Being a neurodiverse PGR

In this episode of R, D and the Inbetweens I am talking to Dr. Jane May Morrison and Dr. Edward Mills about being a neurodiverse PGR in honour of Neurodiversity Celebration Week!

I have developed some advice for supervising neurodiverse PGRs from my conversation with Jane and Edward, which you can find on the University of Exeter Doctoral College blog.

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License




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Hello and welcome to R, D and the in-betweens.

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I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development and everything in between.

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Hmm. Hello, and welcome to the latest episode of R, D in the In-betweens.

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I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and I'm bringing you a special episode for Neurodiversity Celebration Week.

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So I'm going to be talking to two of our neurodiverse graduates about their experience of doing a Ph.D.

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So for those that don't know, neurodiversity is a way that we talk about variations or differences in the human brain.

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They may be regarding sociability, learning attention or mood, and we characterise those as differences rather than pathology.

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So rather than as something that's wrong with someone, it's just a way that they're different.

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Specifically, our guests today are autistic, so autism is a form of neurodiversity, but in and of itself refers to a very broad range of conditions,

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which can be characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours,

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speech and nonverbal communication, but not necessarily all of or just exclusive to these things.

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This episode is part of a new series where we're going to talk to researchers about

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their experiences of doing research with particular challenges such as neurodiversity,

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and hopefully produce some guidance for supervisors, for PIs

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for research leaders about how to best support and our researchers who have unique challenges within the research environment.

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Yeah, my name is Jane, and I'm originally from Glasgow, and I came to Exeter to do my PhD in human geography.

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I studied eco towns and whether or not living there is likelier to make you do green behaviours or not.

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I was late diagnosed with autism at 29, and I'm also going to speak a little bit about the kind of ADHD neurodiversity perspective here as well,

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because my husband also who has ADHD, got his Ph.D. a few years ago, so we had to neurodiverse doctors in this house.

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I love that phrase two neurodiverse doctors. It sounds like it should be a TV show.

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I'm Edward. Do you want to go next? Yeah, of course.

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So Edward Mills, I am a lecturer in mediaeval studies now at Exeter, but I completed my PhD back in 2021.

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I think it was, yes. And I am here representing the autism side of things specifically.

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I was also late diagnosed not quite as late as Jane at I think twenty three.

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That poses some challenges, but I've never really thought about.

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How autism interests with study until a certain point, during my PhD which I am sure we will discuss in detail later

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Yes, thank you both, and I think that's what's particularly interesting about this conversation actually is

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and is not just thinking about neurodiversity in general in terms of the PhD process,

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but also, you know. Late diagnosis of of neurodiversity and how that particularly is, you're kind of embarking on a research degree,

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how that impacts your approach and your support and your position as a student whilst your grappling with.

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The diagnosis, were you both diagnosed before you started your research degrees

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No, I wasn't myself.

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I was only diagnosed within the first few months of my Ph.D., which was news that I didn't expect, and it wasn't terribly helpful, to be honest.

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Yeah. So can you say something about that? About what? What do you mean by it wasn't terribly helpful.

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So I suppose in the long run, you could say it was helpful in the sense that it's better to know if you're having if you're struggling,

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if you're having some difficulties communicating, if you're having some trouble with some aspects of study and being on campus.

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It's better to know than not to know. I completely believe in that.

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That's I completely believe in having the right information to understand your own condition.

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On the other hand, you don't necessarily want to hear just as you start one of the most difficult kinds of academic challenges of your life,

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that you are also going to have to do it slightly with, you know,

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an added difficulty level there of having a condition you hadn't anticipated or not having to manage.

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So there are swings and roundabouts to knowing at that point. Absolutely.

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What about you, Edwards, different circumstances similar outcome

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I think so. I was diagnosed a while before I started my research degree.

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I was diagnosed the day before my graduation for my undergraduate defree

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but I didn't really do anything about it, so to speak, until about six months into my Ph.D.

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So the experience of coming to terms with what the diagnosis of, in my case, Asperger's meant.

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Wasn't something that I'd really had to tackle until it got to a point where I needed to do something about it.

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Yeah, so there's there's the dual challenges of, you know, the challenges of doing a research degree anyway,

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which let's face it, it's not the easiest of undertakings. But then also, you know.

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Coming, getting to grips with the diagnosis and what it means, and also, I guess what support is available to you and I'd be quite interested to know.

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And you know, quite honestly about the did you access any support from the university?

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As somebody who is neurodivergent or did you?

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Did you feel kind of comfortable to continue your studies kind of without support mechanisms or you know or were,

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you know, how were the support mechanisms in place were they beneficial or not, I guess is the, you know?

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Yeah, I see what you mean there. Yeah, I suppose that sometimes disability accommodations can be a little bit one size fits all.

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That can be a little bit of a nuance lost between figuring out the different conditions are really going to require different things.

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A lot of it is tailored towards undergrads. That's that's something I found in general.

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From speaking to other neurodiverse peers. They're not necessarily completely sure what to do with some of the situations that arise during the PhD.

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It's more about having extra exam time and things that are the things that would come up more in an undergrad course.

