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Since my previous question, I have discovered recently that I had ADHD, and possibly a form of Asperger syndrome, which perfectly explain my past difficulties. This has been quite a shock and gave me hope that with treatment (which I will start soon) and newfound motivation, I can improve my academic results dramatically.

My opinion for now is that the plan that gives me the best chances would be to get a second master's degree containing more theory (in machine learning) compared to my current one (computer engineering, lots of software development with some data science courses). I have my sights on the university I did an exchange in, which is quite well-regarded and better-ranked than my current one.

My results have had ups and downs over the years, and would be clearly insufficient without a very good justification, which I believe my mental health problems to be. I can easily get a written proof of my recent ADHD diagnosis, and also have a written record of a depression I have suffered from during my exchange. I don't plan to use these as an argument for admission, but providing that I get better results in the next semester after getting medical help, I am hoping that the admission committee won't disqualify me instantly based on my past results, and give more importance to the next semester.

One additional difficulty is that the next semester is the last semester of courses in my current degree, so I won't have another occasion to get good results. I worry that getting good grades in that semester could be insufficient to offset my less-than-stellar record.

Is a very late mental disorder diagnosis followed by a significant improvement in results likely to save my applications to selective programs? Should I lower my ambitions for the moment?

  • Why do you want to get a second masters degree? – Anonymous Physicist Aug 3 at 9:45
  • @AnonymousPhysicist the one I’m doing is just software development with a few data science courses, like basic application of machine learning and some principles. I would like to do research in a field related to AI. I can’t imagine doing anything like that when my only experience is coding and applying some ML algorithms from libraries. I talked a bit more about my reasons in the question I linked to. – Elzo Aug 3 at 10:06
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Is a very late mental disorder diagnosis followed by a significant improvement in results likely to save my applications to selective programs?

I do not think one semester of grades can make a huge difference. Only your doctors can predict the effectiveness of your treatment.

Should I lower my ambitions for the moment?

No, you should apply. After you have submitted your applications is a good time to start working on your backup plan.

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It's certainly a huge relief to finally know, after years or decades of struggling, what the underlying problem is. But people with ADHD tend to assume that a diagnosis and treatment is a magic bullet that will suddenly make them like everyone else. I think part of this is ADHD tendencies and part is internalizing the erroneous belief that if you just tried harder you'd stop screwing up. I don't have any first-hand experience with ASD, but the issues seem to be similar.

So here's my first observation: A diagnosis does not "fix" ADHD. A diagnosis together with medication and therapy or coaching does not "fix" ADHD. Right now you're at the starting point and you've been pointed in the right direction, but it's probably going to take some time and experimentation to find out exactly what you need to successfully manage advanced academic work. Expect that what you need might be really different than what is ordinarily offered in an academic setting. Don't beat yourself up trying to be like the neurotypicals the work is designed for.

My second observation: As you can see from the answers already given, many professors and programs take the attitude that learning disorders/differences are the student's problem and it's not their job to deal with them (except maybe in a very superficial legally-mandated way). This attitude might vary by country--my own experiences in the US have been pretty dismal. So even once you know what you need, and even though the law is on your side, you might find yourself fighting a losing battle against these attitudes to get it. So it's also important to be sure that you're entering an environment that sets you up for success.

I honestly don't know the answer to this second problem. I might post a related question here later to see what the ASE community thinks. I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but the fact is that the academic community is on the whole not particularly welcoming to people with learning differences, and ADHD is particularly misunderstood. The trick here is to find the exceptions who will provide the conditions you need to flourish.

  • You make some good points, but this does not answer the question. – Anonymous Physicist Aug 3 at 10:14
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I think that, given you are seeking help, and probably learning to compensate for your condition, that you can otherwise ignore it as far as seeking future degrees. I think that you will find that many people in academia are at various points on the autism spectrum. Communication difficulties are pretty common, even if no cause has been diagnosed.

But, I think you are probably learning that some compensation is possible. If you can manage that, then the question of your suitability for a degree lies elsewhere, grades and other accomplishments as for any other person.

Follow the advice of your doctor/therapist, of course.

