A highlight from Episode 59 with Bill Goj on Life as a Dyslexic PhD candidate


Hello there, and welcome to the Dear Dyslexic podcast series brought to you by Rethink Dyslexia, the podcast where we're breaking barriers and doing things differently. I'm Shaye Wiesel, your host, and I'm so glad you can join us. I'm a fellow neurodivergent, and I'm coming from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, where I live and work, and I would like to acknowledge and pay my respects to all the tribes across our beautiful country and to all First Nations people listening today. Our podcast was born in 2017 out of a need to give a voice to the stories and perspectives of adults with dyslexia, and our voice has grown stronger year after year. We're now a globally listened to podcast with guests from all around the world. Join us for insightful conversations about living with dyslexia and other neurodivergences across all walks of life. Our special focus is on adult education, employment, social and emotional wellbeing, and entrepreneurship. We're excited to be bringing you this episode and invite you to like and follow us, or even better, why not leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform? So let's get started. Today, I am speaking to Bill, who is a PhD colleague of mine. And when I say colleague, we met through our PhD support group that we run through the foundation. And Bill is a peer, I should say, rather than a colleague. And I'd like to welcome him onto the show today where we'll be talking about everything to do with research and being dyslexic and trying to do a PhD. So welcome to the show, Bill. Thanks. Good to be here. Thanks for asking me. Thanks for coming along, especially because we've just spent the last half an hour chatting instead of doing our podcast. So, yeah, dyslexics get distracted. Yeah, we do very much, which I think is one of the good things about having our PhD group, because we get to talk about trying to do our PhDs, but also all the all the different facets of life that come with studying and being dyslexic. And you are studying a very interesting topic, one that blows my mind, because I can't do numbers at all. So how did you end up doing your PhD? What led you on this crazy journey of academia? Oh, wow. How do you sum it up? For those listening, I'm a mature aged student, but I'm like 50, over 50. In the summer. Yeah, thanks. And so I had I had decades of life in between. And school was horrible. And I have very few good memories of it. So, but I always loved learning. And I felt I was good at it. And I don't know, as I got older, I did little things through TAFE, because I wanted to do human resources. So I did the TAFE Diploma and I started doing the Advanced Diploma. And I topped the year. And this was like, late 20s. So suddenly, I was sort of in a situation where I wanted something, I applied to get into it. And it's all sort of like surprising how I sort of got into it. Because half of me is thinking, yeah, like, I'm gonna be able to do this. But I did. And yeah, I totally topped the year. suddenly And which opened a door that I didn't really believe was there for me in the past. And then I sort of thought, I can do this. And it wasn't until recently, I suppose, in my recent life, that I got into a situation where I could choose what I wanted to do. So in kind of an odd kind of a way, it's like going back in time. And I was fascinated by, I do a PhD in marine biology. So I was fascinated by animals and, you know, the marine life and stuff like that. And suddenly, when I went to university, I was looking at applying, it quickly became a reality that I could almost or pretty well apply for any degree I wanted. you And, know, from someone who like failed, you know, year 12 and dropped out, dropped out because they were failing it and failed grade two and stuff like this and hated school. This was like, one of those epiphanies of, oh my God, I can do my dreamers. So I turned into a kid again and picked marine biology and at every, I didn't really think I could do a PhD in it. I didn't even know what a PhD was, to be honest, even though my dad's a doctor, I didn't know. So as I went through it, I figured, oh my God, I could do this and I'm really good at it. And then I got into the honours and then the dyslexia thing started hitting a bit. And then I wasn't sure that I could do a PhD, but everyone else thought I could. And so I was like, that's good enough for me. Let's give it a go. And here I am. I've got lots of questions to ask you, but going back in time, you said school was horrible for you. So we're of an elk where diagnosis just did not exist. So were you diagnosed as an adult as well when you were doing university? Yeah, so my dad is a retired doctor, psychiatrist. So there's a bit of understanding in terms of neuro differences. And, you know, my mum was just like, my child is smarter than failing grade two, except by grade two. So I forgot the question, Shay. This is me. This is a very dyslexic me thing of like getting totally