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That's not to say that there was nothing helpful on offer. I don't want to come down hard on that at all.

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But some of it wasn't as tailored towards actually autism as opposed to just, oh well, there is a general disability here.

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Therefore, you find academic life generally difficult, therefore have extra time on an exam.

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And yeah, and like you say, it's it's there's the.

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So there's the issue there of the kind of generic support for all disabilities and whether, you know,

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without getting into a debate of whether you consider neurodivergence to be a disability,

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but also let you say it's it's aimed towards undergraduates, so it's more time in an exam, which just does.

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It just doesn't apply in the in the research environment.

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Yeah, I mean, in my case, I found it difficult sometimes to tell the difference between struggling with something because of because of the condition,

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because of autism or just am I struggling with something because it's something that any PhD would struggle with and the people around me as well,

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like, how do we attribute that if there is a difficultly or if there's something, I'm finding tricky?

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How do we how do we kind of pass out if it really is something that I'm just finding difficult because of who I am?

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Or is it genuinely like, would anyone find this a tough situation?

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Hmm. Yeah. And like I said, if you are doing research degree is tough.

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Mm-Hmm. Mm-Hmm. Well, what if you go to say on that Edward in terms of your experience?

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So I think it's again not altogether dissimilar,

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certainly the way in which Exeter and a lot of institutions address the challenges that something like

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an autism or ADHD diagnosis might pose for students is some variant of something called an individual.

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Learning plans wasn't really applicable. It's through the ILP at Exeter, where you get things like adjustments for exam time.

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But in my case  if I could give one piece of advice to a  neurodiverse PGR it would be this.

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I was able to make use of the supervision agreements, which is something that is specific to PGR.

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So in my case, I actually had the almost the supervision contract.

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If that makes sense that every new PGR signed up to individually with their supervisors at the start of the Ph.D.,

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I mentioned it there and highlighted autism from the start.

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In that context, there wasn't really anything that an ILP tailored towards an undergraduate would necessarily achieve.

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So I didn't want to put that weight on the accessibility team next to manage that.

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So I found that going through that what is available to PGR specifically was quite helpful to take.

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So I guess that leads to two questions.

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Sure, we'll deal with. So stick with the support theme.

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To start with, one of which is so you know, you said. You know, you, Edward, you raised.

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Your diagnosis within supervision agreement that was is a PGR related process,

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and you've both reflected on kind of the individual learning plan model is that it's aimed at undergraduates.

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I guess my question then is what?

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What support could have been available if that process were less aimed at undergraduates and it was it was more aware of the PGR experience?

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Is there support that you think the university could have given you that it didn't?

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I think it's important to say that the support the university offers for neurodiverse,

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students isn't just an ILP, there were other areas of the university support for autistic students.

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In my case, I was able to access it, which I benefited enormously from.

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So, for example, there is the not at all oxymoronic autism social group, which I attended on a few occasions.

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That tends to be quite undergraduate heavy, but it's always nice to meet people whose brains work in a similar way to yours, regardless of age.

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The university did also offer autism mentoring, which you can tailor and you can use its something a lot of universities do

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You can tailor and you can iuse it any way you see fit, so. In my case, it was not about some of the concerns that undergraduates might have.

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It wasn't about sort of. Principles of very basic time management that you might be coming to for the first time if you were going to graduate,

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it was sort of more more complex ideas than that and my mentor was still able to to help out with that enormously.

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Yeah. So for me, a lot of it was simply awareness raising.

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I found helpful. Some accommodations are more to me of a safety net than something that is frequently needed.

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I found that having a tailored kind of ILP type document of requirements, especially for my viva, it was very good to have as a safety net.

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It was very good to know that they had been aware that if my eye contact wasn't exactly as another students might have been,

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it's not because I'm being shifty or suspicious or because I'm hiding something, you know,

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it's just a natural feature of autism that you don't always make eye contact in quite the same way.

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And simply having that level of awareness and also having the option of the things that were in it was things like being able to take breaks,

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when I needed or if I appeared to be getting overwhelmed, if there was any flapping and skimming going on.

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It's a sign that your autistic student is starting to get a bit agitated. Time to call a break and start again, things like that in it.

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In the end, none of that was necessary. The Viva went really well.

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No need for taking any breaks. I felt completely in control and enjoyed the whole thing.

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But the fact that it was there as a safety net was helpful.

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So sometimes even just knowing that your supervisors and the people who work with you are aware if you should become overwhelmed,

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if you should start to get into difficulties. I think it makes all the difference.

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Yeah, I really that really resonates with me, the the issue of awareness and also having, like you say,

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having those things in place if they are needed because they are not necessarily going to be needed, we're not dealing with with, you know.

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We're not dealing with fixed experiences. No, that's yeah, but yeah.

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Also from the from the kind of ADHD perspective as well.

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It's it's looking back in retrospect that things I think would have made the whole experience easier for those with attention deficit disorder.

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I mean, things like customised workplaces,

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because the science indicates that people with ADHD tend to learn better when they're a little bit in motion.

