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 explain how wellbeing and engagement develop across transition points in the life course, to support flourishing 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, sociology, 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.
Wellbeing and Engagement
Research from the lab focuses on people's wellbeing and engagement in learning and working in schools, colleges, and employment. Topics are diverse and include school mental health and career development. Our research on learning and wellbeing is grounded in the dynamic and lived experiences of research participants captured through survey, interview, and observation methods.
The Lab also studies wellbeing and engagement across key transition points in the life course. We have particular expertise in educational transitions including the transition from pre-school to primary school, the mid-adolescent school transition, and the transition from school to work. Transition is conceptualised as a dynamic, multidimensional process operating across individuals.
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.
Associate Professor of Education
Jennifer is a human development researcher with a keen interest in discovering how wellbeing and engagement develop in people 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.
Senior Research Fellow
Dr. Jessica F. Surdey, MBA is a Senior Research Fellow, and project manager of the Growing Up in Digital Europe (GUIDE) consortium. Jessica has an Interdisciplinary PhD from The State University of New York at Binghamton with emphases in psychology, higher education, and health, a master’s degree in management, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics, and law. Before coming to Ireland she taught at Binghamton University as a lecturer of health and wellness and a Visiting Professor of Higher Education. Prior to joining the GUIDE project Jessica was a Research Fellow at the Educational Research Centre at Dublin City University, and at Trinity College Dublin. Her work on the 3Set Project on Irish higher education student mental health contributed to a major output of the National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework.
Jessica has additional private sector professional experience, as a director of marketing, as well as starting and owning two small businesses. She believes in interdisciplinary, experiential, applied education and research and is passionate about fostering identity development and wellbeing in emerging adults.
Ryan Ó Giobúin
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Ryan Ó Giobúin studied Sociology and Social Policy in Trinity College Dublin for his undergraduate degree and holds a PhD in Sociology from Trinity. His PhD research focused on the development and causes of socio-economic inequalities in education, paying particular attention to the effect of the family stressors on child outcomes, and the negative repercussions of poverty on child development.
At UCD, Ryan is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Safe Learning Study: an innovative mixed-methods study conducted by the UCD School of Education that assesses the impact and effectiveness of Concern Worldwide's Safe Learning Model in primary schools in Sierra Leone. Ryan is conducting quantitative analyses of longitudinal data collected with approximately 3,000 children, their teachers, and families.
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.
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.
Fieldwork Manager and PhD Researcher
Hannah is Fieldwork Manager on the Children’s School Lives longitudinal study of Irish primary schooling. She is conducting her PhD using data from the CSL study, supported by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). Hannah holds a Master of Science in Clinical Neurodevelopmental Sciences with distinction from Kings College London, a Higher Diploma in Psychology with honours from UCD, and a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with honours from Dublin City University. She has experience working on several large-scale health and social care research projects in the UK and Ireland since 2016.
Hannah’s research interests are in exploring specific components of child development and their impact across the life span on health and wellbeing, including autism and ADHD, gender and gender identity development, and socioeconomic inequality.
Her PhD research aims to explore children’s relationships and self-concept formation within primary school settings, and the associated impacts on children’s wellbeing and achievement, particularly across the transition into post-primary school.
PhD Researcher and Research Associate
Sara Ponce holds a Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Development and a Bachelors of Science in Psychology with a minor in Child Development (honours), from the University of La Verne in Southern California. Sara has nearly a decade’s experience in early childhood education including as a director of an early childhood centre.
Sara is pursuing her PhD in Children and Youth Studies at the UCD School of Education. Her research interests centre on the interactions between children’s home and school environments within the ecological system of child development. Specifically, she is interested in school transition and school attainment with a focus on socioeconomic status, socioemotional development, parenting styles and wellbeing. Through her research, Sara aims to provide evidence based research to support national frameworks and policies to develop Irelands’ early childhood education and care sector. Sara is also a research assistant with the Children's School Lives project where she is helping collect Irish national data on children’s wellbeing in primary schools.
