Do I have to (or is it wise or unwise) to mention having survived a life-threatening illness (such as cancer, a (early) heart attack, etc when applying for a new (non-leading) academic position?

Assume that my health condition is now good enough (and the past health troubles are not obvious from my outward appearance) such that from a medical point of view nothing speaks against my further persuing my academic career and interests.

Nevertheless, due the specific medicaments I have to take for the rest of my life and some remnants of the past health issues, there might be times my productivity might slightly be lessened. Also, even though the probability is not very high, it can in principle not be 100% excluded that the illness will come back at some point.

Of course I would not mention this in a written application, but should I talk about my health condition in the context of an interview or before things are getting serious and it comes to signing the contract?

BTW I currently live in Germany


2 Answers 2


If you think it helps explain a work or productivity gap in your career, I would mention it and I would do so in writing rather than let your prospective employers speculate. Because overcoming a major medical challenge can help you align your priorities and strengthen you in other ways, doing so can definitely be done in a way that leads one to conclude that it is a strength, not a weakness, of your candidacy.

If your previous condition is not relevant in these ways, I don't think you have any obligation to bring it up. Sure, your illness might return but nobody is 100% immune from serious illness impacting their ability to work or be productive. For that matter, severe chronic illnesses that unambiguously affect productivity (e.g., cramps, migraines, etc.) are simply not the kind of thing that people bring up while interviewing and candidates have no responsibility to do so.

Reminding prospective employers of this can open to the door to (illegal) discrimination based on your medical history and I don't think you are helping either yourself or your prospective employers by bringing it up. When you take an offer, it might be good to let your future department know about your history as background but you might even let this just be raised socially.

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    Good answer. One other point is that you may want to carefully study your prospective employer's insurance, medical leave, and disability policies. For an institution like a university, sometimes these are publicly posted; otherwise you could contact someone in the human resources office and ask any questions you have. As far as I know, they would not have any reason to tell the hiring committee you were asking, so it shouldn't affect the interview process in any way. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 19:53
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    As @NateEldredge notes, it's imperative to look at the insurance/benefits situation. In particular, there still remains the possibility that insurance refuses to cover "pre-existing conditions" of certain sorts. This should not be the case for academic situations, but one should look carefully. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 22:58
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    @NateEldredge However, this is relevant only to some countries (U.S. for sure, I dunno about others), and it is irrelevant for most European countries (where the health insurance is government-based and not company-based).
    – yo'
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 0:48
  • @yo' Or in the case of some countries where they have free health care (which you could argue is government based, but technically it's not really insurance in the normal sense)
    – Pharap
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 3:29

If you live in the United States, you are not obligated to provide any information pertinent to disability, including life-threatening illness. What with competition for jobs being so fierce, you may find yourself overtly or covertly discriminated against in favour of someone who is healthier. That's why the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed into law. Any questions regarding your health from an employer are also illegal, so you are not obligated to answer.

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    The asker did not specify that they live in the US - your country-specific information may not be of any use to them. It's still good advice, but it's too specific without first confirming which country's laws apply to the asker.
    – Pharap
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 0:33
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    from what I understand, protections in Canada, France and the UK are even stronger than the US. Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 0:55
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    Yes, but you're still making assumptions about where the asker lives, they might live somewhere where such discrimination is not only legal but socially acceptable. I know it's unlikely, but it's still possible, you should always ask rather than make assumptions.
    – Pharap
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 3:28
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    @Pharap nah I am not in the US, but the information is a good one to have anyway as (who knows?) maybe at some point I will be there and others already are.
    – Dilaton
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 12:47
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    @Pharap, even if I am making assumptions, I believe the OP is still not morally obligated to disclose. No deceit is present because I do not consider it dishonest to lie to a tyrant, which companies outside US jurisdiction who would discriminate about it amount to. Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 17:14

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