Our Team

Michelle Bergin

PhD Candidate - Early Stage Researcher 8

My Research 

The point of departure for my research inquiry is a critical intent to inform Occupational Therapy practice by generating collaborative knowledges from multiple perspectives on schoolyard play, with a specific focus on children from minoritized communities.

The research study involves four studies and Ethical approval was granted by the Swedish Ethical Review Authority and the Social Research Ethics Committee, University College Cork.  In compliance with European and Irish legislation and good research practice standards, this project has a detailed Data Management Plan.

The first three studies explore the ​” occupation ” ( schoolyard play) ​ from multiple perspectives,  iteratively leading to the fourth study which adopts a  community of inquiry  approach with Occupational Therapists.

The first study employed scoping review methods to identify the breadth and scope of available research on representations of Irish Traveller children’s play and the factors influencing play opportunities. Applying the updated Joanna Briggs Institute methodological guidance, a systematic search was completed of nine databases. Thirty-five peer reviewed studies met the inclusion criteria, descriptive study information was charted and summarized and enabling and restricting factors influencing Irish Traveller children’s play were identified using an existing conceptual model. Findings from this scoping review have been submitted for publication and shared with Irish Traveller Advocacy organisations in Ireland.

The second study aims to generate knowledges with teachers on their experiences and perspectives of play in Irish schoolyards with a specific focus on play for children identified as at risk from minoritized communities using online and in context interview methods. Recruitment for this study involved using education, health and community networks  alongside social media platforms. Interviews were completed with 10 Irish primary school teachers and further to transcription, analysis using reflexive thematic analysis is currently underway.

The third study is exploring with children their perspectives and experiences of schoolyard play in Irish schoolyards. 23 children aged 8-11 years from 2 Irish DEIS primary schools participated in interviews using walking methods on two separate occasions alongside researcher observations of schoolyard breaktimes in both schools over a 6-week period.

The PhD journey to date has included studying for one year at the University of Technology Lulea, Sweden exposing me to different ways of learning, opportunities to explore ethical, ontological and methodological dimensions of the research and to develop links with European networks.  My work is supervised by Associate Professor Maria Prellwitz, Dr Bryan Boyle and Professor Margareta Prellwitz and so as an early stage researcher I have access to guidance and knowledges in occupational science, in play, Occupational Therapy practices and support from supervisors with diverse research experiences in different contexts. The P4Play team offers opportunities to learn collaboratively with a shared focus on Occupational Science, Play and research approaches with children. As my research includes a focus on how children from minoritized communities experience schoolyard play, my work has required developing relationships with community activists and researchers, extensive reading on rights based, justice focused and decolonial research and accessing learning opportunities including participation in Soderton University PhD colloquium on critical roma studies.

Embedded in this Horizon 2020 project is a link to community partnerships and ENOTHE, as the European Network for Higher Education of Occupational Therapy is the identified partner for my research. Collaborating with Dr Maria Kapanazde, to date this partnership has included becoming a part of the WFOT School Based Occupational Therapy practice network, developing teaching skills through the ENOTHE Ecole Summer school programme, developing dissemination skills through participation in pre-conference workshops and building relationships with colleagues interested in social and community approaches to practice through participation in the ENOTHE Action for Peace project.

Findings from the scoping review identified a dearth of research on Irish Traveller children’s play and limited involvement of Irish Travellers in the construction of their own narratives. This research alongside engagement with indigenous scholarship has increased my understanding of the importance of supporting opportunities for Irish Travellers to complete research relevant to their lives. An application for funding to support Irish Traveller researchers to complete participatory research, was made to the Elizabeth Casson Trust and awarded in July 2022. While this project is not part of my doctoral project, rather an outcome, I will support the implementation of the research, with a view to the lead researchers applying to present at the International Play Conference in Glasgow, 2023.


My Background

I was drawn to Occupational Therapy by the promise of a way of working that included both science and artistry.  An undergraduate degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 2001 introduced me to new ways of thinking about health, wellbeing and social justice, foregrounding occupation, everyday doing, as central to practice. Most importantly, I learned about reflexivity and was challenged throughout my four years of study and fieldwork to question my existing assumptions and biases and to continue doing so as an Occupational Therapist.

This introduction was formative and led me to work in a variety of different settings in Ireland and overseas where people shared with me the influences of family, community, opportunities, occupational experiences, illness, injury, poverty and inequality on their everyday doing and I experienced the challenging realities of translating ideas to practice.

My growing interest in systems and services prompted me to apply for a Masters in Disability Studies from University College Dublin in 2007. This opportunity expanded my thinking towards rights-based approaches and interdisciplinary scholarship, and I completed research exploring occupational engagement of Irish Adults attending Sheltered Workshops.   A year spent working in community development returned my attention to the literature on social justice within Occupational Science and reminded me of the possibilities within Occupational Therapy and the inherent political dimensions of practice.

Returning to work in community based Occupational Therapy, I had the opportunity to become involved in developing occupation focused models of service delivery and creating spaces for collaborative interagency shared learning communities. Working with interdisciplinary colleagues, we accessed three Department of Education, research practice grants supporting our ability to pilot and evaluate practice ideas in context and contributing knowledges to service planning and policy.

This experience strengthened my understanding of the centrality of relationships to responsive practice and also my interest in universal and inclusive design. How spaces are designed, how these decisions are made and how these decisions influence peoples everyday lives seemed more and more relevant. Systems and models of practice also continued to interest to me and included reflexivity on the influence of deficit focused perspectives and discourses on the need for professionalisation on the types of practices delivered and expected.

