After a few years away from academia, I started my part time PhD in November 2020. This would be my first time as a student following my autism diagnosis, so I wasn’t sure what to expect! I chose the part time option as I work as a Spanish and Portuguese to English translator when I’m not undertaking research and I knew it would work best for me. I’m based in the Modern Languages department at the University of Birmingham and my research explores the ways in which speculative fiction in Brazil, the Hispanic Caribbean and the Diaspora can disrupt dominant discourses of identity. I work closely with questions of race and gender, and study how this work can create, reclaim and own space that is both capacious and transformative for new identities and possibilities, amplifying voices that have been historically erased by hegemonic discourse. My research exists at the intersections of Black, Diaspora and Gender and Sexuality studies and engages with Queer, Transgender, Black feminist and Critical Race Theory.
University can be a very challenging and often overwhelming environment, from paperwork, to deadlines and relationships. I’ve chosen to undertake my PhD as a distance student, as after completing my BA and MA on campus, I soon realised that what I found hardest was negotiating and maintaining relationships with my peers. Today, my biggest challenge as a new student is getting my head around the independence required to undertake a PhD. I’m incredibly lucky and both of my supervisors have been fantastic and have made me feel very welcome and comfortable. Although, I must admit that I find myself feeling overwhelmed when it comes to finding information and knowing which administrative tasks need to be undertaken and when, but I’m getting to grips with it!
Academia occupies a very important space in my world. It’s where I feel most at ease and where I can be my true self. However, my academic career is often what throws people off. They assume that as an academic individual, I don’t struggle and I don’t have major challenges that I’ve spent a lifetime trying to overcome. For me, academia has always been a place of safety. Research has consistently provided me with structure. It’s a process! Although it’s predominantly non-linear, it follows a plan, has an order and to me it just makes sense. Being able to conduct academic research based on my special interests has enabled me to start living as my authentic self, following my diagnosis.
Exploring people in writing, based on literature, theory and the notion of ‘the other’ has been a gamechanger in terms of coming to understand and accept myself, and others. I strive for inclusivity in every aspect of my life and my research is based on creating an inclusive space.
I’m still in the very early stages of my research, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience so far and I’m very happy with my decision to study off-campus. I’ve found that this has meant that I haven’t actually been affected by the pandemic in terms of accessing services and events. In fact, I’ve been more involved in conferences and talks than I have ever been! Public speaking has always been tough, but I recently presented my research at my first academic research conference and I’m incredibly proud of myself. It has given me a sense of accomplishment and the motivation I needed to really throw myself in at the deep end and enjoy the academic experience.
If I had to give some advice to an autistic person thinking about starting a PhD, I’d say don’t be afraid to ask for help. As hard as it is, there’s significant support available, from on-campus disability services to adaptations for supervision meetings and feedback on your work. I was sure to state that I’m autistic right from the start, and it has made such a difference to how I manage my work and time, how I experience life as a PhD student and it has ensured I get the most out of my time as a doctoral researcher as opposed to feeling stressed and anxious because I haven’t got the adaptations I need.