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So if they have the ability to pace up and down as they're studying, you know,

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that's why situations like hot desking in a quiet room where there's lots of people all together and everyone needs to be very quiet and considerate.

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You know,

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if you can give the ADHD students a little bit of space on their own for some pacing and talking to themselves and waving their hands at a whiteboard,

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you know this is how we do it in our household. Maybe it's a little kooky, but it works, you know?

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And that's something that's specific to ADHD. Also, things like supervisors being able to.

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Stay quite on the ball. Stay quite strict with deadlines,

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because even though you would assume that a lot of people that I've talked to who are managing

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ADHD at university say that if the supervisor gives them to kind of vague or deadline and says,

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Oh, get it in whenever I don't really mind, I trust you. They say, Well, you know, how am I going to keep my concentration?

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I've got to keep my motivation high. I've got to have people you know that I can sign in with and check in with and talk to regularly.

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So, yeah, it's surprising that what does work for one condition? It's surprising how much it really doesn't work for another sometimes.

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Yeah, and so there's there's a couple of things in there which which are really important.

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One is like you say, it's the it's. Different people require different structures, and you've both mentioned it,

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so I wanted to bring up supervision and supervisors and specifically, you know where your saying, you know, awareness.

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Is key. What kind of.

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What kind of support did you have in place for most supervisors,

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how did you approach talking to them about the different support that you might need or the different structures you might need?

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And you know, how willing were they to accommodate, I guess, is the word I'm looking for.

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So shall I go first? Yeah. Go for it Edward. So obviously, I've given everyone supervisor envy on this podcast before.

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My supervisor Tom Hinton was wonderful about the whole thing.

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I think what I actually put on the supervision agreement because it's very much a document at least at Exeter that you draft with your supervisor.

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Was that Edward might misread social cues or.

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Possibly be a little too blunt when he didn't mean to be very standard, almost stereotypical things, really,

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but what tended to find was that sort of making a raising some awareness of that at the start was quite helpful in that.

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It's kind of a baseline, as we said,

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where there's an expectation which then we probably both found ourselves tailoring without really thinking about the as the relationship evolved.

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Yeah. So it's not a particularly complex point to develop from what was being said a moment ago,

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but it's the idea of being aware of being aware rather of your supervisor and the supervisor,

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being aware of what what they can do to help the supervisor work effectively with them as well.

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That can make a big difference from the outset and. What about you, Jane, what was your experience?

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It was a learning curve for both of us because I was as much in the dark really as they were.

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I had no understanding or training. I didn't even really know what Asperger syndrome was.

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Apart from a few stereotypes that you see on TV, and we all know those can be wildly inaccurate.

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So we were all kind of learning together, and I think the whole process evolved over time.

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I did have to change supervisors. And so that was part of the evolving that was part of the way that my degree changed over time.

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That was part of my degree journey. And sometimes it was sometimes communication differences and things were they were quite nuanced,

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they were to do with the sort of conventions of academia.

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So for example, situations where it's the academic convention to write in the margins to give helpful feedback.

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So I would have written this paragraph using X source. I would have emphasised Y Point differently.

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There's a little missing piece of the puzzle in the autistic mind, sometimes where the cognitive jump as to why he's writing that doesn't.

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It's not immediately obvious to us. I have come to understand over time logicking it out that, you know,

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he means you might like to try writing this paragraph using x source, and you might like to emphasise y point differently.

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My initial reaction is to look at it and go, Well, of course you would. You're a different human being.

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You'd have written a different thing to me because we do have these little misunderstandings that you just have to kind of, you know,

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the first few times and logic out kind of longhand and think right now,

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obviously it must mean that logically and then you come to an understanding and it becomes more commonplace, more kind of routine.

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Yeah, I had a few, a few moments like that. I don't think my supervisor typically wrote I would have written it this way,

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but there certainly were versions of that along the lines of me kind of having to,

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as you said, logic out something using the logical parts of your brain where somebody who is neurotypical might do that quote-unquote instinctively.

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So that's certainly an experience I can relate to as well. Mm-Hmm.

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So if I was struggling with a piece of feedback struggling to understand exactly what the change I should make really was,

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that could be difficult at times because my supervisor would then think, Well, this person is struggling because I'm being too harsh.

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I need to moderate my tone more, I need to make the feedback more oblique and indirect, because otherwise it'll be too blunt.

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And of course, this is this is the opposite of of what would have really worked for the situation,

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because the more vague and oblique and indirect it becomes, the less easy to understand the actual objection is.

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And so we all end up kind of missing each other in a way that was completely accidental and no one intends.

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But that was the kind of miscommunication error that we had to kind of overcome in the course of the degree.

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Yeah. Did you find yourself almost having a meta dialogue about?

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That sort of form of communication and feedback and all that sort of stuff to kind of.

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Tease out what what was was and wasn't working for both of you, I guess.

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I absolutely did with my supervisor. I think we did actually go on.

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I did discuss that on a few occasions that he did. He did very helpfully clarify that for me, it was that it wasn't feedback on me.

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It was what I what I'd written and how I could make it better because I have a tendency to take feedback very personally.

