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What might disability accommodations look like at the graduate school level?


01848p

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Outside of class, specifically. What kinds of things might I be able to work out with my advisor/program? Specifically for a psychological disability. I have chronic depression and I find it very difficult to stay focused. I have poor motivation and struggle to complete work in a timely fashion. The work always gets done by the deadline, but I procrastinate like nobody's business... (had to ask for extensions in undergrad 3-4 times). And often I've had to be reminded 3 or 4 times to do something before it actually gets done. I also have a poor working memory, and if I'm talking for a long time I will lose my train of thought a couple times mid-speech (part of getting easily distracted is I will think of another thing I want to talk about so I will bring it up and then I'll forget where I was originally going before taking a detour). I know one thing might be to always bring a pen and paper with me everywhere I go so that I can write down any tasks my advisor asks me to complete/ask her if she'd be willing to give me to-dos in writing rather than verbally. But I'm also worried about years down the line doing my oral comps and also in the nearer future for talks/presentations/posters, if I have a hard time with memory. I also take forever to respond to emails because I want to make sure I'll have enough time/energy/focus to type out a properly composed response and sometimes it takes me a few days to muster up all of that. This last one might just be for right now though, since currently I'm really trying to make a good impression via email as I don't personally know any of the people I've been corresponding with. 

Other things too...these are a few of my symptoms but I'm sure there are more I'm not able to bring to mind right now.

 

Also, I haven't disclosed any of this to my advisor or any one else in the program. I expect I would have to at some point, sooner rather than later. What would be the best way to go about doing that?

Edited by 01848p
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Accommodations can vary widely depending on the person, program, and circumstances. It's hard to say for certain. However, the best place to conduct this discussion would be through the disability resource center at the campus you'll be attending. They'll probably have more informed advice as to handle the specific climate of the university than I can, unfortunately. 

I hope that helps, and I'm sorry I couldn't add more!

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I think you'll find (unfortunately) that when it comes to doing research (outside of class), disability accommodations can only reach so far - your best bet is to find an understanding advisor and coworkers. 

You are definitely not the only one who has had this concern when attending graduate school. One of my labmates with whom I work very closely has the same issue; she is very open about her depression with the necessary people - me, one other labmate (we're on the same project), and our advisor. For a long time, she was trying to pretend that it didn't exist; this culminated in a year-long leave of absence in which she recovered from this damaging strategy. It sounds like you know this about yourself, which is a huge step. 

From what I can tell being on the outside, having severe depression while in grad school looks immensely frustrating, but I encourage you to be open about it. If there are people with whom you regularly e-mail, let them know that due to an illness a task like an e-mail is more insurmountable to you than it is to most. One of the people on this forum has introduced me to spoon theory, have you heard of it? Keep careful track of your spoons, and don't work like you have more than you really do. 

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I struggled with depression and anxiety as well.  You'll want to join a group through counseling so you can get feedback from other graduate students how to manage your adviser, coursework, etc. with the issues you raised.  The participants might be able to offer coping strategies.  You'll also want to ask around in your graduate program to find out who are the most sympathetic professors and which ones to tread carefully with (the irony, you're in a psych program) when it comes to being open with your issues.  Make friends with the DGS-- the DGS' job is to be on your side in this case (and they are bound by Council of Graduate Studies to maintain confidentiality, unlike your adviser who can keep confidential at his/her discretion).

What really threw me off the loop was the timing of preparing for and taking my exams.  Accommodation-wise, I did very little for my exams other than extensions,  My anxiety got the best of me and I nearly failed my written exam and failed the oral.  During my last prep session with my adviser before the re-take, I had a nervous breakdown that my adviser pushed it off to another 2 months. She wanted more accommodations in place to make sure I could pass.  My depression/anxiety definitely ate up 1-2 semesters worth of my guaranteed funding package, putting me slightly "behind" schedule.  As a 5th year with one guaranteed semester left and not even close to beginning dissertation writing, I have every incentive to apply for external funding to keep me going.  I really am thankful for my adviser, for being understanding and encouraging.

You'll want to be open to the unexpected when it comes to keeping your income going while receiving appropriate services when you need a medical leave or course reduction (more independent study courses, fewer lectures/seminars).

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Hi there! I hope I can be helpful. At the graduate level, getting help for your disability is more than just getting accommodations. Instead, it is a combination of setting you up with the resources and support you need to succeed, in addition to accommodations where necessary. I would view accommodations as a last resort, or a reactionary stopgap solution when things don't go as planned, rather than the main source of support. 

