Frankly, to get to the point, I am schizophrenic.

University sucked for me, not because it was hard and difficult work; not because I didn't get along with people; not because I couldn't communicate points; and surprisingly not because I had anxiety. But because I carried a ball and chain of "voices in my head."

After five years of undergrad I dropped out.

I am a mathematician at heart. I study math to the point of extinction of all other thought. And I'm good at it. Now I'm no Gauss, Euler, Newton, or Galois. But I'm pretty damn good. I got in well with my professors, and managed to write a few papers which stated correct final results but were not without their subtle mathematical typos (slight errors in rigor, which in math can cost you everything).

I do not ever expect to achieve professor status. Quite frankly I wouldn't be able to be a professor anyway. I am in a secure place financially though, luckily I'm schizophrenic in a supportive, fairly well-off family, and live in a country with a supportive government (I live in Canada); so there's no worry of needing to sustain myself off mathematics. I just love math, and I know I have things to add, but I have no avenue of adding them.

To express some of my hinderances: conferences are pretty much off the table. Regular meetings with faculty are off the table. Extended interaction with a bunch of colleagues are off the table... you can start to see the chips are stacked against me.

I'm asking this on academia.stackexchange, because I can imagine there are schizophrenic academics out there, and I imagine they may have found loop holes, or loop holes may have been created for them.

So as the title preludes:

As a schizophrenic with academic ambitions, what are my best options?

  • 4
    Publishing in journals seems plausible
    – user2768
    Nov 1, 2018 at 8:14
  • 6
    Since the financial aspects are not the important part, what sort of thing are you looking for? Certainly doing research on you own is possible, but it sounds like you would like to be more directly connected to academia? Nov 1, 2018 at 8:20
  • @TobiasKildetoft Yes. I was asking about my best route of publishing or doing things in math given my state, as generally as I stated it Nov 1, 2018 at 8:37
  • @user2768 Yes, that's the best outcome I can imagine, except I don't know how. Nov 1, 2018 at 8:42
  • 1
    @james.nixon What do you mean by I don't know how? Do you not understand the research process? Or are you concerned about subtle mathematical typos? Or ...? Perhaps some of these issues can be worked through with an advisor/mentor (the relationship needn't be formal), or perhaps you can study textbooks to overcome them yourself.
    – user2768
    Nov 1, 2018 at 8:48

4 Answers 4


You wouldn't be the first mathematician with schizophrenia, of course. But you also don't really say whether you want to just do mathematics in a satisfying way, or to be known publicly for doing mathematics.

And, don't be concerned about making stupid errors. We all do that. I've made some real boners that I've luckily caught in a second or third proof reading of my work. Hopefully I catch them all before publication.

While you can learn mathematics from books (and even wikipedia), doing it is vastly simplified if you have someone to give you feedback on your work. It needn't be in person and it needn't be especially frequent.

Let's assume that you keep the medical condition within bounds via professional help, and let's also assume that you aren't dangerous to the public.

What would help you advance in math is to have a mentor of some kind who is aware of your medical condition and who treats you like a human being. If you live near a university, preferably a large one, but a small college might do, see if you can visit the place and introduce yourself to a few people. Universities often have seminars that are more or less open to the public. You can also just write to a department head, introducing yourself, without details, and asking for a meeting. Go with a friend if necessary. Take some of your work. See if you can't wrangle an introduction to someone who works in an area you are interested in. A high powered researcher with little time for distraction probably isn't the right mentor for you, but if your work is "interesting" some professors might be willing to look at it.

It is also possible to make a link from a distance by simply writing to such a professor, stating your interest, showing some of your work, and stating initially that a medical condition prevents your formal participation in most activities. You don't need to say more at the beginning, and can decide later whether revealing more is a good thing or not.

If you can make a link then you have a feedback mechanism for your work. You might even have a conduit for joint publications if the work is promising.

Once a link is made, you needn't necessarily interact in person with your mentor if that is difficult in any way. There are many collaborations that go on internationally simply using email, so distance is no longer a problem after initial contact.

Many mathematicians have worked long and hard in obscurity and done fine work. Sometimes their work is superior to the general run of it since they have their own way of looking at problems. It isn't impossible that the wiring of your brain gives you an advantage in mathematics if you can learn how to exploit it.