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I encountered some resistance to that. Obviously, I'm not here on this podcast is single anybody out at all?

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I'm just speaking honestly about it. Yes, there was some resistance from some quarters.

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There was a sense that I was asking for something very unreasonable and that when I confessed I was having some trouble communicating,

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there was a general meeting held to sort of say, Well, this is just the requirements of the degree we can't accommodate.

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It's got to be this way. So that was a little tough at first.

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I can't pretend otherways about that part. But, you know, ultimately in the long run, it all kind of evolved and it did work in the long run.

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We all came to a better understanding of communication. Yeah, and I think that there's two things that are really important,

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and one is is the importance of communication within within this and that kind

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of meta dialogue or meta communication and actually openness because.

00:22:09,100 --> 00:22:16,210
It sounds like you can only unpick because we're not talking about something as simple here as to go back to that classic example.

00:22:16,210 --> 00:22:20,950
More time in an exam, we're talking about something much more subtle, a much more nuanced.

00:22:20,950 --> 00:22:26,950
Yeah. And it sounds like to me what you're saying is that need that needs unpicking.

00:22:26,950 --> 00:22:32,750
Yeah, yeah. For that supervisory relationship to be able to work properly.

00:22:32,750 --> 00:22:37,750
It's like coming back to the awareness thing, even just knowing that that is on the table.

00:22:37,750 --> 00:22:41,110
The kind of meta unpicking option is on the table.

00:22:41,110 --> 00:22:45,700
If you want it to have a conversation about, you know, how can we talk about how we're communicating here?

00:22:45,700 --> 00:22:51,540
Is this working for you? Even just knowing that you could have that conversation is is helpful, I think,

00:22:51,540 --> 00:22:56,690
and I think setting that up from the outset is a very a very if you're able to do that,

00:22:56,690 --> 00:23:03,340
it's a very positive thing to do, certainly with my supervision agreement I was fornature enough to have that in place from the outset.

00:23:03,340 --> 00:23:14,370
And I think I you know and this is something that I harp on about quite a lot about, quote unquote adjustments is that, you know?

00:23:14,370 --> 00:23:19,080
That, I would say, is good practise in any supervisory relationship.

00:23:19,080 --> 00:23:26,900
I'm. It to be having those conversations about how you communicate and what works and what doesn't.

00:23:26,900 --> 00:23:36,020
Because I it makes the learning experience much more effective, and this thing that I wanted to raise was, I think that Jane,

00:23:36,020 --> 00:23:38,390
you found something really crucial as well for me,

00:23:38,390 --> 00:23:46,670
which is that we have systems and processes and ways of doing which aren't like the not regulations.

00:23:46,670 --> 00:23:51,200
You know, they're not things that we have to do them all kind of cultural norms, really.

00:23:51,200 --> 00:23:58,540
Yeah, the norms of the way that we do things and sometimes people find it really difficult to move outside of that.

00:23:58,540 --> 00:24:05,360
Well, that no, but that's the way that we do it, as if there's the fact that the way we do that, that's the way that we do.

00:24:05,360 --> 00:24:16,820
It means it's the right way and the only way which we're just not in a realm of, of the right way and the only way in so much of this work.

00:24:16,820 --> 00:24:24,380
And I think that that's a really important recognition as well is that it's it's a challenge to the norms of the system.

00:24:24,380 --> 00:24:33,590
Yeah, it's being changed in the undergraduate realm I'm thinking here about undergraduate assessment is often being has been

00:24:33,590 --> 00:24:38,060
radically changed in recent years in response to in response to COVID to change.

00:24:38,060 --> 00:24:43,070
Change is possible and change change does happen. Absolutely.

00:24:43,070 --> 00:24:48,960
But there's I think there is still a sense that the the Ph.D. as a.

00:24:48,960 --> 00:24:59,190
As a higher degree is still being held to a lot of very traditional norms with a certain a certain set of expectations, be placed upon it.

00:24:59,190 --> 00:25:03,600
Excuse me, strange accent? Yes.

00:25:03,600 --> 00:25:14,760
And I think that's really it's really important to recognise because the challenges to the system are crucial because it's challenging, you know?

00:25:14,760 --> 00:25:20,710
Well, why? Why does it have to work that way? Why does it be assessed that way?

00:25:20,710 --> 00:25:25,840
Why do we have to communicate that way? You know, why is it that that's the way that we do things?

00:25:25,840 --> 00:25:29,910
And what? Why can't we do things differently?

00:25:29,910 --> 00:25:35,070
And there might be a valid answer to that question that might be that the viva is an important.

00:25:35,070 --> 00:25:36,120
The way that we typically do it,

00:25:36,120 --> 00:25:45,420
viva is an important step in making sure that we are able to prove authorship of the thesis and if they and in speech but equally,

00:25:45,420 --> 00:25:54,750
there are changes that we can make. Yeah. And I know that for instance, and what we've done at Exeter on adjustments for vivas, you know,

00:25:54,750 --> 00:26:02,550
it's been quite challenging because one of the things that often gets suggested by accessibility is, well, couldn't you have the questions in advance?

