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The Dyslexic PhD Experience

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

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.

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This Post Has 17 Comments
  1. I am a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona, and I'm dyslexic. I was searching for others like me and I was happy to read this blog post. Thank you for sharing. You will certainly get your PhD, you will succeed, I know you will. From my experience with dyslexia I realized again and again that I can do what my colleague classmates do, but it just takes me a little more processing time to read and write – and it is still quality work. I must also use a text-to-speech app to review my writing and of course, spell check. I believe that dyslexia may give us some creative edge in our critical thinking, which is a plus, but sincere investment/interest in what we research, I believe is what gets a PhD.Writing this comment, I remember now that I once believed that I had a \”learning disability.\” Now I think those two words are crutches. I am not \”disabled\” I'm just \”different.\”

  2. I would like to add, that I too, have not told anyone in my program about my dyslexia. Mainly because the work they expect from me is in essays written at home. But their was just one exception – a timed statistics test. I had to use accommodations for that timed test, and thank goodness I did the procedures to get that extended time (60 minutes extended to 90 minutes). If you need to, take advantage of the accommodations when it is needed.

  3. Thankyou for this post. I am about to apply for my PhD where the deadline is in around a months time. I want to tell them my situation of having dyslexia as this slows down my reading and processing of information but I am so worried this would back fire…what to do?

  4. I must say – it is really difficult. I've indeed heard people say that if you have dyslexia or ADD or another situation that changes your way of learning, then you don't fit in academia; and at the same time, I've heard academics being very open to accommodate different learning styles. Personally, I think I'd mention it in my application: if my future supervisor thinks that a dyslectic person does not fit in academia, then I doubt he/she'd be a good fit to work with. But it is really tricky!

  5. Hi there I just started my PhD in neuroscience at the beginning of October this year. I have irlens syndrome which basically means that I have problems processing text and also have poor comprehension. However , I haven't let this get in the way of trying my best (lord knows how I got this far) ! More recently though, my supervior has commented on multiple occasions as to whether I have read this paper and that and I just reply to them saying that I haven't, in which they reply saying that I;ve got to read more. Truth be told, I have tried to read some of these papers but it's just taking a really long time for me to read and understand….. I feel like I'm coming across as being lazy where as a matter of fact I'm trying my best. I'm unsure about as to whether or not to tell them that I have a learning disability and that I just need a little bit extra time to read and understand things???

  6. Congratulations on starting your PhD! Are there other ways you can learn the concepts? By attending presentations and things alike perhaps? If you feel that it really is the text that stands in your way of understanding information, I think you should discuss it with your supervisors, so you can look for other solutions together.

  7. I'm glad you shared your story because one of my goals is to achieve my PhD and I do have dyslexia. I understand your struggles with disclosing this information about yourself because I deal with those same fears and it is lonely. One of my reasons I want to achieve this goal is because my daughter also has dyslexia and I want her to be an example of you can achieve anything as long as you work for it. Good luck and I hope you continue to share your journey with us!

  8. I'm so glad I found this blog! I was looking for anything regarding getting a PhD when you're dyslexic. I started my PhD nearly a year ago and it was only having started that I was assessed and diagnosed as heving dyslexia and more recently Irlen's Syndrome. I'm shocked and disappointed at the lack of information out there for adults with dyslexia nevermind those attempting to do a PhD. Just reading the comments to this post has been helpful too as I too have struggled HUGELY with reading which has been hugely frustrating. Reading things through takes forever and my notes are far too comprehensive (which takes more time!) because I'm scared I'll forget something which invariably happens due to the dyslexia. Knitting things back together having read several texts is a nightmare as it's as if I'd read everything 3 months ago as I can't remember who said what in which paper! What a relief to hear I'm not alone!

  9. Hi, thanks for posting your experience with dyslexia and doing a phd. What strategies would you give for someone who is thinking of doing PhD? In terms of reading and writing.

  10. Your experience is similar to mine. I also earned a Ph.D. without disclosing that I am dyslexic. I still keep it to myself in my academic career (unless someone asks). No one knows I require text to speech software. Basically, it just takes me more time to process and make sense of information, that is, I am a very slow reader and writer. I require text to speech software. However, this has not been a weakness. Something about my dyslexia gave me a creative edge in my dissertation research, and somehow I could see abstract forms and patterns in the data, even colorful and emotional. So, I do not call this a disability. This is a gift.

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