  • 1
    See if you...wrangle an introduction to someone who works in an area you are interested in or maybe knock on their office door and introduce yourself (email introductions are also possible, as @Buffy rightly notes)
    – user2768
    Nov 1, 2018 at 13:30
  • 1
    Thanks for your detailed answer. No offence intended, but it sounded like a Tony Robbins speech and reaffirmed what I already knew but was too scared to admit. I don't want to be known for mathematics publicly per se (don't want to be Einstein or anything) just recognition for the work i've done, and if it has influence so be it. Within small circles kind of public, I'm okay with. Also, I'm a high functioning schizophrenic who takes his meds and does self-therapy and sees a psychiatrist rather often. So you're right to assume I'm a schizophrenic who keeps it "within bounds," lol. Thanks Nov 3, 2018 at 4:43

Your best bet is to start with the professors who you got along well with as a student. Ask them if they would be willing to mentor you informally, and if they agree, work out with them the form this mentorship will take. If they can't work with you, they may be willing to make introductions to someone who can. But approaching people cold is unlikely to work. You might get lucky, but realistically, most professors are too busy with their own students and other various tasks to take a chance on someone they haven't met before.

I don't agree with the other answer--leading with your work is unlikely to help, unless you're the next Ramanujan. You've had five years of undergraduate training and, presumably, you've studied a good amount of graduate-level material. That's all good, but it doesn't make you ready to hit the ground running with research. The way you describe your papers convinces me you don't quite know how research works yet:

managed to write a few papers which stated correct final results but were not without their subtle mathematical typos (slight errors in rigor, which in math can cost you everything)

If the errors cost everything, then they weren't slight. Minor, fixable errors in a proof are not a big deal (and if they're not fixable, how can they be minor?) Any error small enough to be compared to a typo would routinely be ironed out in the peer review process, if you submit to a journal. I don't have much to go on, but I would conjecture that your work was not all that close to being valid research math. Getting the right theorem is often not that hard--the hard part is nailing down the proof.

Of course, there's no shame in making unsuccessful attempts. The point is that I don't think you should emphasize your prior work when you're reaching out for a mentor. "I almost proved X, Y, Z" doesn't impress anyone, because an almost-proof that's not salvageable isn't worth anything. At your stage, the main thing you have to offer is potential, which is why I think you should start with the people who already know you and can vouch for that potential.

  • Thanks. This is what I need to hear. But I don't want to give off the impression that I'm the kind of person who says "I almost proved X Y Z," I have in fact proved the things I claim to have proven, it's that I didn't prove "A B C" but I'm not going to talk about those. I will accept this answer if no others appear, only because the truth is usually blunt and short; and something we forget to admit for these reasons. Nov 3, 2018 at 4:24

Here is a bunch of thoughts.

Carry on as if you don't have schizophrenia. It's what I try to do.

I had to leave a PhD attempt with an MPhil instead, largely due to my schizophrenia. Now I'm trying again; only, I know right from the beginning that I'm unwell. This is an advantage. The experience from my MPhil is invaluable too.

I have made quite a name for myself on Mathematics Stack Exchange (if I may say so) in the tag there. You could do something similar.

A psychiatrist once told me he knows a few people on their third or, even, fourth attempts at a PhD. So could you try again?

Being disabled is no reason not to excell in your ambitions.

I get help from the government (using Disabled Students' Allowance). I call Samaritans (on 116 123 for free in the UK) when I need to talk.

Ask for help.

For my current PhD's application, I made a brief, matter-of-fact disclosure of my schizophrenia. I mentioned it in the interview. Now, my institution (the University of Aberdeen) supports me thoroughly.


My suggestion is that you shouldn't consider yourself any different from other academics for being labeled a schizophrenic.

The label "schizophrenic" itself is a cultural category. There are other cultures in which the experience of hearing voices is not necessarily considered insane. You shouldn't consider this a problem really, unless the content of the communications disturb you. If properly channeled, the experience may even help you in your work and become an asset rather than a liability.

I think making contact with other people (academics or not) who have similar experiences is a good move. This kind of experience is more common than you may think. There are mutual-support groups for people who hear voices, in which people with similar experiences get together to share their impressions and seek to understand them (check out, for instance: https://www.hearing-voices.org/).

Don't use your neuro-diverse constitution as an excuse for requesting privileges. Perhaps your hindrances (as you describe) are not impossible to conquer. In fact, schizophrenic or not, you can expect these things to be difficult anyway, they are just another set of problems for you to solve with your creativity.

  • Y'know this is how I've functioned, so I'm not going to disagree with you. Not in the slightest. Through the worst of my schizophrenia I've actually felt disabled. But through the best of it, it's been illuminating. It's just when interacting with the institutionalized academic world, I lack capacity. And that's what my question was asking. As a person who "hears voices" how do I communicate in an academic world where people don't usually "hear voices." Nov 3, 2018 at 4:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .