Square PegsNov 16, 2023
Balancing Acts: Managing OCD and Eating Disorders in Graduate School
In this episode of Square Pegs, we delve into two important topics: first, we explore the strengths and challenges related to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as a form of neurodiversity and second, we explore the potential connections between environmental stressors in graduate school, mental health, and eating disorders. Sarah Goodman, a Teaching Assistant Professor at Stevens Institute of Technology, shares her personal experiences with OCD as well as her journey in managing an eating disorder during her time as a graduate student.
The discussion highlights how societal pressures, particularly those present in academia, can contribute to harmful behaviors and detrimental mindset. Sarah also emphasizes the urgent need for a shift in focus towards mental and physical well-being, effective mentorship, and proactive outreach within academia. We discuss the systemic flaws that hinder the balance of research and teaching in academia, underscoring an urgent need for change.
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- FEDUP collective - Fighting Eating Disorders in Underrepresented Populations
- Association for Size Diversity and Health
- International OCD Foundation
- Sarah Goodman's Blog
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0:00:00 Mental gymnastics: the compulsion of intrusive thoughts
0:03:45 The transformative potential of undergraduate research opportunities
0:8:00 Locked in the supply closet: a detailed look at the thought processes of OCD
0:09:49 Planning the storage supply closet in teaching labs
0:14:20 Approaching things differently: coping with OCD
0:19:06 Being an open door for students: the importance of empathy
0:21:29 OCD strengths: the value of over-preparation
0:25:18 Common experiences of OCD
0:27:51 The perfect grad student
0:36:20 Faculty perspectives on changing the culture of academia
0:39:12 Checking in with students and offering support
0:42:59 Fostering creativity and personal connections in education
0:45:33 Content warning: This portion contains discussion of eating disorders
0:49:15 Lack of control in grad school
0:55:43 Food as a coping mechanism for anxiety
0:59:03 Hustle culture and its impact on mental health
1:04:53 The importance of mentorship and teaching in academia
1:07:45 The need for change and support in education
Becoming Best Friends With Your Brain: An Enlightening Conversation With Autumn Deitrick
In this episode of the Square Pegs podcast, we are joined by Autumn Deitrick, an engineering education doctoral student at The Pennsylvania State University. At the time of recording, she was finishing her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and entering the doctoral program at Penn State.
Autumn discusses her experiences throughout her K-12, undergraduate, and graduate education, through the lens of a recent ADHD diagnosis. With an emphasis on “Becoming Best Friends with [her] Brain,” Autumn discusses some strategies that have been helpful for her while navigating the educational system as a neurodiverse student. She also shares her insights on the engineering field, how she became involved with civil and environmental engineering, and why she is stepping into education in this field.
She finishes by giving advice to her younger self, which listeners may find applicable to their own lives. Join us as we explore with Autumn how she navigates the intricacies of the educational system as a neurodiverse student and and how she leans into the idea of self-acceptance.
Watch Autumn’s talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFxKGHjduCg
Send in a voice message: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/squarepegspod/message
Send feedback about Square Pegs to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us at squarepegspodcast.com.
0:37 - Guest intro: Autumn Deitrick, finishing her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering at MIT and entering an engineering education PhD program at Penn State.
3:04 - Autumn’s TedTalk “Becoming Best Friends with my Brain and How You Can Too.”
6:48 - Mindset shifts and the importance of a growth mindset.
10:50 - Exercise, mindfulness, long walks, and taking breaks.
23:29 - What is productivity? How often do we use pseudo-productivity to combat anxiety rather than taking breaks that allow us to be fully present at work?
29:40 - Anxiety regarding exams in undergraduate education, the importance of self-advocacy, and the provision of accommodations.
35:20 - Self-acceptance and becoming friends with your brain, treating yourself as you would a friend, and loving the way your brain works.
37:50 - How and why students may enter the engineering field, the rigidity of the field, and the delusion or intentional lying surrounding the “creativity” of the field.
46:46 - The transition to engineering education.
52:23 - Receiving a diagnosis and how this may help in understanding oneself.
1:02:42 - What advice would you give your younger self?
