While somewhat related to this recent question but this situation is different in that my supervisor has over the recent months had unspecified health issues. It has not overly effected our relationship other than a bit of a delay in some of our emails. Without knowing exactly what is wrong it was conveyed at one of our meeting that it was not overly serious. In the last email I received it was noted by my advisor that their health was poorly over the summer.

As someone who has previously had a prolonged serious bout of Crohn's, I can understand how poor health can impact on someone's life and would like to be able to make our professional relationship work in a mutually beneficial way.

So in a way my question is two-fold.

  1. Is it appropriate for me to sympathize/empathize with my supervisor about their health issue?
  2. Should I ask them how they best wish to proceed when they may be ill in relation to submitting work etc.?
  • 5
    Just to share an experience which may not be so related to your question: In our faculty, there was a very very good professor who was suffering from cancer. I remember when he was alive, he used to advise his students by assistance of another professors. I don't know what was his reason; but I guess he wanted to decrease the impact of his health problems on his students' thesis. Even after he passed away, there were two or three students who were at the end of their thesis period, they continued their work with their assisting advisor and finished their thesis successfully.
    – enthu
    Aug 24, 2014 at 14:16

2 Answers 2


Since in a recent email your advisor has told you about the health issue, it is perfectly acceptable for you to sympathize/empathize with them and it would not be out of place to ask if you could do anything regarding your work to accommodate them. That said, if you feel uncomfortable raising the issue, you should be able to depend on your advisor being mature enough to tell you what he/she needs in terms of accommodations.

If your advisor had not mentioned anything to you and you wish to sympathize/empathize with them, then you need to be more delicate.


Depending on how much it slows down your research, how far you are from graduation and how bad the illness is, a common solution is to get a temporary or permanent co-advisor. As StrongBad said, your advisor should be mature enough to tell the students if it is necessary to do so (this actually happened a few weeks ago to a friend of mine), but illness can be treacherous (also happened during this summer...) so more risk-averse people might prefer to start looking for a co-advisor even before they are advised to.

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