5 Tips for Employers & 4 Tips for Instructors with Noticeable Differences

5 Tips for Employers & 4 Tips for Instructors with Noticeable Differences

Have you ever taken a class where the instructor began speaking with a strong accent and you wondered if that would affect your ability to learn?

Have you ever been taught a physical skill by someone with a physical difference in relation to you? Did you wonder if you would learn as well from them as from someone with the same physical abilities as you?

As a student, we wonder these things and in turn, employers wonder if students wonder these things. Employers must consider both client and staff comfort. Their business depends on smooth service delivery, happy staff and satisfied clients. When hiring staff, they take this into account and will not hire someone that they think will not be a “good fit”, in other words, will cause them or their clients discomfort.

What does this mean for people who have a noticeable difference and who are looking for employment, especially as instructors of a topic they are passionate about?

I’m certain that we all advocate for hiring employees who have any sort of disability or difference and yet, these individual often struggle to find employment that suits their interests in Canada, the United States and beyond.

My hope is that this post addresses these concerns by giving employers some tools to feel more confident in hiring instructors with differences that could be seen to impact the learning experience of students.

In general, the employer’s responsibilities are to ensure that the instructor’s difference is accommodated for and that the instructor is comfortable setting students’ minds at ease about their ability to teach the material competently. Below are 5 things to keep in mind as you strive to accomplish this.

5 Tips for Employers & Instructors with a Difference

  1. The instructor and employer will need to accept and embrace the difference. This person will always be the same person with the same difference. For example, a person who stutters will always be a person who stutters, even on days when the stuttering is not outwardly noticeable.
  2. The instructor and employer should feel open to discuss the difference with each other. The instructor is the most knowledgeable about what works and does not work with regards to their difference. The instructor is the expert here and should be treated as such. For example, an instructor who has a hearing loss is the only person who knows what they can hear, what conditions get in the way of their ability to understand, and what supports they may need to ensure that they can communicate effectively with students.
  3. The employer must realize that for communication-related differences, the instructor’s communication may vary from day to day. Certainly, the instructor has likely learned some techniques that help to communicate more clearly that they may use when possible. Some days a person who stutters or a person with a strong accent will be able to speak more clearly or techniques will be working well. Other days will not go as smoothly. That is not their fault and is typically out of their control! Check out Megan Washington’s TED talk on being a person who stutters and a musician.
  4. The employer needs to know that the instructor will feel comfortable addressing their difference with students. If the instructor’s difference is not discussed, it may become a taboo topic that will be a distraction for students during instruction. The more comfortable that a person feels about their difference, the more comfortable the listeners will feel. This is perfectly demonstrated by Maysoon Zayid in her TED talk on being a woman with cerebral palsy.
  5. The instructor should be the one to talk to students about their difference(s), NOT the employer. If the employer tries to address the subject with students and the instructor does not, this will undermine the students’ confidence in the instructor. The instructor will be best able to set students’ minds at ease that they know what they are doing and they know best how to accommodate their difference. In the eyes of the students, the employer has already shown confidence in the instructor’s capacity to teach by hiring them.

4 Tips for Instructors on Communicating Directly with Students about their Difference(s)

  1. Start a class with a new group with business-as-usual, casually mention your difference and how you expect students to react. For example, if you are a person who stutters, allow yourself to stutter (or incorporate purposeful stuttering), then casually mention something like, “Oh, and I stutter sometimes so it’s helpful if you wait patiently for the stuttering to pass then refocus on what I’m saying. It does not help if you try to encourage me to breathe or take my time.”
  2. Directly mention that you recognize that your difference could be distracting for students at times (without being apologetic) and encourage students to focus on what you are saying. For example, a person with a strong accent may say, “I know that my accent is different than yours and you might not always understand what I’ve said. Please let me know if you missed something so that I can clarify.” Having visual supports, like a whiteboard, can help clarify as needed.
  3. Frequently ask students to summarize what has just been said. This is a common teaching technique anyway but could be used more than usual. This will keep students working to focus on the message, not the difference. For example, an instructor with a facial tic may notice that a student’s eyes have glazed over as they stare at the instructor, which may be because they are focused on the repetitive twitching. The instructor can ask the student to repeat back what was just said, encouraging the student to keep focused for the next time they are asked to summarize what the instructor has said!
  4. Address any physical limitations early on so that you can explain what kinds of accommodations you will make in your instruction. For example, if you have a prosthetic arm, you may say, “If I’m demonstrating a move, I’ll ask one of you to show me the move back to make sure it was clear and to provide a second demo.”

As a final perk, remember that your students have differences too, many of which are not visible to you. Hiring a more diverse set of instructors will lead to a more diverse and accepting student body!

Employers, go forth and hire diverse instructors who are passionate and competent! Differences do not need to be a barrier to their employment or to the students’ experiences.


The Poetic Sequel: Jobs Where You Can ‘Get Your Research On’ as a Clinician

The Poetic Sequel: Jobs Where You Can ‘Get Your Research On’ as a Clinician

Once your PhD reaches completion, sights set on employment

A place to produce, to collaborate, to earn

Is academia the sole destination for your research enjoyment?

Why no, no indeed, there’s so much you did learn!


As a researcher, it’s clear, study design becomes easy

Your sharp mind can envision, can ensure data’s collected

You can arrange data points in a way that is pleasing

To analyze, report, present, publish as expected


But there is so much more, like your ability to organize

To lead and train others, solve problems, no sweat!

Your ability to communicate, collaborate and advise


You can write, write, write, write!


So the jobs you could get:


Of course there’s Professor, which gives much flexibility

To break new theoretical ground with the utmost agility!


