PhD and Dyslexia


I have dyslexia and I am looking at doing a PhD. I was wondering if anyone else with dyslexia would be willing to share their experiences. I'm interested in whether you disclosed and how, and how you deal with the ups and downs.




Yes I have dyslexia and I am doing a PhD. I am in the humanities, and since my subject requires a lot of reading and writing, I chose not to declare it on my application. I have told my supervisor though, since I started. I told her in an email I think, kind of a 'by the way, I'm dyslexic' type thing. It's something that doesn't come up too much, and isn't much of a problem unless I am working to a deadline, planning an essay, or if I am a bit stressed.

One thing I would say about it is that dyslexia affects people in many different ways. I don't really have a problem with writing-- my spelling isn't great, but it isn't dreadful. My difficulties lie in my organisational skills, time-keeping, memory, my attention to detail is dreadful, my work is often a bit sloppy. I also have problems articulating my ideas, verbally, and on paper. Therefore, I really have to work hard to ensure that I am up to the standard of everyone else. Giving presentations is hard because I am rubbish at reading outloud. Therefore, I really need to know my stuff if I am speaking.

While it is true that you cannot be discriminated against because of your dyslexia, believe me--at PhD level, the "I'm dyslexic" card does not get you very far. I remember at one point during my MA I told my supervisor that I had "...a problem with planning and structuring essays because I don't really see things in a linear fashion..." Well, I had to just stop talking, because he wasn't listening. In fact, he interrupted and changed the subject. I remember another time being picked up on for my grammar at MA level, and I started saying that I'd get a proof-reader because I couldn't really help it, and I was told (very bluntly) "Or you could just listen to what I tell you and you won't make this mistake again". Fair point really, I don't think I ever have made that particular grammatical error again...

Good luck.


I don't officially have dyslexia, but I've developed huge problems with reading, writing, concentration and memory due to brain damage from progressive neurological illness. I've been up front with my supervisors about this. It has caused problems with my thesis writing, but my supervisor understands, and helps me with approaches to structuring, grammar issues etc. I also declared my disability to the university, but the reading/writing problems have worsened dramatically over the years since then, and telling my supervisor has basically boiled down to face to face discussions, and an occasional more explanatory email.

My main trick was to start writing the thesis early, so I didn't put myself under pressure. Reading is an insurmountable problem though. Now I can barely read a short story. Heavy-going academic texts are impossible. Thank goodness I read them years ago before I got this bad. I boggle when I look at my EndNote database and see what I worked through back then.

I've nearly finished my PhD though (just doing final rewriting before submitting in a few months) so it is possible.

Good luck.


Hello Pre-phd. Welcome to the Postgrad forum. I don't think that having dyslexia will be a problem. One of my supervisor's has it, and it's never gotten in their way. Good luck with getting offered a PhD!(up)

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======= Date Modified 23 Nov 2009 09:28:02 =======
My OH does a PhD and is dyslexic. It is maths based, which he is brilliant at, but the writing not so much. It doesn't help that he just writes like a stream of consciousness - just what's in his head. I then go thorugh and proof read and help him re-structure.

Although he refuses to use it out of stupid stubbornness. I can thoroughly recommend read and write gold-

its like a really good version of word spell checker and corrects any problems with homophones e.g. if you write SE it then comes up with "SEE - to look, SEA - the ocean" and you choose the correct one. (he has real problems with homophones). It also can read back what you have actually written so you can hear if you have written what you meant to!

However, his dyslexia has never stopped him. He might have to practice presentations longer as he stumbles over words but with practice and a lot of feedback they get better. He has the problem where if he doesn't know a word he will just mumble something similar and then move on, forgetting the audience has no idea what he means!

He definitely disclosed his dyslexia, because its always his maths/programming skills that did the talking, however, he does not mention it when applying for jobs, but does disclose it later on or if it is necessary to disclose on the application form.


Thank you all for the information.

My dyslexia doesn't really affect my literacy skills and I'm fine with talking in public. I do have maths problems, but my biggest difficulty is with working memory and the chaotic thinking.