sidetracked. I'm so sorry. No, now what was the question? I think the question was around diagnosis. Were you diagnosed like I was because we're older and there wasn't such a thing. I don't think I'll just see a diagnosis back on the room. So I'm so random. I was so random. Anyway, so, so, so, yeah, look, so, so there's something wrong with what the school thought I was like because they just thought I was dumb and stupid and lazy and that type of thing. And I what could do, because I could say or tell them all of my parents, all about animals and my mum would be in the car going, oh, what's this plus this? You know, and there'd be big numbers and stuff and none of the adults could do it. And I just pop and go and say it. And they'd be like, this there's a disconnect there. So so my mum sort of could pick this. There's something different about me. So so they got me tested in a time where I know someone could qualify this. But, you know, I reckon half the people as described to me didn't even realise dyslexia existed. And some of the teachers, like half teachers would be like, no, it doesn't. That's rubbish. But she got me assessed then. But I lost that assessment at university. They asked for an assessment and I'm not even sure they would accept assessment from me since I was like late forties at that stage. And the assessment's 12. So I tried uni the first semester because when I did that course in the past, I told you about I never told anyone I was dyslexic. And I tried it, but after the first semester, it became very clear that you could pretty well wipe off maybe 20 to 30 percent of my grades off of every single subject just before I started it because of my disability. And it became obvious in second semester that to give me a chance to actually do well in it, I needed to say, hey, I've got a disability and to get acknowledged, I needed another testing. So I got tested twice and hey, the assessments align very neatly, which is interesting over 30 years later. That is interesting. I've always wondered if I should get reassessed because at the time I was going through my divorce, so I was in really bad state. So I wonder if there'd be any improvements now or and trying to do my PhD. Surely I've improved somewhat with my writing, but it would be interesting to see. And it's interesting that you say 30 years difference that they still pretty much aligned. Yeah, well, that's that's a really interesting point, because they aligned in terms of the the how the different psychologists, one was done by one. The other one was assessed by two. And the two reports align in the sense that they talk about how, you know, the deficits you have and they sort of value it. And those values were basically the same. What was fascinating about it, I found that in these two reports, this is kind of one of those things. And I'm happy to, you know, share them with you, because I think that I just think that's fascinating is is that I read better, you know, and so I had improved, which is a really it was brilliant. And that was just like, you know, that was like that. That was that was amazing. And, you know, you know, and it sticks in. It's one of those things that I think we're talking about before the podcast out of memory and stuff. It sticks in my head that I was told I'm read like a 15 year old. And I was just like, that is better than I'd ever been assessed or, you know, thought I was ever doesn't mean I comprehend the same way. I can read as fast as 15 year old. I won't recall most of what I read if I read that fast, though, to be to be blunt. But I still when you test that basic thing and time it, I can still regurgitate the words without sort of really soaking it in when I'm reading. And this is complicated. I don't get it myself. But but yeah, so that was interesting is is the progression you make in that and things that they pointed out when I was young, which which I think is is frustrating. And the problem with testing people so young is that they pointed out that they couldn't really tell if I was trying or if I wasn't trying when I was reading. You know, I mean, because by 12, I suppose I had a lot of hang ups, you know, bullying and harassment, reading out loud stuff like this. So they put that we're not sure whether this is a true assessment of certain certain things. And so it's great having that one later, which basically said, no, no, these are these are exactly the same. And they hadn't read my old report because I couldn't find it. So it's interesting to see an independent assessment over 30 years later, just saying, yep, you are this, this, this, this, this. These are your deficits and going, wow. You know, that's they are there's no denying it. It's interesting. There's two two points, hopefully, that don't drop out of my head. As I'm saying, it's starting to drop out of my head is, you know, we can improve, even though we our brains are predisposed to difficulties in reading, that we can improve and the importance of early assessments and interventions so that children