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PhD and Dyslexia


Slightly long post!

This is my first post on this site. Although the OP was a while ago, but I felt I should share my experiences for anyone else who might read this in a similar position.

I am a dyslexic PhD student coming to the end of my PhD in a science-based subject (neuroscience). I was diagnosed at the start of my BSc and registered with the university disability support office. I had support during my BSc which was helpful. During my MSc I did not rely on it so much as, like some other posters here, I didn’t want to rely on this lable of ‘disabled’. I managed to get through the masters without much hassle and I was awarded a distinction. Obviously, based on this, I felt I can overcome my dyslexia myself without support.

During the PhD, it was a completely different story! I really struggled with my writing. My grammar and spelling has been appalling. In particular, my proof-reading is non-existent: The last chapter I wrote I re-read 4 times, once using a text-to-speech software provided by my disability support fund, and I still missed several fundamental mistakes with grammar, punctuation and spelling. I decided at the start of my second year I needed to get back to the disability office and take advantage of the support available.

Unfortunately, I found that the support structure provided was very gears towards taught degrees. Things like, extra time in exams, extensions to deadlines, extensions to library loans, are all pretty pointless in the context of a research degree. I needed extra time to write up my thesis and I really had to fight to get it without having to fork out for additional fees, whereas during my BSc, such extensions were offered to me with little fuss and no financial cost.

My supervisors are aware of my dyslexia, and they try to be supportive, but they are less than forgiving when I hand over a piece of work that is full of grammar and spelling mistakes! Although I am aware my problems need addressing, and I am glad they have been pointed out, I find their comments often dents my self-esteem and ends up demotivating me further. Especially considering the amount of time and effort I had put into proof reading the work prior to sending it!

The disability office offered me equipment and software to help me. I had a support tutor offered to me, although because of numerous delays, I didn’t get to take advantage of this until the beginning of my 3rd year. She was helpful in terms of providing me with new writing strategies, and helping me be more aware of my writing style, helping me be more organised and coping with stress. I think they were helpful sessions, and they have improved my writing a bit, but even with them, and all the other support I get, I still make quite a few mistakes with grammar and spelling.

I think, for me, a big part of the problem was I am not very good at managing stress. Looking back, I think I was perhaps a bit naïve about the amount of stress a PhD entails and the standard of writing that is expected in a PhD. Both of these factors caused my dyslexia to manifest in a much bigger way than during my MSc.

From my experience, doing a PhD with dyslexia is a big struggle and that support structures in place are (at least at my university) not very applicable to research students. I do not mean to dissuade anyone with a leaning disability from taking on a PhD as it is ultimately very rewarding, I’m just saying, be prepared for a challenge. Obviously, everyone is different; everyone is effected by dyslexia differently so there’s nothing to say my experience is the norm.