Studying at the Centre for Autism and Theology

Studying at the Centre for Autism and Theology

At CAT we are creating a vibrant and supportive research community that is based on respect, collaboration and generosity. Each student, whether autistic and/or studying autism is invited to bring their unique lived experience as well as their areas of interest for exploration to a place where you and your contribution will be valued. At CAT we extend a warm welcome for you to take your place at the table. 


“The CAT community has been incredibly supportive and helpful. I’ve had a number of communities in my life, but very few that have seemed to ‘get’ me, especially so quickly.” 

- Ian 

“CAT has given me the space to explore autism and theology at a pace that is well-suited to me. I find that my voice is heard even if it takes me a little longer to speak up. My experience of being an autistic researcher is not seen as something I have to overcome. Rather, introspection on my autistic self is encouraged and valued by a group that is genuinely interested to hear about my experience.”

– Harry

Below you will find some top tips from our students for making the most out of your time as researcher at the University of Aberdeen. Disclaimer: these tips do not necessarily represent university policies and cannot be used to make any claims on services.

Find further information about MTh or PhD Studies here

Top Tip 1: What is one thing I would tell my past self, before I started?
  • “You don’t need to feel you have all the answers before you start!”
  • “One step at a time. Just one small goal a day. No more and no less.”
  • “Keep an open mind. Prepare yourself for the fact that there aren’t always right/wrong answers to things, and that the ambiguity does not need to cause anxiety.”
  • “Get a “buddy” or a mentor, ideally a student who has started a year or two before you, who can walk you through all the small stresses and anxieties of starting something new.”
  • “Block out the voices of people who just don’t understand.”
  • “You get to do this exciting and challenging thing, but you don’t have to do it – you are still a lovable and worthwhile person even if the project does not get done, or if does not get done on time.”
  • “Have strategies for managing anxiety and keeping calm. Know what works for you in this regard before you start. Think about your personal anxiety triggers and share them with your supervisor early-on in your supervision relationship.”
  • “It is helpful to work out one or two questions that you can ask your supervisor in each supervisory session. Use these to ask for advice and guidance - rather than see your supervisor as someone who is ‘marking your work.’”
  • “Don’t feel afraid or embarrassed to ask your supervisor to repeat instructions/guidance. Your supervisor will understand that it can take neurodivergent people longer to process information.”
  • “Imposter syndrome is common, especially for mature and neurodivergent students. It can be helpful to set goals and expectations for yourself to facilitate success. Ask your supervisor to help with this.”
Top Tip 2: The Social aspect of studying at CAT
  • “There is freedom here to dial this up or down to meet your needs.”
  • “The CAT group is a great setting to connect with a smaller group of people with similar research interests. There is freedom to engage a lot with others at meetings, over online chats or on campus, or just drop in occasionally.”
  • “CAT isn’t just about our academic work, it is a space where we can share who we are and form community.” 
  • “The CAT community has been incredibly supportive and helpful. I’ve had a number of communities in my life, but very few that have seemed to ‘get’ me, especially so quickly.”
Top Tip 3: What are the positives of studying at CAT?
  • “Studying at CAT is an opportunity to be part of and contribute to an emerging, important, area of study.”
  • “At CAT, we have a well-established group researching Autism and other neurodivergences. As a result, there are opportunities to engage in collaborative discussions which will enrich your research.”
  • “Our weekly CAT meetings involve people from other universities and disciplines, such as technology. This gives opportunities for interdisciplinary conversations about autism and theology which will broaden the potential for your research.”
Top Tip 4: Student support is available!
  • “Contact the Student Support Team as early as possible. If you don’t have an autism (or other neurodiversity) diagnosis, ask whether they might offer an initial screening service.”
  • “Accessing student support services can sometimes be challenging to navigate, ask someone, such as your supervisor, for help if you are struggling with the process.” 
  • “Don’t forget - there are people at the University who understand what it is like to be autistic! Your ‘challenges’ may well be the flip side of a coin that includes your distinctive strengths.”
  • “The university IT “toolkit” pages give you access to a lot of apps and programmes for free, so check what you can download from there before you go out and pay for things yourself.”
  • “Ask whether you can make a 1-to-1 appointment with an IT person to talk you through how to access the university system and facilities. The same is true at the library.”
  • “Using the university services gets easier once you have built up a rapport with a key point-person or contact within the Student Support or Disability Services Team – so ask for them to make someone like that available to you right from the start.”
  • “Ask your supervisor to show you where to look for support available through the university.”
Top Tip 5: Study at distance or in person?
  • “This can work either way. Sometimes distance work can be enhanced by the occasional (quarterly or half-yearly) visit to the university.”
  • “In person study has its benefits, however, many of those studying at CAT are distance, meaning most of our meetings are tailored to online students. There are also other networks which online students can regularly engage in, such as Sofia, the Divinity department's women's network. Therefore, studying at distance will not limit your contact with others too much.”
  • "Whilst distance study is possible, for the full experience of academic formation on campus study is the best option."
Top Tip 6: Planning workload and managing deadlines

