People & Vision
Welcome to the Engagement in Learning, Schools, and Societies Lab led by Associate Professor Jennifer Symonds at University College Dublin.
The ELSS Lab's mission is to help explain and enhance people's engagement in learning and education, to support wellbeing in individuals and in societies. The Lab is highly collaborative, working with an international network of researchers, practitioners and schools. It prioritises the voices and rights of research participants and their communities.
The Lab is interdisciplinary, combining lifespan developmental psychology, educational psychology, and anthropology. The Lab has specialist expertise in cohort studies, naturalistic experiments, and microgenetic studies; phenomenological and discursive approaches; and person-oriented, longitudinal, and structurally complex statistical models.
A core research interest is people's engagement in learning, working, and sustainable futures for society and the planet. Our engagement research is premised in complex dynamic systems theory. We examine momentary engagement as it proceeds across seconds and minutes, and longer term patterns of engagement that develop across months and years.
The Lab also studies wellbeing as a form of optimal human functioning for individuals, groups, and communities. We are specialist in cross-cultural and cultural examinations of wellbeing that explain how humans flourish in different contexts.
Members of the ELSS Lab are involved in several international and national collaborative research projects. These projects serve as the basis for much of the Lab's research.
The Lab also features unique projects from its masters, doctoral and postdoctoral researchers.
Dr Jennifer Symonds
Associate Professor of Education
Jennifer is a human development researcher with a keen interest in helping people engage in learning, schools and societies. Jennifer holds a PhD and MPhil in Educational Research from the University of Cambridge, UK and a BA in Biological Anthropology with a minor in the History and Philosophy of Science, from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She is a chartered psychologist with the British Psychological Society and a qualified middle school teacher.
Jennifer's interdisciplinary approach facilitates cross-disciplinary collaboration with colleagues and gives her a culturally infused, biologically grounded perspective on developmental science.
Tamsyn Blue previously studied at Minnesota State University and has a background in physical and cultural anthropology. She was a volunteer for the YWCA program “Ready to Learn” which works to prepare children of immigrant and refugee families for kindergarten in Mankato, Minnesota.
Tamsyn is a research assistant on the Children School Lives (CSL) national longitudinal study of primary schooling, where she is involved in data management and processing. Tamsyn also manages the ELSS Lab, and is centrally involved in organising the Dublin 2022 conference for the European Association of Research on Adolescence (EARA). Previously, Tamsyn managed data and assisted with fieldwork on the PROSPER project. Tamsyn is interested in interventions aiming at improving children’s confidence and engagement in school.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Aisling Davies is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Children's School Lives longitudinal study of Irish primary schooling. Aisling's PhD on mind wandering, sustained attention, and perception was carried out at the UCD School of Psychology and was funded by the Irish Research Council. She graduated with First Class Honours for her BA in Applied Psychology from University College Cork, Ireland. On Children's School Lives, Aisling is working as a Data Scientist to coordinate and process large scale, complex survey and observation data. She is also analysing the ORACLE systematic observation behavioral data on children's momentary engagement in classrooms, with a focus on how children concentrate in different learning environments. Aisling's Postdoctoral Research Fellowship is supported by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Giulio D’Urso is a developmental psychologist with experience in educational, clinical, and forensic psychology. He holds a PhD in Social Inclusion in Multicultural Contexts, a M.Sc. in Clinical Psychology cum laude, and a BA in Psychological Sciences, from the Kore University of Enna, Sicily, Italy; and a Postgraduate Diploma in Forensic Psychology from the Institute for the Study of Psychotherapy, Rome, Italy.
Giulio's research interests concern risk and protective factors in adolescence, bullying, sexual minorities, and social inclusion. Giulio was a visiting PhD scholar at the ELSS-Lab between December 2018 and April 2019. He received the Award for Best Scientific Article 2018 from the Academy of Social and Forensic Psychology in Rome. He is a reviewer for international journals and is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Child and Family Studies. In the ELSS Lab, Giulio is conducting secondary analysis of Growing Up in Ireland and Children’s School Lives data. His Postdoctoral Research Fellowship on bullying in Irish school contexts was awarded by the Irish Research Council.
