eLife’s new collection highlights neurodivergent experiences in academia

By showcasing first-hand accounts from neurodivergent scientists, eLife’s ‘Being Neurodivergent in Academia’ highlights ways that research could become more neuroinclusive.
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eLife is pleased to launch a new collection of articles that shares perspectives from neurodivergent people working in research. The collection, called ‘Being Neurodivergent in Academia’, features a series of stories published as part of the eLife Magazine’s ‘Sparks of Change’ column alongside related content, and has been published today to mark the start of Neurodiversity Celebration Week.

eLife is committed to reforming research communication in part by improving research culture. Since 2021, Sparks of Change articles have given scientists a space to share personal stories about how research culture is or should be evolving. After a number of neurodivergent researchers expressed interest in contributing their experiences, eLife assembled a cross-team collaboration to research the topic further and kick off the new series in early 2023.

“We knew that there are a lot of societal pressures on neurodivergent individuals, including how they “can” and “should” express themselves,” says Stuart King, eLife Research Culture Manager. “As an organisation working to promote a research culture centred on equity, diversity and inclusion, we thought a series on 'Being Neurodivergent in Academia' could give neurodivergent researchers a compelling way to convey what being neurodivergent may actually entail while retaining control over their own narratives.”

Jointly led by King and Elsa Loissel, eLife Associate Features Editor, the project has been guided from the outset by an advisory group comprising neurodivergent researchers and self-advocates. The responses to eLife’s call for pitches provided “snapshots” of different elements of a neurodivergent journey in academia, from people recounting having received their diagnosis and discussing the intersection of mental health and neurodivergence, to explaining how they navigate certain features of academia, such as mobility or starting conversations about support and mentorship.

“This was a topic for which we felt stories were a particularly strong format,” says Loissel, “even though we are acutely aware that stories can only do so much when what is sorely needed for neuroinclusivity are systemic changes in education, academia and healthcare.”

In particular, she notes that academic spaces have traditionally prioritised giving a platform to the researchers studying neurodivergence, rather than to those with lived experience. Additionally, with an increasing – although still limited – awareness of neurodivergence in academia, the series aims to help neurodivergent researchers find a sense of belonging and community, and to help those who work with them to provide greater support and accommodations in their labs and their classrooms, for example.

Loissel and King say the series has received a positive response from the authors and advisors they have worked with so far, as well as from the wider research community.

Jay Goldberg, an Evolutionary Biologist at the University of Arizona, US, but currently based at the John Innes Centre, UK, wrote an article for the series titled ‘Being Neurodivergent in Academia: Outgrowing self-denial’. They recount how they found their way to ADHD medication, therapy and better mental health after a few months into a prestigious fellowship.

Goldberg says: “I loved the idea of a neurodiverse story collection and thought it would be a good opportunity to tell my story. The reaction has been incredibly positive, so I’m very glad that I did. In many ways, my story isn’t unique and that’s exactly why I wanted to share it. Isolation, transience and crushing work pressure are all common parts of the postdoc experience. I hope that other researchers, especially neurodivergent postdocs, will feel empowered to get the help they need – whether that’s therapy, medication, or just reaching out to those around them. I hate that my experience is so common, but do take some comfort in knowing that I’m not alone and I hope others do too.”

Loissel adds: “I feel very grateful to the authors; writing about being neurodivergent with such openness, emotional insight, passion and even humour takes a lot of guts, and a lot of skills. Like Jay, I wish for this series to take a life of its own and reach the people it needs to reach, and I hope that it can help some readers feel more seen, valued and hopeful.”

While Loissel and King acknowledge that some gaps will remain in the coverage of this topic, they are working with additional neurodivergent authors to share a few more stories in the collection in the coming weeks.

“We’re also going to continue engaging with scientists in different ways as part of our wider efforts to raise awareness of the need for research culture change and to foster a more inclusive and equitable environment for everyone involved in research and publishing,” King concludes.

Readers can keep up to date with new content and developments by subscribing to the eLife community newsletter.

To view the full series on ‘Being Neurodivergent in Academia’, visit https://elifesciences.org/collections/73e48266/being-neurodivergent-in-academia

To find out more about the series, see ‘Being Neurodivergent in Academia: Why Sparks of Change is publishing stories from neurodivergent researchers’.

To read author Jay Golberg’s article, ‘Being Neurodivergent in Academia: Outgrowing self-denial’, see https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.96286.

And to view eLife’s Sparks of Change column, visit https://elifesciences.org/collections/1926c529/sparks-of-change.

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