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Dave o' Mara

           Dave o' Mara

Having left school in 1980 with only enough qualifications to get a reasonable job in the Civil Service, I often felt frustrated at my choice to leave education at a young age. I have always played and been interested in sport and, having left the Civil Service, I became involved in sports retailing, first with a large national company and then with my own small business. The business gave me the flexibility to return to education as a mature student.

I first attended Bradford University on their part-time Social Science BA degree, then when the family moved to Scotland due to my wife's promotion, I left sports retailing behind and transferred on to the full time Psychology MA course at Dundee University. It was here I met Trevor Harley who mentored and supervised me, leading to my dissertation being published in the journal, “Aphasiology”. Incidentally I was very pleased to discover recently that this paper is part of the required reading material for an undergraduate degree course at a top Australian University!

Having finished my first degree, I saw an opening advertised for a research-psychologist in the Applied Computing department at Dundee. In what was to be a life-changing meeting, I first met Annalu Waller. After a tough grilling, she offered me the post as a researcher on her work with children with complex communication needs and their use of narrative and storytelling. It was my job to analyse, help write-up and disseminate all the information that had been gathered. Whilst carrying out this task I became fascinated with the children's apparently insatiable desire to “play” with language through their use of simple jokes, puns and riddles. This led me to wonder if verbal-humour play had been undervalued for its use in helping children of all abilities to both learn language and enjoy the social interaction it facilitated.

Dave and Annalu

                     International Society for Humor Studies conference symbol

With the support of Annalu and Professor Alan Newell, I registered for a PhD to study just what form the interplay between humour and language development might take. The next four years were incredibly rewarding and also lots of fun. I was to discover along the way that there was even a large group of similar academics studying humour! I was subsequently very proud to be honoured by this group of academics (the International Society for Humor Studies) by getting the award for the 2004 Emerging Humour Scholar.

Once I gained my PhD in 2004, Annalu and I wanted to investigate whether providing access to humour play could narrow the gap of language experience opportunities between children of all abilities. Fortunately, Graeme Ritchie and Annalu had met previously and had talked about just such opportunities, and that was the genesis of the STANDUP project.

The next few years flew by, and were probably the happiest and busiest of my career as, in the background to this, my family had been extended with the addition of a baby boy, and my middle boy, Jonny, was becoming a very accomplished tennis player. The decision was made for me to spend some time looking after the Jonny's tennis career and looking after my new baby. I left the STANDUP project reluctantly, but fortunately Rolf Black took over my role and the changeover was seamless.

old Standup system design

Jonny O'Mara playing tennis

Currently, I am helping my son move into senior tennis. He has competed for Great Britain a number of times, has been ranked in the top eight junior tennis players in the world, and at just 14 has already played in his first professional tournament. Along the way I have become a part-time tennis coach myself and have also been able to use my psychology background to help top junior tennis players become mentally stronger. I now regularly coach junior tennis players and travel throughout Europe with Jonny as he reaches for his own goals.

One day I hope to return to academia and continue research into this fabulously interesting subject, but my youngest boy now looks to be following in Jonny's footsteps so it may be a wee while yet.

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