December 4, 2023


Healthy Always

Being a neurodivergent researcher: imposter ideas, doom-boxes and the educational monolith

8 min read

By Josh Francis

In recognition of Neurodiversity Celebration Week, Psychology PhD pupil and neurodivergent researcher, Josh Francis has written about his experiences and private journey by way of college which led him to his ADHD analysis. On this weblog, Josh expresses his willpower to lift consciousness for neurodiversity by suggesting instruments and suggestions to assist others, and challenges a number of the stigmas and myths related to neurodiversity.

I struggled to jot down this weblog submit. Once I sat down to jot down it I might preserve questioning why I used to be writing it, not being an authority on both being a researcher or neurodivergent. Ideas like these are frequent, often called imposter phenomena or syndrome, it’s seemingly we’ve got all felt them on occasion. However imposter ideas happen, and reoccur… and reoccur once more, way more continuously for individuals who are inside marginalised teams (Bravata et al., 2020), similar to neurodivergent folks. And after grappling with these boundaries for a number of failed writing classes, I assumed maybe that may be the primary subject of this text. Together with this, I’ll discuss my journey to analysis, the formal assist obtainable, and assist from inside the neurodivergent communities.

Regardless of a rising recognition of neurodiversity, those that determine as neurodivergent are nonetheless inside the minority and vulnerable to prevailing stereotypes about their character or potential. I may in all probability add the next conversations to a weekly bingo card: “However should you can sit and skim research all day how will you have ADHD?,” “however doesn’t everybody wrestle to give attention to their work,” or a remark about hyper-focus being a superpower. Such stereotyping coupled with a scarcity of range inside academia reinforces the imposter ideas. Imposter phenomena turns into an internalised barrier to achievement (Clance & O’Toole, 1987), and a barrier to productiveness one thing that may already be a difficulty.

Inside my expertise, neurodivergence can result in extremes by way of how a day feels, and the way productive you might be. There are days if you really feel stuffed with power, and able to engaging in something. You’re employed quicker and extra centered than any of your friends, going hours with out shifting or taking your arms off the keyboard. Nowadays are uncommon. Extra days I lose focus halfway by way of writing one thing or leap between duties dropping hours to job transitions. On lately you’re feeling ineffective, hours will fly by with out something to indicate for it. Ideas about not being adequate to be a researcher happen on lately. Resulting in cycles the place the ideas make you’re feeling powerless to do something, and never doing something to legitimise the ideas. The times if you get caught in these cycles really feel like a chore at greatest, it turns into like getting robust meals marks out of a pan. You wrestle to maintain at it, and the temptation to go away it’s robust. At worst they change into days when your mind, and physique, merely need to shut down as you change into consumed by guilt.

cartoon of a dog sitting at a table with a cup of tea with the room on fire around them. The dog is saying 'this is fine'.
Cartoon taken from Gunshow comedian by KC Inexperienced (

Not every little thing is doom and gloom nonetheless, and one thing that may actually assistance is figuring out that you’re not alone. Earlier than my analysis I had felt fairly alone. In my hometown I had felt like I didn’t match properly, even when with mates. I assumed maybe it was my objectives weren’t aligned and I imagined at college I might match. And I did a bit extra, however I used to be all the time the energetic one or chaotic one, even when framed as a superb factor it highlighted the distinction. I may very well be surrounded by folks on the identical course, with the identical pursuits and nonetheless really feel remoted. Solely after my undergraduate diploma did I meet somebody, who occurred to be a physician, that recognised my behaviours as ADHD indicators. Even with no formal analysis, after happening boards and seeing different folks’s experiences I virtually immediately felt much less alone on the planet. I noticed folks describe issues that I had felt like “time-blindness” or “doom containers.” I now had phrases to explain my expertise and a few recommendations for what had helped others. Seeing my very own expertise mirrored in others not solely validated my expertise however gave me a deeper understanding of my very own thought and behavior patterns. Now when I’ve dangerous productiveness days, I do my greatest to be form to myself, and perceive it isn’t a mirrored image of my potential.

As for getting a proper evaluation. I selected to get assessed mid-way by way of my MSc, partly due to the assist it could open to me. One more reason was that the nation I had been residing in beforehand nonetheless didn’t have an official analysis for grownup ADHD (and this was in 2020). The method of registering my analysis inside pupil companies was fairly fast. The most important profit was the 7-day extension on deadlines I may get for essays. Particularly as a result of at occasions I might have a number of essays due on the identical day. The additional week allowed me to give attention to one essay and submit it on the deadline, after which the following week the opposite essay. As well as, I used to be allotted additional time for exams. The additional time was very helpful because it helped alleviate the extreme time stress I really feel in examination situations, permitting me additional time to plan and organise my solutions, and time to recheck my solutions to ensure I had absolutely learn and understood the query.

