Doctoral Student with ADHD

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    • #79678

      Hi, this is my 1st post. I am a 46 year old doctoral student finishing up my coursework and preparing for my comprehensive qualifying exam. I was diagnosed with ADHD few years ago and had never known that I was still eligible for accommodations at the doctoral level until a classmate told me I should talk to my university’s office of disability services.

      Luckily I did and have been able to get 50% extra time on exams which has helped greatly. It has also been a process for me to “come out” about my ADHD with the program staff and my professors as well as navigating the accommodations system. All of this would have been so helpful during college and graduate school but I didn’t know I had ADHD back then. Once I found out it was ADHD, it made so much sense now why college and grad school were so difficult.

      I am now approaching the most important exam, the qualifying comprehensive exam, but because the exam is not in-class I am not eligible for the 50% extra time. The structure of the exam is that we are given a topic for which we need to develop an intervention which includes the background of the problem, evidence-based strategies to address the problem, a proposed intervention with detailed plans for implementation, a budget and evaluation. All of this is to be completed within a four-day time-span then we put together a policy memo within 24 hrs after submitting the intervention proposal.

      I am going back to the office of disabilities to see if I can advocate for extra time, ideally 50% to start, but will probably have to negotiate this. I’ve also asked for access to the policy and procedures specific to this accommodation.

      Anyone out there who have had to advocate for accommodations in a similar situation? It took me a long time to find the coaching group for doctoral students with ADHD that I’m working with since there isn’t much out there. They were the ones who recommended I talk to the office of disability services about my situation since most of the services and accommodations target undergraduate and graduate students. So I wanted to see if there others out there who have ideas and suggestions.


    • #79680

      Dear LD,

      I am a 48 year old graduate student who was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago. I first of all want to applaud you for your courage in asking for accommodations as you complete your PhD program. When I decided to ask for what I needed as I embarked but the master degree, it felt like such a big step. I’m grateful to hear of someone at the PhD level and as a recently diagnosed student ask for what you need. That said the ADHD coaching group sounds like a good resource. What I can tell you is what I learned from a very helpful disabilities support counselor. If an assignment is considered a final exam but is not given in a classroom setting where a typical extra 50% time could be added to the time the exam is administered, students may successfully argue since the the paper is in essence, a final exam the same extensions afforded during classroom exams should be offered in order to provide equity to you as a student with a learning difference. Below is a link to extended time guidance from JHU that might contain some useful language that your support the idea that in keeping with your accommodations as suggested by a doctor, you need the extra 50% time. So if everyone else received 4 days, perhaps you request an additional 2 day.


      Coach that specializes in helping PhD, ADHD clients

      Best of luck!


    • #79728

      Dear LD,

      I have ADHD and graduated with my Ph.D. about a year and a half ago. I also wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult and am also now in my 40’s. If I have learned nothing else from all of my life experiences, you have to advocate for yourself because no one is going to do it for you. This means that it doesn’t matter if a professor/etc. likes, understands, or even agrees with your documented accommodations; but, by law, they are required to abide by them! So you may have to fight for them, but you will receive the accommodations that you have a legal right to have for ANY examination including your qualifying exams! At this point, you (as are the rest of us who have struggled with ADHD) have fought your whole life to get where you are and this is no different. You are worth the fight, just like anyone else and you can do this! Don’t let anyone bully you into not getting what you need! Having ADHD can be a hurdle at times, but it doesn’t define you. No one at your job interview some day is going to ask you if you needed accommodations through graduate school. All they are going to want to know is that you are competent enough to conduct the job and that is all they will care about. Take heart my friend, have confidence, and know that you are just as valuable as anyone else including your professors! AND they don’t have to agree with this for it to be true! Do what you need to do in order to get through this and move forward. I know that it is easier said than done, but you will get through this. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and I promise you, you will reach the finish line even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.


    • #79772

      Thanks so much, SD and Shine4him! I really needed the encouragement more than anything. I’ve been a social worker for many years before going back to school for my doctorate. I’ve advocated for so many youth with disabilities. But it’s another story advocating for oneself!

      think the biggest hurdle was realizing I deserve reasonable accommodations and I’m not asking for special favors … just want to level the playing field.


    • #102351

      Hi… I am very happy to find this thread. I am now in PhD program and I just been diagnosed with ADHD after I suffer from a heavy anxiety for months. My professor is very supportive and she even the one who encourage me to go to psychiatrist to treat my anxiety. But now I know that the main problem is ADHD, I am just curious that all of you take medication or not? For now, the psychiatrist didn’t give me any medication and suggest for CBT, restructure my schedule, be positive, etc. How to manage your ADHD and PhD? Thanks

    • #103578

      Your experience sounds very similar to mine. I was only (seriously) diagnosed and treated for the last two years of my six in the program. I completed earlier this year, so hopefully that’s some encouragement to everyone.

      As for disability accommodation that’s perplexing that they wouldn’t extend that to a 4-day qual exam. It’s been many months so I’m curious whether your negotiations were successful. I think your approach was correct–you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. But hypothetically, any United States institution unwilling to negotiate on a “reasonable accommodation,” would be at risk of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, so hiring a lawyer who could deal with the university’s general counsel office would be an unfortunate but viable next step.

