‘Neurodiversity is a huge part of our doctoral journey’: Resources and support for neurodivergent researchers, and their supervisors

A screenshot of the Canvas page for Neurodivergent Researchers and Supervisors, https://bit.ly/PhDNeurodiversityResources

I realised that I have ADHD not long after beginning my PhD, and suddenly, everything made sense. Just like every other neurodivergent person doing a PhD, I started looking for everything I could find on the Internet about doing a PhD with ADHD, and researching tools that I can use to make my journey easier.

I found loads from the interweb, including social media accounts that offered great support, some amazing tools that helped with concentration like FocusMate, and blog posts documenting similar experiences from other neurodivergent researchers that helped me reason and rationalise my struggles. This was exactly when I thought, ‘Why don’t PhD induction sessions touch on neurodiversity-specific struggles and offer supporting tools and resources?’

As part of the Sussex Research Hive, we collaborated with the Sussex Neurodiversity Society to put together a resource on Canvas for “Neurodivergent Researchers and their Supervisors” with various resources and tools, all of which can be found in the Researcher Development Online module.

For doctoral researchers

For neurodivergent researchers, our neurodiversity is a huge part of our doctoral journey, as differences in our executive functioning pose various challenges in ways that affect our ability to work, prioritise and organise; but there are various tools out there that can make our lives much easier!

We have collated various resources that we have found useful during our PhD, including:

On the main page, we have also collected some neurodivergent voices based on their own experiences and what we have learnt from our neurodivergent community. We have also gathered some resources for people who are interested in supporting neurodiversity.

For supervisors

It is just as important for supervisors to learn and understand what works and what doesn’t when supervising neurodivergent students, as what is ‘typical’ and ‘routine’ may or may not be the best approach.

I was very lucky to have supervisors who are non-judgemental, open and happy to work in the ways that work best for me. For example, I struggle to achieve big deadlines (i.e. large long-term tasks) but when a large project is broken down to many small tasks with shorter-term deadlines, I can envision the steps and time require to tick off that big thing on the list. Having said that, it took me several years to figure this out (I didn’t even know I have ADHD back then) – so, it is important to observe and explore what works for you.

Personally, having a safe space in supervision helped me find the confidence to voice my struggles and find solutions together with my supervisors. Every supervisory relationship starts from scratch and so, I strongly encourage supervisors to be open to their students’ needs, particularly if they are supervising neurodivergent researchers, in order to carve the most conducive supervisory environment.

On the Canvas page, we have compiled some resources for supervisors including guidance for doctoral viva with neurodivergent students, information on supporting neurodivergent students and creating a safe space.

The lists of resources and tools on the Canvas page are not exhaustive and we look forward to any feedback and/or suggestions on any tools or resources from neurodivergent researchers. If you would like to get in touch, please contact Carmen (c.colclough@sussex.ac.uk) or Jamie (jamie.chan@sussex.ac.uk).

– Jamie Chan, Psychology PhD researcher and Hive Scholar