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I understand that it is difficult for people with stuttering to verbally communicate and explain their ideas/research or to give lectures. Does that means there is no chance for them to work in academia even with the PhD degree?

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    If popular entertainers and successful business leaders (where arguable, the ability to articulate clearly is a larger part of their job than academia where research results can be more important than articulation) manage to achieve success despite varying levels of stuttering, there's no reason why stuttering should prevent success in academia. – Johnny Feb 13 '15 at 19:53
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    One of my professors right now has a stutter but is nonetheless a fantastic verbal communicator (and lecturer). He is clearly productive. The case may be different with you, but my prof demonstrates that for some people its just another thing that can be worked past. – enthdegree Feb 13 '15 at 19:53
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    Of course you can. Just do it. If you sit down and try to think about why you will fail, you will definitely find 100 reasons. But if you go for it, and do whatever is necessary, you will succeed. – CaptainCodeman Feb 13 '15 at 21:08
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    The answer to your question is no. However there will clearly be some things that are more difficult with a stutter than without. But that is of course true in general (I have unreadable handwriting for example). Some people are blind etc etc. Don't let it put people off. – Lembik Feb 14 '15 at 8:30
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    I had a professor with a stutter in graduate school. He was brilliant logician; provided directed studies, materials, and wrote me several letters of recommendation. I don't think his stutter mattered that much, it was like having a thick accent; after awhile I didn't even notice he had one. – Bobby Ocean Feb 17 '15 at 2:59
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I don't want to turn this into an answer about how universities or society in general should deal with disabilities. I will offer what I have witnessed first hand through a good friend.

Can you work in Academia?

Yes.

Will people make fun of you?

Probably but who cares. People make fun of others for everything.

But...

  • don't try to hide your problem
  • embrace the stuttering. Nobody cares that much unless you do.
  • spit out what you are trying to say. The content and meaning are key. Don't let the stuttering stop your speech.
  • don't try to dumb down your words to help the stuttering (to a point). You will be judged by most on what you say, don't let stuttering get in the way of that.

So my friend - let's call him Paul (sorry Paul for using your real name) had a big banquet speech he was asked to do after much of his research was published. Four of the faculty members/advisors Paul was thanking were named John... So he says, "I would like to thank Joh-Joh-Joh-Joh-Joh-Joh-John. (He catches his breathe and smiles at the crowd). Well I had fou-fou-four Johns and I think I thanked too many." It could have been two hours of drinking but people were honestly laughing for two minutes straight.

In reality it probably would effect you more if you were in a field were public speaking were part of the field. Paul was a scientist. I hate to say this but I think the stuttering became his calling card and made him even more likable, and even better presenter.

Add: After seeing this question get a ton of hits I want to be clarify my answer. Stuttering and other issues, whether it is a disability or just something that someone isn't good at - be honest with yourself about any "shortcomings" and don't make others feel awkward (I know this is hard). Whether it is a strong accent, stuttering, talking low, saying "ummmm", whatever - if you know you have an issue own it and put your audience at ease.

A perfect example of this is Jeff Foxworthy. He readily admits that he talks like a redneck. That is his shtick. People like him and think he's hilarious because he openly talks about his accent and redneckedness. If he came out to an audience, unknown to them, and tried to (poorly) hide his accent and redneck background, people would feel uncomfortable. Everyone has issues, some worse than others. Acknowledging your issues makes your more personable and relateable to your audience as they know that they too might have trouble talking in front of a large group.

