IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Q&A with Jo Van Herwegen

Jo is an Associate Professor in Developmental Psychology, based in the Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO).

What attracted you to take up your position at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE)?
I worked here as a researcher and seminar leader back in 2005 to 2007 and I always liked the students, the staff and the great research and practice that is produced at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE).

In 2007, I moved on to King’s College London to do my PhD but I always wanted to translate my research findings into educational practice and policy. IOE is a world-leading institution that allows me to do exactly that. The fact that it is conveniently located in central London affords collaborations between different institutions.

What is the focus of your research and what benefits do you hope your discoveries or insights will bring?
I am interested in the cognitive mechanisms of learning and how these can be translated into better educational practice. I am particularly interested in cultural and individual differences and how these differences link to better educational outcomes, especially for disadvantaged groups and low-income countries.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I love research but I am most proud that parents of disadvantaged groups say my research and advice has made a difference to them and their child, and that they feel they can approach me for advice or when they have questions.

What's the most important thing you've learned from your students?
Never take anything for granted: what worked one year might not work for another group.

"Knowledge is not something that happens in a vacuum but new ideas and knowledge develop when you think about problems creatively with other people, including students."


What do you most enjoy about your position and why?
My position at the IOE is very versatile and I never get bored. Every day is different and draws upon my different knowledge, skills and experience, but most importantly: every day I still learn something new from students, parents, professionals, stakeholders as well as my colleagues!

I am a programme leader for the Child Development MSc which allows me to develop learning and teaching practice. I lead the Child Development and Learning Difficulties Unit which translates research for parents and professionals and offers advice on developmental disorders. I supervise a number of students and staff at different levels which makes me think about leadership and how to support early career researchers. I also engage with stakeholders and work on various national and internal research projects.

What other subjects outside of your area of specialism interest you?
Technology and learning. I often think about what the world will look like in 50-100 years from now in terms of technology and how technology would change what we do in education. Also, what that means for the abilities teachers, students and employers will need to have, or how technology might change our cognitive strategies and thinking. 

How has being in London or at UCL been of benefit to you?
London is a fast-paced city and joining UCL has snowballed my research in terms of collaborations with academic and non-academic partners. It has provided opportunities to network with professional bodies and policy makers both nationally and internationally.

What would it surprise people to know about you?
I get bored very quickly so over the years I have had a number of hobbies: I play the flute, the guitar, the piano, toured with the Flemish Youth Orchestra, sang in musicals, played in various theatre companies, recorded backing vocals for a Flemish band, joined various sports teams (I still swim in a club), did gymnastics, horse riding, wall climbing, kitesurfing, various art classes (aquarelle, life drawings,…), volunteered for homeless charity, the Prince’s Trust… Now I have two young boys and a fantastic job so I don’t tend to find time to get bored anymore!