Research Project Manager
Linda is research project manager of the National Council for Special Education funded project the Impact of COVID-19 on the Education of Children with Special Educational Needs. Linda holds an M.Sc. in Applied Psychology from Trinity College Dublin, where she received a European Excellence Award for academic achievement and graduated with first class honours. Her dissertation investigated the wellbeing of 2000 hospital healthcare workers working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Linda also holds an MA in Psychology with first class honours from the University of Limerick (UL) where she received a letter of commendation from the UL president for academic excellence.
Prior to joining UCD Linda held posts as a research assistant for Children's Health Ireland and at UL, as an Assistant Clinical Psychologist and as a Social Care Worker. Linda is a registered member of the Psychological Society of Ireland and has wide ranging experience working with diverse people, devising and facilitating workshops in play, drama, yoga, meditation and puppeteering in educational environments and refugee camps.
Sinead Downey has a BA in psychology from Trinity College Dublin, and an MSc in Education, Children, and Youth and a post-graduate Certificate in Neurodiversity from University College Dublin. In her MSc, she received a first-class honours for her research thesis on the functions and experiences of social media for young autistic women. Sinead’s research interests include autism and ADHD in women and girls, neurodiversity, educational psychology, and child wellbeing.
Sinead is a research assistant in the UCD School of Education and UCD Geary Institute for public policy. She currently works across two projects: an NCSE study investigating the impact of COVID-19 on children with SEN and on the COORDINATE study investigating child wellbeing across Europe. Her work involves reviewing the literature, developing and conducting surveys, scheduling interviews, conducting interviews with adults and children, and coding and organising data.
Daniel Guigui is a PhD student at the UCD Department of Sociology investigating the relationship between public spaces and the development of cosmopolitan solidarity under the supervision of Dr Marta Eichsteller. He holds a BBA in Global Project and Change Management with distinction Cum Laude from Windesheim University and an MSc in Comparative Social Change with first-class honours from University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin.
Daniel is a longstanding scholar of the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes, a title awarded in recognition of his ongoing academic achievements and civic engagement. Since 2015, Daniel has worked on various research projects focusing on empowering marginalised groups. In the ELSS Lab, Daniel has worked as a research assistant on the Growing Up in Ireland Scoping Review and is currently a research associate on the Growing Up in Digital Europe research project.
DEd Psych Researcher
Hazel received a BA in Psychology and French from Trinity College Dublin in 2012. She then pursued a Postgraduate Certificate in Education through Teach First and the Institute of Education, London. This program focused on classroom, school, and systemic approaches to reducing educational inequality. Hazel also holds an MA in Early Years Education from University College London. Her masters research examined social, cultural and environmental affordances that promote bilingual preschoolers’ participation in extended discourse with peers.
Hazel has eight years of experience in primary and early childhood teaching and leadership roles. These roles have been across a variety of settings in the UK, Singapore, Australia and Ireland. She is now studying for her Doctorate in Educational Psychology. Her current research interests relate to teachers’ beliefs, academic expectations, and instructional practices for children with externalizing behavioural needs.
DEd Psych Researcher
Jane holds a BA in Psychology from NUI Maynooth, a MSc in Psychological Research Methods from the Open University, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Working with Children and their Families from a Psychoanalytic Observational Approach from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, London.
Jane's experience has included working as an assistant educational psychologist, as a child worker in an NHS residential service, and working as a school based assistant child psychotherapist, all in London. She also has experience working in mainstream schools and special education settings in London and Ireland supporting children with a variety of needs.
Jane's doctoral research is on the relationship between observed teacher emotional support and children’s emotional engagement in classrooms. Her research supervisors are Dr Jennifer Symonds and Dr Elaine Walsh.
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
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.
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.
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. Dr Jones received a Fulbright scholar award for the spring, 2022 semester, to work alongside colleagues at University College Dublin to implement social network analyses in the Children’s School Lives Study. Dr Jones is continuing his collaboration with the CSL study team and ELSS Lab to investigate how peer relationships impact children’s wellbeing for both migrant children and children with special educational needs in Ireland. The study results address school, family, and student factors that can help support social inclusion in Irish schools.
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.