Laois student scoops prestigious psychology prize at this year’s All-Ireland Student Congress

Greg Mulhall


Greg Mulhall


Laois student scoops prestigious psychology prize at this year’s All-Ireland Student Congress

MIC student Laura Phelan from Castletown, Co. Laois

A Laois student has scooped a prestigious prize at this year’s Psychological Society of Ireland All-Ireland Student Congress.

Laura Phelan from Castletown was one of two Mary Immaculate College (MIC) Limerick students to take home prizes at this year’s Psychological Society of Ireland All-Ireland Student Congress.

Due to the current Covid-19 restrictions, the conference, which was due to be held in UCC, was moved online with students from across the country submitting posters based on research conducted for their undergraduate dissertations in psychology.

Laura Phelan and Cora Howe, both final year students on the Bachelor of Education and Psychology programme at MIC Limerick, were awarded for their work with Laura being crowned one of two overall winners in the undergraduate category, while Cora was Highly Commended for her research.

Laura, who hails from Castletown in Co. Laois, was awarded for her final year project ‘I Get Knocked Down, but I Get Up Again: Exploring Sports Injury-Related Growth in GAA Athletes’, which examined GAA athlete’s levels of social support, their mental toughness and whether they had benefitted as a result of their injury. 

Commenting on her research, Laura said, “The findings indicated that being mentally tough can have a significant positive influence on your growth following injury. However, poor social support networks may lead to low levels of growth.”

As an avid sports fan with a keen interest in all things GAA, Laura relished the opportunity to examine the psychology of sports injury. She said, “The possibility of injury being beneficial really interested me and as most studies did not include females or amateur athletes, there was an opportunity for me to add to the previous research.”

Reacting to her win at the PSI All-Ireland Student Congress, Laura said, “The standard amongst my classmates in MIC alone was so high, so to win a national competition was a huge honour and one I am very proud of.”

Her classmate Cora Howe from Lattin Cullen in Co. Tipperary echoed these sentiments saying, “Having the opportunity to showcase my research at a national level through this conference was a refreshing way to complete the cycle of research. For me, choosing a research topic that bridged the fields of education and psychology was also important to denote how the two degrees have complimented each other over the past four years.”

Cora’s final year dissertation, ‘Alienating Assessment: The Effects of a Label of Special Educational Needs and Vicarious Contact on Writing Assessment’, explored assessment for students with special education needs and examined if adding a label of special educational needs onto a child’s writing would change the way teachers assess that writing. In her research, Cora also questioned how the media affects teachers’ intrinsic attitudes towards children with special educational needs.

Both Laura and Cora were keen to acknowledge the role of their supervisors, Dr Niamh Higgins and Dr Claire Griffin, who challenged them to re-think and continually improve their research throughout the year.

Congratulating Laura and Cora on their achievements, Dr Claire Griffin, coordinator of the Bachelor of Education and Psychology programme at MIC, said, “We are absolutely thrilled for Laura and Cora. The standard of submissions this year was, as always, extremely high and it is fantastic that the quality of their research was recognised at national level. Such awards are testament to the ability, hard work, dedication and diligence of our students and supervisors at MIC.”

Dr John Perry, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Head of the Department of Psychology at MIC, added, “It is wonderful to see Laura and Cora receive such recognition on a national level. Their achievements are to be celebrated and a welcome piece of good news at a time where we are surrounded by unprecedented challenges. It is testament to their mental resilience that they were able to adapt so expertly to the changed format of the conference.”

This is not the first year that MIC have had success at the annual PSI All-Ireland Student Congress with Kelly Ryan receiving the overall prize in 2018 while in 2019, Kevin O’Sullivan was crowned overall winner. Commenting on the success of MIC students at the competition Dr Perry said “Laura and Cora follow a fine tradition of our students being recognised in this manner. They represent a cohort of students that continuously demonstrate not only academic excellence, but exemplary personal character.”

While it has been a challenging semester for all students at MIC, the impact on final year students has been of particular concern to the entire college community. Laura said, “Like everyone, there have been good days and bad, but I think it’s important to remember that we are in unique times and it is ok to have off days. It was slightly anticlimactic celebrating completing my degree in lovely Laois and not Limerick, but my family and friends are happy and healthy and that is the most important thing.”

While Cora is looking forward to getting back into the classroom, Laura is weighing up her options for a career in psychology. Having a keen interest in career guidance has also led to Laura setting up an Instagram page (@centreoire) which seeks to offer personal experiences of college courses.

Recalling their four years at MIC, Laura looked forward to a time when she will see her classmates again.

Laura said, “MIC has really challenged me to think critically and I have learned so much, while personally I think it has helped me develop both my confidence and character. I have made the best of friends from all around the country, with whom I have been lucky to share the experience with.”