The Cost of Masking in STEM Fields: A Conversation with Connie Syharat
On this episode of Square Pegs, we are joined by Connie Syharat, a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education. Connie shares reflections about her experiences working on neurodiversity-related research within UConn’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, culminating with a discussion of her current research as part of a team investigating the experiences of neurodiverse graduate students in STEM fields.
Today’s conversation brings us through the major findings from a series of 10 focus groups with neurodiverse graduate students, as we meander through topics like procrastination, productivity, and perfectionism. Connie shares insights about the ways neurodiverse grad students may internalize the neurotypical norms of the graduate school, hide their struggles in the face of what they perceive as threatening power dynamics, and ultimately feel immense pressure to mask their neurodiversity, risking overwork and burnout. Join us as we delve into what the research is saying about the real cost of navigating advanced STEM programs as a neurodiverse graduate student.
0:00:55 – Guest intro: Connie Syharat, Research Assistant at UConn Civil and Environmental Engineering and doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at UConn’s Neag School of Education.
0:02:48 – Making room for exploration and wonder in a strengths-based research environment for students with ADHD.
0:05:30 – How can students bring their whole self to the classroom?
0:06:00 – What the research says, introducing a recent publication titled “Experiences of neurodivergent students in graduate STEM programs.”
0:10:30 – “Why can’t I be like them?” Graduate students feel pressure to conform to the expectations built into the system and often struggle with negative self-judgments.
0:14:40 – Procrastination: an unhealthy habit or the “magic” tool that helps get things done? Strategies, fake deadlines, and fine-tuning your procrastination for the realities of grad school.
0:26:45 – Self-silencing and power dynamics: Neurodiverse graduate students often hide their struggles, avoid seeking help, and take on too much, leaving no space for self-care.
0:31:30 – The importance of down time for creativity and a discussion of the productivity culture of academia.
0:42:00 – The cost of masking can include burnout, depression, anxiety, and physical health impacts. How can we tell if it is a safe atmosphere to unmask or disclose a diagnosis?
0:53:00 – Finding a compatible advisor, talking about work style, communicating your strengths and weaknesses, and how bringing your whole self can help you make a deeper contribution to your work.
1:00:00 – Final thoughts and reflections.
Breaking the Stereotype of "Perfect Professor" – A Conversation with Nadia Kellam
On this episode of Square Pegs, we are joined by Dr. Nadia Kellam, Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Arizona State University’s Fulton School of Engineering. Her research explores the unique strengths faculty with ADHD bring to the research environment. Today’s conversation reflects on the strides that have been made in recent years in (re)educating faculty to think and teach in a more neuroinclusive way, and the progress that we still need to make. Working through professional journals and societies, Nadia has spearheaded work on building reflexivity and a common, inclusive language, to ensure we continue to leverage the strengths-based approach and bring more neurodiverse minds into the STEM ecosystem. Please join us for this deep dive into the behind-the-scenes look at how the neurodiversity project is expanding across the academy!
0:00:45 – Guest intro: Nadia Kellam, Associate Professor at the Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University
0:04:48 – Breaking the image of faculty as perfect and showing they’re human and they too can be neurodiverse
0:09:45 – Pivoting success metrics in academia to “scholarly products” outside grant funding and impact factors to make research results generally accessible
0:13:15 – “The Disease of Academia” in failing to learn how to communicate to other stakeholders
0:22:47 – Multimodality in education as a way to bring in neurodiverse learners
0:36:38 – Past traumas with education and overcoming the internalized feelings of failure
0:43:48 – Modern university teaching requires mentorship and compassion, not just lesson planning
0:52:30 – Promoting positionality statements and thinking about how our backgrounds influence research design and teaching
1:00:25 – “Neurodiverse” v “neurodivergent;” the impact of semantic language on real people
1:03:32 – Concluding thoughts
Revealing the Cosmos Within: Jessica Stasik's Path to Embracing Neurodiversity in Astrophysics
On this episode of Square Pegs, we are joined by Jessica Schonhut-Stasik, a PhD student at Vanderbilt University and the Program Coordinator of the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation. Jessica brings a unique and compelling perspective to our conversation around neurodiversity. She recounts her struggles to be “normal” prior to her autism diagnosis in adulthood, and the complicated dynamic of masking that most neurodiverse people develop. Jessica details how, in pivoting to astrophysics, returning to university and moving to Hawaii, she learned to de-mask and see herself as neurodiverse.
