"Keep learning about your brain!"  : CERN physicist Dr Claire Lee shares her journey with ADHD

“Keep learning about your brain!” : CERN physicist Dr Claire Lee shares her journey with ADHD

She works as a particle physicist at one of the most high-tech research centers in the world and was diagnosed with ADHD this year. But South African-born Dr Claire Lee says her diagnosis has provided her with knowledge and understanding and has in fact made her life much more “smooth”.

Dr. Lee is currently working on the operational aspect of The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment. It is a general-purpose particle physics detector of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator, located at the headquarters of the CERN agency in Switzerland, known for the discovery of the boson particle of Higgs, a key discovery in particle physics.

“I’ve always been very interested in science, space and the universe, and when I was in high school I read a book, a book by Michael Crichton called Sphereand there was an astrophysicist in the novel, and I thought “astrophysicist” sounded like the coolest job title in the whole world, so I decided on the spot that I was going to be an astrophysicist.

Dr Claire Lee, at CERN headquarters in Switzerland
Dr Claire Lee, at CERN headquarters in Switzerland

“It took me four and a half years to do my master’s just because of undiagnosed ADHD. I would have long stretches of executive dysfunction, no motivation, and I would have a hard time going through this without realizing it.”

Scenes from the CMS experiment at CERN headquarters in Switzerland
Scenes from the CMS experiment at CERN headquarters in Switzerland

A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 2022 led Dr. Lee to understand himself better.

Like many women who have been diagnosed or identify with the neurodivergence conversation, however, her experiences were rooted in a misdiagnosis: “I ended up being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2013 and, in the end by the way, it was a misdiagnosis, we didn’t realize it at the time. What has happened in the last two years is that more and more scientists that I know and that i’m on twitter talk about their own ADHD symptoms and experiences seemed more and more familiar Eventually i got to the point where i sat down and did a bunch of research on the ADHD.

“We realized that my whole family – me, my husband and my son – we all have ADHD. understand now where it came from and why we do these things. We can say to ourselves, “I’m sorry, my brain can’t handle this right now, can we talk about this another time?”, and that’s Great.”

“The other big thing for me is spending so many years having this disconnect between who I felt like I was in my head, and all of these thoughts, and all of these ideas, and all of these things that I want to do, but then with the executive dysfunction, you know, you end up not being able to do any of that since you’ve been on the drug, you know, obviously it hasn’t completely gone away, but that executive dysfunction in many ways has been reduced , and now I think of something, and I can go there and do it much more easily I feel more myself, because the person I am in my actions, vis-à-vis the outside world, corresponds a lot better now to the person I am inside my head.”

Dr. Claire Lee, giving her a TED Talk
Dr. Claire Lee, giving him a TED talk “Universe in a Box”. Picture: YouTube

This evening [Thursday], Dr. Lee brings his lecture “From Quarks to Cosmos and my ADHD in between” at DCU in Dublin at 7 p.m. This is part of a series of events that the advocacy group ADHD Ireland has presented at the university’s location on Collins Avenue.

She said she was happy to do her part to move the larger discussion around ADHD forward – and to offer some advice for those going through their own ADHD journey: “There is so much information out there, find reputable sources. I understand that I was very lucky that there was a period of about three months between [seeking a diagnosis] and actually getting diagnosed, which I understand can be a longer process for people. But in this process, learning about yourself is very valuable. Just make sure you use good, reputable sources, for example ADHD Ireland has some amazing sources of information that you can trust and learn from yourself.”

“And you know, if you feel like a diagnosis is right for you, that’s very valuable, and even if you can’t get the medicine, if you’re still able to use the tools and the techniques that other people ADHD patients are using, if they’re helpful to you, then that’s absolutely brilliant. So, you know, keep learning about your brain. Brains are fun!”


ADHD Ireland branch in Cork and Kerry is hosting a special screening of the film The disruptors on Thursday 24 November at the Gate Cinema, North Main Street, Cork; featuring contributors like pop mogul will.i.am and swimmer Michael Phelps – with a special Q&A featuring ADHD Ireland panelists including singer and musician Louise Barry.

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