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Why don’t people with dyslexia study science?

April 18, 2017

This statement might shock people who know me, but at school I absolutely hated biology and science in general. I genuinely remember celebrating the end of my GCSEs and shaking hands with an equally dissatisfied friend and saying the words ‘thank god we never have to study science again’.


I am now doing a PhD in biology.


The question that immediately comes to mind is how did that happen? The short version, that I tell friends and family, involves a random turn of events that meant I spent a large amount of time with a group of orphaned baby baboons. I remember being absolutely fascinated by their behaviour, thinking about potential research questions (unaware they were research questions at the time) and ultimately becoming utterly entranced by the field of animal behaviour and later the rest of biology.


So, in hindsight the question that I have been asking recently is: Why didn’t this happen in school? Why did I recoil at the mere mention of studying science?  (To be fair my school didn’t have a troop of charismatic and charming baboons on campus to lure me into the science building so this might seem like a futile point.)

However, I am heavily dyslexic and know exactly why I did not enjoy science.


Science, as I remember it, was literally fact, fact, long word that had no meaning, fact, fact, long word that had no meaning, figure of something that I didn’t understand surrounded by lots of other long words that I had no idea how to even say, let alone spell. We would then be told to learn it. This was my nightmare.


The ironic thing is, in the REAL WORLD this type of learning does not make a good scientist. Scientists do not simply accept facts. They question them, look at methodologies, ask more questions, generate a hypothesis, test it and then come to a conclusion (if their funding doesn’t run out). Science is innovation, seeing something that people don’t see, asking good questions and thinking creatively.


This is very different to how science is portrayed in schools. If we want more young people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities (as well as other uninspired kids without learning disabilities) to study and enjoy science, then we need to change how science is taught at school.


Kids need to get outside, design experiments and test a hypothesis, present their findings, question their teachers and in doing so they will learn the long words and facts along the way.  


 Any biologist will tell you that ‘heterozygosity produces the best offspring’ – In English? A large diversity of genes produces the healthiest offspring.


If science wants to advance it needs a wide diversity of people. I do not know a single other person at a PhD level, or a senior academic who has dyslexia and a quick google search suggests that around 1 in 5 people are dyslexic. Something is not working at our schools and I think it is time for this to change. 

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