Today, I invited Claudia Gonzalez to share her PhD experience in a guest post. Clau is a PhD student in Strategic Management at the University of Washington. Her research interests revolve around healthcare and technology. She blogs about the dyslexic graduate student experience at dyslexicphd.wordpress.com.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what being a dyslexic means. From the more benign, “Does that mean you can read and write backwards?” to the more harmful, “So, can you read?”
While there has been some media attention paid to famous dyslexic entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson, there is still very little understanding of what being dyslexic means.
Disclosing your dyslexia is a very risky gamble. If you are a student, you can run the risk of faculty in your program thinking you are not qualified and loosing what mentorship is available. With such high stakes, I initially chose to hide the fact that I am dyslexic.
Unfortunately, that meant that faculty expect the same level of productivity and efficiency from me as from my peers. I often need more time to get through readings, and I always need a lot of time to write. However, I don’t get those accommodations because of the fear of being perceived as incompetent.
Dyslexia has led me to have a singularly lonely PhD student experience. My fear of outing myself has kept me from finding others like me and from accessing resources to be successful. Worse still, when I am confronted with my own impostor syndrome, I genuinely have a reason to think that I do not belong.
Academia, whether in the sciences or the humanities, revolves around reading and writing. As good as I am with math, at the end of the day I need to read enough to enter academic conversations and write my own contributions. When an entire profession is centered around the two activities I naturally struggle with the most, it is very easy to think that I just don’t belong.
Yet, this fear of disclosing my dyslexia has also helped me become resilient in the face of uncertainty and rejection. Most importantly, it has given me the opportunity to find new and creative ways to close the gap between what I am capable of doing and what I am expected to do.
With the help of accessibility tools such as text-to-speech and dictation, I have been able to successfully take all my classes and complete my research projects. As time goes by, I have been able to find workarounds to almost all of the challenges that I have faced. For instance, recording myself talking in order to learn new information.
Despite this progress, I still feel alone. I have looked but not yet found a community of dyslexic researchers. There are a few articles online from several years ago, but they do not have enough information to help me cope. How do you decide to disclose? How do you read all of that material? How do you handle teaching and writing on the board? There are so many questions and no one to ask. I should not be surprised. As I said, this profession screams NOT FOR DYSLEXICS.
So, I started a blog. I use it to talk about my experience as a dyslexic, underrepresented minority woman in academia. However, beyond just recording my experiences, my goal is to collect resources for current or potential dyslexic PhD students.
I am still afraid to disclose my dyslexia in my own school. One day my faculty may find my blog (or even this article) and realize that I am different. When that day comes, I hope that having passed my comprehensive exams without accommodations would be enough to show that I do belong. I hope that the progress I have made towards my dissertation demonstrates that I can do it, even if it does take me a little bit longer.
The risk is worth it. Doing a PhD is hard enough, and being dyslexic requires some additional resources and coping strategies that I have learned the hard way. So, to anyone who is dyslexic: find me, you are not alone. It is possible to be in this profession and be dyslexic. I am doing this, one day at a time, and so can you.