University of Strathclyde



This project investigated the transition into employment of university graduates with dyslexia. 

This work was supported by Enhancement Theme funding from the Quality Assurance Agency Scotland


Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

School of Law

Contact Details

Dr Mike Murray

Steven Paton (


Student Transitions


The aim of this pilot project was to establish a benchmark for examining student transition to graduate (Alumni) employment with a particular focus on graduates with disabilities. The intention was to focus exclusively on recent Alumni (up to 7 years post-graduation) in the Civil Engineering and Law disciplines, who have dyslexia.

 The focus on students with Dyslexia reflected the view of Madaus et al (2008 p.330) who argue that ‘it is imperative that students with Learning Difficulties (LD) receive effective and evidence-based transition skills’. This is critical given that Piggott, and Houghton (2007) found that students with disabilities face a further barrier in the job market if their impairment has prevented them securing suitable work experience during their degree.

The aim was to interview five graduates from each discipline, capturing primary data using a critical incident storytelling methodology. It was anticipated that these life stories would chart the landscape through the student transition from university to (and through) employment and uncover rich personal testimonies that document the opportunities and barriers faced by Alumni with dyslexia, and that the output would inform academia and employers about the relationship between graduate attributes and equality and diversity issues, and in so doing, contribute towards the development of better transitions support for students at the university.


The research attempted to understand the social experience of Alumni in the workplace who have disclosed their dyslexia during their studies, and who may or may not have disclosed it to their employer. The research methodology was informed by previous disabilities studies (Morris and Turnbull 2007; Gilies 2012; Rowan 2014) which employed an interpretivist approach characterised by grounded theory.

After initial difficulties with securing information from the University on potential interviewees due to data protection issues, candidates were identified instead through the researchers’ industry contacts and through advertising with a dyslexia charity. It was necessary to widen the criteria for candidates somewhat to allow for the research to go forward with the resulting smaller pool of potential interviewees. Alas, none of the interviewees were UOS Alumni.

The student intern undertook semi structured interviews with the respondents who agreed to participate in the research. Prior to the interviews, the interviewees were asked to reflect on 3-5 critical incidents (CI’s) that occurred before, during and after their transition into employment. Discussion of the CI’s was intended to show how dyslexia impacts upon particular disciplinary practices of graduates. The interviewees were requested to recount these incidents as vignettes to the interviewer. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed by the intern and subjected to an independent thematic analysis (manual) and coding undertaken by each member of the team. Subsequently, the team met to undertake a code validation and collapsing of codes into themes that are representative of the data. 

Key findings

The data from the interviews was grouped into four key themes: Diagnosis and Self-Perception, Transition and Career, Skills and Attributes, and Living with Dyslexia.

1) The theme Diagnosis and Self-Perception highlights the impact of a dyslexia diagnosis. It was apparent that a later diagnosis could lead to feelings of missed career opportunities and to the questioning of occupational choices. Following diagnosis, self-perception changed and for some participants this helped with the acceptance of strengths and weaknesses.

2) Transition and Career is a theme concerned with the significance of dyslexia when choosing and building a career. During the transition into employment a main consideration was disclosure, and the potential resulting stigma and undermining of professionalism, although many participants occupied senior roles, some from an early age. Not all participants felt comfortable disclosing their dyslexia when applying for jobs. Some wished to be judged purely on merit while others feared negative consequences arising from disclosure. For the majority who did disclose, the choice did not result in extra support in the workplace.

3) The Skills and Attributes theme is centred on how dyslexia has led to the development of certain occupation specific skills and attributes, which have been crucial for the graduates in their employment. Furthermore, the skill of being able to manage time arose as a critical sub-theme. Knowledge about individual learning styles and metacognitions were also discussed by interviewees.

4) The theme Living with Dyslexia is concerned with how individuals have managed their disability. Sub-themes such as accepting formal and seeking informal support - both during university and in employment - were prominent. Additionally, resilience, determination and being able to adapt were found to be important for managing dyslexia and success. 


All interviewees felt that more support was needed for dyslexic graduates transitioning to work. Many felt that, although their universities had supported them adequately throughout their studies, they would have benefited greatly from more link up between universities and employers to make sure appropriate support could be arranged in the workplace. Most interviews also indicated that employers have very little awareness and understanding of how best to help them overcome the additional barriers that they face.

These issues could potentially be overcome through the following strategies:

  • Metacognition - students should be supported during their undergraduate degrees to reflect on their strengths, and on potential barriers they will face, in order to make more informed career choices.
  • Transitions Support - more transitions support for disabled students is required from within the university. This could include more collaboration between the disability and careers services, and more emphasis on the subject within departments.  
  • Raising Awareness - more disability awareness in workplaces is required. Often employers did not think it was necessary to offer support and were not aware of the types of barriers that their employees would face as a result of dyslexia.

Next steps

It is the intention of the researchers to publish the findings of the research at a later date. 

Lessons learned

The main difficulty faced was in accessing information about potential interviewees. The university’s data protection regulations meant that alumni who had disclosed a disability to the university could not be targeted as it was deemed inappropriate to use this sensitive information for purposes other than those for which it was originally disclosed, namely, accessing support while studying.

The fact that the criteria had to be widened for potential interviewees also meant that the data gathered came mainly from graduates who had been long established in industry and hence the data uncovered about transitions was not as recent as was initially projected.  While a larger study involving graduates from different disciplines would be viable and productive, the process of sourcing potential interviewees would need serious reconsideration.  

Student involvement

The intern was heavily involved in the pre interview planning stage, was responsible for designing, conducting and transcribing the interviews, and was also involved in the analysis of the resulting data alongside the other researchers. This project was viewed not just as an information gathering exercise for the University, but also a development opportunity for the intern. 


Gillies, J (2012) University Graduates with a Disability: The Transition to the Workforce. Disability Studies Quarterly 32(3).

Madaus, J.W, Zhao, J and Ruban, L (2008) Employment Satisfaction of University Graduates with Learning Disabilities. Remedial and Special Education 29(6):323-332.

Madriaga, M (2007) Enduring disablism: students with dyslexia and their pathways into UK higher education and beyond, Disability & Society, 22:4, 399-412.

Morris, D.K and Turnbull, P.A (2007) The disclosure of dyslexia in clinical practice: Experiences of student nurses in the United Kingdom. Nurse Education Today (2007) 27, 35–42.

Piggott, L & Houghton, A.M (2007) Transition experiences of disabled young people, International Journal of Lifelong Education, 26:5, 573-587.

Rowan, L (2014) University transition experiences of four students with dyslexia in New Zealand, Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 19:2, 129 -136.

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