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    @enthdegree Your experience has been a blessedly charmed one to not have to endure such a thing, either on the receiving end, bystander/witness, or otherwise - or the cruelty was so subtle and pervasive that it evaded notice. Physical or mental disability, illness, accent, hair color, eye color, skin color, height, weight, gender, sexual orientation, what you drink, whether or not you wear a scarf in winter, speech patterns...people make fun of people for every reason imaginable, and no reason at all. And those who do so usually aren't even social outcasts. – BrianH Feb 13 '15 at 20:18
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    @enthdegree - First I agree that it is a bully mechanism most of the time. But there is no way around it. A few weeks ago I saw a presentation by a chancellor, who is a very very attractive 40ish woman. She was wearing a very professional suit/skirt. I heard three women make comments regarding her skirt, earrings, whatever. You don't think stuttering will get poked at? Also I am still very good friends with Paul. If you didn't make fun of his stuttering a bit (friendly poking around) he would surely think that you looked down on him about it. – blankip Feb 13 '15 at 20:47
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    "Just spit it out" is possibly the worst advice to give to someone with a stutter - all it does is make them even more conscious of the speech impediment. (Source: I stutter under stress.) The thing that works for me is being able to pause, take a breath, and start again after collecting myself. A rush to "spit it out" only puts me in a worse situation. – fluffy Feb 13 '15 at 21:25
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    @enthdegree - There's cruel, insensitive bullying – unacceptable in a professional environment – but there's also the ability to accept things as they are and maintain a sense of humor about them, rather than attempt to mask something in embarrassed shame. I think that's the gist here. My daughter – all five feet zero inches of her – has learned to laugh at short jokes. Also, there's a difference between me being mocked for my epilepsy, and someone making a good-natured quip about it; it's healthy for me to not automatically regard the latter as the former. I think that's what's being said. – J.R. Feb 13 '15 at 21:42
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    @enthdegree: regardless of how many people actually make fun of people who stutter (and they definitely exist), stuttering is largely caused by the thoughts you're having about what people will think of the way you're "talking" right now. "Oh shit, I'm going to stutter, they'll think I'm ridiculous." It took me 25 years to almost get rid of my stuttering, but that path started at 15 when I told myself I just didn't care what people thought about it anymore. It's step 1. – RemcoGerlich Feb 13 '15 at 23:09
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People with a stutter can definitely have a career in academia. I know this because I've had a professor with a stammer.

From what I understand, a stutter can be amplified by stress. So if someone has serious anxiety about public speaking (giving lectures, presentations, etc.), it may not be a good idea to pursue an academic career. Of course, one could easily see the anxiety as the primary problem in this case, and the stutter as incidental. In general, if you have a stammer and think you could be a professor, then you probably can. You've had the stutter all your life, you know better than any of us how to handle different situations.

Don't worry too much about whether other people think you can do the work, either. What they think about your ability doesn't affect your actual ability. Furthermore, if anyone tries to interfere with your work or deny you a job because a speech disorder, they are probably violating worker protection laws.

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If Jim Abbott can pitch with one arm, if Hector Picard can complete a triathlon, then you (if the question is about you) can certainly lecture with a stutter. Follow your dreams.

By the way, I work in academia alongside a physicist who is a very effective lecturer despite his stuttering. I've also known people who succeeded in academia despite their lisps, their heavy accents, their shyness, or their wheelchair – folks who were generally well-liked by students and had rightly earned the sincere respect of fellow faculty. Need I mention Stephen Hawking?

Lisps and limps, stammers and stutters, accents and hoarse voices; these are all things that will get noticed during the first day of class, but go largely unnoticed by the third or fourth week, especially when the lecturer has passion for the subject and is amiable in the delivery.

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This blog is the first one that I have found about pursuing an academic career having to stutter on The Internet. I was born with hypoacusia, and I was treated to recover almost all of the hearing capacity. Then, I have been stuttering since I was a kid. Now, I am doing the last year of my Ph.D. abroad and in English. In my native language, I have managed to control my stuttering by using synonyms to hard words, talking very slowly and using tag words linked to words that are hard to say to me without stuttering. Indeed, it has been a challenge to apply these techniques in English.

In all my years in academia (undergraduate, then in my Masters (working as a teaching graduate assistant) and finally in my Ph.D. years), I have to say that it is possible to carry on and survive academia with stuttering. Although I had had terrible presentations when my stuttering was so intense, that I couldn't finish explaining my point, I also had very good presentations where I could speak almost with total fluency. I have learned from these good and bad experiences, and I came out with a strategy to deal with the stuttering. Also for me, I tend to stutter when I am introducing myself to new people. Indeed, meeting new colleagues, presenting your work and networking are very common things to do in academia.

I have some tips on how to deal with situations when stuttering is more probable. Maybe these tips sound too obvious, but this has worked for me so far:

1) Indeed, by feeling that you have prepared your presentation by practising by yourself and even making a script help to boost your confidence and avoid the stuttering.

