Diana Burchell

Diana Burchell

PhD, Developmental Psychology and Education


“I’ve been lucky to find an incredibly supportive community of graduate students to go through this experience with.”

Growing up with social workers parents, I immersed myself in social justice from a very early age. The more I led initiatives such as Me to We fundraisers, refugee-simulation diets and cancer drives, I became increasingly aware that education is the pathway through which all equity is achieved. Even before reaching high school, I knew I needed to work in the education system. I originally trained as an English, French and Special Education high school teacher. I’ve worked extensively in the realm of disability, and I’m especially passionate about providing equal access to students with disabilities in the education system.  

I’m currently completing my doctoral degree in Developmental Psychology and Education under the supervision of Dr. Xi Becky Chen in the Multilingualism and Literacy Lab. The project for my dissertation is titled “The International Bilingual Education Project,” which is funded by SSHRC and will take place across three different countries. We’re working on an assessment and intervention method which will disentangle deficits due to language disability from language deficits due to multilingualism. In particular, we hope that this tool will help to provide equitable access to French Immersion programs for students of various backgrounds. We’re collaborating intensely with the Toronto District School Board and hope to provide this intervention as free education games in the next three years. 

There were two primary motivations for me to choose the University of Toronto. The first was the reputation of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) as one of the most advanced centers for research-informed practice in education. Equally as important was the reputation of my supervisor as one of the leading researchers in her field. After reading some of her papers about cross-language transfer, I knew I wanted to be a part of her research team. There have been several remarkable moments during my time at U of T. My tenure in the lab has provided me with unparalleled opportunities to work with other professors (both domestic and international), to collaborate with significant community organizations and to participate in substantial projects with government funding. Beyond that, I’ve been lucky to find an incredibly supportive community of graduate students to go through this experience with. 

As a student with disability, I cannot overemphasize how incredible the team at Health and Wellness is. I’ve found incredible support from the doctors there. I’ve similarly had wonderful experiences with my accessibility advisor, who has always been incredibly supportive of my needs in the program. Beyond those two main services, I have often attended workshops given by the Graduate Centre for Academic Communication, the various libraries at U of T, Career Exploration & Education, the Graduate Professional Skills program, and there are many resources beyond these. I always encourage students to do thorough research before coming to the university.