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Overcoming Health and Disability Challenges

With its race to publications, dwindling funding rates, and limited number of permanent positions, academic science can be a cutthroat environment. Can you compete if you have a disability, a chronic illness, or a serious mental health issue?

Michael Hyland put it well: When he was struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome, he said, it felt like he was "swimming up the stream with all the other fish," and then something "flaps you onto the bank, and all the fish go past you, and you think 'it's terrible, they are going to get there, and I am not'."

And yet—if the scientists profiled on Science Careers are a fair and adequate sample, they can still compete, unequivocally. They often have amazing stories to tell—stories of inspiration, professional and personal growth, and overcoming difficulties. Many of these scientists have taken an apparent challenge and used it to help them see the world in a new light, or in some other way to bring their uniqueness to bear on the problems they study. A number of them have done great things and become influential mentors.

This collection of articles shows that, while things may take a bit longer and it may be necessary to be more resourceful than other aspiring scientists, there are great things to be done and every perspective is—potentially—valuable.

Leading the Way for Scientists with Disabilities, by Angela Lee Foreman, 01 July 2013.
Learning to remain focused on her passions helped Angela Lee Foreman adapt to her hearing disability and find a rewarding career path at the crossroads of business and academia.

Plodding Progress for Women, Minorities in Science, by Michael Price, 05 March 2013.
The National Science Foundation recently released its latest snapshot of the participation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering education and employment in the United States.

In Person: My Boss With Stephen Hawking Disease, by Rodica Stan, 11 January 2013.
A protégé pays tribute to the humanity and resilience of immunologist Alan Houghton.

Spotlight on Diversity, by Michael Price, 31 August 2012.
Filmmaker and physicist Aziza Baccouche, who is blind, showcases the challenges and successes of a diverse group of scientists in a new documentary series.

Re-Visioning a Career, by Robin Mejia, 23 July 2010.
David Price, a computer scientist working on weather-prediction models at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found inspiration in the challenges posed by his disability.

Assistive Technologies Enable Discovery, by Siri Carpenter, 02 April 2010.
The explosion of assistive technology over the last couple of decades has changed the academic landscape for young scientists with disabilities.

Profiles in Technological Adaptation, by Siri Carpenter, 02 April 2010.
With assists from technology, many scientists and engineers are able to get their work done.

Destigmatizing Depression, by Karyn Hede, 02 October 2009.
Medical students and physician-scientist trainees suffer from high rates of depression, yet they are often reluctant to admit to their condition.

Belgian Scientist Shares Her Struggles to the Top, by Alexander Hellemans, 04 January 2008.
Christine Van Broeckhoven has worked hard to become one of the top geneticists studying neurodegenerative diseases while battling tight times, the challenges of single-parenthood, and depression.

Rita Thornton: Turning Obstacles into Steppingstones, by Anne Sasso, 12 October 2007.
Rita Thornton shows by example that age, race, and chronic health issues need not be barriers to higher education.

Deaf to the Needs of Hearing-Impaired Scientists, by Nadya Anscombe, 30 March 2007.
The barriers, which students with hearing disabilities have to overcome in academic science, are deterring many promising scientists.

A New Resource for Disabled Researchers, by Melissa Mertl, 06 January 2006.
A United Kingdom-based Web resource called Premia aims to help graduate students with disabilities complete their research degrees and find rewarding careers.

To Tell or Not to Tell: Coping With Chronic Illness as a Science Trainee, by Irene S. Levine, 10 June 2005.
For those in the midst of building a career in science, one of the toughest hurdles is deciding whether and how to disclose an illness to supervisors and colleagues.

Creating a Positive Graduate Experience (No Matter What), by Edna Francisco, 25 March 2005.
An African-American woman with an inherited neurological disorder, Traci Powell did not allow herself to be short-changed in grad school.

MentorDoctor: When Health Issues Interfere, by Next Wave and Science Staff, 11 February 2005.
What advice should you give an excellent student who has to take a leave of absence for health reasons, and doesn't know whether he will be able to return to school?

Overcoming Odds, by Edna Francisco, 07 January 2005.
Kristine Brenneman’s past experiences—which include a 2-year-break from teaching and research to deal with a rare autoimmune disease—helped her recognize the importance of being a scientist and a mentor.

Health Issues in the Scientific Workplace, by Robin Arnette, 10 June 2004.
In this feature, ScienceCareers (at the time called Science’s Next Wave) examines the decisions that sick and injured scientists must make to ensure that their health doesn't interfere with their professional lives.

Scientists and the FMLA, by Jim Kling, 10 June 2004.
Frequent contributor Jim Kling provides an overview of the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act  and examines the benefits it provides for scientists who have to leave the bench temporarily.

Keeping a Career on Track with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, by Elisabeth Pain, 10 June 2004.
After suffering and recovering from chronic fatigue syndrome, health psychologist Michael Hyland decided to devote part of his time to studying the disease.

Bouncing Back, by Edna Francisco, 10 June 2004.
Three women scientists tell Science Careers how illness and injury compromised their careers, and how they got back on track.

Presenting Illnesses and Changes of Direction, by CareerDoctor, 13 February 2004.
Your employer is likely to be more supportive if you disclose your condition, but you may find it more difficult to secure the job offer in the first place.

A Plea for a Level Playing Field, by A Non-Traditional Science Postdoc, 27 June 2003.
A postdoc diagnosed with multiple sclerosis came to accept that people with disabilities should not feel guilty about asking for extra help and changes in the workplace.

Surmounting Obstacles, by Elisabeth Pain, 27 June 2003.
The University of Cambridge Disability Resource Centre is a good example of what universities can do to provide efficient support to students with disabilities.

Making the Readily Accessible Accessible Again, by David Secko, 27 June 2003.
The Neil Squire Society in Canada develops assistive technology for people with physical disabilities and helps them find and maintain employment.

Meeting the Workplace Needs of Canada's Disabled High-Tech Workers, by Neil Faba, 20 June 2003.
The National Educational Association of Disabled Students in Canada focuses on enhancing the educational experiences of university students with disabilities.

Hugh Herr: Back on Top, by Alice McCarthy, 20 June 2003.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Hugh Herr has been developing a successful career working on human rehabilitation devices since losing his legs in a climbing accident.

Biologist With a Vision, by Lesley McKarney, 06 June 2003.
The molecular biology of cancer is among the most visual areas of the sciences, but this hasn’t prevented Mahadeo Sukhai, who is visually impaired, from developing a career in the field.

Finding a Niche in the New Biology, by Christopher Berrie, 06 June 2003.
After suffering from a spinal cord injury, Stefania Pasa helped change the culture at her university and remove barriers for scientists with disabilities. 

A Visionary Scientist, by Aparna Sreenivasan, 06 June 2003.
Losing his eyesight at the age of 48 prompted solid-state physicist John Gardner to launch a company developing assistive technologies for blind people.

Life on a Barstool, by Jörgen Beckmann, 06 June 2003.
During his career, Jörgen Beckmann withdrew, in part to avoid confrontation with “the tough guys in science”—but his scientific choices also allowed him to see things from a fresh perspective.

MiSciNet Shero--Joan Esnayra, by Joan Esnayra, 26 April 2002.
Joan Esnayra tells how she overcame bipolar disorder and discrimination in graduate school to become a fearless and tough fighter.

What Is a Résumé Hole and How Do I Fill It? Part 2, by Adrienne Kitts, 30 March 2001.
Knowing how to step over a resume hole resulting from illness or disability could be the final key to getting the job, so plan ahead and know your rights.

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