      Hope it didn’t come to that and hope you passed with flying colors! I actually had 2 weeks for quals and did some of the most focused work of my life (untreated!). The urgency helped me focus, and I developed a writing routine with plenty of breaks resembling a Pomodoro approach. So even if they are intransigent (and you don’t want to get a lawyer or talk to the GC), you can succeed!

    • #104424

      I am also a 46-year-old doctoral student and have ADHD. I wonder if there are resources you have come upon that assist you in doing work that requires you to do things that aren’t hard, but aren’t interesting.

      I don’t mind difficulty. In fact, I am getting an A in grad-level stats. But I am finding 6-page papers on not-very demanding topics really tough.

      I get stuck in the “what the heck will I even say?” phase for way too long. Give me something I am passionate about and I will write a stellar paper, but something mechanical and not philosophical and I am lost.


      Thank you!

    • #110008

      Thank you all for the contributions on this thread, as it is exactly what I needed to hear right now. I am a 49 year old PhD student that was not diagnosed until 40 (while completing my undergrad at UC Berkeley), I’ve now completed a masters at Cambridge and am currently part way through my PhD, also at Cambridge. Based on it taking me longer to progress through the design of my study (my PhD is purely research based) it was recommended by my supervisor that I not continue. Although I have a great deal of respect for him in many ways and believe that he actual means well, I fear he has lost faith in my ability on the back end of challenges with completing tasks to the traditional timeline. Although I have been utilising an ADHD coach and study skills tutor, my Disability Resource Centre advisor has now recommended that I be giving an additional 50% time to complete my PhD (6 years, rather than 4). As the quality of my work is not in question, simply the time it takes to complete the written linear portions of it, my college is strongly supporting this and I am hopeful that my department will take this on board.

      There have been moments where I have been prepared to give up and it can sometimes be profoundly difficult to advocate for oneself in the face of very well meaning professors not being in full support. But I have already successfully completed 2 degrees at top universities and know that I am capable of successfully finishing my PhD and having a meaningful contribution to the research, if given the appropriate support and additional time necessary to complete my studies. It is encouraging to hear the stories of others studying at this level and overcoming similar challenges in various ways.

      I can’t help but think many of us more mature students with varied life experiences are better equipped to stand up to the road blocks that might at times impede our progress and this might in the end benefit those that follow. But I am truly concerned that some of the younger students with ADHD and other disabilities, attempting graduate studies, might simply be falling through the cracks. As there is still virtually no research on appropriate support for postgraduate students with ADHD, particularly regarding guidance for supervisors and standards for extended terms of study, even the DRC here and the university as a whole admits they struggle with determining appropriate support of graduate students with disabilities. I am encouraged by the fact that they are trying and there are people here helping me fight my corner, but I am painfully aware that we still have a long ways to go. Thus, at present I think self advocacy, pulling the resources where available and a bit of tenacity are crucial to success.

      p.s. Regarding the mention of medication, I have begun using medication at a low dose for the first time in my life about a year ago and it is helping. It doesn’t make everything easy, but in combination with other adaptive approaches it is helping me progress more effectively.

      Best of luck to all!

    • #110033

      camice, thanks so much for sharing your story. Even though your PhD is still in progress, it’s very inspiring to hear how much you’ve accomplished both in academics and in advocacy!

      I’ve decided not to pursue conventional tenure-track academia but I’m very interested in figuring out how I can best advocate–whether to pursue a profession in coaching or consulting, to simply be here informally as a friend and ally, or something in between (or completely different). I’d love to talk about ideas for advocacy beyond simply advocating for oneself.

      For me the first place to aim is awareness. I never really thought about myself and AD/HD because I was getting good grades, then in my professional life I thought I was just getting bored and doing normal career searching.

    • #110562

      It is my first post about my ADHD problems in the doctoral program. My thesis director is an inflexible person and it has cost me a couple of wake-up calls and some ultimatums. I was diagnosed a year ago and although my tutorial committee knows it, we have not yet managed to understand each other. In the university there is no help for this type of cases and it is becoming increasingly difficult to move forward. I hope things improve, because the level of anxiety and stress increases with each report delivery meeting. What strategies could be followed to continue with the doctorate?

    • #112721

      I literally passed my quals and got diagnosed 3 months later because I had such anxiety about making progress on my own research! How’s that for a typical high-achieving female diagnosis story for ya?

      It is now 6 months after my diagnosis and I’m still struggling to make progress. I am not only working full-time off-campus in a salaried position (read 50+ hours per week), but also completing another professional certificate at another university, and I have applied to a part-time law school for the fall. I’m afraid that my PhD topic no longer interests me because of the pressure I’ve placed on myself to get here. However, I’m angry that I would have let myself waste almost 10 years worth of higher education in an concentration where I would not just finish the last and ultimate gosh darn degree already.

      A fellow student who recently graduated once told me that “the best dissertation in the world is the one that is FINISHED”, but oh how hard it is to simply get there.

    • #112778
      Dr. Eric

      I have.

      I would recommend not just advocating for more time, but chunking your exams.

      For example, you are given 2 hours to answer 6 essays. Instead of asking for 3 hour to answer 6 essays, ask for one hour to answer 2 essays… 3 times.

      This prevents you from having more time to go off on a tangent and have poor time management, it helps support a root cause of a likely challenge.

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