I guess that my biggest concern is other people's perceptions. I've heard some fairly concerning stories and have run in to a few bizzare comments/raised eyebrows in the past. I don't use my dyslexia as an excuse, and have never received additional support throughout undergrad or work. However having a good support network is key (IMO), so I'm not sure how this would be received by an academic. i.e. I don't want someone thinking I'm after a way out of, or an excuse for, any mistakes that I'll inevitably make.

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My advice would be seek support. even if you don't want it. It looks a lot better, when you do come to use it as an excuse, that you have at least tried to get support for it, rather than looking like you couldn't be bothered. At some unis they give away free laptops etc. so it might be worth it!


======= Date Modified 23 Nov 2009 12:01:22 =======
I think the key is just to be honest and explain how you feel,and your difficulties to your supervisor. They may or may not be receptive to it, but at least you'll have done your bit. I think that at PhD level its a given that you aren't looking for any favours or special treatment, OR that you are prepared to let your dyslexia hold you back. However, everyone has their difficulties and your university might be able to accommodate for yours. It's worth speaking to someone about it. I know exactly how you feel though --being apprehensive about making mistakes. No matter how many times I proof-read my work, I ALWAYS miss something. But, don't worry about it and take it in your stride- you'll do great! M,x


Wouldn't other people's perceptions of you being dyslexic depend partly on what your subject area is? I'm in the arts and there is a high proportion of dyslexia in this area, from undergrad students onwards. I don't know what the percentage is, but no-one bats an eyelid if someone says they're dyslexic. It's not regarded any differently to an international student having problems with the English language, they just get support and help if needed from the available university departments that are there for that purpose.


Maria1, I think, has been quite negative about this.... maybe a result of personal experiences.

I'd just like to emphasise that discrimination because of your dyslexia is completely illegal, and universities are required to make some allowances for the fact you have dyslexia. I don't, but I have other issues, which I've had help with in terms of Disabled Students Allowance, etc...



I'm not sure that subejct matter does make any difference, however understanding dyslexia does. Of course having dyslexia and doing a PhD in an area with a lot of written work could be very challenging, IF you struggle with reading, writing and spelling.

In my experience people have many different ideas about what dyslexia is and what it really involves. Most people assume that if you're dyslexic you can't read and write properly, this is simply not the case.


Sorry, I'm not trying to be negative at all. I'm just disclosing my personal experience--as the question asks. In my institution, and in my field (humanities), at PhD level the same provisions are not made for me as they are for undergraduate students. The attitude I have been met with is that at the end of the day, the work just has to be done, and it has to meet a certain standard. It is up to me to get there. At times it has been frustrating, but I am here, and it is absolutely fine. I really don't think that many people who I work with understand much about dyslexia to be honest, and it can be hard to explain. I chose not to declare it on my application form - it was just a personal choice. I study literature, and there are not many PhD students here with dyslexia.

I think its important that people who are working closely with you are made aware of your areas of difficulty, and I do think it's worth seeking any help that you can get (as I said below). I'm sure (well, I hope) that having dyslexia won't put you off going for a PhD, and I'm sure you'll do great.

People have difficulties which don't fall under the umbrella of 'dyslexia' and they also have to learn to cope, so even if you are the only dyslexic person in your department (which I doubt you will be), you are not alone in feeling apprehensive about making mistakes. Good luck, M,x


Hi there. I am an dyslexic postgraduate in literature as well, and my problems and ‘issues’ seem to mirror a lot of the posts on this forum. I know this post is a bit late, and the original poster has probably moved on, but I just wanted to share my experiences for anyone else who may come across this link.

I am a horrible speller, and because I do not think in a traditionally linear fashion writing essays and papers takes about six times longer than my peers because of organizational skills. However, I am an avid reader, I used to be a journalist, and I regularly writer creatively. People would also be surprised to find that I teach English and Media (not at the University where I am a student, but at another institution), and to be honest I am quite a good teacher.

I was doing a PhD in literature and never disclosed my dyslexia. But I began to have problems with ‘sloppiness’, and I was tired of wasting supervisoral meetings discussing grammar issues that I was well aware of and would have been able to fix once I was given the time and quiet to proofread. But because of the extremely unpredictable nature of the supervisoral role, I was often forced to turn in papers at the drop of a hat. After being threatened with dismissal due to ‘syntax and structural problems’ in my papers, I confessed to being a dyslexic. This was, without a doubt, the worst thing I could have done. I was met with comments such as ‘dyslexics shouldn’t be doing a PhD in English’, ‘if you have dyslexia you’ll never gain the skills needed to do a PhD’, and ‘you can use that EXCUSE here, we’ll review your papers in the same way.’ These comments are almost verbatim to what I was told.

