Some background

Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder, which is often characterised by a e.g. difficulty reading (e.g. comprehension), writing, and with pronunciation. A common misconception about dyslexia is that it has something to do with vision (it doesn’t). Dyslexia is not correlated with intelligence

The question

What strategies can be used by a student starting a PhD in maths related disciplines who have dyslexia to reach their full potential?

  • 1
    I'm asking this as a follow-up to academia.stackexchange.com/questions/178801/… (I don't expect it to do as well). It may be too broad for this site, in which case I can remove it. Dec 12, 2021 at 11:35
  • I think this question should be closed because the answer is not specific to academia. Any strategy an academic would use could also be used by a private sector engineer, etc. This is really more of a question about daily living, which normally involves reading. Dec 13, 2021 at 23:53

2 Answers 2


Reading papers

When it comes to reading papers, my strategy was simply not to. I find reading difficult, and if forced to do it I would not get anything from it. Instead I’d recommend:

  1. Use lots of different resources of information, don’t use just one. Google Books is a life-saver in this regard.

If you have to read a full paper

  1. Use text-to-speech software. This definitely leaves somewhat to be desired, especially in papers with lots of maths. I would recommend trying to find a HTML version of the paper for this - one can try https://www.arxiv-vanity.com, although I think they currently have problems with maths rendering.

  2. Get access to the LaTeX source code if it exists - if the paper is on the arXiv, this information can be obtained from there. Use this to put the paper into a font and style that you want. One can go very far done this route if one wants, see e.g.: https://tex.stackexchange.com/questions/131883/

Getting your daily dose of the arXiv

The arXiv for certain disciplines may be the source of all important information. You will hear endlessly how it is important to make sure that you read the arXiv every day. For someone who struggles with comprehension, this can be difficult to do.

  1. Find somewhere that produces the arxiv summary in a different format. I would link to some, but I actually don’t know of any. An example of what I have done to aid in this can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjIsl9vgzOW3YAHeek9KUog (though this is a working progress).
  2. Form an arxiv discussion group with other people (Rant: I wish video abstracts were as common in maths related disciplines as they are in some of the biological sciences)

Writing papers

Despite been really bad at it, I do find writing to be an enjoyable part of academic life. Here are some strategies I’ve used when writing papers:

  1. Use speech-to-text software. Dragon Naturally Speaking is the gold standard here, but annoyingly they have discontinued their mac version. That said the built in dictation software on mac’s is actually pretty good. This does require a quiet space though - for your co-workers' sanity.
  2. Look at parts-of-speech. I found this helpful, one can study the parts of speech of different sentences, and can determine if one is using certain types of words too often. I once wrote a little LaTeX command to highlight certain parts of speech.

To be continued…


In addition to all the things you mention in your own answer, let me suggest that you find a way to depend on other people to help you with important papers that have to be understood.

There are a variety of ways to do this, but the best, I think, is collaboration and frequent discussion. Small working groups and seminars can help, even using things like Zoom. And, collaboration has its own benefits. These small working groups are unlikely to be all one sided.

I don't have dyslexia so can't offer deep help, but I wonder if you can make better sense of notes you write yourself. If that is the case, then a discussion over a paper, not just someone reading it to you, while you take notes might help.

Some professors, in fact, assign papers to students and then have the students explain it to them. Dyslexia isn't involved here but it is a way to get the students reading more as well as easing the path to understanding new papers themselves. So, it can have a mutual benefit.

You seem to have a good grasp of the needs and some solutions already, but for people struggling even more with this I'd suggest talking to a knowledgeable professional about techniques available. I suspect that there is research on this.

  • Thanks for this answer :). I should add that I'm actually past my PhD now, so in a sense this question is somewhat hypothetical - but I hope what you have written here, and what I have above will help someone in a similar situation. Dec 12, 2021 at 22:19

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