Stephen Lucek is a sociolinguist who works in the areas of education, language attitudes & ideologies and spatial semantics. His PhD research (completed in 2015 at Trinity College Dublin) focussed on the language of space, applying a novel approach to the emerging field of Cognitive Sociolinguistics. He held a Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellowship in Linguistics from the Irish Research Council from 2018–2021 for which he received the Maurice J Bric Medal of Excellence – an award recognising the top ranked postdoctoral researcher in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, in Ireland.
In the ELSS Lab, Stephen is a Research Associate on the Science Foundation of Ireland Challenge team Plastic Raiders where he is managing a strand of research on reducing plastic waste in Ireland through stakeholder partnerships and behavioural change.
Andrea Maynard is a New York State permanently certified school counselor with an interested in student engagement and the development of wellbeing in the classroom. She received her B.Sc. in Psychology from St. Lawrence University, MS. Sc. in the Psychology of Sport (with distinction) from the University of Stirling, and her Ms. Ed. in School Counseling from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Andrea then dedicated several years to working with Middle School and High School students as both a school counselor and as a coach.
Andrea now pursuing her Phd in Children and Youth Studies at University College Dublin. Andrea's PhD is on the impact of social innovation education on the wellbeing of students, teachers, and communities. Her PhD research is jointly funded by the Irish Research Council and Young Social Innovators.
Elizabeth Tobin received her undergraduate degree in English from Fordham University in 2009. She then dedicated her career to education working as an educational fundraiser and kindergarten teacher in Pennsylvania and New York City. Elizabeth graduated with an MSc. in Children & Youth Studies from University College Dublin in 2018. She completed her thesis on the “Impact of screen viewing time on Irish 5-year-olds school adjustment after the pre-school to primary school transition in Ireland” using secondary data from the Growing Up in Ireland national longitudinal study Infant Cohort. Elizabeth is pursuing her PhD in Children and Youth Studies at University College Dublin, supervised by Dr Seaneen Sloan and Dr Jennifer Symonds. Her PhD is funded by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment through the Children School Lives national longitudinal study.
Niall Costello is a PhD candidate and IRC Scholar at the UCD School of Education. He graduated with a first class honours degree in Sociology and Social Policy and a Masters in Applied Social Research from Trinity College Dublin. Throughout his studies he became interested in quantitative methodologies in the social sciences and has developed an expertise in analysing large-scale, complex, cohort study datasets. Before joining the UCD School of Education, Niall worked as a researcher for the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) where he developed a strong interest in the interrelationship between emotional functioning and cognitive brain health. This has led him to his current PhD research on the impact of engagement with education and working on brain health throughout the life course. He hopes his research can better inform Irish government policy on human development, education and employment.
DEd Psych Researcher
Katherine is currently studying for her Doctorate in Educational Psychology at UCD. Her research interest is hearing the voice of vulnerable young people and intervention development. Katherine received a BSc in Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast. Her research explored “Can Shared Picture Book Reading Accelerate Pre-Schoolers’ Language?’. She received a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) from Middlesex University and graduated with an MSc. With distinction in Counselling Skill & Therapeutic Communication from Ulster University. Her research was ‘A Pilot RCT of a Psychoeducational Intervention to Improve Wellbeing & Adjustment Factors for Siblings & Parents of Children with Intellectual Disability’. She has worked as Educational Psychology Assistant and with children with disabilities as an Associate Psychologist in the area of Clinical Psychology.
DEd Psych Researcher
Lauren Haire is a candidate on the Professional Doctorate in Educational Psychology at University College Dublin. Lauren completed a Higher Diploma in Primary Education with National University of Ireland, Maynooth where she achieved a First-Class Honours. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Psychology from University College Cork, where her thesis considered reading motivation in adolescents with Down syndrome. Lauren is a graduate member of the Psychological Society of Ireland. Lauren has a keen interest in special education and has many years of personal and professional experience in the field. Her current research is on children’s Pathological Demand Avoidance in the context of disengaging from primary schooling.