In the meantime, I registered with the disabilities unit, and they have been so unbelievably supportive. They have provided me with a proofreader for occasions that I have to do present papers and do not have time to proofread. They have provided me with a laptop with special software that reads my work back to me out loud, and I have attended several seminars on ‘academic writing for dyslexics’. (It was here that I would like to add that I did not inform my employer at the other institution that I was dyslexic due to the fact that they took the same view as my University. My team leader once told me, regarding a dyslexic student of mine, ‘some people are just too stupid to learn to read.’)

Unfortunately, the damage had already been done with my supervisors. They had made the decision that I was incapable of completing my degree and had essentially stopped supervising me despite the fact that several of my thesis chapters have been published through peer reviewed journals.

In the end I have decided to not complete my PhD and submit for an MPhil just so that I can leave this environment (I am worried about passing due to the internal examiner knowing that I’m dyslexic because my supervisor told him as a ‘warning’.) I am worried that an MPhil will look like a black mark on my record and I feel like I have put in the energy and effort of a Doctoral candidate but have been pushed aside due to my ‘lack of traditional thinking’. (I prefer this term instead ‘learning disability’.)

My advice to anyone doing a PhD in the humanities, especially literature or languages, with dyslexia is to apply without disclosing it. Then once you’ve been accepted disclose it to the institution, but do not let them tell your supervisors. Get the support you need through disability services, not your department. Then if and when you feel that your supervisor might be able to cope with the information tell him/her. It is a very sad state of affairs that academics are so unbelievably misinformed regarding student affairs and modern pedagogy; however, no one wants to be the martyr for dyslexia. Sorry to sound so harsh, but having just come through this situation I can only hope my experience will help someone else.


Hello Chelleer!

Well, term dyslexia has a very broad meaning and can affect people in different extent. It can affect different skills as well.
However, when forced in an educational system dyslexic people may adjust using different strategies. One of the strategies may be to take longer time, so the fact that you will get an MPhil can be the first half to the PhD. I guess you can put some more effort and upgrade later. If you know your short-fallings (you probably already do) ask for specific help. A person to proof read, a colleague to discuss your structure with.

If we accept that dyslexia is a disability then making comments like " stupid" for a disabled person is a huge insult. I guess you can even take legal action against them. Would anyone insult a human being with any form of "disability"? Moreover, if you haven't officially submitted a disability form in the university how can your supervisor inform the examiner about your private matters?  I seriously don't understand it! Is he doing research or gossip? He should rather publish in Cosmo-girl.

After all they are academic stuff, ignorance is not an excuse. Even if they are total freaks in their personal lives, they should treat students (especially people with disabilities) with respect!


Sorry to hear about that Chelleer :-(

To me it actually sounds like you have a case for complaint against the people involved. As far as I'm aware Dyslexia is considered a disability under the disability act of 1995, and I imagine the most recent one as well. That should be taken into account by the department. It doesn't matter that it's at PhD level. Yes ultimately you have to deal with it yourself and put the effort in and changes you need to make but the department should still have to take it into account internally.

Quote From chelleer:

I confessed to being a dyslexic. This was, without a doubt, the worst thing I could have done. I was met with comments such as ‘dyslexics shouldn’t be doing a PhD in English’, ‘if you have dyslexia you’ll never gain the skills needed to do a PhD’, and ‘you can use that EXCUSE here, we’ll review your papers in the same way.’ These comments are almost verbatim to what I was told.

That's outright ignorance. It's not an excuse, it's a recognised disability and should be treated as such. A wheelchair user wouldn't be told to try harder when confronted with some stairs, the hearing impaired wouldn't be told to just listen harder if they were struggling etc. If you've been given help and received understanding from the department and are still struggling then thats a different matter and is just related to your suitability to completely a phd. But from the sounds of it they've not made any attempts within the department, and they seem very closed minded.