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Episode 15: Thriving with Learning Disabilities with Dr. Collin Diedrich

Collin is a research scientist with multiple learning disabilities. In this episode, he shares his journey of how thinking differently can be a struggle and a gift and why he started the nonprofit of Learning Disabilities Association of Pennsylvania. Collin and Ming have known each other for over 20 years!

About Collin

Dr. Collin Diedrich has a PhD in Molecular Virology and Microbiology from University of

Pittsburgh School of Medicine, a Certificate in Disability Legal Studies from University of

Pittsburgh School of Law, and is a scientist researching how HIV changes immunological

responses to tuberculosis. He completed two postdoctoral fellowships, one at the University of

Cape Town in South Africa and a second at University of Pittsburgh. Collin is currently a

research scientist at the University of Pittsburgh. Collin has multiple learning disabilities and

personally understands how thinking differently can be a struggle and a gift.

Collin is also a board member of Learning Disabilities Association of America. Dr. Diedrich

believes everyone has a talent and everyone has a gift! He wants to help you find yours.

Courage Up Moment

A courage moment that he frequently has is having a learning disability and questioning his intelligence. He still deals with Imposters syndrome where he thinks I don’t deserve the success in my life or I don’t deserve to be where I am.

Some moments include:

  • Being a freshman in college and deciding to study science

  • Applying to grad schools and receiving many letters of rejection

Finding Courage

You don’t find courage alone especially when you have a learning disability. There are so many people in your life that hopefully you can lean on. When you have a learning disability, find those people that you can talk to.

Journey of Advocacy

It was something he always wanted to do. When he started grad school, he wanted to be an advocate. He was getting his PhD, and started feeling really good about himself so he started reaching out to learning disability organizations asking them if he could speak/work/volunteer for them. He didn’t hear back from the organizations.

After he graduated with a PhD, he thought about reaching out again but he didn’t because he remembered they ignored him. Then he moved to Cape Town where he was doing HIV, TB, co infection research and wrote an article about being an American scientist in a country where TB was endemic and it was well received. He contacted the editors of that article and asked if he could write another article about being a scientist with a learning disability. He received hundreds of emails from people who had similar experiences.

He then started to receive emails from people who wanted to be scientists or go into a STEM career, but chose not to because of a learning disability. This really broke his heart because they weren’t getting the help that they needed and this planted a seed for his advocacy work. About a year or two after he moved back to Pennsylvania, he started reaching out to volunteer and speak. He was slowly able to volunteer and be integrated into other learning disability organizations.

He started building a relationship with the Learning Disability Association of America. He noticed there wasn’t a state chapter in Pennsylvania so he asked if he could start the chapter. He started LDAPA about 2 years ago!

Improv+Non profit

There is a lot of overlap with the skills he learned early on in his life that helped him overcome the negative associations with having a learning disability that he also utilized to get on stage.

  1. You have to learn to deal with failure.

  2. When you make a mistake in a scene, it’s a ‘gift.’ Collin learned you can make a mistake and still build on it.

  3. How to listen to different people

In the non profit, started teaching improv to kids to help them overcome some of the negatives associated with learning disabilities.

Transformation in him when he started advocating

He had to trust himself a little more consistently. He had to trust himself that he could provide quality advice to students and parents.

The biggest change is that he’s more confident in himself and that he’s providing helpful resources for students and teachers.

Another Transformation

When he decided he really wanted to be a scientist. When he was in high school or when he first started college, he really wasn’t into science. It wasn’t until his first biology class that he loved it.

It took a long time for him to say he wanted to pursue something different. The love in his career took a while to build. We need to nurture our ability to change and slowly fall in love with things.

What To Do When you’re not feeling courageous

  1. He tells himself “I deserve to be where I am”

  2. Find someone who can speak logically. The key though is to start with acknowledging pain, then move to the facts.

  3. He would rather try something and fail at it then never try at all.

Being Courageous is Hard to do on your Own

Start small asking for help. It could look like reading over one paragraph at work. Once you find that person who will help you out with one little thing, they would be willing to help out in bigger ways.


People pointing out things in his past that he’s been able to do and receiving that specific encouragement.

“It’s ok to think differently.”

Courage Song:

It was a Good Day by Ice Cube


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren


The two of us at a typical high school fundraiser for Vikettes- a car wash in the Burger King parking lot!!


Connect With Collin:


Facebook: LDAOFPA

Connect With Ming:

Instagram: @mingshelby

Facebook: Ming Shelby

Listen to songs on the Courage Up Playlist!

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