Should I Tell my Supervisor?

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We have been asked to post this on a PGF user's behalf.

I have just started my PhD and I have a medical problem that I don't want to tell my supervisor about. The reason being that I don't want to be seen through the problem, hence also posting on here anonymously. I want to be seen as PhD student and I don't like being asked about my health before anything else, which is what happens to me in RL.
I damaged my head 2 years ago whilst running on a treadmill, despite 4 mri scans, blood tests galore, physio, they don't know what is wrong. It results in my arteries swelling on one side of my head, blurring my vision and I either have a permanent headache or a migraine (6 x month). I am on 3 different painkillers/anti-inflammatories depending on how I feel, some of which have side effects such as severe tiredness. I am at risk of a stroke/aneurysm too as my Dad and Granny died from either aneurysm/stroke and my Aunt has had 3 strokes so wear a Medicalert bracelet. I go through bad patches and when it is good, I can come off some of the medication (like now) but I can feel I am not doing well again. My last uni knew all this and I had a few extensions and one delayed exam. I don't want this anymore for this PhD, I want to move on but am I being a fool not telling the supervisor? It affects me because, like now, my one eye is blurred and I have swelling in my head again and all I want to do is, well not much at all. The supervisor is nice enough but he is gung-ho and I don't want to be seen as a sissy.


I understand what you are saying, but I think you are probably being a little hard on yourself. You definately need to make your supervisor aware of your medical condition, as it may or may not interfere with your PhD, but at least if it does then he will know why and i'm sure any reasonable person would not think any less of you for it. You don't need to make it a big issue, just mention it casually in conversation. If you don't say anything and then something happens it could be dangerous so i think from a Health & Safety point of view it is something that he needs to be aware of.


you need to tell them. for several reasons: if you were taken ill they need to know whats wrong asap. secondly they cant discriminate against you and furthermore if your ill/ abscent etc its better they know than think your lazy etc. if they cant be understanding then you take it further. its a difficult situation to be in but honesty is best otherwise you will feel like its hanging over you


I know exactly where you're coming from - I too have a medical problem, and like you I have good days and bad days. I've been open with my supervisors, and in fact my research topic is partly to do with my illness, but only you can decide if that's the right approach for you. My feeling is that if you're having a bad patch and need to take a few days off to get yourself right again then your supervisor is likely to be more sympathetic if they know the reason why, and less likely to pressure you to get on with it - which is the last thing you need when you're feeling rough! I wouldn't worry about what other people think, what's important is that you look after yourself


I think you have a responsibility to both yourself and the university to make sure someone is aware, just in case you're taken ill on the premises. I can understand that you don't want it to affect your relationship with your supervisor, but perhaps it would be easier to tell someone else in the department in confidence (e.g. the postgraduate tutor, if that person is not your supervisor, or the person responsible for First Aid in your area).


In confidence? That's ridiculous.

In confidence doesn't work in this world as people love to gossip. Full stop


yes, of course some people gossip inappropriately, just as others favour rudeness over reason. However, in the world I live in, some people do appear to grasp the difference between gossiping about something trivial, such as who's dating whom, and breaking a confidence such as ... well, that'd be telling Surely it's just a matter of deciding who you can trust? That aside, I hope the OP finds a solution that he or she is happy with.


It depends on what type of person you are. I told mine about my chronic illness so that I can get reduced hours. I ABSOLUTELY hate people viewing me as sick though, so even though I cringingly told at first and all seemed well, I have never had that much use out of it. I look healthy, and because I tend to act that I'm feeling better than I really an in front of pretty much everyone, I think supervisor almost forgot about my illness. I also don't bring it up much at all. Sometimes I get the impression that he thinks that I'm just lazy and "faking it" despite the medical certificates.

So do tell but nly if you are prepared to keep asking for help or time off when you are feeling sick.


i must say, i don't understand your unwillingness to reveal that you are sick. but respect it as i presume that you have your own reasons.

one of my phd colleagues had brain cancer. she never spoke about it and looked healthy whenever she was coming to the office. i only got to know three years down the line...well through gossips. but i felt that there was nothing wrong with knowing. on the contrary, it made me admire her courage, although we never mentioned it in our conversations. closer friends of hers from the phd programme were able to help out whenever she had a chimiotherapy sessions. and her supervisor was sympathetic. nobody had ever been condenscending because of her illness.

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Thank you everyone for your replies. I reluctantly told my supervisor on recommendation of a lot of you. He was great about it and said it would not in any way alter his opinion of my abilities to complete a PhD. However, he does want to report it to the health and safety officer in the building just so that more people are aware but won't unless I give him permission. To this, I have not replied, I will think about it.
Why do I not want to tell anyone? Because I don't want special treatment, I just want to be a PhD student. I am a toughie usually and this has been a sore point for 2 years, that everyone first asks me about my head before anything else. I know they mean well but it is just not in my personality to be felt sorry for or whine. However, I know that despite me feeling like I am invincible, I am not and there may be a time I need help.
Thanks again everyone, see you on the forum ;)