have the best opportunity they can to manage their disability and to build skills around it. But also and we're getting way off topic. Sorry. No, no, don't apologize, because it's important. And it's the conversation around assessments, particularly when you go into higher ed and you have to have that assessment. But the like how they couldn't decide whether it really was your dyslexia that was impacting you or whether part of it was this is in my terms of baggage that you brought, because by the time you were 12, you'd gone through all those difficulties. And that's why I had. Yeah. And for me, it was such anxiety to think I was being diagnosed at 27 with this disability and how was my life going to change it? I'd taken all this back. I knew I had all this baggage in. And every time I did the testing, because it was over a few weeks, I'd go and sit in the car and I cry before I went home. Because it's like, oh, my God, there's something wrong with me. And so it's interesting. I wonder, you know, again, the importance of having an assessment when we're younger, like even before we hit preteens, because we're not carrying so much baggage and maybe it is a true reflection or maybe it doesn't matter, because like yours demonstrated, regardless of the age difference, you still those primary challenges were still there. Yeah, yeah. Look, it's I mean, I found a lot of benefit from doing it. I but you know, obviously it's a novel thing. I mean, you can't go back in time. But I mean, now now I think I mean, you'd be better positioned, of course, to tell me me actually what they're doing. But, you know, they're assessing kids a bit better now. And it isn't a part of the part of what happens in school in grade one or two or something that they are they are assessed for reading and writing skills, you know, potentially which would show up us. But it's not a formal assessment. So it's not something you can compare it to. Some some states, I think, are bringing in phonics checking in grade one. Yeah. Which starts to give an early indication that children might be starting to struggle. But I mean, normally dyslexia typically shows up in grade two onwards when we're starting to put sentences together and to read whole words and bigger words. Yeah. So whether grade one, I'm not I mean, yeah, I know that some states are looking at bringing in or they already are. Whether it's too early, I'm not sure. I wouldn't want to comment on phonics. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Look, look, you explain things so much better than regarding this. Oh, well, it's it's an area I don't like to step into very often. But you got I don't want to sidetrack the conversation because it is around how we get into doing our PhDs. But the assessment process is really important. And you had to demonstrate by the time you got into higher ed that you did have dyslexia and disability. And so there's two I guess there's two questions. One is around how do you self advocate once you get through to a PhD level? Because what I've found is that supervisors, there's an there's a misconception that if you're dyslexic, you're never going to get to that level. And I don't know that from that I hated my speech degree and wasn't until I did my masters that I actually started to really love learning and see I could learn. And I just had in my head, I just had to do a PhD. And I don't know whether it was because I wanted to prove to people that I wasn't dumb and that I was succeeding in academia because I'd struggled in my life. It was just in my head I had to do it. I didn't know what I was going to do it in. Originally, it was going to be on Aboriginal communities and that space I love working in. And then finally, it ended up being in dyslexia. But how do you like everyone told you you could do it? So you said I was going to do it. Is that what drove you? Is it to see what's behind the desire to do your PhD, I guess? It's a long window. Yeah, look, look, it's really holistic. And I mean that in, you know, holistic and holistic, you know, both. There's there are a whole lot of things here. I mean, I, I love learning about this stuff. It's like an addiction. it's, It's, it's, it's something which I mean, even without doing study, I'm still, I still do it anyway. You know, I'll still sit there for hours and watch a bug climb up a tree and see how it does and why it does. And, you know, I can't get those out of my head. So, so to me, it was a really natural progression in that sense. The barrier was always dyslexia. I see it as, or dyslexia or something which, which indirectly came from the dyslexia. You know, so having everyone say, so me really wanting to do it because it was just, it's just a continuation of what I do. So it's like, it's like getting the opportunity for someone to pay you to do what you just love doing anyway, even though they make you do certain things like write a lot that you hate. You know, they also make you read like all this research on it, which you love, you know, it's just like you, you, you