00:26:02,550 --> 00:26:09,250
And you go, Well, it's it's not a case of the questions are set in advance because it's a conversation.

00:26:09,250 --> 00:26:18,090
And so you can't you might be able to provide some of that, but you can't provide all of it's not the nature of of what the examination is,

00:26:18,090 --> 00:26:23,790
but there might be other accommodations that you could make that would provide the same level of support.

00:26:23,790 --> 00:26:30,120
For instance, I know I've had we've had students, for instance, who have stutters,

00:26:30,120 --> 00:26:34,740
who have been who have been provided with some of the questions in advance so that they're

00:26:34,740 --> 00:26:40,290
able to write out responses so that if they are struggling to communicate within the viva

00:26:40,290 --> 00:26:46,080
that they have a response, but they only get that with, you know, within a certain time period or in advance and all this sort of stuff.

00:26:46,080 --> 00:26:51,450
So there were there were rules around it, but it's not that the accommodations can't be made.

00:26:51,450 --> 00:26:59,700
It's just that they've got to, I guess, honour the nature of the examination whilst also not kind of.

00:26:59,700 --> 00:27:04,230
I realise I'm contradicting myself slightly, because whilst also not kind of being,

00:27:04,230 --> 00:27:08,320
you know, I don't think you're contradicting yourself, I understand what you're saying. Yeah.

00:27:08,320 --> 00:27:12,840
No reasonable adjustments. I think that you're right, which is not really I mean,

00:27:12,840 --> 00:27:19,740
that really resonates with me because I had an added complication on top of the autism I also was diagnosed with.

00:27:19,740 --> 00:27:24,660
Obsessive compulsive disorder was actually so severe that I was hospitalised

00:27:24,660 --> 00:27:29,430
within the first few weeks of my PhD with it because it was it was quite extreme.

00:27:29,430 --> 00:27:36,000
So it has been very bad at certain points, and I know that that has added a layer of complication and difficulty,

00:27:36,000 --> 00:27:39,870
which I mean is something that you can you can kind of anticipate as part of

00:27:39,870 --> 00:27:44,010
disability services because it is normal for some conditions to cluster together.

00:27:44,010 --> 00:27:50,550
We all know statistically that it's much more common for people on the autism spectrum to have a diagnosis of OCD.

00:27:50,550 --> 00:27:56,910
So the fact that some of these disorders come in clusters will come together. You know, it's not a surprising thing.

00:27:56,910 --> 00:27:59,580
Well, it is a whole other layer of complications to manage.

00:27:59,580 --> 00:28:08,100
And I certainly was aware of the humorous irony, of a student trying to do a geography degree with periodic agoraphobia.

00:28:08,100 --> 00:28:14,340
So attempting to be on location and studying a particular location was having some difficulty

00:28:14,340 --> 00:28:19,560
leaving the house due to intrusive thoughts because obsessive compulsive disorder can catch you that way.

00:28:19,560 --> 00:28:24,960
Sometimes when it's when it's busy and I raise you autism in a modern foreign languages degree.

00:28:24,960 --> 00:28:33,990
Oh, I know you think that that wasn't helpful to have ended up with a situation of, you know,

00:28:33,990 --> 00:28:38,460
I'm going to I made out, obviously to my research location as often as I possibly could.

00:28:38,460 --> 00:28:45,180
But there were periods where the symptoms were very bad and it was difficult to get to conduct an interview, for example, face to face.

00:28:45,180 --> 00:28:51,600
And at that point, luckily, I say luckily in terms of a global pandemic, I wasn't lucky as such.

00:28:51,600 --> 00:28:57,150
But you know, everyone was starting to move towards this more Zoom model of doing things.

00:28:57,150 --> 00:29:01,620
Everyone was understanding that there was a kind of online correlate way of doing things.

00:29:01,620 --> 00:29:10,380
And even though I acknowledged at the time, I understand that it's not as not necessarily as effective as being face to face my question at the

00:29:10,380 --> 00:29:16,470
time to the university authorities was can it be effective enough for me to make progress on my degree,

00:29:16,470 --> 00:29:24,000
even if we do a kind of online way that is not as superior, it's not necessarily as good as face to face.

00:29:24,000 --> 00:29:31,230
Is it still 90 percent as good? Can we still make it as good as possible and it still be an accommodation that just about still works?

00:29:31,230 --> 00:29:35,520
And in the end, I did it half and half. I did some interviews face to face and I did some online.

00:29:35,520 --> 00:29:39,120
And because of the COVID situation, that was becoming not unusual at that point.

00:29:39,120 --> 00:29:44,250
So and I couldn't work in some circumstances.

00:29:44,250 --> 00:29:49,830
And I think that that in some ways is, you know, not not to in any way make light of a global pandemic.

00:29:49,830 --> 00:29:55,950
But that is some of the advances that COVID has given us is those sorts of things where we've gone will know it's it's inferior.

