Gravity's Rainbow

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Handling a Chronic Illness in Grad School


I’ve sent out applications to three of the four schools I’m applying to for graduate school and have begun a dialogue with potential major professors.  I feel pretty optimistic about getting into grad school.  I’m a smart cookie and I did some pretty cool research as an undergraduate.

One of the things I haven’t brought up in my correspondence with potential advisors is that I have migraines. A lot of migraines. I used to have them almost constantly, but I was able to cut them down to about 20-30 hours a week after identifying some controllable triggers.

As an undergraduate with classes that weren’t especially challenging and teachers that didn’t mind letting me make up tests, migraines didn’t really hurt anything other than my head. I did really well and accomplished a lot in and out of my classes: I obtained more than $40,000 to support my research and club projects, I’ve presented at lots of national and regional meetings, and I’ve taught myself the ins and outs of data management and two programming languages. The flexibility and support of the people and organizations I worked with made it so that my migraines weren’t that much of an issue.

But I’m really worried about grad school. What will I do when I need to teach classes?  Or have committee 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 week 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.

I’ve asked you all about this before, and I’ve really appreciated Lady Quantum‘s insights.  But I haven’t got a lot of feedback from real live professors with graduate students.  I’d hoped Dr. Isis could answer some of my questions, or at least get me some answers from more professors. However, about the time I emailed her, the universe tried to kill her. So I’m trying again here.

My field isn’t quite as intense as biomed, but people still have to work hard and get a lot done in a short amount of time.  At what point in the application process should I bring up my health? Would you consider taking on a student with a chronic illness that would certainly impact their productivity?  Under what conditions?  If you’re an advisor with a sick grad student, what do you wish the student did differently?  If you know a student with a chronic illness (or are one) – what are some good coping strategies?

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