Being Neurodivergent in Academia: Why Sparks of Change is publishing stories from neurodivergent researchers

What to expect from our new series of articles.

This week we are publishing the first two articles in a series of Sparks of Change stories authored by researchers who are neurodivergent. Here we provide some background on this project.

Why neurodiversity?

Vicky Bowskill (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Neurodiversity refers to all of the natural variations in how people think, communicate and process information, among other things. Within this diversity, it is estimated that about 15–20% of people are neurodivergent, with dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, autism and Tourette Syndrome being among the most common forms of neurodivergence. Discussions around neurodivergence and neurodiversity have become more common over the past few years. However, this increased awareness has not necessarily led to better support and understanding.

This is particularly the case within academia, a field which has historically medicalized neurodivergence and conducted studies on neurodivergent individuals rather than with or for them. Working in research also presents unique challenges and opportunities for neurodivergent academics, yet colleagues and mentors frequently remain in the dark about their experiences, needs and coping mechanisms.

Why stories matter

To bridge these gaps, we turned to personal stories. Neurodivergent individuals often grapple with societal pressures about how they should express themselves, from masking their neurodivergence to conforming to stereotypes linked to their diagnosis. When discussing how to cover neurodiversity in academia, we felt it was important for neurodivergent scientists to have control over their own narrative. In turn, we believed these insights to be a powerful way to convey what being neurodivergent may actually entail.

We hope this series of articles will also highlight the rich diversity within neurodivergent experiences, shaped by factors like gender, race, education, cultural background, and socioeconomic status. In particular, our authors bring first-hand insight into how standard assessments and definitions of neurodiversity still fail to consider the nuanced ways different individuals may present as neurodivergent. While we acknowledge there will be gaps in our coverage, we hope some of the experiences described in the articles will resonate with other neurodivergent researchers, including those from communities who are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

What to expect

In our ‘Being Neurodivergent in Academia’ series, you can look forward to stories from neurodivergent scientists navigating the academic world. They recount their highs and lows as they process the news of their diagnoses, reflect on mental health and self-acceptance, find communities of peers and mentors, and negotiate the unique demands of fieldwork, lab work or international mobility. They also share the tips, tools and resources that help them in their work; further contributions are welcome.

Amid these experiences, a common thread often emerged: the authors’ realisation that some of their neurodivergent traits could be strengths in their work, and that their unique perspectives enriched the academic landscape. Yet often systemic barriers, including within research, hindered their full potential. We offer these stories in the hopes that they highlight the pressing need for concrete policy and institutional changes for neurodivergent people in academia.

Articles published to date:

  • Uyen and Simone write about the impact of receiving a diagnosis on their professional and personal lives.
  • Hella writes about what she has learned from managing her ADHD during fieldwork.
  • Tigist and Jay write about the impact that being neurodivergent in academia has had on their mental health.

Read more about neurodiversity in academia:

Have other content and resources you’d like to share? Please submit them here.

Acknowledgements

The Sparks of Change team would like to thank the members of our neurodiversity advisory group who have supported this project so far, including those who have specifically given feedback on drafts of this blogpost: Brian Spurlock, Galina Limorenko and Sara Middleton. Advisors are listed alphabetically by first name.

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