Be a Clinical Researcher and start your own business

See your own clients, run studies, you must be ambitious


Or step up and be Head Scientist in a hospital

Daily inspiration surrounds you, knowledge translation is critical



Prefer to not be the boss? Clinical Associate might suit you

Be the star clinician you are, with a flair for peer review


How do you feel about Clinical Research Coordinator?

Stay behind the scenes, mastermind, like a knowledge creator


Perhaps Clinical Services Manager is your future role

Clinicians appreciate evidence-based protocol


Finally, you may work in Industry with a PhD

Make your skill set work for you in a career externally


Wherever you choose to go with your PhD, your vocation

I hope it is worth every darn grant application!


Image credit: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss


Project Management for a PhD

Project Management for a PhD

I am taking an online course on Time Management (offered by Mitacs Step here in Canada), which included a section on Project Management. The exercises are really useful and I would encourage anyone who has to coordinate any sort of large project to look into project management tools and techniques.

My first attempt at drafting out the Phases and subsequent Work Packages for my PhD study goal:

Work Packages - PhD


What do you think? Am I missing anything crucial?

The next exercise required that I list out the different activities involved in one of the work packages. I chose the work package that is next on my agenda (Measures within my Study Design phase) and added notes on which groups of activities should be completed when over the next year.

Activities for Measures Work Package

Activities for Measures Work Package - B

This is just a first, quick draft of using these techniques. I plan to do this for the data collection phase once I get closer to its implementation. It really seems to set my mind at ease to know that I have a plan and that it is broken down into manageable steps.

It is suggested that you plan out the phases, work packages and activities into a timeline showing concurrent activities and duration. I may end up doing that on brown paper up on my wall in my room. If I do, I’ll share it here!


Photo header credit: http://www.mpi-magdeburg.mpg.de/2857307/project-management


A Disinterested Employee?

A Disinterested Employee?

Today, I cleaned out my documents folder. You know, the one we all have (at least for those still working within the hard copy paper era) for our bank statements, bills, receipts and other paper paraphernalia. In the far back, within a compartment simply labelled ‘Documents’, I found a performance review from a summer job back in 2001. That was 15 years ago and I was 21 years oldIMG_1979

It told an interesting story and I’m grateful to the supervisor who completed it at the time. It helps me to keep perspective on the work ethics of others, especially those in their late teens and early 20s.

Let me tell you a story about a préposée à la clientèle des parcs (parks monitor) in Montréal with aucun enthousiasme (no enthusiasm at all).

The job in question was created by the government of Québec to generate work for students. It consisted of riding a bike around an assigned group of parks to check for needles/condoms, verify that water fountains were working and basically just monitor that park users were aware of park policies. This was accomplished in pairs and I was paired up with a young woman of 17 years.

Halfway through the summer, we sat down to receive a performance review, which I do not recall in the least. I know it took place only because I came across this document. In general, my review was mediocre. I apparently did not require any monitoring and was seen as having superior ability to make logical decisions.However, the majority of my abilities were marked as average (learning, taking initiative, quality of work, leadership, emotional stability).

The one exceptional multiple choice item that stood out was my enthusiasm for the job, in which aucun enthousiasme (no enthusiasm at all) was selected. This stands out for me today because, if you know me, you know that I am a person who is enthusiastic, passionate about my work and driven. So… Aucun? Like, none at all? To understand this statement better, I turn to the comments at the end of the review. They are rather illuminating.

Points faibles (weaknesses)

  • Bonita est un peu réservée face au reste de l’équipe de préposées 
    • Bonita is a bit reserved in interactions with the other monitors
  • elle semblait de plus en plus fatiguée et quelque peu désintéressée au fil des semaines 
    • she seemed increasingly tired and disinterested as the weeks went on

Yes, this is truly what was happening here. I was disengaging. The other monitors were mostly younger than me with different priorities in life, such as using their pay for shopping instead of rent. For example, I overheard gleeful admissions of non-work-related activities during work hours: bringing extra clothes to wander the downtown as civilians, slipping into movie theatres for a 2-hour break and sitting in one park hanging out with the drummers for the entire day. I would never have done these things. I don’t have the tendency or willingness to buck authority. This despite the fact that I recall becoming increasingly disillusioned with the job. We felt more like a forgotten government initiative than an essential spoke in the gears of the city of Montréal.

I see the person I am today more in the comments on my strengths.

Points forts (strengths)

  • remplit les tâches reliées à ce poste avec beaucoup de maturité
    • completes work tasks with much maturity
  • son ouverture d’esprit la rend plus efficace pour ce travail
    • her open-mindedness makes her more efficient in this work
  • semble vouloir en faire plus
    • seems to want to do more
  • possède un certain caractère “travailleuse sociale” face aux gens problématiques
    • possesses a certain “social worker” approach to working with difficult people

I believe the above points really illustrate better why I may have appeared to have no enthusiasm towards my work. I knew what I needed to do and I did it efficiently. I wanted to do more. In other words, I was completely and utterly bored! I remember feeling that I could have learned more and done more in a different job that summer. The city created a job that was not really needed, certainly not on a daily basis. In looking for other things to do, I began noticing and reflecting further on the customer service aspects of the job. This was particularly challenging in the inner city where our “customers” included people with no fixed address, sex workers and outcast wanderers.

If you work with individuals who do not appear to be engaged in their work, remember this young park employee who was bored. It clearly was not the right job for me nor was I given a clear purpose. That disinterested employee may just need to feel that their work is valued and valuable. Ask deeper questions and take observational notes. If my supervisor had simply stopped at the multiple choice aptitude items, the full story of a young employee who wished to make a difference in the world would have been completely missed.