This path eventually led her to join the pioneering Frist Center at Vanderbilt University where she is a fellow studying under renowned astronomer Keivan Stassun. Along the way, Jessica imparts valuable advice from how to navigate the overwhelming environment of major academic conferences to deploying the strengths-based approach to neurodiversity to help students grow into innovative scholars.
0:01:12 – Guest intro: Jessica Schonhut-Stasik, PhD student in Astrophysics at Vanderbilt University and Program Coordinator of the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation
0:02:14 – Galactic archeology: what is it, how are stars like fossils, and what can we learn?
0:06:11 – Reflections on being the “odd one out” in childhood after autism diagnosis in adulthood
0:13:34 – Mental health taboos in the UK and learning to mask
0:20:17 – First experience de-masking
0:26:16 – Managing conferences as a neurodiverse academic
0:36:40 – Moving to Hawaii, working in observatories, and becoming an astrophysicist
0:40:15 – Grad school and coming into neurodiversity as an adult
0:54:50 – Sense of belonging and the Frist Center
1:06:37 – Implementing the strengths-based approach to catalyze growth for neurodiverse students
1:13:15 – “Losing talent is a funny way of saying destroying careers”: advice for other neurodiverse students
We're In This Together: A Conversation with Charlotte Fuqua
Today on Square Pegs we are joined by Charlotte Fuqua, a first-year PhD student in Chemistry at UConn. Charlotte, who returned to higher education later in life, understands the importance of strong mentorships and support systems for neurodiverse students. Her story of resilience and crafting the environment to facilitate her own success shows both the trials and triumphs faced by many in the neurodiverse community. Our conversation today strays from our usual format, spending considerable time discussing the theories and systems trying to make higher education more inclusive – and those resisting change. Such frank discussions are hard to find in the realm of neuroinclusivity and inspire by highlighting how far we have come, and how far we have left to go.
0:01:05 – Guest intro: Charlotte Fuqua, first-year PhD student in Chemistry at the University of Connecticut
0:04:50 – Charlotte’s inspiration for neurodiverse mentorship and inclusivity based on negative experiences as an undergrad
0:09:42 – Primary school: early diagnosis and learning self-advocacy
0:14:52 – Middle school transition: the importance of resiliency and support systems in early childhood
0:21:00 – Learning to love chemistry and seeing herself as a scientist
0:27:36 – The impact of teacher mentality on student learning and the role of universal design
0:31:55 – The strengths-based approach is taking universal design one step further
0:36:04 – Undergraduate years: throwing a child in the deep end to teach them how to swim
0:40:02 – Correcting the mistakes of past professors: meeting students with empathy
0:49:31 – The systemic ableism of standardized assessment in higher ed and the role of advisors in breaking down barriers
1:06:42 – Final thoughts and reflections
Embracing ChatGPT: Enhancing Creativity for Neurodiverse Learners with Maggie Melo
On today’s episode of Square Pegs we are joined by Maggie Melo, an Assistant Professor at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science. Maggie recently wrote an op-ed on the value of ChatGPT, especially as a tool for neurodiverse learners, for "Inside Higher Ed" and she joins us to discuss the paradigm shift ChatGPT represents. As higher education engages in a fierce debate over what role, if any, ChatGPT should play in the lives of students, this conversation takes a sober look at the program as a tool to enhance rather than replace, human creativity.
Maggie and Arash share their personal experiences utilizing ChatGPT to assist students with ADHD and dyslexia. Maggie talks about using the program to recreate the body-doubling productivity strategy to manage her ADHD, while Arash describes how he encourages students to utilize ChatGPT for refining language, allowing them to focus more on the depth of their analysis. Both emphasize ethical usage when implementing AI tools like ChatGPT in education. The debate surrounding ChatGPT's impact on academic integrity needs to be informed by a nuanced understanding of what this tool offers, rather than by fear and anxiety. Ultimately, we find a hopeful glimpse into the possibilities that AI technology holds for supporting diverse learners in achieving their academic aspirations, and how those lessons can inform its use for the wider academic community.
