Being a Professor with a Learning Disability: What’s It Like?

The Invisible Challenge

My disability is not visible. You’d never know unless you ask me to remember something or put sentences together. I call people “buddy” or “pal” because I will never remember your name. I can’t even remember how to spell my middle name or my sister’s name.

Words used to be so jumbled for me. They still are, but I have lots of practice with reading and writing. I still make a lot of silly mistakes. I laugh at how messy by hand writing looks. Every other word is scratched out. I hate writing addresses or birthday cards. Writing on a straight-line is impossible. Cutting paper. ha.

I will mess them up without question.

Despite this, I have been able to achieve a lot. I am a chemical engineer. I have a PhD. Both from prestigious schools (Waterloo and Western Ontario – Ivey). I am tenured. I built R3ciprocity.

I Have A Disability? Or Do I?

Here is the most challenging thing – I am constantly doubt myself in whether I actually have one. I only know how my head thinks. I don’t know how you think.

I am Polish/Scottish decent, male, 44, and have two kids and a loving wife for 19 years. I am pretty successful by other’s standards.

Am I lying to get publicity? So you read this blog? Did I make up my years in Special Ed with Mrs. McGreggor? Was I even in Special Ed?

Did I make up the fact that I was last in everything in elementary school?

What if I am just normal, and making this up?

Everyone has something. Why should I even write about this?

Was it just because my family was hard on me? Was it just because I went to a public school in rural Northern Ontario.

I just worked hard, but everyone works hard.

Learning disabilities are just some made-up construct by psychologists. They don’t even have good measures.

I have gotten this far, so I must not have a learning disability.

Or, do I?


I shouldn’t tell anyone. This is too embarassing.

What about my job? What will my colleagues think?

I don’t want people to feel sorry for me.

Or, do I? I know there is no level playing field.

Am I just whinny? Am I just a nancy-boy (Sorry if this hurts anyone, but what they used to say when I was growing up)?

I shouldn’t be a Professor. I shouldn’t be here.

I am a mistake in my career.




Here a blog about dealing with imposter syndrome.

But, The Help Is Just For Elementary School

What you will learn is that you will not have a lot of help on such issues. Almost all of the resources that are available are for elementary school kids.

But, I am 44, and I am still in school. My education has not ended.

I face the same battles as I did when I was 7.

It is still hard.

Maybe even harder.

I have learned to just deal with it.

Perhaps, the R3ciprocity Project will change that? I hope so.

The Market Doesn’t Care

The truth is, the “market” ultimately doesn’t care about your adversities. You still have to get back up despite them. Yes, my adversities are hidden. Yes, I have worked a lot.

But, we often overlook the profound lessons hidden in our setbacks. These are our traits. It’s what we do with these traits that matter.

Read this post about setbacks and rejection you face in academia. Here are may failures just for one year.

Not securing the top spot is not just acceptable; it’s advantageous. I’m not at the “pinnacle” of my field, nor do I expect to be. Nobody will ask me to be on this panel, or that panel, because of my expertise. I am just another person in the crowd.

This realization isn’t born from a lack of ambition but from a deep appreciation for the resilience that comes from navigating adversity. Having a learning disability has always been my superpower.

Listen to the importance of self-love.

Redefining Success

Every challenge and apparent failure has shaped my approach, honing my skills in ways that victories could not. Success isn’t measured by being the “best;” it’s gauged by our capacity to endure, adapt, and thrive despite what we have.

My field of strategy defines success in terms of being the best, having superior capabilities, or a competitive advantage. But, I don’t see it in real-life. My life does not reflect strategy.

Let’s reassess what it means to be successful. It’s not about always leading the pack. It’s about being a “contender,” respected on any stage. Recognizing that you might not be number one, but still pushing forward with unwavering gumption, transforms potential setbacks into stepping stones.

Embracing ADHD and Reading Difficulties

I’ve struggled with ADHD (and I suspect some other things), and reading difficulties for as long as I can remember. I truly don’t like reading. I don’t like writing. It’s hard. These challenges made academic tasks like reading papers and writing incredibly difficult.

