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Joined: 16 Apr 2012
Age: 43
Gender: Female
Posts: 341
Location: Australia

22 Jul 2019, 6:34 am


I have an Asperger's diagnosis. I am doing a PhD in an ecological field in Australia and finding it a huge struggle.

I've previously done well at university and I love my topic, so it's not a problem with academic ability or the subject. I am struggling more with:

1) The office environment where I'm expected to work. It's open-plan and too cold, the fluorescent lights are too bright and it's too social. I'm uncomfortable physically and psychologically so I can't concentrate on anything.
2) My supervisor's expectations of my attendance. Despite my discomfort, he wants me in the office rather than working at home. I am miserable because I know what I need to do to get my work done and keep myself mentally healthy - that is, work at home whenever possible - but feel like I'm disappointing him when I do work from home.
3) My supervisor's changing expectations. His expectations seem to shift over time, which is dizzyingly confusing.
4) The social nature of doing research. As a learner at the beginning of my project, I have to ask for help all the time. There is also a general expectation that you will network with other PhD students and academics.
5) The bureaucracy. There is so much paperwork and I struggle with filling it out.
6) There seems to be an avalanche of information and things to do. I can't deal with it. It's like I have a buffer in my head and I can't process everything fast enough.
7) Difficulties in focusing. I don't multitask well and all the different things I am juggling make it impossible to focus on anything.
8 ) The lack of structure. I know I need to impose my own structure, however I can't seem to get this to happen.

Between all that, I am overwhelmed. My problems have triggered anxiety and depression. I have no motivation and I'm thinking about going part time, deferring or even quitting. If I go part time I will have money problems. If I quit or defer I have no idea what I'd do instead.

Is anyone else doing a PhD and having similar challenges? Or did you have similar challenges, which you then succeeded in overcoming or managing? I'd love any advice please!

jimmy m

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Joined: 30 Jun 2018
Age: 72
Gender: Male
Posts: 5,686
Location: Indiana

22 Jul 2019, 8:31 am

I am not sure I can offer you any good advise but I will try.

Since you choose the ecological field, there is something in the subject that attracted you. Therefore it is important to make sure that some of your tasks involves hands-on experience in this field every day. Make sure you work it in to your studies.

Sensory perception issues makes it difficult for you to function properly. So therefore do what you can to change your environment.

For example fluorescent lights are too bright. So wear sunglasses. One of the problems for Aspies is eye contact. NTs frequently misinterpret our feeling by looking into our eyes. Recently I began wearing a pair of blue solid mirrored coating prescription glasses. The lenses have no internal tint. Therefore it is possible to wear them indoors because they are not true sunglasses. It is like looking through a one way mirror.

The office area is too cold. Wear additional clothing. Or you might even sneak a small little heater under your desk (but be aware that this additional electrical load can pop a circuit breaker, so you might want to know where the circuit breaker box is and how to reset it).

The office area is too social. Many Aspies have found that they can block out social distractions by wearing headsets that play music in the office environment. It allows better concentration.

Most jobs require that you work in an office environment rather than at home. Maybe once you get your PhD you might try at capture a work at home job, but in the meantime do the best you can to adapt to the environment and own it.

As an Aspie, I hate multitasking but over time I have learned to become rather good at it. I like to do one task at a time and complete it before I move onto the next task. Otherwise I have found that my time is split up and I become disorganized. The secret here is to always make lists. I put all the tasks down in list form, then because many of my tasks can be a year or longer to complete, I further break the tasks down into subtasks. Because these subtasks are smaller elements, I can gauge my effectiveness at the subtask level. It also allows me to prioritize my workload. For example if a subtask requires that I order something and the item that I have to order has a lead time of several months, it moves this action to the top of the priority list in order to complete my project. It generally means that every moment of my work life is well used and I become extremely efficient. The other problem that often occurs is changing expectations from your supervisor. You are told that this tasks needs to be done now (but in reality it doesn't). So by having a list, when your supervisor inserts an new task, you are better able to show how this new assignment will impact your current workload. Over time you will be better able to assess the task priorities yourself and efficiently manage your time.

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Joined: 4 Mar 2017
Age: 37
Gender: Male
Posts: 7,737

22 Jul 2019, 5:47 pm



Disclose your diagnosis to the school

Get reasonable accommodation

Work from home


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Joined: 18 Dec 2015
Gender: Male
Posts: 12,030
Location: New England

22 Jul 2019, 5:55 pm

Also, how about the library? What if you say, "The office is really distracting -- I'd like to do more work in the library, would that be ok?" Unless there's lab work to be done that might be a good choice. (And what your boss probably wants to see is people checking in at the beginning of the day, rather than goofing off at home.) If you show up and then head to the library that might satisfy the requirement.

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