00:29:55,950 --> 00:30:04,410
It's not the same. It's not as good. We're not going to try or accommodate it because we were all forced into an environment where we had to actually,

00:30:04,410 --> 00:30:14,550
like you say, we've realised actually, you know what is 90 percent is good, actually, that's still valid and still useful and still,

00:30:14,550 --> 00:30:19,400
you know, helps us to create knowledge and do these things.

00:30:19,400 --> 00:30:25,410
It still has worth just because it's the same doesn't mean it's not.

00:30:25,410 --> 00:30:26,640
It's not worthwhile.

00:30:26,640 --> 00:30:33,990
I would challenge anyone looking at the side-by-side transcripts of the interviews done face to face and the interviews that I did online.

00:30:33,990 --> 00:30:37,560
I would really challenge anyone to see much of a difference in those.

00:30:37,560 --> 00:30:43,410
I think we used a tiny bit of the kind of nuance of communication, facial expressions, body language.

00:30:43,410 --> 00:30:50,460
However, for an autistic student, I did kind of point out in my degree when I reflected on how it had gone and said maybe for autistic students,

00:30:50,460 --> 00:30:56,610
that's not as big a loss that we might not have been looking at that very well anyway.

00:30:56,610 --> 00:31:05,040
So, yeah, 90 percent as good, you know? So the.

00:31:05,040 --> 00:31:11,400
I guess my next question is about what were the real challenges that you experienced

00:31:11,400 --> 00:31:15,730
throughout the process of doing a research degree as someone who was neurodivergent,

00:31:15,730 --> 00:31:23,100
are there particular pinch points in the process like the Viva or was it just like you, said Jane.

00:31:23,100 --> 00:31:29,430
When you know these are in some ways fluctuating kind of symptoms and fluctuating effect on your life?

00:31:29,430 --> 00:31:32,370
And so if you will be like, you know,

00:31:32,370 --> 00:31:40,300
you said about when your OCD was particularly bad that you know that that causes of the knock on effect and challenges in your studies.

00:31:40,300 --> 00:31:49,080
I just wondered kind of. Yeah, I guess for you in your experience, what the big challenges were.

00:31:49,080 --> 00:31:55,320
Yes. For the kind of OCD aspect of it certainly made concentration a little harder.

00:31:55,320 --> 00:32:02,370
You know, I was still able to produce a good result and like you say, sometimes you get the good result by atypical means.

00:32:02,370 --> 00:32:09,450
I think it slowed me down a little. I think that it was hard, harder to concentrate with intrusive thoughts causing a problem.

00:32:09,450 --> 00:32:17,700
But you know, you still get there in the end, you find ways of working around it, even if it goes a little bit slower than the conventional timetable.

00:32:17,700 --> 00:32:22,650
You can still get that. Yeah, that that for me was challenging.

00:32:22,650 --> 00:32:27,810
That was that was hard to bear sometimes because I didn't want to be dealing with it.

00:32:27,810 --> 00:32:33,660
You know, nobody else wanted me to be dealing with it. I was just. Whereas I think so.

00:32:33,660 --> 00:32:40,050
The analogy that's often used for having a neurodivergent condition is that you're

00:32:40,050 --> 00:32:43,350
running on a slightly different operating system than the rest of the world.

00:32:43,350 --> 00:32:47,700
So most of the world is running on Microsoft and you're kind of running on Linux.

00:32:47,700 --> 00:32:53,130
You might still you might use slightly different means to achieve the same tasks.

00:32:53,130 --> 00:32:57,750
OCD is more like a virus. OCD is more like a computer virus. It's not like an operating system.

00:32:57,750 --> 00:33:01,740
It's it's like something that stops the functioning of the system.

00:33:01,740 --> 00:33:05,210
So where's autism at something that can be worked with in academia?

00:33:05,210 --> 00:33:09,180
It can be really autism friendly. The OCD wasn't as much.

00:33:09,180 --> 00:33:14,220
That's a really, really interesting point, actually, and not one,

00:33:14,220 --> 00:33:19,950
not an angle that I I've thought about before, but certainly from an autism perspective.

00:33:19,950 --> 00:33:31,140
Your your brain running on a different OS is a very powerful model to take, and it's probably worth saying you mentioned some of the challenges,

00:33:31,140 --> 00:33:38,910
and I think I can echo the challenges coming up at certain points and being created by things other than necessarily purely PhD related things.

00:33:38,910 --> 00:33:46,620
So, for example, I really struggled living in a shared house in my first few months of the PhD,

00:33:46,620 --> 00:33:52,470
which is actually what kicked me into getting some autism support in the first place.

00:33:52,470 --> 00:33:57,840
But you mention that academia can also be autism friendly.

00:33:57,840 --> 00:34:05,490
And you're right in that if if autistic people can be running Linux when everyone else is running Windows,

00:34:05,490 --> 00:34:13,590
that means that you can do a lot of things much more efficiently than than other people can accept.

00:34:13,590 --> 00:34:19,170
Then you'll sometimes ask to do something that's really easy to do in windows, and you have to go, Oh no, hang on I've got to open up the terminal here.

00:34:19,170 --> 00:34:31,770
Just just, yeah, yeah. How far does this analogy extend? As brilliant as always, as a non Linux user, I'm already confused.