Your project and deadlines

  • “Treat it like a project and develop a simple plan of the main tasks, when they need doing and in what sequence. This will change, of course, but it helps to see where you are up to on such a long exercise.”
  • “Build an understanding of what the task in hand might look like and very much one day at a time/100 words at a time etc.”
  • “Learn some techniques for narrowing down focus – i.e., you don’t have to read every page of every book!”
  • “It’s OK to be a ‘weak’ reader – there are lots of helpful podcasts, audio books, text-to-speech software and YouTube videos that you can use.”
  • “If your autism profile includes motor control difficulties, try using dictation software instead of typing, at least to get the main points down on the page.”
  • “Get help with proof-reading, especially for tone. If non-autistic people typically find you to be ‘blunt’ or ‘abrupt’, it is worth investing in a paid subscription to, as it gives you emoticons to indicate what tone of voice your word choices might convey to a neurotypical reader. It also advises on fluency.”
  • “Everyone has different ways of working. Tell your supervisor how you work. If you’re struggling with aspects of your work, ask them to help you find strategies.”

Personal time management

  • “If you struggle with executive function, then technology is your best friend! Invest in apps that connect your laptop to your phone so that you can synchronise to-do lists, notes and calendar appointments easily.”
  • “Be realistic about your sleep/wake routine (or lack of routine!). Have a list of tasks to complete every day/week but don’t be too prescriptive on what time/day you will complete them. If you must work at 2am, so be it! Sometimes it is easier to focus on work by working at night when the rest of the world is asleep and there are fewer distractions.”
  • “Some days will be productive and some days less so, and that’s OK, as long as you keep making progress.”
  • “If you like ‘rules’ then have rules that work for you, i.e., at least 4 hours of studying per day. Or write at least 300 words. But be prepared that on some days the rules will have to be broken! If this causes a lot of stress, think about how many days per week/month you can allow yourself to “break” your rules without your progress falling too far behind. That will help you to feel calmer about changing your work plan or accommodating the unexpected.”
  • “If you struggle with procrastination/ starting tasks, have an accountability partner.”
Top Tip 7: Conferences
  • “Don’t be afraid to work out your own style and some rules that work for you. This may take some time. Often talking things through with an individual is better than signing up for a general course. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but do learn to build in recovery time and space for things that you can see might be stressful.”
  • “Studying at CAT will provide you with a network of people, increasing the likelihood of attending conferences with familiar faces.”
  • The pandemic has meant that a lot more conferences are online or hybrid now, which makes things much more accessible! Enjoy this!
  • For in-person conferences, team up with a non-autistic “buddy” who can help you navigate the venue, timetable etc. If you ask conference organisers in advance, they will usually provide someone to assist you.
  • If you are presenting and then taking Q&A, simply tell your audience that you have language processing difficulties and that they should keep their questions/comments short and direct. The whole auditorium will be glad! No one likes listening to long, rambling speeches from the floor anyway.
  • Liaise with the university travel agency at the earliest possible opportunity to minimise the anxiety, stress and intolerance of uncertainty that arrangements of this nature cause.
Top Tip 8: What do you bring as an autistic researcher?

Every autistic person has a different experience and way of working. These are some examples from our current autistic researchers at CAT, but please remember that even if you don’t resonate with these examples, the way that your mind works is valuable.

  • “A systemic mind – so demanding that things make sense and fit together.”
  • “Ability to work alone.”
  • “Ability to work intensely and with focus.”
  • “Lateral thinking. Seeing things from different angles and perspectives.”
  • “More detached and unemotional consideration of data.”
  • “Making connections across traditional “boundaries” i.e., interdisciplinarity.”
  • “Empathy and a desire for our research to be of benefit.”
  • “Valuable lived experience.”

Research Projects

Research and Autism