Read Maggie Melo's article here:
0:00:11 – Guest intro: Dr. Maggie Melo, Assistant Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill
0:02:26 – Maggie’s NSF CAREER research into accessibility in maker spaces
0:05:35 – ChatGPT as a generative assistive technology for neurodiverse researchers and how it supplements other focusing strategies
0:12:24 – Inspiration for Maggie’s article on ADHD and ChatGPT
0:17:37 – Use of ChatGPT in the daily life of academia
0:22:33 – Exploring the cause of the negative reaction and fear coming from academia around the use of AI
0:32:33 – How we are using ChatGPT in the classroom currently
0:45:15 – How AI will change scholarship and publishing
0:56:10 – Predicting the future of ChatGPT and other large language models
1:01:05 – ChatGPT as the “easy way out” and inherent guilt in using it
1:13:25 – Concluding thoughts: advice to young Maggie
Passion, Determination, and Intersectionality: A Conversation with Kia Huggan
Today, we welcome Kianjai Huggan, a current graduate student pursuing a Master’s degree in Education at Harvard University. Kia also has an undergraduate degree in engineering and is a CEO of her startup company, Webquity, which she launched with the goal of increasing online accessibility for all kinds of learners.
Kia looks back on how early experiences with robotics sparked her interest in engineering and inspired her path as an innovator in STEM. Described by her teachers as “creative, but distracted,” Kia retells her experiences pushing against the boundaries of an education system that encouraged her to conform rather than embrace her creativity.
We also touch on the intersectionality of Kia’s experiences as a Black woman in STEM who identifies as neurodiverse. Kia reflects on how racism and stigma related to neurodiversity and mental health labels shaped her family’s choice to not pursue a formal diagnosis. While deeply personal, these experiences highlight a clear equity issue for students from minority backgrounds and for their families as they must navigate complex choices about the potential benefits and harms of seeking diagnosis, understanding, and support.
Square Pegs is a series of intimate conversations about navigating life and learning within the neurodiverse community, hosted by Dr. Arash Zaghi, Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Engineering. In each episode, we talk to neurodiverse students and experts in the field of neurodiversity.
Have feedback for us? Reach out at email@example.com.
0:01:16 – Guest intro and educational journey - Kia Huggan, a Master's student at Harvard and CEO of the startup Webquity
0:05:59 – First STEM experience with robotics and it's impact on the ethos and founding on Webquity
0:08:04 – Adapting to and coping with the traditional engineering education system as a neurodiverse student
0:12:53 – The "combative" elementary school years and embracing engagement in middle school
0:23:39 – The impact of AI and chatGPT on education
0:33:42 – High school, falling away from creativity, and how cultural impacts drive blending in over seeking formal diagnoses
0:41:25 – Navigating how best to embrace the self vs conforming to what society expects
0:48:52 – Exploitation of problems in the entrepreneur space, and how Webquity tries to avoid those pitfalls
0:58:40 – Reflecting on Square Pegs and its personal impact
1:02:50 – Final thoughts and reflections
Medicine Can’t Solve It: A Conversation with Dr. Joyce Kamanitz, MD
Today, we are joined by special guest Dr. Joyce Kamanitz, a psychopharmacologist with over 35 years of experience in the medical field. We also welcome back Dr. Lexi Hain, who rejoins the conversation as a co-host as we explore how limitations in the medical and educational systems can shape our experiences and sense of self.
The conversation gets personal as Dr. Zaghi takes us back to his initial diagnosis with ADHD by Dr. Kamanitz. Together, they reflect on how this experience sparked a series of personal transformations and opened a path to a new line of research related to neurodiversity in engineering.
Dr. Kamanitz shares her experiences from years of working with neurodiverse adults who frequently come to her after experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression. Her discussion of a holistic approach to wellbeing, including the benefits of meditation and a healthy diet, reveals insights about the interconnectedness of mind and body and how the plasticity of the brain allows us to modify old habits and negative narratives.
Finally, she discusses how the demands of many environments do not align with or acknowledge the strengths that individuals with ADHD bring to the table and suggests that safe, nurturing spaces can provide fertile ground for neurodiverse individuals to thrive.
Square Pegs is a series of intimate conversations about navigating life and learning within the neurodiverse community, hosted by Dr. Arash Zaghi, Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Engineering. In each episode we talk to neurodiverse students and experts in the field of neurodiversity.