00:34:31,770 --> 00:34:36,990
So. And I find that analogy really helpful.

00:34:36,990 --> 00:34:47,620
Like, I think that it really clarifies it and the way to the extent to which you've taken Edward really helps, kind of.

00:34:47,620 --> 00:34:56,260
Understand what the challenges are and let you see how some things might be more efficient, also easier.

00:34:56,260 --> 00:34:59,470
But then things that seem might be simple, as you said,

00:34:59,470 --> 00:35:06,550
simple in windows and then actually more complicated in Linux because we're continuing with this analogy.

00:35:06,550 --> 00:35:13,320
I wondered what? Based on the kind of the challenges and particularly.

00:35:13,320 --> 00:35:17,010
What you seem to be saying is, is kind of it's it's.

00:35:17,010 --> 00:35:24,090
It's less about the process of doing the research degree and more about kind of basically how life intersects with it.

00:35:24,090 --> 00:35:32,640
You know, life happens and, you know, in whatever form and that creates, you know, challenges.

00:35:32,640 --> 00:35:42,060
What advice would you have for supervisors in supporting neurodivergent students?

00:35:42,060 --> 00:35:46,440
With these challenges, shall I go first on this one?

00:35:46,440 --> 00:35:52,770
Yeah, go for it. I think the main piece of advice I'd give supervises.

00:35:52,770 --> 00:35:58,460
It would be. Empathy.

00:35:58,460 --> 00:36:08,510
This sounds like a really obvious point to make, but being willing and able to listen from the start can make a huge difference,

00:36:08,510 --> 00:36:14,720
both in making the supervisor feel comfortable and ultimately new as a supervisor,

00:36:14,720 --> 00:36:20,360
making what's probably going to be a significant investment of your time over the next sort of three,

00:36:20,360 --> 00:36:26,790
three and a half, four years or longer, it'll work better and work more productively.

00:36:26,790 --> 00:36:37,880
So being willing from the outset to listen and to engage in what we call the meta dialogue earlier can make a huge difference,

00:36:37,880 --> 00:36:43,130
I think, from from the outset. So anything you wants to add to that, right?

00:36:43,130 --> 00:36:50,450
Oh, right. Yes. I think it comes back to a lot of what we were saying earlier about the willingness to communicate.

00:36:50,450 --> 00:36:57,230
I think what you made with some great points there, what I think empathy is certainly something that would be helpful and their willingness to

00:36:57,230 --> 00:37:02,210
communicate and the willingness to talk like you was saying on that meta level as well,

00:37:02,210 --> 00:37:11,390
to communicate about communicating, to ask, how is it going to actually ask what kind of ways of getting an idea together would be the most helpful?

00:37:11,390 --> 00:37:18,470
And if the current ones that we're using are working, you know, so you even just being able to talk on that meta level is also useful.

00:37:18,470 --> 00:37:25,010
But I found that the raising awareness and simply laying out kind of expectations

00:37:25,010 --> 00:37:29,390
or laying out an understanding of autism was at the beginning of things.

00:37:29,390 --> 00:37:32,270
It does change the whole dynamic. It does change the whole tone.

00:37:32,270 --> 00:37:38,990
If you go into it knowing that that's something that is going to be in the room with you, that you have to manage.

00:37:38,990 --> 00:37:45,520
You know, it no longer surprises people. People understand that if your eye contact, for example, is a little bit off to the left,

00:37:45,520 --> 00:37:52,160
no, it's not a sign that something is wrong or that someone is uncomfortable. It's just what's normal for that student.

00:37:52,160 --> 00:37:57,430
It really does make a huge difference as we sort of.

00:37:57,430 --> 00:38:07,160
Bring us up to a close, I wondered, actually if we could flip that around from advice to supervisors, what advice would you have for?

00:38:07,160 --> 00:38:14,810
Either the current neurodivergent PGRs or people who are neurodivergent, who are considering doing a research degree.

00:38:14,810 --> 00:38:23,780
We got any kind of things that you wish you knew or kind of advice that you wish you'd been given at that point in time.

00:38:23,780 --> 00:38:28,340
Yeah. Well, I think when it comes to this kind of self-knowledge, like knowledge is power.

00:38:28,340 --> 00:38:33,140
The more you can articulate what's going on in your head, the more you can communicate.

00:38:33,140 --> 00:38:34,970
I know ironically, this is about autism,

00:38:34,970 --> 00:38:43,370
but the more that you can communicate your needs and the way that you operates and what kind of things that you need from others,

00:38:43,370 --> 00:38:53,120
you know, that's very helpful. Read up on your condition. Ask others or attend the very helpful support group that they have here at Exeter.

00:38:53,120 --> 00:38:54,860
You know, that's very useful stuff.

00:38:54,860 --> 00:39:00,770
You connect with other people who have the same condition that you have and see what kind of commonalities you've got.

00:39:00,770 --> 00:39:06,080
And then, you know, that's a helpful springboard to work from because the more you know about yourself and your needs,

00:39:06,080 --> 00:39:15,380
the more you can advocate and the more you can be precise and clear about what it is you're going to need during the course of your degree.

