Lynsey O'Rourke

  • Lynsey O'RourkeLynsey O’Rourke joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in 2014. Her thesis title is ‘Investigating the impact of spellcheck on writing for students with and without dyslexia’.

    Lynsey O’Rourke joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in 2014. Her thesis title is ‘Investigating the impact of spellcheck on writing for students with and without dyslexia’. Her PhD is being supervised by Prof. Vince Connelly, Prof. Anna Barnett and Dr. Olivia Afonso.

    Where are you from?

    I am from Cornwall. I moved to Oxford in 2010 when I started my undergraduate degree in Psychology with Education Studies at Oxford Brookes.

    What were you doing before?

    In the year between completing my BSc and starting my PhD, I worked as a research assistant for my undergraduate dissertation supervisor, Vince Connelly. This involved working with digital samples of handwriting from children with and without Specific Language Impairment. During that year, we also published my undergraduate dissertation.

    What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

    I was working as a research assistant, when the studentship became available. I was really keen to work with Vince and Anna (and Olivia when she joined Brookes a year later).

    How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

    Because I was working as a research assistant, I was already a part of the research environment and felt like I belonged.

    What do you think about the support and resources available to research students?

    The members of the psychology department, including other PhD students, have been the biggest source of support throughout this PhD.

    There are a few seminar series in our department, which are a good resource. We have a couple seminars each week with internal and external speakers, and they are great for learning about current research. There are also smaller group meetings for members of the department with shared research interests. For example one of my supervisors, Olivia, organises regular meetings for staff interested in writing and language as well as broader development. During these meetings we discuss ideas, provide practical support and problem solve. We also discuss more general issues coming up in current research. A number of staff in the department conduct high quality research into the typical and atypical development of language and of movement and so they offer a great source of expertise for someone conducting writing research.

    Tell us about your research.

    I have conducted a number of studies to investigate the impact of spellcheck on writing for university students with and without dyslexia. It is typically assumed that spellcheck provides a positive boost to the writing process during word processing, particularly for those who struggle with spelling such as those with dyslexia. I conducted a questionnaire study in which writers reported that the automatic underlining of spellcheck actually interrupts writing and disrupts the train of thought. I followed up on this finding by conducting further studies measuring aspects of text and monitoring typing behaviour. Findings from these studies also suggest that the automatic underlining function of spellcheck disrupts writing. This appears to be especially true for students with dyslexia.

    Results of completed studies have been presented at various conferences.

    See my student profile page for more details.

    What do you enjoy about being a research student?

    There are a lot of ups and downs to being a PhD student. For me, the ups are part of working in research and the downs are largely due to the student lifestyle. Striking a healthy work-life balance can be challenging as student. There is so much work to do and a lot of pressure to do it quickly.

    The positives of the PhD come from working in research. Carrying out your own research is like nothing else. You can submerge yourself in answering the questions that no one else has, sometimes questions that no one else has really asked. The hard slogs are eventually rewarded with ‘ah-ha!’ moments, where you pull together bits of information and create a new piece of knowledge. It is exciting to contribute a new (small) piece of knowledge to the world.

    How has the Santander scholarship helped your research project and progression of your research degree programme?

    The recent Santander scholarship has helped me by paying the university fees for one year, which has largely been spent writing my thesis. The financial support has allowed me to devote more time to writing. 

    Tell us about training and other opportunities offered at Oxford Brookes.

    The PhD itself is training to be a researcher. As well as gaining experience with carrying out, writing up and presenting research, we also experience application processes and learn to make the most of opportunities as they come along. For example, as PhD students, many of us apply for sums of money, which is a learning experience in itself. I have been lucky enough to receive funding from Oxford Brookes University, Santander and from the European Literacy Network. This has funded my studies, attendance at relevant conferences and at specific training courses.

    Attending conferences and training courses opens up further opportunities. For example, following an eye tracking training course, I invited one of the specialists to speak at a training day that I organised here at Brookes. Following this, we set up the eye tracking lab in the Psychology Department, available for the use of students and staff.

    Early on in the PhD I gained an Associate Teaching qualification and then throughout the following years I gained valuable experience teaching in various undergraduate modules. 

    What are your future plans?

    I would love to continue working in research. I enjoy being part of a research team. If funding allows it, I hope to continue with research into writing, I’d like to contribute to the development of better practical support for struggling learners. However I would also enjoy learning about new fields of study and I am interested in continuing with teaching.