Dyslexia no barrier for PhD star

14 December 2023

Steven Gough-Kelly has graduated with a doctorate in astrophysics

A University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) graduate who was diagnosed with dyslexia during his studies has completed his doctorate in astrophysics.

Steven Gough-Kelly’s PhD was the culmination of eight years of studying for three qualifications at UCLan.

The 27-year-old, who has battled self-confessed “imposter syndrome” during his time in education, took to the graduation stage in Preston last week to receive his award.

Steven, who also completed a BSc (Hons) Astrophysics and MSc (by research) Astrophysics at UCLan, said: “I am excited to complete my journey and apply my skills and knowledge to new environments. After a long time of imposter syndrome and self-doubt, it is a nice feeling to finally say, ‘I did it’ and ‘I was good enough.’”

"After a long time of imposter syndrome and self-doubt, it is a nice feeling to finally say, ‘I did it’ and ‘I was good enough'"

New PhD graduate Steven Gough-Kelly

He said: “When I left Oldham Sixth Form College, I noticed I was struggling with certain aspects of my studies, such as my working memory and my reading and writing abilities. This prompted a dyslexia assessment when I arrived at UCLan, which resulted in a diagnosis in my first year my undergraduate.

“I had to face that many of my coping mechanisms for dealing with the way I study and learn may need to be adapted for higher education. These challenges only became more pronounced when I progressed to postgraduate study.

“Taking more ownership of my own projects and consuming large volumes of academic literature began to take its toll. There are many challenges to research degrees already regarding imposter syndrome and self-motivation. These negative thoughts were only exaggerated, knowing how hard I already found my academic journey. However, with an incredible amount of support from staff and peers, I am now not only a doctor of astrophysics, but I have published my work in leading academic journals.”

The former Royton and Crompton High School student, from Oldham, has always had an interest in science, specifically physics.

"With an incredible amount of support from staff and peers, I am now not only a doctor of astrophysics, but I have published my work in leading academic journals"

Steven Gough-Kelly, astrophysics PhD graduate

“It helps me understand the world around me,” commented Steven. “Astrophysics was a further fascination as an attempt to gain insights into the universe we live in. After completing my undergraduate studies, I fell in love with research and furthering our knowledge of the cosmos and our place in it, which led me to a postgraduate master's research and PhD in the field.”

During his studies, he has had the opportunity to work with and collaborate with researchers across the globe and he was also awarded the prestigious Moses Holden Studentship to help fund his PhD studies.

Steven, who met his partner Xeng Chang while he was undertaking a psychology study aboard year at UCLan’s Preston Campus, added: “I have taken specific pride and opportunity to further Moses’ legacy of enriching public knowledge of astrophysics by undertaking every opportunity to support and lead outreach and engagement opportunities within the University.

“My ambition is to continue my research into galaxy dynamics as a post-doctoral researcher with the goal of finding a permanent position in a university, allowing me to pass on my knowledge to the next generation of undergraduates and continue to future research.”

Steven Gough-Kelly shaking hands on stage with VC Graham Baldwin