I imagine speaking about neurodiversity is necessary, and particularly inside academia. Academia at occasions can really feel like a monolith, one thing which solely a sure kind of individual can achieve entrance. Many neurodivergent folks can really feel that they’re too unfocused and disorganised. And plenty of conventional assessments assist this. Writing logically deliberate and methodical essays, whereas being concise, can appear unattainable to folks whose brains aren’t designed to suppose linearly. Regardless of this nonetheless, there may be very a lot a spot in academia for neurodiverse folks. In response to the Workplace for College students’ 2020 report 14.5% of scholars recognized as neurodiverse or disabled (Workplace For College students, 2020), whereas different studies estimate 20%. Such an quantity is to not be neglected, and thru remembering that as much as a fifth of these inside universities are neurodiverse we will really feel much less alone.

graph for the Office for Student website showing the percentages of disabled students registered in 2020
From Workplace for College students 2020 (

Speaking about experiences can also be useful for sharing methods to beat boundaries like days stuffed with studying or writing with no motivation. My very own ideas/strategies usually are not a cure-all, and they’re principally taken from higher, extra skilled folks (I like to recommend the next YouTube channels: How To ADHD, Dr Amina Yonis and Productiveness and ADHD). I observe lecturers on Twitter to assist with my motivation, I like to recommend following neurodiverse researchers like @ZJAyres and the hashtags #DisabledInSTEM and #AcademicMentalHealth. I additionally learn loads of weblog articles written by neurodivergent researchers and college students wanting to share their experiences.

However the next have helped:

  • Textual content to speech software program for studying – if I’m studying visually and listening to what I’m studying my thoughts doesn’t wander as a lot.
  • Blocking out areas in my calendar for self-directed work and SPECIFYING what I’m engaged on.
  • Loud quick paced music can assist me zone in on duties
  • Turning off notifications, together with Outlook.
  • Chrome plug-ins, like conscious looking or Momentum, to chop down on distracting websites.

Primarily something that helps me focus my mind on a single job and restrict the temptation to swap to different duties. As a result of transitioning between duties, or having to re-remember what I used to be doing beforehand, is how I lose hours into the ambiance.

Total, there’s a huge want inside academia for diversification (and honest diversification). Not only for neurodiversity of incapacity, however for race, sexuality, gender, socioeconomic standing, and way more. At Sussex we’re extra lucky to have energetic communities and teams which might be pushing for change and better illustration. In-terms of neurodiversity and incapacity, we’ve got a student-led marketing campaign group known as “Entry Sussex,” a Disabled College students Discussion board Discord server, and part-time Incapacity Officers inside the SU. All of which offer alternative for assist and group inside Sussex. As well as, many workers are open about their very own one thing and the boundaries they face, which might be validating to listen to for a lot of college students. I actually encourage anybody studying this weblog to learn extra experiences of those that determine as neurodiverse, and assist actions for change. The BPS has some recommendations for making universities extra neurodiverse pleasant ( What we’ve got is okay, however we want extra alternatives, areas to share, and illustration to proceed breaking down the academia monolith.

Josh standing on a bridge in front of a river and trees on a sunny day

My identify is Josh, I’m a primary yr PhD researcher within the Faculty of Psychology on the College of Sussex. My analysis space is surrounding physique picture dissatisfaction inside kids, and investigating the influence of college transitions. My aim earlier than ending my PhD is to pilot a doable early intervention to alleviate physique picture dissatisfaction, ideally that may be delivered between friends inside faculty.

Alongside my research I’m a pupil consultant for PGRs in Psychology, and member of Entry Sussex a student-led incapacity marketing campaign group ( And once I’m not working, I really like taking part in board video games, crafting, and shopping for too many home vegetation.


Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. Okay., Taylor, Okay. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, Okay. O., & Hagg, H. Okay. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Therapy of Impostor Syndrome: A Systematic Evaluate. Journal of Common Inside Medication, 35(4), 1252–1275.

Clance, P. R., & O’Toole, M. A. (1987). The Imposter Phenomenon: An inner barrier to empowerment and achievement. Girls & Remedy, 6, 51–64.

College students, O. for. (2020, June 25). Disabled college students—Workplace for College students (Worldwide). Workplace for College students.

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