2) I find the first seconds of the talk the worst because automatically I feel that I will stutter. Therefore, I have found that the best way to overcome that is to find the words which I felt more comfortable to speak with and try to organise a starter sentence. For instance, I tend to start my sentences with tag words such as "OK" or "well". Although sometimes I had silly ways to start talking, this helped me to "break the ice" and no stutter from the beginning. When I have applied this technique, most of the presentations had finished very well. This method gave me confidence from the start; like a boost.

3) Another strategy is trying to avoid the use of text as much as possible in the slides. Only using pictures or diagrams. I always felt so frustrated when I tried to say a word that is on the slide; this situation leads me to stutter for sure. Therefore, by using mostly graphs and diagrams, I was not feeling the pressure that I have words to say. Then, I can be open to improvising and use synonyms when reaching a word which I use to stutter with (I am aware that this technique of using synonyms is used widely by people who stutter. However it has been a challenge for me to apply this method in another language). I had the opportunity to master this technique when I was a teaching to undergraduates. Indeed, I felt so much confident that the stuttering was almost entirely gone. Moreover, the students were so happy with the way I explained using diagrams and animations.

4) Indeed, I have experienced an improvement in my speech when I modulate my breathing. I encourage to do this exercises a couple of hours before any presentation. Conscious breathing helps to relax. It is like tuning and adjusting the sound system of a concert.

5) If you have plenty of time, it is recommended to have a script for your presentation. By doing this, you can see which words are the most problematic to say. Then, it will help you to prepare alternative-more-relaxing-words to say.

In general, I have to say, my presentations in academia have been like a rollercoaster with ups and downs. The important thing is not to succumb or feel defeated when you have a bad presentation. Like every time, just learning from my mistakes and analysing why I was stuttering. I know it feels awful when you again stutter in a presentation. However, the key thing is to avoid feeling so bad and understanding and accepting that stuttering is part of your life. I think that in part when you are applying this technique of talking slowly and with some style, you are making your lectures or way to interact socially so unique that people will remember you more.

Please let me know if you have any comments. I will like to discuss with people having my same situation. So far, I have not met anyone experiencing this situation at a Ph.D. studies level. Finally, I have to say that I chose an academic path because I like to research and teach.

  • Welcome to the site and a great first contribution! I wanted to let you know that this is not a blog, but a Question and Answer site, so your first sentence sounds a bit awkward. Also, the last paragraph is a bit unusual since the site is not for discussions but for questions and answer. However, I would not like to edit it away, but you may want to add some email address to your profile so that interested people can contact you (and do not have to discuss here in the comment section). – Dirk Apr 29 '16 at 9:31
  • Thanks for the reply. Sorry, I was so inspired that I didn't notice that! I forgot to include my email: yeyozero@hotmail.com – Jorge Apr 29 '16 at 9:39
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A person who stutters can definitely have an excellent career in academia. I am a stutterer and have been a professor of business at a good university in Canada for over 30 years. I did encounter some discrimination in both obtaining my Ph.D. and in securing an academic job. For example, when I was working on my Masters degree I asked the Department head to write me a letter of recommendation to get into the doctoral program. He refused, stating that he 'could not waste a valuable spot on someone who couldn't teach'. He was wrong to do that, of course, as I teach just fine (albeit with some stuttering). You should pursue the career that YOU want and not let others tell you what they think your limitations are. The only limitations, I believe, are the ones we impose on ourselves. Good luck!

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Don Knuth, computer scientist No. 1, is somewhat stuttering. Not much, but he still struggles with his speech. Stephen Hawking cannot speak without a computer at all. Said that, the absence of clear speech is not a stopper; you can make an excellent academic career. You may have some trouble speaking publicly, but that's a different issue.

If stuttering bothers you personally, you might think about investing time and money into working with a speech therapist rather than into academia, which is a hard sports anyway. Your progress with the therapist may be small, especially if you are older, but it's worth it for your life. Not for academia.

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You would at some points be held to a higher standards than others; however, if your research is good, you should be respected.

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Make it your advantage. The art of embracing things like that and instead glowing confidence can make one to be remembered and to be respected above normal.

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