Gravity's Rainbow

botany, shoes, books, and justice

Science and Chronic Illness


I’ve complained about having migraines here before, but I haven’t talked much about how I expect them to affect me in the future.  Part of that is because it terrifies me.  As an undergraduate with classes that aren’t too challenging and teachers that don’t mind letting me make up tests, migraines don’t really hurt anything other than my head.

So it’s easy for me to not think about the future too much.  Last week was an exception. I was attending a workshop by a fancypants scientist who makes very pretty models.  The last day, we all gave informal presentations on the model we’d been working on and got lots of really good feedback from the class and Dr. Fancypants.  I had a migraine and had to leave – so no advice on my model.

What will I do when I’m teaching classes?  Or have lots of important meetings?  Or just have to deal with a heavier workload?

There are places I can live where my migraines will be less severe, but I think one migraine a month is the best I can hope for.  And I won’t know for sure until I’ve lived in a place for a few months.  My current concern is  broaching the subject with potential graduate advisors.

Part of me knows this isn’t going to be as serious a problem as I fear it will be.  A successful and well-respected scientist in my field invited me to check out her lab when I applied for graduate school – and she has a chronic illness, too.  But most of the time I’m afraid this is going to really hurt my chances.

I know I asked for your advice just yesterday, but I need your help again, readers!  If you’re in a position to take on grad students, would you consider taking on a student with a chronic illness that would certainly impact their productivity?  Under what conditions?  If you aren’t in a position to take on grad students, are you or do you know a grad student/post-doc/prof with a chronic illness?  How do they do it – what are their coping strategies? What sorts of things seem to be more difficult for them because of the illness?  Do other people think less of them or complain when they’re sick?

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  1. “If you’re in a position to take on grad students, would you consider taking on a student with a chronic illness that would certainly impact their productivity?”

    Yes! Chronic illness deserves reasonable accomodations. Period. Some people don’t “get it” especially when a condition is invisible like migraines, but it would be unfair to deny you or anyone else the opportunity to pursue your academic interests because of limitations imposed by illness. I’ve struggled with health problems since my undergrad days, too, so I know it’s not easy. Hang in there and best of luck with grad school.


  2. You’re more productive than I am and I don’t even have an excuse 🙂

    If your letters of recommendation are as good as I think they’ll be, and if they explicitly say that you’re worth it, then any advisor worth working with should be happy to have you. Grad school is also more schedule-independent than undergrad; you won’t be taking 20 hours of classes a week anymore.

    I hope that doesn’t sound too pollyannish; I just have a lot of respect for you and know you’re going to be able to shine no matter what.

    See you in 5 weeks or so!


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