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

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 via college which led him to his ADHD analysis. On this weblog, Josh expresses his willpower to boost consciousness for neurodiversity by suggesting instruments and suggestions to assist others, and challenges among the stigmas and myths related to neurodiversity.

I struggled to put in writing this weblog publish. After I sat down to put in writing it I’d maintain questioning why I used to be writing it, not being an authority on both being a researcher or neurodivergent. Ideas like these are widespread, referred to as imposter phenomena or syndrome, it’s seemingly now we have all felt them every so often. However imposter ideas happen, and reoccur… and reoccur once more, way more continuously for individuals who are inside marginalised teams (Bravata et al., 2020), corresponding to neurodivergent folks. And after grappling with these obstacles for a number of failed writing periods, I believed maybe that will be the primary subject of this text. Together with this, I’ll discuss my journey to analysis, the formal assist accessible, and assist from inside the neurodivergent communities.

Regardless of a rising recognition of neurodiversity, those that establish as neurodivergent are nonetheless inside the minority and prone to prevailing stereotypes about their character or potential. I might in all probability add the next conversations to a weekly bingo card: “However when you can sit and skim research all day how will you have ADHD?,” “however doesn’t everybody wrestle to concentrate on their work,” or a remark about hyper-focus being a superpower. Such stereotyping coupled with a scarcity of variety 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 problem.

Inside my expertise, neurodivergence can result in extremes by way of how a day feels, and the way productive you may be. There are days while you really feel stuffed with vitality, and able to conducting something. You’re employed quicker and extra targeted than any of your friends, going hours with out transferring or taking your fingers off the keyboard. Nowadays are uncommon. Extra days I lose focus halfway via writing one thing or leap between duties shedding hours to process transitions. On nowadays you’re feeling ineffective, hours will fly by with out something to point out for it. Ideas about not being ok to be a researcher happen on nowadays. 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 while you get caught in these cycles really feel like a chore at greatest, it turns into like getting powerful meals marks out of a pan. You wrestle to maintain at it, and the temptation to go away it’s sturdy. At worst they develop into days when your mind, and physique, merely need to shut down as you develop 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 the whole lot is doom and gloom nonetheless, and one thing that may actually assistance is understanding 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 effectively, even when with pals. I believed maybe it was my targets weren’t aligned and I imagined at college I’d match. And I did a bit extra, however I used to be at all times the energetic one or chaotic one, even when framed as a very good 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 health care provider, 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 this planet. I noticed folks describe issues that I had felt like “time-blindness” or “doom bins.” I now had phrases to explain my expertise and a few strategies 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 type to myself, and perceive it’s not a mirrored image of my potential.

As for getting a proper evaluation. I selected to get assessed mid-way via 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 largest profit was the 7-day extension on deadlines I might get for essays. Particularly as a result of at occasions I’d have a number of essays due on the identical day. The additional week allowed me to concentrate on one essay and submit it on the deadline, after which the following week the opposite essay. As well as, I used to be allotted further time for exams. The additional time was very helpful because it helped alleviate the extraordinary time stress I really feel in examination situations, permitting me further time to plan and organise my solutions, and time to recheck my solutions to ensure I had totally learn and understood the query.

I consider speaking about neurodiversity is essential, and particularly inside academia. Academia at occasions can really feel like a monolith, one thing which solely a sure sort of particular person can achieve entrance. Many neurodivergent folks can really feel that they’re too unfocused and disorganised. And lots 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 line with 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 missed, and thru remembering that as much as a fifth of these inside universities are neurodiverse we are able to 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 obstacles like days stuffed with studying or writing with no motivation. My very own suggestions/strategies are usually 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 teachers 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 desirous 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 will help me zone in on duties
  • Turning off notifications, together with Outlook.
  • Chrome plug-ins, like conscious searching or Momentum, to chop down on distracting websites.

Primarily something that helps me focus my mind on a single process 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.

General, there’s a large 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 lively communities and teams which are pushing for change and higher illustration. In-terms of neurodiversity and incapacity, now we have 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 neighborhood inside Sussex. As well as, many workers are open about their very own one thing and the obstacles they face, which may 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 establish as neurodiverse, and assist actions for change. The BPS has some strategies for making universities extra neurodiverse pleasant ( What now we have 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 title is Josh, I’m a primary 12 months PhD researcher within the College 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 purpose earlier than ending my PhD is to pilot a attainable early intervention to alleviate physique picture dissatisfaction, ideally that may be delivered between friends inside college.

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. Ok., Taylor, Ok. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, Ok. O., & Hagg, H. Ok. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Therapy of Impostor Syndrome: A Systematic Evaluation. Journal of Normal Inside Drugs, 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.