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In my second semester of sophomore year, I was moderately sick for most of the semester. It was not life-threatening, but I often could not attend class because I didn't feel well. As a result, I was behind and had to work a lot to keep up. My research output was significantly lowered during this period also, for the same reasons.

However, it's not like my semester was bad - my GPA was lower than usual, but from a 4.0 to a 3.9. My research was lessened, but I still did some productive work. It's just that it turned a perhaps stellar semester (at least, a semester in line with the rest) to a perhaps good one. One slightly less great semester might not matter much for some grad schools, but I'm aiming for top ones as well. Is this something I could ask my advisors to note in their letters?

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    my GPA was lower than usual, but from a 4.0 to a 3.9 — Oh, stop whining. – JeffE Apr 16 '14 at 14:30
  • ^This is exactly the kind of thing that I felt people would think. My sickness during that semester might seem irrelevant since my academic performance didn't seem to drop much, but the research output that I lost in that semester might truly be the difference between an acceptance and rejection since I am not a 'superstar' candidate, just a good one. I actually feel that I should have just failed my classes instead of killing myself to keep up since at least they would realize the magnitude of my suffering. – kavin Apr 16 '14 at 19:49
  • @JeffE Looking at this again, your comment really doesn't look good. Would you say "Oh, stop whining" to a cancer survivor? Not that I'm comparing my situation to cancer but unless you have ever been in a situation where you dreaded just waking up the next day because you knew you would feel like absolute s---, and you had lost all hope that you would ever get better, I don't think you have the right to make such a callous statement. And even if you have been in such a situation, dismissing others' suffering because it wasn't as bad as your own is not a very empathetic or logical thing to do. – kavin Apr 16 '14 at 20:17
  • I "lurk" on this board a lot and you are usually one of my favorite posters as you often have well-thought-out and sympathetic responses. I hope that your statement was just a misunderstanding or a moment of thoughtlessness rather than a trivialization of disability or an expression of animosity towards me (although that last is pretty unlikely since you don't know me). If not, however, I will have to seriously reevaluate my opinion of you (not that my opinion would matter as, again, you don't know me). – kavin Apr 16 '14 at 21:02
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    I do NOT mean "Stop whining about your illness", and I sincerely apologize for my carelessness in suggesting that. I meant "Stop whining about the impact on your GPA." Your illness may have done significant and permanent damage to other aspects of your life, but your academic performance was not one of them. Even in the context of considering top PhD programs, a 3.9 GPA is still absolutely stellar. – JeffE Apr 16 '14 at 22:24
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I'd leave it out. This certainly doesn't sound like a bad semester that needs to be explained away. Being able to do well under adverse health conditions isn't really something you want to use as a selling point. Stick to what you did, not what you think you could have done.

If you mention it, there's a risk that someone on the admission committee will wonder if your illness is going to come back, maybe worse this time, and affect your work in grad school. They should not consider that, but people are human, so they might.

Congratulations, and glad you're feeling better.

  • I have no authority or a base to form an opinion on the matter... but... really ? Intuitively, I would say that being able to successfully overcome a health condition and still produce good work (not just a health condition, any kind of obstacle), would be a positive thing? While widely elaborating on that (in either the cover letter or in supervisors recommendation) sounds a bit over-the-top, if I was guessing I'd say that mentioning a "successful year in spite of challenging personal circumstances" would be a positive thing? – penelope Apr 16 '14 at 7:45
  • Thanks, but penelope's comment also seems logical. Also, if they did reject me for such a risk (even though my illness isn't the type to recur once it's cured), wouldn't that just be straight up discrimination? – kavin Apr 16 '14 at 19:50
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    @kavin it's better to be the "consistent, strong candidate" than the "candidate who has overcome adversity." You want to be perceived as the former (if you have the record to support this, which you apparently do), and any mention of your illness just distracts from this message. – ff524 Apr 17 '14 at 3:55

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