The type of resources and support depend on what's actually available at each school. So I will write the following as if you were a fellow student at my school because I know what my school offers. I hope it can help you find equivalent resources at  your school. So, if you were a colleague in my department, at my school, the first place I would suggest is the campus' counseling center. You will be able to talk to someone almost right away and you'll have a quick conversation that will help them direct you to the right person for help. There are a few on-campus counselors that you could talk to on a weekly or every other week basis, but they might also refer you to a therapist outside of campus. Since there are limited number of counselors on staff, most students who need to see someone on a regular basis are referred elsewhere. These visits are covered under our student health insurance---the first 25 visits per year are free (whether on-campus or off-campus) and then it's $15 copay per visit after the first 25.

Whether you see someone on campus or off campus, their role will be to help you manage your disability. They will teach you tools you can use to manage your time and procrastination. Maybe you have done this. They can also help you find a strategy to talk to your advisor about your disability. It will be helpful for your advisor to have a heads-up so that if you do need an accommodation of some kind, your advisor knows what's going on and can back you up. Eventually, you will want to talk to your advisor about strategies on how to ensure you are going to be able to work at your full potential. For example, you said that you need to have a paper and pen with you when you meet your advisor. If your advisor knows this, they would know to not hold spontaneous meetings if they run into you in the hall or at the campus coffee shop etc. Or if you have difficulty concentrating in loud places, having your advisor know this might encourage them not to have a group meeting in a coffee shop, for example. 

There are lots of other little things that is worth talking to your advisor about regarding work habits. This is true for people with disabilities or without them. For example, some people like having their weekly meeting on Mondays so that it sets up them up with tasks for the week. Others prefer Fridays so that they can report what they've done and reflect on what to do next over the weekend. Some like mornings and others like afternoons. So asking your advisor to do things like schedule meetings in advance, or allow you to go grab your notebook if they see you in the hallway and want to chat, or ensuring you have a quiet place to talk, or giving you tasks in writing (or going slowly enough so that you can write them down) etc. are all fine things to discuss. But if you don't bring it up, then even the most well meaning advisors might not think of it. Most people tend to think others function in the same way as themselves!

It's also good that you are thinking about long term things like comps, talks, quals etc. You can come up with a strategy for handling this with your therapist and your advisor. Seek your advisor's advice on how much to include other faculty members (dept. chair, for example) in on this. It could be telling them nothing. If you are worried about procrastination, talk to your advisor about it. Schedule regular check-ins. When I advise students with time management issues, I will often schedule deadlines (in consultation with the student) ahead of time. For example, maybe set a deadline for an outline of your talk, then another one to go over the slides with your advisor, then another one to give a practice talk to a small group of people, etc. This way, it's not the night before the conference and you have to do everything. 

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In terms of being transparent with your advisor, is it recommended to just speak about the symptoms of your disability or is it better to disclose the disability itself? I'm thinking in particular of cognitive disabilities where there are misunderstandings about the nature of the disorder, such as dyscalculia or ADHD. For example, would one tell their advisor "I have dyscalculia" or "I am prone to careless mistakes in math"?

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13 minutes ago, Kaede said:

In terms of being transparent with your advisor, is it recommended to just speak about the symptoms of your disability or is it better to disclose the disability itself? I'm thinking in particular of cognitive disabilities where there are misunderstandings about the nature of the disorder, such as dyscalculia or ADHD. For example, would one tell their advisor "I have dyscalculia" or "I am prone to careless mistakes in math"?

I would seek advice from the campus' disability center to get help on the best way to present your needs to others. From my point of view though, it might be better to do both---just saying "dyscalculia" or naming the disability will probably not provide much info to the person who is not familiar with it, and if they look it up, they might focus on symptoms that you may not experience (since I am guessing that everyone would experience a disability differently). At the same time, just saying that you are "prone to careless mistakes in math" sounds like it's your fault somehow. Also, what do you mean by "math", are you saying that your disability makes it hard to understand abstract math concepts like derivatives and integrals, or do you mean small arithmetic mistakes, or something completely different?