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    I'm not sure that my question was clear enough. I was mainly interested in the point of view of the admission committee. If they received my current record was sent to them without mentioning my problems, it would be dismissed in less than a minute, and I'm asking whether these conditions can be enough to give me a chance. I don't see how I can "ignore it", it would just transform my application into a regular one with okay grades, which is not enough. As for my doctor's advice, I follow it for my treatment, but I don't think they can be of much help in university applications. – Elzo Aug 2 at 12:03
  • There are two problems: 1) I have to justify my past insufficient results, and the reason is my mental health. 2) I only have one semester left to get good grades, which I worry may not be enough to make my record acceptable. Ignoring my condition in my applications would make them reject me for sure. – Elzo Aug 2 at 12:06
  • Can you get a supporting statement from a recommender? "Elzo has struggled mightily with a communication disorder, and ... " (I don't mean to characterize it, your words will do.) If it comes from a recommender who also attests to your likelihood of success it will mitigate any issues, I think. – Buffy Aug 2 at 12:15
  • I can try next semester, but no one at my university is familiar with my problems, from their perspective I'm just an average student. All I could do would be to bring proof to the professors I ask for recommendation letters, and ask them to mention it. I'm not sure how effective that would be, since I have no experience with recommendation letters. – Elzo Aug 2 at 12:18
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    Try to find a mentor - a trusted professor. – Buffy Aug 2 at 12:22
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While your condition can explain some of your past poor academic performance, you still need to convince an admissions committee that (1) your condition is under control and won't interfere with your future performance and (2) you have the ability do well in their program. The fact that you now have a diagnosis and have started treatment doesn't really answer either of these questions.

One strategy would be to establish these things by taking some courses on a part-time basis in a less competitive program and doing very well in those courses.

  • I plan to show my abilities by doing well in the next semester. I won’t just say « I was sick and now I’m treated, please accept me ». I’m not sure how to take part-time courses since I am currently still in a master’s program, but maybe you meant that I should take a job after I finish my current degree and take part-time courses for a year before applying to the program I want? – Elzo Aug 2 at 17:14
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Go ahead and apply. Say in (the middle of) your research statement that you had an issue affecting your performance in earlier years, but now you have identified it and found a way to deal with it, as evidenced by your improved performance in the recent semesters.

If possible have your recommendation letter writers confirm your story, briefly. Something like "X had a bumpy start, but recently developed the right attitude to succeed in an advanced program"

You do not have to name the issue or provide medical evidence. Instead, focus on what the new you can and will do.

PS I suggest not using the word "mental". It reminds people of stuff like schizophrenia. ADHD is not nearly as severe as that (at least in your case, I hope).

In response to your comment: I feel that talking too much about your condition signals that you focus too much on it, and will continue using it as an excuse for poor performance in the future. And generally, most people do not like hearing about problems of others (b/c they have plenty of their own). Instead, I suggest you focus on how much you accomplished since the issue was resolved.

  • This seems like a good method; what bothers me is that I won't be able to provide supporting documentation if I choose to keep the details for myself. I imagine that "I had issues and fixed them" has less strength than "I was officially diagnosed with X and Y, from which I suffered since I was born, started treating Y, and got better grades as a result". To be clear, I don't have a problem with disclosing the details, I just wonder what the best strategy is and how much it could help my chances. – Elzo Aug 2 at 14:22
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    As for the last sentence from your edit, I don't know if you meant "don't say 'mental in your application'" or "don't say 'mental' ever because it's wrong". If you meant the latter, ADHD is not just a behavioral issue, it's seen as a neurological disorder and I have often seen it described as a mental disorder. I just have the Wikipedia page at the moment. If you meant the former, I agree, thank you for the advice. – Elzo Aug 2 at 14:26
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    This is nothing wrong with using the term "mental health". And it's not our place to judge how severe somebody else's illness is. – Flyto Aug 2 at 18:04
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    "but recently developed the right attitude to succeed" This is terrible advice and potentially offensive. ADHD and Asperger's syndrome are not attitudes. Anyone on an admissions committee in the USA would read this comment as code for "this student has a bad attitude most of the time." – Anonymous Physicist Aug 3 at 10:20
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    I flagged as "rude or abusive," but I would like to clarify that I think the answer is inadvertently offensive because it implies that a medical condition is an attitude. – Anonymous Physicist Aug 3 at 10:24

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