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How hustle culture affects neurodivergent students in STEM

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPRM chapter.

Have you ever found yourself staring at a list full of tasks, unable to complete a single one of them? Feeling like you are not doing enough with your life, comparing your success with others, and falling on an endless cliff where you cannot find satisfaction no matter how many things you complete? This phenomenon occurs to a majority of neurodivergent individuals, such as myself. 


You may be wondering, what is neurodivergence? The term neurodivergence describes individuals whose brain differences affect how their brain works. They have different strengths and challenges from people whose brains do not have those differences. The possible differences include medical disorders, learning disabilities, and other conditions. There are also strengths, such as being able to mentally picture three-dimensional (3D) objects, the ability to solve complex mathematical calculations, and many more. A person who does not have those differences is neurotypical.

The fact that we live in a world where we need to fit a system that is not regularly inclusive leads us to feel like there is a problem with us, because there are expectations we cannot achieve. Additionally, the growth of capitalism and the access to so much information that the internet has given us are some factors that implement a fast paced environment where there is a drive to live by the standards of hustle culture. According to an article by Time Magazine, hustle is defined as a “decisive movement toward a goal, however indirect, by which the motion itself manufactures luck, surfaces hidden opportunities, and charges our lives with more money, meaning, and momentum.” This mentality became popular among society in the 1970s, when the development of the industry accelerated exponentially and employees were required to work at a fast pace without any time limits. 

This mentality of hustle culture brings a lot of stress, on a neurodiverse note, the kind of stress that makes the prefrontal cortex freak out. Hence, in neurotypical people, the amount of stress generated by hustling is not enough to completely short-circuit their brains; if that were the case, hustle culture would be impossible. In a side note, all individuals can suffer from burnout produced by this lifestyle. 

My Experience

Growing as an individual with ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) led me to a lot of destructive behavior and feelings of low self-esteem. I remember how no matter how much I studied, I always received average grades. I would compare myself to my peers and think I was not smart enough. When I finally started getting therapy, I realized that just because I may struggle, it does not make me any less than anyone. I just needed to find other ways to show my abilities. Even if I have improved so much, every day, since mental health isn’t linear, I have to remind myself that I am enough; that my worth does not equal my achievements and that just because I feel exhausted, it does not mean I am lazy or incapable.  

In the STEM field there are a lot of challenges. I would be in situations where I tried my best, and got the lowest grade since I could not concentrate and wrote the wrong equations without noticing. Situations like this made me impulsively feel the need to drop out of my major, but slowly building up a persevering perspective has prevented me from taking that decision. Having ADHD can make some of my day to day tasks challenging, but it hasn’t stopped me from getting opportunities. Despite that, this is not the case for many other individuals. Even though there has been a significant increase of neurodivergent students enrolling in STEM programs, this retention rate is significantly low. Spreading awareness on this topic can increase this value.

What are some things that have helped me?

Some things that have helped me succeed in this path:

  • Always think about your past goals and how your past self dreamt of accomplishing the things you’ve done. 
  • Be realistic. Don’t let that feeling of sudden adrenaline blind you from your availability. Taking less credits or doing less things doesn’t make you less. Is it really worth getting 18 credits enrolled, being part of multiple directives, having a job but then being on the verge of failing all your classes, giving 50% of what you give to your tasks, having to quit your job and feeling depressed because you weren’t able to manage your time? 
  • Speak up. It’s ok to admit when you’re not feeling well, those days when you’re not feeling like yourself. 
  • Do not be afraid to get help. Go to therapy or request reasonable accommodation from the Office of Services to Students with Disabilities (OSEI-RUM).
  • Use not a planner, but multiple. I use a digital planner, a digital calendar and a paperback planner, and a calendar since sometimes I easily misplace my things, I can rely on another.
  • Study with others if you find yourself getting too distracted. Having someone can help you stay focused.
  • Be kind to yourself and forgive yourself whenever you make a mistake, miss a deadline or realize you need to drop something off your life.

These tips are not a substitute for professional help. If you find yourself relating to this, I encourage you to contact the university’s psychological services: 

“Departamento de Consejería y Servicios Psicológicos”
email: dcsp@uprm.edu

Phone number: (787)-265-3864

Alejandra Medina Vázquez is a writer at Her Campus at the UPRM Chapter. She covers topics such as academic experiences, mental health awareness and would like to write more about sustainability, entertainment, STEM and more. Beyond Her Campus, Alejandra hasn't worked on other publishing companies, but at the moment she is working on a research article as a co-author. She has worked in different associations that involve leadership, outreach, helping students in their professional development and research. She is majoring in her fifth year of Chemical Engineering with a minor in Pharmaceutical Engineering in the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus. In her free time, she enjoys playing music, exercising and writing. She loves going to the beach, playing the piano, going to coffee shops and in times of stress, you may find her watching netflix or tiktok with a pint of ice cream.