Paula Jacobs

PhD by research


I worked within Learning Disabilites and Residential Care for 9 years before starting my PhD in September 2016.

My research has always had a focus on intellectual disability, particulalry the experiences of people with severe or profound intellectual disability and their families. 

For my MSc research I looked at the experience of young adults with siblings with severe intellectual disability in residential care and this led me to my PhD topic: Transitions in the lives of adults with severe of profound intellectual disability. In my MSc project the transition to adulthood stood out as a time where the lives young people and their siblings seemed to take very different directions. Both my previous research and my own experience of working within a residential school for young people with additional support needs highlighted for me how life paths towards adulthood often differ for these young people.

My PhD aims to look at how decisions are made for and with adults who are deemed to lack capacity to make informed decisions at times of life changing transitions.  I am interested in the decision-making process from a relational and ecological perspective.  I have finished data collection of three interlinked studies that explore: (1) the transition from school to adult services; (2) transitions within adult services such as moving out of the family home and (3) transitions in older age.

My studies attempt to involve the person with severe intellectual disability within the research process through a narrative focus. So far the findings of my PhD confirm the importance of taking both an ecological and life course perspective to understand transitions. Transitions are complex processes that are inherently linked to people's past, present and future, and that occur across, and are influenced by, different systems.


PhD Projects: 

Transition Voices – Navigating Change an audio play


Paula Jacobs and Kenneth MacMahon. ‘It's different, but it's the same’: perspectives of young adults with siblings with intellectual disabilities in residential care. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45 (12-20), (2017).

Paula Jacobs, Kenneth MacMahon and Ethel Quayle. Transition from school to adult services for young people with severe or profound intellectual disability: A systematic review utilizing framework synthesis, Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 31, 6, (962-982), (2018)

Paula Jacobs, Kenneth MacMahon and Ethel Quayle. Who decides? – transitions from school to adult services for and with young people with severe intellectual disabilities, Disability & Society, 10.1080/09687599.2019.1669435, (1-27), (2019).

Edgar Rodriguez-Dorans and Paula Jacobs. Making narrative portraits: a methodological approach to analyzing qualitative data, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, (2020).

Paula Jacobs (2020). People, places and relationships – Stories of social capital, Report for the Office of the Chief Social Policy Adviser, Scottish Government. 


MSc in Children and Young People's Psychology and Mental Health (University of Edinburgh); Dissertation title: "It's different, but it's the same." Experiences of Young Adults with Siblings with Intellectual Disabilities who live in Residentail Care: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Postgradue Certificate in Autism and Learning (University of Aberdeen)

BA in Social Pedagogy (University of Aberdeen)

Social Pedagogy is widely practised within Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavia. It incorporates theories from psychology, social work, education and sociology.

Responsibilities & affiliations

Member of Disability Research Edinburgh

Research summary

Intellectual Disabilities, Autism, Residential Care, Transition to Adulthood, Profound and Multiple Intellectual Disabilities

Current research interests

Transition to Adulthood for young people with profound intellectual disabilities

Past research interests

Siblings with brothers or sisters with intellectual disability