Have feedback for us? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waking Up: https://www.wakingup.com/
Food Tracking Apps
Lose It: https://www.loseit.com/
0:00:28 – Guest introduction – Dr. Joyce Kamanitz, Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association
0:03:38 – The connection between Arash and Joyce
0:05:47 – Adult ADHD: Diagnosis and the ADHD/Anxiety Venn Diagram
0:10:35 – How external pressures driving psychiatric treatment keep physicians from helping patients
0:13:12 – ADHD: from evolutionary advantage to modern “deficit”
0:24:58 – The challenges of and solutions for productivity with ADHD
0:33:00 – How to be an effective provider when every patient is unique
0:44:23 – Joyce’s reflections on previous episodes, the resiliency of the neurodiverse brain, and nurturing growth
0:57:37 – The foibles and fumbles of the mainstream medical and educational models of neurodiversity
1:10:12 – Chronic labelling of the neurodiverse as learned helplessness
1:14:55 – Changing your mindset, breaking the systemic mold, and finding a community
1:20:10 – Learning lifestyle changes for better mindfulness
1:31:21 – A discourse on the ideal mental health system
1:34:28 – Final thoughts: wisdom to young patients and college students
Wild Creativity: A Conversation with Dr. Caitlin O'Brien
This time, we chat with Dr. Caitlin O’Brien, a graduate who recently completed her doctoral degree in Structural Engineering at the University of Connecticut and is now working in the engineering industry.
Caitlin shares pivotal moments in her life, including her diagnosis with ADHD as a senior in high school, challenges and moments of success in her academics, and lessons that contributed to her personal growth. Insightful and self-aware, Caitlin explains how she uses cognitive behavioral strategies to reframe intense emotions and challenge negative internal narratives. Reflections on her educational experiences contrast moments of intense frustration and boredom with moments of creative engagement that led to a strong interest in engineering research. At times, the conversation suggests flaws in an education system that often fails to recognize and cultivate the divergent thinking abilities of students with ADHD.
This is the Square Pegs podcast, a series of discussions about navigating life and learning within the neurodiverse community, hosted by Dr. Arash Zaghi, Professor at the UConn School of Engineering. In each episode, we talk to current and former neurodiverse graduate students from across the Academy.
Have something to say or ask? Reach us at email@example.com.
0:01:03 – Guest intro: Dr. Caitlin O’Brien, recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
0:04:58 – Redefining ADHD as an asset and deploying creativity in early education
0:07:23 – Middle school: more rigidity and having to find your own creative outlines in STEM classes
0:08:25 – Disconnecting from learning history as a series of facts rather than the story of a people
0:18:35 – High school: getting “out of control” and starting to come to terms with ADHD
0:24:17 – Finding engineering in early undergrad, and learning to balance coursework demands
0:30:26 – Implementing a paradigm shift in understanding neurodiversity to leveraging peoples’ individual strengths rather than demanding we be Jacks-of-all-trades
0:41:52 – Overcoming difficulties with focusing
0:53:57 – Settling into graduate school and its immense creative freedom
0:58:55 – Advice on the advisor/advisee relationship
1:01:20 – Caitlin’s writing process and manufacturing the conditions to produce quality work quickly
1:07:35 – Gaining the confidence to seek help when you don’t know what to do
1:17:34 – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and managing the day-to-day
1:23:26 – Final thoughts and advice to past Caitlin
Navigating ADHD in STEM: Insights from Recent Graduate Dr. Angela Lanning
Welcome back to Square Pegs, a series of discussions about navigating life and learning within the neurodiverse community, hosted by Dr. Arash Zaghi, Professor at the UConn School of Engineering. In each episode we talk to current and former neurodiverse graduate students from across the Academy. Today we are chatting with Dr. Angela Lanning, a recent UConn Structural Engineering graduate who studied with Dr. Zaghi. Angela shows how she not only came to accept her ADHD, but turn it into a strategic advantage in her graduate studies.
