Making Change for Disabled Grad Students & Academics

Meet this week's Grad Chat guest, Haley Branch (she/her)!

Promotional Graphic - text reads Making Change for Disabled Grad Student & Academics, #GradChat from PhD Balance.. There are two headshots one of Linda, the host & one of Haley, the guest.


Hi everyone! I’m Haley Branch and I’m excited to be discussing with you the challenges of being disabled in the academy, how we can make it a more inclusive space, and why we need more representation in faculty positions. I am a disabled evolutionary ecologist, studying how different plant populations adapt to severe drought. I hold a master’s degree in Ecology and Evolution, and I am a PhD candidate in Botany.


Being disabled in the academy can be incredibly isolating. There is very little support, little to no community, due to several factors. First, disability and the academy have a long antagonistic relationship, where disabled people have generally been a focus of study rather than researchers themselves. Disabled people/PWD are the largest marginalized group, yet some universities say they do not have any disabled students! While the proportion of people who are disabled increases with age, we see the opposite trend in academia, the greatest proportion in undergrad and lowest in faculty positions. Fear of disclosure from faculty creates more barriers for disabled scholars and students to continue in academia. Even the layouts of many classrooms and laboratories are not accessible. Finally, many productivity standards are rooted in an ableist idea of what productivity looks like.


On a personal note, I have a genetic hypermobility condition which causes a lot of pain and mobility issues. As a scientist in a field that spends a lot of time outdoors, field work has been an additional barrier to navigate. Everything I have experienced and witnessed, has led me to found new initiatives at my university: a couple equitable wellness initiatives and the Disabled Graduate Student Association. I am extremely passionate about the wellbeing of our academic community and advocating for the disabled community on campuses. In addition to my thesis research, I am a graduate research assistant with the Equity and Inclusion Office. Here I have had the opportunity to interact with faculty members (both disabled and non-disabled), disabled scholars, and funding agencies to develop recommendations for assessing disabled academics’ CVs.


I’m looking forward to connecting with you all! I’m excited to chat about disability and wellbeing in academia, as well as anything to do with plants and deserts!

You can find out more about Haley on her Twitter (@HaleyABranch).


Haley will be taking over our Instagram account today, before being our Grad Chat guest tomorrow with our host Linda! You can join the Youtube Livestream Saturday (07/10) at 3 pm Eastern/12 pm Pacific using this link!


Alternatively, you'll be able to catch up on the episode on Grad Chat, The Podcast published next Tuesday (07/13) here!