While I was doing my PhD in my previous position I was diagnosed with a mental illness. I started medication however as a result I could not concentrate very well and it made me quit my previous position. I continued my medication and recently have reduced it. Now I think I am able to concentrate again.

Soon I will have an interview for a new PhD position. I was wondering if I should bring up the matter. On one hand, I think I should be honest to my future supervisor. On the other hand, I don't want to lose the chance by scaring them.

Would you please help me with your opinions?

If I shouldn't bring it up myself, what if they asked me about my previous position? Should I tell everything then?

  • 14
    There is an intermediate option that tells them what they need to know: "I had to quit because of a medical condition that is now under control." Mar 28, 2015 at 20:20

5 Answers 5


There is no requirement to disclose and given the current climate around mental health, I would not suggest disclosing.

I would say that you had health problems that resulted in your having to leave your former school, but that these issues are under control and you are confident you will succeed at your new program.

I would be sure you tell your letter writers to also use the vague rubric of "health problems" as some may inadvertently disclose without thinking about how you want to be framed.

  • 1
    I don't think being vague is a good idea, since anyone with a partially working BS detector can find weasel words and will not only assume the worst, but also doubt the communication is sincere. Mar 29, 2015 at 16:40
  • 5
    Medical issues are none of our business. We cannot and should not ask to violate the medical privacy of our students.
    – RoboKaren
    Mar 29, 2015 at 17:05
  • Medical conditions that affect ability to study are the school's business, for a start both sides ought to want to make sure that appropriate support is provided so that the student is able to study. I agree that the School cannot ask for medical information, but that doesn't mean that it is not in the student's best interests to provide it. Apr 12, 2023 at 7:57

My personal opinion is that I'd rather you tell me right away. It doesn't scare me to know that there is an issue, but it scares me if there are issues I don't know and that I don't know how to handle.

In the end, you and your adviser are going to spend a lot of time together, and you need to be able to work as a team. As an adviser, I'm going to find out one way or the other at one point, either because you're going to tell me once we have built up a relationship of trust, or because we come upon issues where you find yourself not being able to work at the level you are supposed to and where I will start to suspect something. Better to talk about it up front so that both sides know that there are constraints within which the adviser-advisee relationship will have to operate.

(As a postscript: I don't expect to get a complete description of your illness. It is sufficient if you say something of the form "I would also like to mention one issue that I believe is important for you to know: I have some medical issues that I think I have under control now with medication. However, they do impose some constraints on me; in particular, I cannot do X and I will need accommodations for Y.)


My answer to this question borrows heavily from my answer to this question about discussing a life-threatening illness:

  • 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 mental health 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. If they ask about it, answer clearly and in a way that describes this a strength.
  • If your previous condition is not relevant in these ways, I don't think you have any obligation to bring it up. Reminding prospective employers of mental health issues 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.

If you have a list of specific academic concerns that are relevant to your mental health on an ongoing basis, e.g. about working hours, various pressures related to research and publication, the hours-per-week availability of this potential advisor, etc., you should definitely ask about those. You'll likely impress the interview panel sufficiently with your forthrightness just with that. No need to get into your previous degree program and personal life at all, unless they ask, and they probably won't. If the university ends up making you an offer, HR will probably be oblidged to ask you about your medical history in a form.

If you're curious whether the university has counselling support, or what other outside options for mental health support there are locally, there will certainly be someone who can answer that, but your future advisor might not have a clue what the options are.

And if you have doubts about whether you can actually make it through the programme, then I wouldn't dump those in the lap of your advisor, but talk with a mental health professional. By the way, lots of academics have moderate mental health issues, according to this series in the Guardian. Like for people in any field, a lot of this is "manageable" but for some it is devastating, it all depends on the specifics. In any case one does well to put health first, though that's not always easy.


I’d strongly suggest that you not disclose your former problems, as it doesn’t help at all to reveal them.

Remember, that, like any other recruiter, the professor hires the single person of which he expects the best performance in the job. “Mental problems” have the potential to draw doubts on your ability in doing so.

Moreover, you are not obliged to reveal any informations you don’t want to reveal, even not when asked (particularly regarding your health). That is not only yours, but also the recruiters’ privilege (and they usually exploit it – you’d be surprised how many unmanageable bullshit topics are assigned, which lead to years of headaches and finally often to the cancellation of the PhD).

If it is obvious, say from your CV, that there must have been some problems, call them “private reasons”.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .