I am a first year grad student with an expunged felony in the state of Arkansas. I am looking for advice on if and how I should communicate this with my adviser. The felony is due to a drug crime and took place ~decade ago. I ask this because through out my academic career I may need to go to conferences in other countries and this may affect my ability to get through customs and enter those countries hosting the conference.

I am looking for other students who were in the same boat, professors who have dealt with similar situations, and in general opinions from advisers on how they would like to be approached in situations such as this.

Thanks for the communities knowledge in advance.

  • When you filled out your graduate school application, there was probably a note about what type of criminal convictions you were required to report. What did the application state concerning expunged convictions?
    – Mad Jack
    Jun 21 '14 at 0:47
  • There were no questions regarding criminal convictions for any of the paperwork that I have filled out for grad school. Jun 21 '14 at 1:54
  • 3
    I am not an expert, but doesn't "expunged" mean your record is sealed and effectively "erased from time"?
    – Davidmh
    Jun 21 '14 at 12:19
  • 8
    Given that your conviction was expunged, I would highly recommend that you TALK TO AN ATTORNEY about the issues that you may have to deal with. Like David above, I think you may not have to worry much about international travel, but only an attorney can tell you what you have to share, and what may be known, by foreign governments.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 21 '14 at 13:15
  • 1
    The charge will still come up on federal databases but will be marked as expunged. Some countries will take that into account and some will not. Jun 21 '14 at 15:59

You don't need to explain the details. Here is the most I would do. If the situation comes up (e.g., your advisor suggests you attend a conference that would require international travel you are not comfortable with), tell your advisor how this will affect your professional work: e.g., you would prefer to publish in domestic conferences, you are not comfortable travelling internationally, or whatever the implication is. Your advisor doesn't need to know the details of why (e.g., that you had a felony).

Of course, you can always explain these details if you feel comfortable doing so. That will depend upon the nature of your relationship with your advisor. But you shouldn't feel like it is mandatory to explain this aspect of your personal history. This is a professional relationship, and in professional relationships, you only need to provide enough information to allow you to meet your professional obligations and goals.

Basically, think of it this way. Why does your advisor need to know? What will the implications be, in terms of how it will affect his advice to you? Then think about how to convey the implications without the unnecessary details, and whether there is even any need or value in conveying any information at all. That might help guide you figure out what to explain. You might find you never need to explain anything related to this to your advisor.

  • 3
    There should be ombudsman or other advocacy services available on campus which should give the poster more specific advice. While there is a privacy issue here, it is more practical to research the issue and potential problems that might occur, even domestically. Counseling and advocacy services should protect the posters privacy and recommend how best to share (or not) how much with school officials. Coming clean is good and respectful; researching the issue with the school's help and coming clean the right way is even better. Jun 21 '14 at 3:13
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    Also, while counseling services may provide some of the practical advice needed, asking for legal advice might be even better. In this case, a paralegal could say what impact an expunged conviction should have practically. It may be that there is nothing to worry about, and the lawyers should provide the factual reassurance. Jun 21 '14 at 3:16

Three points:

Don't tell them. Whatever the reason you're thinking of telling them now, their primary interest in you is academic, and yours should be the same. The last thing you want to do is distract them into thinking about you in any other context than your field of study. As much as they're on your side, you would much prefer them to think about you doing research than drugs.

Talk to a lawyer. Just to be safe, because you're venturing into legal territory, and we're not a bunch of lawyers, for the most part.

Your motivation is probably not valid I think the impetus for even suggesting this is unnecessary. I don't know your field, but the likelihood of you needing to travel outside the US is probably not there. Unless your advisor has said something like: "We always go to this convention in Zurich, and you'll be expected to go next year..." in which case, see the prior advice point.


The downside of making it known is you open yourself up to potential discrimination. I think there are 4 categories of people. Those who could care less, those who are going to discriminate no matter what, those who won't spend the time to get to know you because of the issue, but if they already knew you would be fine, and hose who would be fine from the outset, but would be upset because you tried to hide it. I don't really believe you can hide the expunged felony from everyone without hurting personal relationships with your colleagues. Therefore you need to weigh the people who will not give you a chance against those who will be upset by the apparent deceit. To me it is a no brainer. Telling people know will mean a few missed opportunities, but probably not a big deal. If your PhD supervisor or post doc supervisor finds out later and becomes so against you they stop writing letters of reference, then that is a disaster.

I would suggest mentioning it in passing to your supervisor. Then follow it up a few days later more formally asking if he/she thinks it is going to be a problem.

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