Angela reflects on her educational journey, touching on how traits related to her ADHD, like risk-taking and creative problem solving, helped her to become a better researcher and engineer. Revisiting discrete moments across Angela’s path from primary school to her doctorate unfolds into a discussion of systemic issues in the mindset around seeing ADHD as a problem rather than a strength and how this mindset contributes to pressure felt by neurodiverse students to silence their authentic selves, especially in the classroom. In this discussion of finding herself in the research environment, Angela leaves us with a model of how building self-awareness, embracing one’s strengths, and being bold enough to change paths can lead to unexpected opportunities.
0:01:09 – Guest intro: Dr. Angela Lanning, a structural engineer and recent graduate of UConn who studied under Dr. Zaghi during her PhD
0:04:39 – Gaining confidence to hop into new topics without experience
0:10:42 – Grad school and the accuracy of the narrative that you have to stay in the field of our PhD forever
0:14:50 – Childhood and ADHD in primary school as the “disruptor”
0:18:51 – ADHD, self-silencing, and not being able to be yourself
0:23:43 – Middle school and starting to find excitement in STEM
0:26:21 – High school and getting into engineering over biology
0:30:20 – ADHD and difficulties with focusing while reading and writing
0:34:10 – Strengths in math and pivoting to engineering
0:36:00 – Entering college, getting an official ADHD diagnosis, and making sense of personal changes
0:47:00 – Arash discussing his ADHD diagnosis later in life and coming to terms with himself
0:55:31 – The impacts of the deficit-based mindset around ADHD and it’s impact on the individual
0:59:48 – The final years of undergrad and getting into the lab for the first time
1:05:55 – Research as a meaningful alternative for ADHD learning over traditional methods
1:09:47 – Angela’s research during her PhD, and looking back
1:14:27 – Pivoting from Civil grad school to her current job
1:17:39 – Final thoughts and advice to past Angela
From Frustration to Success: Katherine Fleck on Leveraging ADHD in Graduate School
Welcome back to Square Pegs, a series of discussions about navigating life and learning within the neurodiverse community, hosted by Dr. Arash Zaghi, Professor at the UConn School of Engineering. In each episode we talk to current and former neurodiverse graduate students from across the Academy. Today we are chatting with Katherine Fleck, a 2nd year Ph.D. student in molecular biology at the University of Connecticut with ADHD.
Katherine’s story is somewhat unique in the realm of ADHD, and we begin by talking about the unequal treatment which comes with the underdiagnosing of ADHD in women. This lack of acceptance of girls having ADHD played a significant role in her K-12 education, spurring the guilt and shame associated with several formative memories – especially a poorly-executed attempt at cheating on a Spanish test. Yet, for much of this conversation, these moments serve more as a starting point for a wider discussion about the issues inherent to the standardization of the American education system. We take a hard look at how we are failing to meet neurodiverse students in the middle. It was not until Katherine was able to take part in research as an undergrad that she felt her creativity was appreciated and important. This helped build her confidence as she stepped into graduate school and gave her the courage necessary to advocate for her needs now as a doctoral student. Indeed, as Katherine teaches us, the road may be long, and the system may be unfair for neurodiverse students, but there is a way to leverage moments of frustration with the system into long-term success.
(0:01:58) – Guest intro and motivations for joining us: Katherine Fleck, 2nd year Ph.D. student in molecular biology
(0:03:54) – The stigma and power dynamics of unequal treatment and diagnosis of ADHD between males and females
(0:07:45) – Early childhood memories and lasting impacts on identity
(0:13:10) – The impact of parents filling gaps in executive function to shield their neurodiverse children
(0:17:13) – Cheating on a 5th grade Spanish test and the consequences of getting caught
(0:20:24) – The disconnect between American education focusing on memorization and the real world
(0:25:30) – The all-consuming nature of school for the American student
(0:28:36) – Boredom, play, and unstructured time are vital for developing creativity
(0:33:25) – Middle school and high school: first significant traumas from the accommodation system failing
(0:39:10) – We are terrible at teaching STEM in a way that excites students
(0:48:54) – The inherent failure of standardized teaching and the diminishing of creativity
(0:52:12) – College years and learning to work through the lack of structure
(0:54:20) – Undergrad research is extremely transformative
(1:00:15) – Education 2.0 and thinking outside the classroom for the future of learning
(1:04:03) – The benefits of purposeful failure
(1:18:48) – Grad school and navigating the advisor-advisee relationship
(1:32:25) – Wrap up: Advice to the past self
Graduate Life on the Spectrum: An Interview with Asia Perkins
Welcome back to the Square Pegs podcast, a series of discussions about navigating life and learning within the neurodiverse community, hosted by Dr. Arash Zaghi, Professor at the UConn School of Engineering. In each episode we talk to current and former neurodiverse graduate students from across the Academy. Today we are joined by Asia Perkins, who is pursuing her PhD in clinical psychology at UConn. Join us for a fruitful discussion about the unique strengths and needs of those graduate students on the autism spectrum.
