When supervising a research student with ADD or a similar problem, I can help the student be more productive by adjusting the way I give instructions:
- Propose one task at a time: Instead of saying "Let's do X, Y, and Z" I will just say "Let's do X", schedule a time for follow-up when X is done, and only talk about Y then.
- Repeat "general" instructions every time they are relevant: Instead of saying "When you take notes on a bunch of papers, make sure to cite which paper each idea comes from" and then expecting the student to do this moving forward, I will give the instruction again each time that the student is reading papers: "Look through and take notes on these papers. In your notes, make sure to cite which paper each idea comes from..."
- Have the student repeat back a summary of the instructions, with ALL of the important details, after hearing them.
- Review the student's plans regarding what to work on at what time, together with the student (to help with planning and make sure we are prioritizing important tasks).
With these and similar modifications, a student with attention problems can be about as productive as one without attention problems. (Without these modifications, the student keeps doing the wrong thing, and isn't productive at all.) But that kind of supervision is not really consistent with the goal of having my students become capable of independent research. For example, it's very hard for them to see the "big picture", identify next steps on their own, think about where the research is going and what intermediate steps are needed to achieve the end goals...
Obviously my primary role is as a research supervisor, not an ADD coach. So I'm not looking for generic ideas for helping an adult with ADD, or for suggestions to pass along to the student - I am looking for ideas specific to my role as a supervisor in an academic research environment.
As a research supervisor, what - if anything - can I do, to help students with attention problems be both productive AND independent?