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Navigating My Postgraduate Degree With Dyslexia

Photo of the author who wrote this blog post
Jessica Rachid
5 min read

Why did I leave academia?

AI technologies, like Scholarcy, are vital in aiding education, especially for neurodiverse students and users with accessibility needs. As a postgraduate with severe dyslexia, I could not read or write until the age of eleven. My learning difficulties affected my confidence, and I did not know if I would ever be able to pursue a higher education.

After interviewing John Mitchell, the Head of Product for Scholarcy, I have learnt the importance of transparency and sharing stories of neurodiversity. John told me about his recent diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD,) and that has given me the courage to share my story about why I decided to leave academia, especially after I had worked so hard to get into university.

Conducting my research into ADHD has been a daunting process, as I can relate to the two types of behavioural problems, which include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Like everyone else, I am easily distracted by Netflix, Audible, or Instagram. I excessively talk, especially when I am nervous or scared. I find it difficult to focus on an exam when I think about the time to answer all of the questions. Therefore, it was no surprise when I discovered that a related condition in children and teenagers with ADHD is dyslexia.

But once I learnt how to pick up a book and read it entirely, I was addicted to stories. That was why I went on to study my Masters in Comparative Literature at King’s College London.  

I aimed to complete my postgraduate degree, continue to pursue a PhD and then become a lecturer, specialising in feminism and postmodernism. I wanted to complete my education with top honours and make my family proud. More importantly, I wanted to show myself, all of my teachers, and classmates that I could get my degree, even with a learning difficulty. That was why I worked part-time to pay my university fees, studied full-time and never asked for any extra help because of my dyslexia.  

Why I decided to apply to grad school

When I was sixteen, I knew I wanted to complete a PhD and become a ‘Dr.’ This may be because I am half Irish and half Egyptian and my family have always wanted me to become an actual doctor, working in a hospital, except, I am terrified of blood.

I felt safe in a university lecture hall.

I loved studying in The British Library for hours. I only recently discovered my mountain of notebooks and essays in my shed, meticulously labelled and stored for safekeeping in case I ever decided to complete my PhD.

It only seemed natural, after overcoming so many obstacles with my dyslexia, to chase a career in academia and inspire other students battling their learning difficulties. Nevertheless, I found myself questioning my own choices. I had completed two dissertations, paid all my university fees and I was no longer in any debt.

What were the convincing factors to pursue a Masters?

At the end of my final year at the University of Westminster, I had handed in my dissertation on feminism and fairytales. I wanted to look at the work of cautionary tales, perhaps because I could not read these books as a child. I was fascinated by the Brothers Grimm and their interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Beauty and The Beast. This is where I stumbled on the work of Angela Carter and The Bloody Chamber.

It was because of that book of short stories, that I decided I wanted to challenge myself. I was lucky enough to have a dissertation supervisor, Prof. Steve Barfield, who encouraged me to submit my application to study at King’s College London. It was with his recommendation that I consider completing my Masters.

Together, we worked on my dissertation in stages and reviewed my chapters over the year. I had to remember that just because it takes me longer to complete my work, it does not affect the quality of my writing. I had found a subject I loved, a teacher who believed in my abilities and I was determined to get a first.

No one was happier than I was when I received my diploma and an offer from KCL.

Starting graduate school

If I am honest, I was not fully prepared for the workload when I arrived at King’s College London. Quickly, I discovered that my classmates were from all over the world, travelling from Norway, Spain and the Middle East. It was probably the only time in my life when I did not feel out of place. I was the only Londoner there.

I felt like I was in a literal fairytale, getting lost in The Maughan Library, a 19th-century neo-Gothic building located on Chancery Lane. In between classes, I would hide in the Round Reading Room.

What were the positives of doing a Masters?

In one year, I have never written more words in my life. However, I failed my module on C. P. Cavafy and had to pay to retake the class the following year, which derailed my plans of getting a PhD.

I was heartbroken. I could not receive my degree with the rest of my class. It was out of my hands, and I felt like that young girl who was sent out of the classroom because she could not keep up with the lesson or understand what was written on the chalkboard.

My Masters taught me the most valuable lesson I have ever learnt in my life, and that is the power of persistence.

Finding my path

After the shock had worn off, I had to get to work. I was no longer receiving any bursaries, therefore, I had to find a way to pay for my failed module. That was when I began working for start-ups, as a Customer Success Manager.

By working for scale-up startups, I was able to work remotely, study, go to class and complete my Cavafy module. It was a juggling act, and my dream of completing a PhD was eradicated as my university fees were on the rise and I could not afford to pay £9,000 a year.

Why did I decide to leave academia?

When I finally graduated from KCL, I did not have AI technology to assist with my reading. Having Scholarcy would have been a game-changer, especially considering my learning difficulties. Digesting such a huge amount of information in such a short amount of time, it was inevitable in a way that I would fail one module.

Moreover, that failure made me take a step back and reevaluate what I wanted and that was to become a professional writer.

Now after a few years after graduating, the cost-of-living crisis, I decided to take a leap of faith and start freelancing. That is how I began working with Scholarcy. I have enjoyed working with this small, dedicated team, and I am amazed at how much Phil Gooch and Emma Warren-Jones have achieved in the last few years. They have founded an AI technology that helps neurodiverse users, like myself. I know if I had used Scholarcy when I was at KCL, I would have been able to read faster. Most recently, in 2021, Scholarcy was approved by the UK Department for Education to be sold as an assistive technology to neurodiverse students who received the Disabled Student Allowance, which has helped hundreds of users pursue their degrees. Without a shadow of a doubt, I know Scholarcy will become a part of every student’s essential toolkit and I can only hope that sharing my academic journey, with dyslexia, will help one of those readers. For me, an education is never wasted. What you do with those lessons is what truly matters.