Research Assistant during Covid-19

Written by Gina Halliwell, BSc Psychology and Child Development 2020 graduate.


BSc Psychology and Child Development graduate 2020! YAY! Not the most ideal year to graduate but made it there successfully in the end!

Graduate, check.

Research Assistant position during coronavirus, check!

Who would have thought with all the difficulties of 2020 I would complete my degree and get the chance to be a Research Assistant with Staffs! Coronavirus couldn’t have been a better opportunity really, being able to investigate children’s experiences of the pandemic through collecting their drawings.

This opportunity appeared when my Level 6 Project Supervisor Dr Sarah Rose emailed me to say she was involved in planning some research into children’s experiences of coronavirus and if the ethics and funding were approved would I like to be their Research Assistant? Of course! What an incredible opportunity!

Example drawing submitted for the research

When the project was approved we had our first virtual meeting as a project team, over Microsoft Teams! I got to meet and discuss the project with Dr Richard Jolley, Dr Claire Barlow, Dr Romina Vivaldi and of course Dr Sarah Rose. All of the meetings and communication took place online via email and Microsoft Teams, having always had face-to-face meetings throughout university this was a very odd change! Despite a few device and connectivity issues we managed, and everything worked out.

As the project began I was given responsibility for a number of tasks including background research, recruitment (both sourcing contacts and contacting those contacts), responding to queries and writing up the background research to begin forming the report’s introduction. Recruitment for the project was aimed at the whole of the UK so an important part of my role was to reach out to organisations, schools and social media groups from across the UK. This was difficult due to the varying school term times of the four countries and the general closing down of society due to the pandemic.

Example drawing submitted for the research.

Once recruitment was on its way I was able to get into the background research in preparation for the introduction. Having taken the Children’s Drawings module at Level 6 I already had an understanding of how children’s drawings are investigated and analysed and so I could focus on research more specific to the project such as research that focused on children’s drawings of illness, disease outbreaks and trauma. When conducting the background research searching I was able to use all of the literature searching skills I have gained over my 3 years at Staffs. If you are looking for an easy way to gather research with all the key information in one place I recommended putting it into a table, a tip that Dr Sarah Rose shared with me!

An example table of how to organise literature


If you get the opportunity to do any sort of Research Assistant position, go for it! It’s great work experience, it looks amazing on your CV and it’s fascinating to be able to work alongside the lecturers you see all the time!

If you would like more information on the project please do have a look at the project’s website (www.coviddrawings.org.uk) or if you have any questions please email research@coviddrawings.org.uk (we are still recruiting!). You can also read more about the project in a recent blog by Dr Richard Jolley.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Children’s drawings of their coronavirus experience

Dr Richard Jolley writes about recent coviddrawings research and how you could help!

How has the current coronavirus situation changed the lives of children? What would the children themselves tell us?

The current coronavirus situation presents a unique opportunity to discover the diverse characteristics and consequences of a pandemic upon children. When children are facing changes and challenges to their lives it’s important to allow them to communicate how they are thinking and feeling. Sometimes they’re happy to talk about their experience, but sometimes they prefer to express themselves in other more creative ways, such as making a picture.

Dr Richard Jolley

Since June of this year a group of researchers in the Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University have been asking children and parents across the UK to help us understand how children are experiencing the coronavirus situation through their drawings. It is being led by myself, Dr Richard Jolley, with co-investigators Dr Sarah Rose, Dr Claire Barlow and Dr Romina Vivaldi. It has been funded by the School of Life Sciences and Education (LSE). This has enabled us not only to purchase a dedicated website and database for the project but also to employ a final year student (Gina Halliwell) as a research assistant to manage the day-to-day running of the project. You may like to read Gina’s own blog on her research experience on the project!

So what is involved in the project?

Parents are directed to the website www.coviddrawings.org.uk where all the information about the project and what they need to do is provided. We even have made a video just for children to explain the project! In essence, children are asked to think about their life since the coronavirus entered the UK, how it might have changed their lives, how they have felt about that, and then to draw a picture about it. There is a comments box provided if the child wishes to write about their drawing (potentially with the parent’s help).  A parent then takes a picture of the drawing and uploads it to the website.

So, what themes might you expect children to show in their drawings? The highly transferable nature of the virus? Or perhaps the behaviours we have all been asked to do to limit the risk of transmission – washing hands, social distancing, wearing masks, and self-isolation? Then, there is the psychosocial impact upon the children, particularly the isolation from friends during the lockdown. Will children show psychological reactions of fear, sadness or loneliness? And what about the changes in the routine of their lives, such as disruption to school attendance and different family dynamics at home? Has this led to boredom and restlessness, or presented an opportunity to spend more time on activities and family they love? Despite the challenges the current situation has brought children we are seeing children communicate more positive aspects through their drawings. 

What themes can you see in this drawing?

