How an ADHD PhD candidate makes progress every week

When Cindy first found me through a Google search, she described herself as an “anxious PhD student.” She was in her second year of her Social Work PhD program and had struggled with writing for as long as she could remember. In fact, like so many other ADHD PhD candidates I’ve worked with as an ADHD dissertation coach, she felt that she’d developed trauma around her writing. She felt she had the tools and mechanisms in place she needed to succeed, but wasn’t sure how to use them. She needed help!

Now, a year later, she’s prepared to teach her first class a month before it starts, she’s submitted 4 co-authored papers, and she’s making progress on her dissertation every week.  This is how she got there. 

The big challenges for ADHD PhD candidates

As an ADHD PhD candidate, Cindy was struggling with some challenges that might be recognizable to you.

Isolation and accountability

First and foremost: there’s the isolation. This was an issue for many PhD candidates even before the Covid outbreak, but now that more and more work is being done from home many feel alone, abandoned, and like they’re working in a void. Naturally, this affects their mental health. But it’s even worse for ADHD PhD candidates. We ADHD-ers work best when we feel a sense of connection and, most of all, when we have accountability. This is something that a mentor can offer, but is hard to achieve with self-imposed systems. 

In addition to these common ADHD PhD challenges, now that her program had moved online Cindy also experienced a breakdown in her systems which were related to location: going to campus and going to the library. Here, too, having a mentor could help.

Impostor syndrome

In addition – like many academics, AND people with ADHD – this brilliant woman had built conditioned patterns that went back to the feeling that she didn’t actually know what she was doing. This made it hard for her to keep working on her solo-authored papers and made her incredibly concerned about her upcoming dissertation work. She felt she wasn’t good enough. Like everyone else knew what they were doing even without a coach or mentor. She felt like everyone had gotten the memo on how to write things like the literature review, except her. 

Memory issues for ADHD PhD candidates

And then, of course, there are the memory issues. Cindy felt that she had a million ideas for research and her dissertation. But every time she stepped away from an article she had worked on, she forgot all about it. Trying to remember what she had been doing and what the next steps were was so exhausting and time-consuming that she’d rather not go back to old projects and preferred to start something new. She did that until her pile of unfinished papers got so out of control that it became yet another source of discouragement for her. 

If you are an ADHD PhD candidate, I’m sure you feel the same. But this is where an ADHD dissertation coach can help. 

Cindy's success

Despite all these challenges, Cindy had one thing to help her succeed. She had decided that she was going to do this, whatever it takes. She was ready to face her challenges head-on and work with me, her ADHD PhD mentor on achieving her goals. 

Well, after a while, at least… 

You see, after our fifth meeting, she fell off my radar. And I didn’t hear from her until six months later when she reached out to see if I would still work with her. And of course, I would! 

I understand how hard it is to maintain consistency. And I also know how difficult it is to reach back out after you’ve not spoken to someone for such a long time. So not only was I happy to hear from her, the ADHD PhD coach in me was very impressed! 


Cindy figured out that what she really needed was regular meetings with a mentor. So I gave her two time slots per week and we’ve been working together ever since. 

During our ADHD dissertation coach meetings, Cindy sets clear goals for herself that are achievable in the 3-4 days when we don’t speak. What’s more, at my urging she has started theming her days (Sun-Mon for dissertation, Tues-Wed for work, Thur-Fri for other academic writing). And with that one strategy, she got clarity on what she was doing with her time! 

Together, we have introduced this and other tools to get a handle on her workload. And these have allowed her to make consistent progress every single week. 

And as a bonus: this progress has helped her feel more confident about her writing practice!

Note-taking systems

Meanwhile, in our dissertation writing coach sessions, we’ve also been working on her note-taking systems. When you have ADHD, you can’t rely on your memory. And you especially can’t do that when you work on a four-year project. Something you read today is not going to stay with you until the end of your dissertation! 

That’s why it’s so important to develop a system that not only allows you to store notes, but is also great for recollection of thoughts and quotes. 

During our mentor sessions, Cindy and I have experimented with software like OneNote, NotionNotion, and Obsidian to figure out how to build a system that works for her. And now, she feels that the ideas she has and the literature she reads actually prepare her for the long process of writing the dissertation. 

If you want to be an ADHD PhD success like Cindy...

In conclusion: Cindy is a rock star. She has an incredible work ethic and is someone I respect and appreciate.

However, her transformation wasn’t completely unique. I’ve helped many ADHD PhD candidates like Cindy achieve similar results!

If like Cindy, you want to get a handle on ADHD PhD problems such as isolation, impostor syndrome, and memory issues – do what she did! Just schedule a meeting with me to get access to your personal ADHD PhD mentor!  I’m here to help. 

Do you want to know more about how I can help ADHD PhD candidates write their dissertation? Just click the button below!