After twenty years practicing, I am very grateful to now have this opportunity to be part of an Occupational Science research team, exploring an aspect of everyday life from an occupational perspective that was continuously raised in my work with children and families as an important and impactful space and time- the schoolyard break. As my research project contributes to the practice domain of the project, the importance of ongoing dialogue with Occupational Therapy colleagues working in practice is made possible by my role as chairperson of the National Association for Occupational Therapists paediatric Advisory group and through monthly participation in the World Federation of Occupational Therapy School Based Practice community forum.

Troubling the disconnect between theory and practice and thinking on the ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions underpinning Occupational Science is a current area of interest involving exploration of decolonial, critical feminist and post qualitative research scholarship. I am interested in how these ideas can support us with “finding the play” in current challenges and what really matters.



  1. Irish Traveller Children’s Play-Preliminary Results from a scoping review.2021-09-16 , Conference paper at AOTI, DOI: 5281/ZENODO.5511614
  2. P4PLAY: RESEARCHING PEOPLE, PLACE, POLICY and PRACTICE for PLAY from the LENS of OCCUPATIONAL SCIENCE: Innovative evidence informed solutions in school and community contexts .2021-07-07 DOI: 5281/ZENODO.5159331
  3. Considering play in schoolyards as collective occupations to generate practice possibilities focused on creating community. Abstract presented as oral presentation Occupational Science Europe Conference, at Odense, 24-26, August 2023 DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.8322544
  4. Walking with theory (ists) “up for” diffracting practice ontologies, ENOTHE Annual Meeting 2022,Tbilisi, Georgia, Workshop Presentation, 14 – 16 October 2022. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.7230069
  5. Diffracting knowledges with and within schoolyards‘ ENOTHE Annual Meeting 2022,Tbilisi, Georgia, Oral Presentation, 14 – 16 October 2022. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.723019
  6. Mattering the situated and social nature of schoolyard play. Poster presentation at World Occupational Science Conference, 2022 DOI: 15281/zenodo.7038963



Previous Publications

  1. Impact of School Environments on Student Learning, 2019, Conference Abstract, Feilte, Education Conference.https://hse.clr.events/event/128423:education-conference


  1. Reflecting our Scope: Exploring the Use of a Theory Driven Initial Assessment Tool in Primary Care Occupational Therapy Practice with Children, Irish Journal of Occupational Therapy, 2016 Journal article, http://educationdocbox.com/Special_Education/75971441-Irish-journal-of-occupational-therapy.html



Non published content


  1. Participant in Soderton University PhD colloquium.https://www.sh.se/english/sodertorn-university/research/our-research/critical-romani-studies/colloquium-for-doctoral-students
  2. Research Study 2 Recruitment Poster for Social Media
  3. Teaching presentations provided to support research dissemination and recruitment
  4. Contributing Teacher to Postgraduate Certificate in Play at The Escola Superior de Saúde do Alcoitão (ESSAlcoitão), https://www.essa.pt/portal/prr-pg-to-ob/
  5. AOTI, Paediatric Advisory Group Knowledge Sharing Series https://www.aoti.ie/events/Paediatric-Advisory-Group-Knowledge-Sharing-Series



 Walking Methods with children as part of Study 3.

Michelle Bergin

Team Members

Cerunne Bouts

Advisor for ESR 7

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Sabine Vinçon

PhD Candidate - ESR 6

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Ines Wenger

PhD Candidate - Early Stage Researcher 3

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Dr Allison Mula

PhD Candidate - Early Stage Researcher 2

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Silvia Veiga-Seijo

PhD Candidate - ESR 1

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Rianne Jansens

PhD Candidate - Early Stage Researcher 5

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Thomas Morgenthaler

PhD Candidate - ESR 7

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Fiona Loudoun

PhD Candidate - Early Stage Researcher 4

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Joanie Barron

Advisor for ESR 2

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Miranda Cunningham

Occupational Science Partner

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Prof Nancy Bagatell

Occupational Science Advisor

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Dr Barb Hooper

Occupational Science Advisor

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Dr Maria Kapanadze

Advisor for ESR 8

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Ilse van der Put

Advisor for ESR 7

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Noemi Rando

Advisor for ESR 4

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Dr Gerald Craddock

Advisor for ESR 3

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Theresa Casey

Advisor for ESR 1

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Prof Maria Larsson-Lund

Supervisor at Luleå University Of Technology for ESR 4

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Rebecca Buckley

P4PLAY Project Manager

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Prof Margareta Lilja

Supervisor at Luleå University Of Technology for ESR 8

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Dr Duncan Pentland

Supervisor at Queen Margaret University for ESR 6

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Dr Bryan Boyle

Supervisor at University College Cork for ESR 4 and ESR 8

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Dr Christina Schulze

Supervisor at Zurich University of Applied Sciences for ESR 3 and ESR 7

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Dr Maria Prellwitz

Supervisor at Luleå University Of Technology for ESR 3 and ESR 5

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Dr Sarah Kantartzis

Supervisor at Queen Margaret University for ESR 1 and ESR 2

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Dr Helen Lynch

P4PLAY Coordinator and Supervisor at University College Cork for ESR 5 and ESR 7

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Prof Jeanne Jackson

P4PLAY Coordinator and Supervisor at University College Cork for ESR 1 and ESR 2

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