DEd Psych Researcher
Tracy O’Halloran is a final year Educational Psychology Doctoral candidate. She holds a Bachelor of Education in Education and Psychology degree and a Graduate Certificate in Autism Studies degree from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. Her undergraduate Psychology research focused on whether self-assessment, self-efficacy and state anxiety were significant predictors of performance improvement. Tracy has worked as a primary school teacher in both mainstream and special education settings. She has experience teaching in a diverse range of schools including DEIS schools, single-sex schools and schools of varying patronages. She also has experience working as a specialist tutor with the Dyslexia Association of Ireland. Tracy’s doctoral dissertation is on the impact of universal school-based wellbeing programmes on children’s anxiety in the context of socioeconomic disadvantage.
DEd Psych Researcher
Meghan Tuohy is an educational psychology doctoral candidate. She holds a Bachelor of Education degree from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick and a degree in Psychology from Dublin Business School (DBS). The focus of her research in DBS was handedness and laterality and their relationship to general and creative intelligence. Meghan has worked as a primary school teacher and Special Education Teacher (SET) for six years in rural and urban schools in Ireland, including DEIS schools serving low-income communities. She also worked in schools of different cultures and patronages. Meghan’s research interests focus on handedness, laterality, school engagement, intelligence and social disadvantage. Meghan's doctoral research takes a socio-cultural perspective on the relationship between social disadvantage and school engagement .
DEd Psych Researcher
Zoë Kenneally is currently studying for her Doctorate in Educational Psychology at UCD. She holds an early years education qualification from the Cork Institute of Technology, a Higher Diploma in Psychology, and a Master’s in Applied Psychology from Trinity College. As part of her Master’s thesis she volunteered in the Whelan Lab in Trinity College’s Institute of Neuroscience, where she assisted with a large-scale study on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. During her experience in this role Zoë conducted brain electrical activity tests (EEG) and gained experience of structured clinical interviews. She completed her thesis on ‘The role of anxiety in emotional inhibitory control: an examination into attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder and its heritability’. Zoë has experience working as an assistant psychologist with students from pre-school to college. She is keenly interested in researching anxiety particularly in educational settings. Zoë’s doctoral research is focused on the relationship between student anxiety and achievement goal orientations.
The ELLS Lab hosts Visiting Professors at the UCD School of Education and the Geary Institute for Public Policy. Visiting Professors contribute to the dynamic, productive environment of the ELLS Lab and give additional support to ongoing projects and student mentoring.
Ugo Pace is Full Professor in Developmental and Educational Psychology at the University of Enna Kore, Italy. He has presented widely across Europe with seminars including "Development, Diversity and Relationships at School" at the University College of Dublin, Ireland; “Cognitive and personality factors associated with gambling disorders in adolescents and young adults ”at the City University of London, UK; and “Models of reception and management of immigrant minors in the Italian and Catalan schools” at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain. Ugo has been Director of the School of Psychology of the Kore University of Enna and is Coordinator of the PhD Program in "Educational processes in heterogeneous and multicultural contexts". He is also Expert for the Evaluation of Study Programs for the National Agency of University and Research Evaluation in Italy (ANVUR) and Expert Evaluator of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).
Martin Jones is Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of New Mexico, USA. Receiving a Fulbright scholar award for the spring, 2022 semester, Dr Jones will work alongside colleagues at University College Dublin to implement social network analyses in the Children’s School Lives Study. Results will help demonstrate how peer relationships impact children’s wellbeing for both migrant children and children with special educational needs in Ireland. Data will also help identify school, family, and student factors that can help support social inclusion in Irish schools. Dr Jones will also be teaching graduate level courses at the University College Dublin in the spring of 2022.
Emeritus Lab Members
ELSS Lab members have continued their careers in academia, public policy, educational psychology, and research organisations. Rich collaborations continue between many emeritus lab members and current members of the lab.