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Physics Physics Career With Disability

  1. Mar 27, 2007 #1
    Hi all, I'm 21 years old and I will be graduating in May 2008 with a math/physics double degree. In fall 2008 I plan to go to graduate school and pursue a PhD in physics.

    My problem is that my dominant hand became stricken with pain, 6 months ago. I can't really use it for anything other then typing, I can't write with a pen or turn doorknobs. I fear that I will eventually not be able to type.

    The doctors are unable to help/understand, telling me to rest up for a few weeks, take ibuprofen, and avoid sports (one said "writing with a pen shouldn't be a problem"). The situation is complicated by the fact that I am poor an locationally isolated, but I have seen enough doctors to convince me that the cause and treatment of my disability are unknown.

    The job of the physicist is to produce written output, and besides that, to cogitate. The pain from my hand is such that it is difficult to concentrate, and I struggle to record anything in writing.

    For these reasons, I worry that I cannot have a career in physics, despite the fact that I have already trained for 10,000 hours. Did anyone else go through something similar?

    I wonder if Stephen Hawking is in pain, or if he just can't move? Any other examples of disabled physicists would be appreciated, especially examples those who were disabled before they were noticed (unlike Hawking).
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 27, 2007 #2


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    Um... write with your bad hand and make that your dominant hand which in turn lets your good hand rest like your doctors want you to do.

    Obviously this a set back, and I have no idea how I would deal with the situation, but you have another hand. How to deal with the pain? I have no idea. I bet it's amazingly hard. There are mathematicians that have dealt with pain throughout their careers and Riemann is one of the them. Maybe you can read their stories for motivation. :smile:
  4. Mar 27, 2007 #3
    I spent a lot of time with graduate students when I was doing my senior thesis, so I know a bit about the life of physics researchers. If you have to choose from all the various disabilities out there, this one actually seems like the best choice for a physicist. Under the worst case scenario (i.e. the hand thing is permanent), the most you'd have to do is get some accomodations made. For example, you might have to get someone else to take notes for you, and you might need to get a special keyboard to type. It's true that physicists are required to do a fair bit of writing, as well as typing for computer programming. But based on what I know about research careers in physics, this shouldn't really affect you at all. If you can think, and you can effectively communicate said thoughts to others, then you can be a physicist.

    Of course, from what you've said, there's a good chance that the hand will recover soon enough. So hopefully this will just turn out to be a minor inconvenience.
  5. Mar 27, 2007 #4
    There's lots of good software out now where you can just dictate whatever you want, and it will be translated into text...besides that, start working on your other hand. With practice, you can learn to use it just as well.
  6. Mar 27, 2007 #5
    I wondered about that. Does anyone know a good talk-to-type software that works in any application and supports entering arbitrarily obscure keyboard combinations like those found in Mathematica or TeX ?
  7. Mar 27, 2007 #6
    Check "Dragon Naturally Speaking", it's been in the market for a very long time and pretty good!
    You can "teach" it just about anything.
  8. Mar 27, 2007 #7
    hmm have you been checked for carpal tunnel syndrom? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carpal_tunnel_syndrome

    or have you had any sort of x-ray/ electromyography/mri scan done on it?

    it seems like a very local condition such as yours would have some sort of direct cause that could be treated.
  9. Mar 27, 2007 #8
    I was originally classified as a quadrapaligic after break my neck in a car wreck but I'm now walking again with fore arm crutches and have been going to therapy for about 2.5 years now. The docs said I would never walk again and be confined to a wheelchair the rest of my life, maybe a powerchair after your shoulders give out from pushing yourself around all day.

    I'm in constant pain, chronic neurological pain that will never go away. Its all over my body and my left hand has less function than yours and yet I'm a Computer Science and engineering major who types all day and I've trained it to type just as fast as my right hand. I woke up and I couldn't move any of my fingers nor anything from my chest down.

    It takes work but recovery can happen, I still can't pick up anything with my left hand unless its something light but if its too small like a penny its also difficult. To top that off I wake up every morning and my legs are in constant spasms that feel like they are going to rip the tendons in my knees, its better than coffee in the morning.

    You learn to live with the pain and you don't let it stop you, if you want to do something, do it. I know people who are complete quads, on vents who can't use any of their hands, arms, can't even breathe on their own and are perusing what they love to do.

    If you feel like you can't go on anymore, look at someone who is worse off than you and you will soon realize you have it easy, thats what I do. In fact if you read this you should already feel better about your condition. :)

    As another member said, people who can't use their hands at all, use, Dragon Naturally Speaking software. But you are not disabled in the respect that you can't use any of your hands so I don't think you should use that software. You have 1 good hand, you can retrain that good hand to be your main writing hand as another member said.

    Last edited: Mar 27, 2007
  10. Mar 27, 2007 #9


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  11. Mar 27, 2007 #10
    I received a Bachelor's and Master's degree in physics while having the diagnosis of schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder. I now find social sciences more satisfying professionally (helping people personally), but still love physics.

    My medications cause a tremor, making writing at length under stress difficult (to say nothing of psychic havoc). If you are studying in the United States, you may wish to pursue a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Inquire of the resources at http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/The_ADA_%E2%80%93_Americans_with_Disabilities_Act.htm and http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html . Such an accommodation can include extra time to finish an assignment or test, or use of a keyboard rather than pen or pencil. You must make known to your school ahead of time that you have a disability and make a reasonable request.
  12. Mar 28, 2007 #11


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    I'm left handed. When I was younger, my father couldn't afford a left-handed guitar so he got me a right-handed one and I learned to play right-handed. Maybe guitar isn't comparable to writing, but I'd think learning to right with your off-hand would be good stimuli for your brain anyway.
  13. Mar 29, 2007 #12
    As a step-mother of a child with mental and physical delays, I would definitely say that you should pursue your interests and loves to your fullest... and as mentioned, laws are out there that require institutions, testing centers, etc., make accommodations for individuals with disabilities... if your disability becomes permanent. Some universities are of course better than others at this... but the only way to find out is to visit. You might have to even consider yourself to have a special role in helping to make a better learning environment and spread awareness in the university/department you chose.
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