I remember reading academic papers over and over, and still not understanding a word because I forgot what was said just moments before.

I love the challenge though. I love pushing back. Tell me something that I can’t or should not do, and you will see me there doing it.

Instead of viewing these as setbacks, I see them as unique traits that shape my approach to research. I also see them as a means to build a platform so others don’t have to experience these setbacks.

Why can’t we use AI and other tools? Why do we have to stick with traditional methods when we could use newer tools?

The R3ciprocity Project

I am committed to adding these tools to the Platform. Here is a post about some of things I am to do.

Science may discount the R3ciprocity Project now, but I am coming for it. You might think, “Who is this guy?” and “What a jerk.” But each person in science will soon be touched by the R3ciprocity Project.

Researchers will go from feelings of hopelessness and even more darker feelings–which I often feel–to “hell yeah!”

You will go from “I don’t know what to do” to “I am freaking remarkable.”

Want to help make R3ciprocity a thing in science? Sign the petition.

Living with ADHD as a Professor

Living with ADHD as a professor is challenging. Again, I think I have a few more things, but the ADHD test by my psychologist was the test that I aced without working for it.

You’re always forgetting things, can’t seem to be organized, and all aspects of your life are dictated by what you forget.

Good luck remembering names, showing up for meetings on time, writing, and reading.

These are the very things you get evaluated on.

The scariest moment for me in grade school was reading out loud in class. I could not read. I just couldn’t.

I hyperfocus on math and programming, but the problem is you don’t know “when to stop” and ask for help.

Most people think you are functioning at a high level, but what they don’t realize is you’re constantly forgetting what others easily remember.

Car keys? You forget. Paperwork? You forget. I forgot my kids trombone this morning, and had to drive back home to get it. Making that important call? You forget. Everything takes much longer than it does for others.

Everyone assumes you are disorganized and slighting them for forgetting their spouse’s names. So, I found out I had ADHD when I was almost 40.

My doctor and I decided not to do medication because of its side effects. I don’t know if that is right.

I try to manage it through diet, exercise, and sleep. But people don’t realize you have a tendency to overeat, exercise is hard when you are naturally daydreamy, and a symptom of ADHD is an inability to sleep.

Emotional Impact and Neurodiversity

People also do not know that ADHD messes with your emotions.

You feel guilty all the time. No matter how much effort you put in, you always feel never good enough.

Shit. That hurts to say.

I struggle with saying that this is a disability. It is not. It is neurodiversity.

The only thing I can do is to forgive myself, give myself grace, and know that I am different than others.

Whatever you have, know that you are perfectly amazing as you are. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone.

You are ultimately remarkable.

My Story of Overcoming

When I was in elementary school, I was in Special Education until the 5th grade. I was largely written off as not being bright enough to do much with my life. My parents are absolutely amazing, and I am so proud of them, but neither of them had a high school education. Being a Polish immigrant and living in a rural Canadian community, I guess most people like my dad didn’t really ‘get’ higher education.

Here I am now, a tenured professor at one of the top educational institutions in the world.

Why am I telling you this? I don’t know.

Perhaps, to let you know that you should never give up on yourself.

Things can get tough for everyone. There are many days where I don’t believe in myself.

Many days where I wanted to give up on the R3ciprocity Project.

But, you have to keep going and keep pushing forward. You have to believe that you can do this. Things come together if you keep pushing.

But, they may not.

Never give up.

Persisting Through Challenges

People are going to tell you things they believe are helpful, but you can’t always listen to them. They don’t know.

You have to listen to what you believe in. You have to keep going. You are capable of amazing things if you keep persisting.

If you are in it for the money, you are going to give up before you even matter. I can’t tell you how many times you feel like quitting in every endeavor. You have to rise above the urge to quit and focus on the joy of the struggle.

The struggle from adversity is where you grow as a person.

You Got This

Ultimately, you need to know that you got this.

Embrace your struggles, learn from them, and keep moving forward.

Let’s change the way we view success and redefine what it means to be remarkable.

Let’s change science together.

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