The life of a dyslexic PhD Student – Caoimhe Tiernan


The fear of writing is a PhD student’s nightmare, add dyslexia to the equation and BAM the fear has trebled. The fear of writing but also the fear of someone reading your work, ‘I don’t want them to think I am stupid’ and then this comes along……… ‘did you even read over this?’, ‘this seems very rushed’ but I have spent days/weeks/months on the work.

PhD life is eventful, tough, challenging, exciting, relentless and satisfying (when it goes right) but always achievable. Dyslexia makes the process a little more difficult and 10 times longer, the reading, the understanding and processing is just that bit further away and you have to work that bit harder and longer to get to that goal.

Dyslexia affects the learning process in relation to reading, writing and speaking. It can affect your ability to identify sounds in words and ability to put things in order (e.g. information, letters), it may affect concentration, letter/numeral formation skills and the speed of reading and understanding.

The Good, Bad and Ugly of my PhD Dyslexic Life

The Good 

  • Thinking outside the box
  • Very determined
  • Self-driven
  • Good long-term memory for experiences, locations, and faces (but not names)
  • Think primarily with images
  • Extremely hard worker

The Bad

  • Hand writing- however, with computers we are now safe and do not have to look at it
  • Poor memory for sequences, facts and information
  • Fatigues or becomes bored quickly while reading
  • Mistakes and symptoms increase dramatically with confusion, time pressure or emotional stress
  • A lot of energy that has to go into reading and writing, if only naps were possible

The Ugly/Annoying

  • Frequently have to read and re-read sentences in order to comprehend
  • Grammar, spelling and sentence structure
  • All the information is in there but it is hard to get it out. It is like that last Pringle in the tube, you can see it but your hand just can’t reach it…. but eventually you get there or find someone with a tiny hand

Little Tricks to Help- Even for the Unaffected PhD Students

  • Never use it as an excuse, the task will get complete but at a slower pace
  • Outline, plan and structure EVERYTHING
  • Lists and plan what you want to do for the day, week and month
  • Read, re-read and oh wait read again
  • Highlight and make notes
  • Have good family and friends to read over your work for you
  • Relate it to something you know e.g. Slimani et al (2017), is like salami, John Bowlby (famous psychologist on attachment theory) – bulbasore (the pokemen) worked on this one

Everyone has their own little tricks and you have to find what works for you. Find what you enjoy and the other tough parts might not seem as bad. Testing, organising, planning and player reports is an area I enjoy and excel at, reading and writing is something that is a challenge. However, there is always the good with the bad and you just have to make the good count more than the bad, and just keep working hard at it.   Never give up!!


Caoimhe Tiernan is a PhD Researcher in the department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick.  Her research interests are in the area of fatique, recovery in high performance sport, to optimising training and reducing risk of injury and illness across all sports.  Contact Caoimhe at or on twitter @caoimhetiernan  View Caoimhe’s profile’s on Research Gate and on Linked-In 



Tagged with: