1 month – Avenger Feb 19 at 13:26
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First, I agree completely with Arno's answer here. The logic from that answer applies to these questions as well. Specifically...

Should I email the professors which will be sending letter of recommendation [and tell them] what I have been doing since I completed my masters in June 2020? (It would only list topics I have studied till now)?

Those reviewing your application may be interested to know what you have been up to during the past year. The answer appears to be "studying." So, it may be worth listing this briefly in your application somewhere. Just one bullet on your CV, or one sentence in one of your essays.

To your question: I see no harm in also providing this information to your letter writers. For the most part, their letters will focus on what they know about you directly, not what you say you did after graduating. But, it's definitely a good idea to stay in touch with your letter writers, and mentioning your recent activities is a natural thing to say in this context.

[Should I] include episodes of depression along with stomach infection?

No. It's usually better to declare victory rather than make excuses. In your case, there is no need for excuses; it is quite straightforward to say "since graduating, I've been studying topics X, Y, and Z." This sounds much better than "I've been trying to study, but between depression and illness I haven't made much progress." Why volunteer these extra details?

[Should I include] the reason behind the depression [issues with my father]?

Definitely not. This is very much oversharing. It is understandable that you want to discuss your difficult circumstances and are seeking forgiveness, validation, and/or reassurance. But you should have this discussion with your family, friends, or therapist, not with your professional references.

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A letter of reference is what the professors want to say about you as a potential researcher. Not about your grades, courses etc. You can of course tell them about your problems, but I highly doubt that they will include such information in the letter. It would be awkward if they did.

On the other hand, your CV is also not the place for these personal problems. If you think that your depression and stomach problems are relevant, then you should mention them in your cover letter.

Keep in mind that most of the time, what you have gone through will not affect the decision process. Instead of focusing on why you have failed, it is much better to highlight your potential and what you can achieve.

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  • But the depression lead to considerable loss of time which could have been used in studying more math and trying problems. That's why I am confused. – Avenger Feb 21 at 16:03
  • @Avenger I do understand. However, unless there is sort of an entrance exam, your current knowledge does not help in most cases. What really helps is when your area of interest and potential match what the professor is looking for. – padawan Feb 21 at 16:45
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If you talk or write to anyone about depression or family problems, make it a mental health professional. They can provide actual help.

But as for contacting potential letter writers, bringing them up to date, include not only what courses or other study you have done since they last interacted more directly with you, but also something of your future plans and goals.

In many places you will be asked to include a Statement of Purpose (SoP) with the application. If you haven't already written this it would be good to do so. It includes your short and long term goals and how you are well situated to achieve them. Then, include some of the essentials of that in your notes to potential letter writers so they have a better sense of where you want to go.

But you won't be accepted anywhere based on your problems. Look forward and convince people that you can get there.

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This is a tricky one. In my opinion, informing the people responsible for giving out letters is always the right thing to do. Let them know what happened, what you did, what you are currently working on. That is a must. Talking about mental health and difficulties you faced is correct when you can make sure it does not seem like a pity call rather proving how you are successfully battling your challenges.

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  • Should I also mention the cause of depression , which in this case is is my father ( and hence the reasons that he is confusing me and the total causes) or just telling to professors that I had battled depression(telling theduration) and currently doing fine is sufficient? – Avenger Feb 20 at 3:38

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