Supporting Neurodivergent PGRs
On October 26th 2023 we welcomed around 150 attendees to our Supporting Neurodivergent PGRs online discussion session, run in partnership with Durham University.
The event kicked off with a breakout session, where attendees discussed questions including: What are the barriers and facilitators to supporting neurodivergent PGRs, while sharing examples of good practice.
This session was followed by two presentations. Firstly, Professor Debbie Riby (Co-Director of the Centre for Neurodiversity and Development at Durham University) gave a general overview of the topic, which she began by advising people not to begin with a “deficit model” because “there will be strengths too”. She briefly examined what is meant by neurodiversity, saying that the term has origins in civil and disability rights and is understood to be much broader in scope than just autism.
“The use of the relevant and appropriate terminology is important in order to be respectful to the different groups we’re involving in our work”, she added.
Dr Nikki Rutter (Assistant Professor in Sociology at Durham University) followed with a more personal take on neurodiversity in the postgraduate sphere. She explained that she is “passionate about the strengths-based approach to neurodivergent students” and advised that pigeonholing people with tropes such as ‘autistic savant’ could put additional pressure on students.
Her advice was to treat postgraduates as individuals first and to see if aspects of the PhD journey, such as induction processes, could be tailored to help people settle in. Dr Rutter also said that, given the often-isolating effects of PhD study, it would be useful to ask students to identify their own communities – this also takes the pressure off supervisors to support the student singlehandedly.
Professor Riby rounded off the event by saying we are “all different – we shouldn’t be using a diagnostic label to determine what a student needs; our actions should be based on having honest conversations with them”, while Dr Rutter observed that “creating inclusive environments benefits everybody”.