Archive for June, 2014


Doing a PhD in half the time

Posted: June 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


When chronic illness decides to get in on the party that should be your PhD, one’s relationship to time and productivity can be challenging.  In this post from Tenure She Wrote, Sarcozona asks: How should the academy conceptualise productivity?  Does it currently do so in ways disadvantageous not only to researchers with chronic illness and disability but to other groups too? And if the academy isn’t going to budge any time soon, what can students with disability or chronic illness do – within things as they currently are – to support being as productive as possible?

Today is the 255th day of the year and I have been sick for 110 of them. When I am well, I do work so cool, funding agencies throw money at me.* When I am sick, I am lucky if I am able to brush my teeth.** Being sick so often…

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Making PhD Life Easier

Posted: June 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


While we talk often about the experiences students have doing a PhD, it’s important to get down to brass tacks: what can PhD students with disabilities or chronic illnesses do to make their life easier? 

The fantastic @Spoonydoc shares the things she did to make her life easier, and we’re very grateful to be able to share them with you here. These may or may not work for you. They may or may not apply to your context. But they make excellent food for thought for students and academics alike.

Doing a PhD while sick or disabled isn’t easy, I know. Here I share just a couple of the things I did which made my life easier.

Official help

As soon as possible contact your university’s Disability Office. Depending on how good they are they may be able to do some of the legwork for you.
They may be able…

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My GP told me that I probably have Multiple Sclerosis five days before my viva. This ‘diagnosis’ came after months of severe back pain, balance problems, an increasingly stronger limp and doctors looking at me as if I was making up symptoms and telling me it was just stress instead of performing tests. Ten days before my viva, a GP finally realised the problem was likely neurological and sent me for an MRI scan. I remember breaking down in tears in her office, thinking ‘brain tumour’ while she assured me that it could just be a virus. The MS diagnosis actually came as a relief: my symptoms were finally being taken seriously, with a diagnosis, I could get treatment and I didn’t need immediate brain surgery.

You’d think getting news like this puts everything in perspective and the PhD suddenly feels very small. At least for me, this wasn’t what…

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Skateboard wheels in different colours arranged in grid formation display on a shop wall.

Today I initiated conversations with my new institutional home’s Disability Support Services.  As a disabled postgraduate researcher returning to PhD study after a previous unsuccessful attempt, I’ve been here before.

Here’s the thing: what I’ve found at this level, and in my previous experience, is that the “reasonable adjustments” – the accommodations to which disabled and chronically ill students, with medically confirmed diagnoses are entitled – are framed in terms of “what the student needs in virtue of their condition”.

In other words, the idea is this: you, the disabled student, know best how your condition affects your life, and importantly, your working practices.  You, therefore, are best placed to prescribe to your institutional support services, exactly what accommodations you need them to arrange for you.

On its face, this seems reasonable enough, especially if we leave aside for now the experiences of students who become disabled while doing…

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Against a red background, a skull screams, a malevolent creature sitting on its head Migraines: not “just headaches”.

I’m a part-time PhD student, with a chronic illness and a family. I have a grant that pays my fees, but everything else I need to live on I must earn by working part-time. Going into the PhD I had grand plans of world-changing research (don’t we all?). Since I’d managed my degree fine, I had the idea this would be OK too. Except I hadn’t worked when I was doing my degree; I was a full time student. And a PhD is so very much more than a degree.

I guess I went in a little naïve, but that’s not entirely my fault. You see, no-one talks about it being difficult for students with disabilities/chronic illness. No one discusses how these things are dealt with – or not – by the academy at large. No one explains that your inability to “keep up” due to…

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In a recent post I described how being invited to interview for UK Research Council funding competition was a less than straightforward experience. Since then there has been some amazing news: I got the funding.

In a field where women and disabled students are in the minority, I feel proud that despite being both of these things (though still cis, still white) I won the funding. The competition was “fierce”. Turns out, so was I.

The news arrived by email on Monday 7th April. The Research Council has given me until the 17th April to accept or decline the offer. There will be reserve candidates waiting on tenterhooks to learn if any of the first-choice applicants will decline the offer so it can be passed along. I was one of these in 2009. So far, so fair enough.

But I have another iron in the fire, and I won’t know…

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These exam tips aren’t for disabled-students only, although disabled students face huge extra hurdles at this time of year. These are general tips and tricks – they are non-disability specific, so lots will be inadvertently left out. Over time we hope to produce a lot more advice, including suggestions from Disability Support Advisors and other people in the know. We are a forum, though, so there will be someone else who is coping or has coped with similar challenges. You are not alone. It’s really important that you know that.

First up, let us be clear: you are not lazy, and you are not behind. People succeed in very different ways, and revision is only good if it is useful and sticks.

There is no shame in exam accommodations. If they think you need them, then take them. If you think you are entitled to them, then take them. You…

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On 7th April 2014 the UK Government’s Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) announced changes to Disabled Students Allowance. This allowance – also known as the DSA – supports students with disability, chronic illness and mental health diagnoses to achieve parity of access to teaching and learning in higher education comparable with their non-disabled peers.

The National Association of Disability Practitioners has outlined how cuts would undermine progress in widening access to higher education for disabled students, and are likely to put new students off applying to university at all.

In a recent article for the Guardian, @slewth says:

“Without this funding – a vital support mechanism in recruitmenthigher education will no longer be viable for some. For others, cuts will mean persevering without necessary support, leading to higher drop-out rates, dissatisfaction and lower educational attainment.

Research shows that students who receive DSAs…

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Last week I had a tension headache for five days, my forehead so tight with holding my body together and overriding my back and hip pain, it was hard to the touch.

I sat or lay on a bed of cushions to work against a backdrop noise of pop and click as hip joints, knees, fingers and wrists snapped and shifted.

By Friday, I was crying with pain, without really even noticing, while trying to see my word document.

I returned about four months ago from a 20-month research trip to a country with minimal infrastructure, extreme climate and terrible living conditions, and political unrest. I’ve managed projects, led teams, done clandestine investigations into corruption under government radar – I owned a motorbike. God, I was insufferable.

But at the same time, I was taking UK-prescription painkillers from the local unregulated pharmacies. I was spending a lot of time lying…

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