imagine it and you see what they're doing in your head. Like, yeah, you can really, you can see it and feel it. And you relate it to all those experiences you've had. And it's just, it's just a really, it was just a really sort of like joyful thing for my brain to do in that sense. And it makes the struggle of reading worthwhile. So before I was getting a whole lot of, you know, you know, assistance and, you know, before I was really tapping into the text to speech programs like that, the pain was so worth the benefits. And that's just because it's like an addiction. And that's probably a good way to describe it, because, you know, you know, addiction might not just be the chemicals, it can be the process, the your environment and the whole of other things. And to me, it's just me. And this is the cool thing about sort of like the way I see it as I became a kid again, because these were, this was my escape. One of the escapes I did from the torture of school. It was, you know, and home. And it was, it was, it was really, it was, I only have good, strong, good and wonderful memories from learning about bugs and animals and fish and stuff like that. And and so the PhD basically was somebody just said, hey, look, you know what you you want to do as a dream? You know, you can do that. Here you go. And then which made it when it felt like it was getting taken away from me at some stage because the supports really aren't there at PhD. It made me fight to the death, you know, and I hate using that word. That was really how strongly I felt about it. I wasn't going to give up once, once somebody gave me that carrot. It's that's my carrot, you know, this bunny is angry. And I would like, I want to come back to self -advocacy. But it's interesting you say it's like an addiction, because originally when I wanted to do a PhD, I was like, yeah, that's just something in my head I have to do. But I completely resonate with you when you're it's like you're in your flow and your purpose, like for me. And like even when my mum was dying, I was still writing my papers, still doing my thesis and people say to me, why are you doing it? And you kept saying, take a break. And I said, but that for me, that is where I find my purpose and my passion. And I know the work I'm doing is is going to make change for people. And 100 percent. And I really resonate with that addiction word, because it does feel like it, because you're constant. Like, I just love it. And I keep saying to people, I'm going to do go on and do my prof doc or do another PhD and everyone, because I don't get paid like you. It's all voluntary, six years of voluntary PhD. That's dedication. And but I just love it. And I can't explain it because it's so hard. Writing is so hard. I'm terrible at it. But the concepts and being able to go out and talk to people about what I'm finding in Australian first research, that's the stuff that just drives me to keep going. Yeah. Oh, look, a quick example. We'll get back on track. But this when I was doing what was it? It was it was my undergrad and I was falling behind in stuff. It was my third year, I think I was falling behind and stuff. And I just asked for an extension for my now supervisor. I think it was undergrad or it was undergrad, whether it was honours or not, I'm not sure. Anyway, so my supervisor, my to be supervisor and she said and I was I was volunteering for another scientist. I'm doing all this work, all this work. And she came and goes, What are you doing here? You've asked for an extension, you know, for this work, because you don't have enough time to do it. And here I come in and you're doing volunteering work for somebody else on some other non -related project. Bloody bloody bloody blah. And my response to her was, this is how I relax. Don't take this from me. Don't take this away from me. And and I was so like scared of it being taken from me that she felt it like she's amazing. My supervisor is amazing that she was like, OK, and left me to it. And that's that's it is it's it's it was my she was taking my hobby, you know, and I needed that. I need that to distress. And I needed that to to get my head back in track and to try and so I could get back on the horse and punch it again and sit there for hours trying to write this thing and doing my head in and reading, blah, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, it's funny that our self -care is doing something that is so hard for us. I know, I know. But isn't it great? I mean, haven't we just picked the best careers ever? You know, you know what I mean? It's it's it's a funny life just moves you in funny ways. Well, because I've been meaning to do do a Facebook live in our Facebook group, the other one and our community. And it's about my husband says that I've got an addiction of buying books. And I do every time I go to the post office like, what are you going to the post office for? It's another book, but I really do need it. So chapters out of different things.

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