Asia hopes to remind other ASD graduate students that they aren’t alone, their work is important, and that their struggles are not insurmountable, no matter how it may seem in the moment. She takes us through several discrete phases in her life, from early adolescence and realizing that the traditional education system was poorly equipped to handle her needs, to finding hope in the new environment of a performing arts middle and high school where everyone “embraced the weird,” and the return of having to fight the system in college. Throughout our conversation, a clear theme emerges: the importance of building an environment of your choice to prioritize your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.
(0:00:52) – Guest intro, Asia Perkins, PhD candidate in clinical psychology
(0:04:13) – Arash and Asia exchange their first traumatic memories with schooling and not being understood by the system
(0:07:04) – Innocence lost: the internalized effects of the system failing neurodiverse students
(0:14:35) – Autism and difficulties with the “implicit rules” of standard education
(0:19:08) – The catch 22 of getting accommodation and understanding, but only if you disclose your neurodiversity
(0:23:50) – The importance of environments, sound, and learning how to be productive in undergrad
(0:29:22) – Isolation and the importance of learning to communicate difficulties
(0:35:54) – The strengths-based approach: distilling what strengths autism brings to PhD work
(0:40:45) – Navigating the advisor-advisee relationship and avoiding pain points
Overcoming Dyslexia and Anxiety in Engineering: Dr. Lexi Hain's Journey
Welcome to episode one of Square Pegs, a series of discussions about navigating life and learning within the neurodiverse community, hosted by Dr. Arash Zaghi, Professor at the UConn School of Engineering. In each episode we will dive into the experiences of a neurodiverse former graduate student to explore the trials and tribulations they felt while navigating their way to the top of the ivory tower. We hope you’ll find valuable lessons from their insights as you embark on your own journey through the academy. Engineering desperately needs the unique talents and creativity non-traditional learners bring; join us as these trailblazers explain how to find your own success and develop new advancements in the field of engineering.
In this first episode, Dr. Lexi Hain, Assistant Professor at the UConn School of Engineering, reflects on her struggles and successes with dyslexia and the anxiety it brings to schooling. She details early difficulties in elementary school with reading and the lasting anxiety this feeling of inadequacy brought. When she began her PhD, the drive to prove – mostly to herself – that she was good enough to finish a doctoral program led, eventually to self-acceptance. Lexi describes how she developed a healthier relationship with her research and herself, and the important lessons she hopes students can learn from her story. Now, as a member of faculty, Lexi reflects on how academia has changed for the better, and what work still needs to be done to create a more inclusive, collaborative, and innovative engineering field.
(0:00:28) – Guest intro
(0:06:45) – K-12 and early struggles with feeling “behind”
(0:19:30) – Dyslexia, confidence, and battling imposter syndrome
(0:25:03) – Motivations to pursue academia and navigating graduate school with dyslexia
(0:26:43) – Shameless plug: Come do summer research at UConn! We have an REU Site for neurodiverse students!
(0:30:35) – Grad school, challenges: living and researching with dyslexia
(0:36:18) – Breaking the fear of rejection and inadequacy
(0:44:18) – Neurodiverse graduate students: the advisor perspective
(0:54:10) – Diversifying the Academy: beyond writing and what makes “good” research
Trailer: Square Pegs: Neurodiverse Academia
Introducing Square Pegs, the podcast about neurodiversity in academia with host Arash Zaghi, UTC Professor in Engineering Innovation at the University of Connecticut. Listen in as Arash interviews students and professors with neurodiverse work and life experiences.
Like what you’re listening to? Follow Square Pegs @squarepegspod on Twitter and Instagram. Have an experience, comment, or question that you want to share? Send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.