00:39:15,380 --> 00:39:21,420
I actually found a role for myself within the social group, which was sort of.

00:39:21,420 --> 00:39:27,600
Almost somewhere between a facilitator and a member, I suppose, I mean, I might be misreading that somewhat,

00:39:27,600 --> 00:39:34,650
but I ended up I ended up running a kind of an informal autism lending library whereby all the books applied over the previous years.

00:39:34,650 --> 00:39:38,130
I just lent them out to autistic undergrads did, too.

00:39:38,130 --> 00:39:42,340
I took home a couple from you once. Oh, you're pretty sure. I think I did.

00:39:42,340 --> 00:39:46,920
Yeah. Did I get them back. Oh, oh no.

00:39:46,920 --> 00:39:53,640
That's that's a challenging question. I'm quite sure that it's pretty sure I'm quite conscientious about that

00:39:53,640 --> 00:40:06,280
And if not, I've got the spreadsheet. But the the I would give to to students incoming PGRs is

00:40:06,280 --> 00:40:15,880
Not just know as much about yourself as possible, but but certainly I echo a lot of of what Jane says about going to support groups,

00:40:15,880 --> 00:40:19,690
even if you don't think at the start that you necessarily need them.

00:40:19,690 --> 00:40:32,210
It was a the university made it very easy, but it was inherently an unpleasant experience having to go in my second term in Exeter.

00:40:32,210 --> 00:40:40,040
Falling as it felt to well-being, saying, Hi, I'm a 25 year old.

00:40:40,040 --> 00:40:46,400
Researcher who sits somewhere awkwardly between staff and a student, you know,

00:40:46,400 --> 00:40:57,700
but I'm struggling with something that feels like all the undergrads just get. Help us in the all the undergrads get full stop help exclamation mark.

00:40:57,700 --> 00:41:06,520
So what what I would say is get the get the support mechanisms set up as soon as possible.

00:41:06,520 --> 00:41:10,150
It's it's it's something I say to undergraduate students actually,

00:41:10,150 --> 00:41:19,150
as a personal tutor now is if you know that you might benefit from support, put the steps to get it in place way.

00:41:19,150 --> 00:41:25,360
Put put the steps underway now rather than waiting for a crisis because you will make your life

00:41:25,360 --> 00:41:33,040
so much easier if you are comfortable and if you are aware of what might happen before it does.

00:41:33,040 --> 00:41:40,650
Yeah, because. And neurodivergent conditions will.

00:41:40,650 --> 00:41:42,840
Make your experience different,

00:41:42,840 --> 00:41:51,990
and the earlier that you can acknowledge that and lean into both how that can make you experience good and also how we can.

00:41:51,990 --> 00:41:57,240
Create problems that you'll need to deal with the better. Yeah, yeah.

00:41:57,240 --> 00:42:01,620
I mean, I would add even things like communicating on academic Twitter can be helpful.

00:42:01,620 --> 00:42:05,610
There is a little group of neurodiverse PhDs on there.

00:42:05,610 --> 00:42:13,080
We share tips. We share information. And like you say, even if you don't think you're going to need a kind of support group scenario,

00:42:13,080 --> 00:42:20,070
even if you don't think that you've got a particular interest in socialising with your own people,

00:42:20,070 --> 00:42:28,380
even if you, you know, even if you don't think that's of particular interest to you, you'd rather cluster around an interest or about something else.

00:42:28,380 --> 00:42:35,310
There were light bulb moments at the autism sort of social group at Exeter that I have.

00:42:35,310 --> 00:42:38,580
I think we were out on a social trip to the bowling or something.

00:42:38,580 --> 00:42:43,680
We were all walking down the road together and I looked around and was like, Wait a minute, we've all got the same walk.

00:42:43,680 --> 00:42:50,340
How does this happen? These moments of like, we've all got these particular commonalities.

00:42:50,340 --> 00:42:55,080
You know, we will do this thing the same way we all think about this thing the same way.

00:42:55,080 --> 00:43:02,040
And I was this little light bulb moment where I have realisations about myself and about the way I worked that I found helpful.

00:43:02,040 --> 00:43:08,580
Oh, for me with trying to work out how many how much of the surface area of Devon you could cover if you took all of the baked beans that ever been made?

00:43:08,580 --> 00:43:18,130
We did the maths on it all classic. Yeah, in a hundred and forty years, no 400 years to cover Devon in baked beans.

00:43:18,130 --> 00:43:27,700
I am afraid I'm going to have to draw us to an end. Thank you both so much for your time and your candour.

00:43:27,700 --> 00:43:42,180
And and just for sharing your experience because I think like, you know, you're both saying about awareness and about.

00:43:42,180 --> 00:43:51,300
About learning from others and all of those sorts of things, and I think that hopefully for anybody listening that this will be really useful.

00:43:51,300 --> 00:43:56,040
And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to like, rate and subscribe.

00:43:56,040 --> 00:44:23,157
And join me. Next time we'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.


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