Whatever themes the children communicate we are interested in whether they vary across the ages of the sample, which might indicate that developmentally children have experienced the current situation differently. Also, will there be differences in the themes communicated between boys and girls? In addition to age and gender, we will be exploring whether the themes vary according to a set of demographic and situational variables. For instance, which country the child lives in, whether they live in a rural or urban environment, if either parent is a key worker, and whether the child returned to school – all of these could have an impact on how the child draws their experience of the coronavirus. In addition, we ask the parents to indicate on a scale the extent in which the family health has been affected by the coronavirus situation, and ask the child to choose from a series of faces how they have felt about their life in these times.

Would you like to participate?

And here is the good news – we are very keen to recruit more children and parents! If you are reading this blog as a parent of a child between 4 and 14 years, and you live in the UK, do you think your child would like to draw their own experience of the coronavirus situation? In which case please have a look at the project’s website www.coviddrawings.org.uk If you have any further questions please contact the project email address research@coviddrawings.org.uk and we will respond as quickly as we can to your query.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Dr. Romina Vivaldi joins the Department of Psychology on a six-month research visit!

The Department of Psychology is pleased to welcome Dr Romina Vivaldi, an international researcher who has joined the Department’s Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research for a six month visit to work with researchers based in the Centre. Dr Vivaldi introduces herself below:

I am Dr. Romina Vivaldi from the National Research Council of Argentina (CONICET) and I am delighted to be joining the Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University as a visiting academic scholar for six months under the supervision of Dr. Richard Jolley. My research interests lie in children’s symbolic development, especially as it relates to pictures. One particular focus of my research is children’s developing understanding of the artist’s intention behind pictures. I have also conducted research on preschool children’s production and use of drawings. In addition to Dr. Jolley’s extensive experience in representational and expressive drawing development, I look forward to discussing research ideas with Dr. Claire Barlow and Dr. Sarah Rose who also have research interests within this broad area, as well as with other staff members and students.

Dr Romina Vivaldi

I completed my psychology degree at the National University of my hometown: Rosario, Argentina. A fun fact about me is that when I was a 1st year undergraduate I used to say that I was keen on every aspect of the Psychology practice BUT Research and Teaching! Interestingly, when I started to learn more and more about the profession I ended up falling completely in love with the two practice areas I thought I might dislike the most. After that, I have never looked back.

After receiving my degree in 2009, I contacted a former professor of mine who then became both my PhD and Post doc supervisor, Dr. Analía Salsa. Dr Salsa’s research area is children’s symbolic development. When she asked me about my research interests I knew that I wanted to study the mentalistic aspects of children’s drawing development. Since drawings are one of the first symbols children produce, they can work as a window to their feelings and ideas, even for toddlers whose linguistic skills are yet to be developed.

I have also been working in a teaching position at the Educational Psychology School at the Instituto Universitario del Gran Rosario [University Institute of the Great Rosario] since the beginning of my PhD program. Teaching is like breathing to me: I am passionate about helping students to achieve their academic goals and to become more confident with their speaking and writing skills. I am also very enthusiastic about developing new and innovate ways to teach every single piece of knowledge I was lucky enough to gain during my developing  research career.

Everyone has been remarkably kind to me on my first couple of days here and I have been overwhelmed by the research facilities the University has to offer. Therefore, I am looking forward to making a fruitful contribution to this stimulating academic team. I am based in the Brindley building, please contact me by email if you would like any further details about my research (Romina.Vivaldi@staffs.ac.uk).

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It was almost a year ago that I received an email from Romina asking whether she could work with me on an academic research visit to Staffordshire University. I was first struck by her courageousness, particularly as we had never met or even had any previous correspondence!  But after numerous emails sorting out the practicalities, I am very pleased that she arrived on Monday 12th June, and has settled in so quickly into the Department and her work.

Romina has such a positive outlook and drive that I am sure she will flourish during her time here, and provide a very useful addition to the team of staff we have  researching children’s symbolic and creative understanding in the domain of pictures. Furthermore, academic research visitors provide an important contribution to the research culture of the department, particularly international visitors. From October, the Department of Psychology will have another research visitor, Dr. Grégory Dessart from the University of Lausanne, who will be working with me on the expressive aspects of children’s drawings of God.

Dr. Richard Jolley

Senior Lecturer in Psychology


We wish Dr Vivaldi every success in her six month stay with the Department of Psychology and the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research!


The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research is home to research activity in the Psychology Department at Staffordshire Centre. The Centre is home to a number of research-active psychologists who are engaged in research across a wide range of psychological subdisciplines. The Centre has two overarching research streams: Health and Behaviour Change and Applied Perception and Cognition.

The Centre provides training for PhD students, Research Masters degrees, as well as Professional Doctorates in Clinical and Health Psychology (click here for more details). The Centre also provides bespoke training to private and public organisations, as well as expertise for consultancy research opportunities. For more details about the Centre, its research activities, events and consultancy, please visit our website (click here).