One of my Iranian friends wants to apply for a PhD program in computer science to a US university. He can't speak fluently even in our native language at all, but in the other side he has a relatively strong background:

  • Good GPA in both MSc. and BSc. (> 18 out of 20)
  • First rank in BSc.
  • Graduated from most prominent university in Iran (Sharif Univ. of Tech.)

Question: is there any chance for his application to be approved and for him to get funded?

Note that my question is a little general. I'm not considering a particular university. What I am looking for is how much is it possible for a PhD student to not participate in presentations, lectures, team works, typically all works in which he should speak.

In the other hand, I've listed below what he can do perfectly.

  • Teacher assistant for lower level students (designing exams, assignments, marking exams/quizzes papers, but not presenting at classroom)
  • Review scholarly articles/papers
  • Generally all regular jobs that a normal PhD student can do (excluding speech presentations and such assignments)
  • 2
    I guess one issue would be that many U.S. universities require the TOEFL; he'll have to make sure that they actually read his application and don't summarily reject him for low/missing TOEFL scores. I wonder how best to achieve this? Feb 27, 2015 at 14:08
  • @NateEldredge Thanks for your comment, Yes you're right, he should pass TOEFL, but I as far as I know ETS organization have some options for disability accommodations. Maybe it's possible to customize his TOEFL test.
    – frogatto
    Feb 27, 2015 at 14:17

1 Answer 1


Provided he is fluent in written English, I cannot see how his application could legitimately (or legally) be discriminated against. If he can listen to a spoken conversation without problems, that will hugely decrease the concessions needed to accommodate his disability.

Provided he can listen to spoken English without a problem, I do not see why even giving presentations is an unreasonable expectation either. Why not do so in the style of Stephen Hawking, setting to the presentation slides a pre-prepared monologue that is read out by a speech synthesizer? If he is a reasonably fast typist, responding to questions should not be a significant problem either.

This style of communication could even be extended to taking tutorial classes, networking at conferences, etc. Sure, it's a bit awkward and people may take a little while to adjust. But it certainly seems doable.

Perhaps this is relevant reading: Is it possible for people with a stutter to have a career in academia?

  • Thanks for your answer!, I've already read that question you've pointed to, but I think my question is a bit more specific than that one. Yes his listening skill, in my opinion, is very good.
    – frogatto
    Feb 27, 2015 at 14:10
  • Stephen Hawking is a very well known cosmologist, who suffers from motor neurone disease. He lost his ability to speak a few decades ago, and now communicates with one cheek muscle.
    – Moriarty
    Feb 27, 2015 at 14:26
  • 1
    I cannot see how his application could legitimately (or legally) be discriminated againstI can. My university requires a TOEFL speaking score of 24 for any international student to be a teaching assistant, and my department requires all PhD students to hold a TAship before they graduate. As a result, we very rarely admit anyone with a TOEFL speaking score below 20, and all such students are expected to raise their score to at least 24 within their first year. (1/2)
    – JeffE
    Feb 27, 2015 at 15:24
  • 3
    All that said, if the applicant revealed their speech disability and their record was otherwise strong, I assume we would admit them and provide accommodation. (The department where I got my PhD, which also had a TA requirement, made similar accommodations for a fellow PhD student with severe cerebral palsy.) (2/2)
    – JeffE
    Feb 27, 2015 at 15:29

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