Again, seek help from people who are trained to do this. What I might find useful is if a student would say something like, "I just wanted to let you know that I have __(name of disability)__, a disability that leads to ____(list some symptoms here)_____. To help me manage these issues, I ____(list some things you do, don't have to go into too much detail and reveal only whatever you're comfortable)___. It would also be helpful if you ____(list whatever you need the prof to do to help you)_____."

The last sentence may not be necessary if you just want to let the person know but aren't asking them to do anything. But I think that last part is really important for someone without a disability because I may want to help you but I might not know what to do. And I think this structure works well for both research advisors and course instructors, you'd modify the last sentence as appropriate.

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2 hours ago, Kaede said:

In terms of being transparent with your advisor, is it recommended to just speak about the symptoms of your disability or is it better to disclose the disability itself? I'm thinking in particular of cognitive disabilities where there are misunderstandings about the nature of the disorder, such as dyscalculia or ADHD. For example, would one tell their advisor "I have dyscalculia" or "I am prone to careless mistakes in math"?

First off, I just want to say that you have a lot of worries on your mind. Try to focus on one semester at a time. That will be enough to keep your mind busy. Anything more at this point (before you've even start the program) will just make you feel really overwhelmed and focused on the "what if scenarios."

You are not the first one to go to grad school with anxiety and depression. Remember that many others before you have managed to successfully complete the program. So with some hard work and planning, you will be successful too.

I'd contact the office for students with disabilities, make an appointment with an adviser and discuss your concerns. You will likely need medical documentation that indicates your diagnosis and the accommodations that you need. The adviser can give you some ideas on what you might require based on your diagnosis, such as more time to write exams, the ability to write exams alone in a quiet room, and extensions for assignments when needed. Then you can pass this info along to the doctor to have it included in your doctor's note.

You should have the option of getting a letter sent to each of your profs indicating that you are registered with a disability and the type of accommodations that you need. They will not reveal your diagnosis. If you choose to do so, that is up to you. I personally would advise waiting to get to know your profs better and then deciding what to do. I have heard of isolated incidents in which the prof determined if the student should receive the accommodations based on their knowledge of the diagnosis (in spite of not being a medical doctor or having a healthcare background) and going against the recommendations of the doctor.

Considering that you are in biology, some profs might take it upon themselves to decide if you really need accommodations based on their limited knowledge of your health history and their own knowledge that they have of mental illness. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is grounded in stereotypes and misconceptions about mental illness, and could be unfavorably biased. On the other hand, I've also heard of stories in which profs and advisers were incredibly supportive, and others were somewhere in between. 

Whatever you decide to do, once you reveal it you cannot take it back. So if you wish to disclose be sure that this is the right thing to do for you. You also have no control if the prof will go behind your back and share it "in confidence" with other colleagues. Of course, they are not allowed to do this, but it does not mean that it does not happen, and you would not have the opportunity to explain your condition from your own perspective.

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I just wanted to add that the scenarios I mentioned above were not invented. These are some of the stories that I've received from various people with disabilities. But remember that these are rare cases. Most of these scenarios are not likely to happen. But it's good to be informed before you're put in that situation so that you can do what is right for you.

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Hi! Here are my two cents. (I have a disability but of a different kind - I am visually impaired).

Your first point of contact will be the disability services office at your university. You will have to submit your medical documentation and the accommodation you have received previously (if any). In my experience, the disability services office representatives are extremely nice, understanding and supportive. Request to meet with them and you can discuss the possible accommodations that will manage your disability in the best way possible. Once they decide on that, they will send letters to your professors. 

In my experience, it is very helpful to be open about your disability and not to hesitate to ask for help that you are entitled to. It is always good to have a one to one meeting with the professors to explain your disability, symptoms and how it can affect your academic performance, in detail. Mostly professors are understanding, at least in my experience but it really depends on the college you are going to. Do ask the disability services office to connect you with a current student or alumni who has the same disability as yours - it is always good to know about other people's experiences and how they managed things. 

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On 2 avril 2017 at 8:50 PM, Neist said:

Accommodations can vary widely depending on the person, program, and circumstances. It's hard to say for certain. However, the best place to conduct this discussion would be through the disability resource center at the campus you'll be attending. They'll probably have more informed advice as to handle the specific climate of the university than I can, unfortunately. 

I hope that helps, and I'm sorry I couldn't add more!

I have to agree with this. There is often an office for Students with Disabilities that you can go to. They are specialists in adressing these types of dilemmas. 

I also want to say to OP that I feel for you, and hope you'll get better soon.

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