Meet some of our External Engagement specialists

Here are the latest features from specialists with Sport Science.

Faq Items

Professor Greg Whyte

Greg WhyteSo Greg, it’s been a busy year for you so far could you take a minute to tell us what you’ve been up to?

It has been a very strange and busy year so far! In February, I supported a challenge to break the World Record for 7 Marathons on 7 Continents. Starting in Antarctica, we travelled to Argentina, Panama, Spain, Egypt, Oman and Australia to complete the challenge in a World Record of 81 hours and 36 minutes. Only a few days after returning from the challenge the UK went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that time, I have been working on a number of COVID-19 related projects including:

  1. As an executive member of The National Rehabilitation Forum and MSK Lead, I worked with the Intensive Care Society and a group of specialists to create the post-ICU COVID-19 Rehabilitation Framework:
  2. As a Board Member of UK Active, I have been involved in the re-opening of the health and fitness sector, creating framework documents and meeting with Government, DCMS, Public Health England, Sport England and others.
  3. I have been involved with a large number of science and performance PodCasts and contributed to a wide variety of media, including print, radio and TV on the topics of health, sport, exercise, physical activity and  COVID-
  4. Working with colleagues and PhD students to complete PhD and publish work in a variety of fields from environmental extremes to cancer.

You’ve been involved with public engagement with the School of Sport and Exercise for many years, what do you enjoy about this work?

Science is an amazing area and there is no better way to pass on the wonders of science than through sport and exercise. I love the integration of all the disciplines in sport science from physiology to engineering and talking to people about what we do as sports scientists is an amazing experience. All too often academics sit behind impenetrable walls, hiding away their work from the public. For me, public engagement is probably the most important job of a scientist, but also one of the most difficult and challenging.

World Marathon  - Professor Greg Whyte

You must have spoken to thousands of schoolchildren over the years about science subjects and careers, what is the key message you try and get across?

ENJOYMENT. The more you love a subject the easier it is to learn.

You’ve won several awards for your work including being listed as one of the top UK Science Communicators what makes a great science communicator?

There are a range of attributes that great science communicators must have. Firstly, the ability to explain the complex in simple terms is fundamental; it shouldn't be an opportunity to show off how intelligent you are, it should be about how much your audience learns. You have to be fun and engaging; your audience learns a lot more if they are smiling and laughing. In addition, don't just rely on words; use images, video, props and even get the audience to participate in your talk to keep them fully entertained and engaged. Finally, love what you do; if you love it, your audience will too.

So what’s next?

It has been difficult to plan the future in these strange times, however I have a number of challenges under preparation for 2021, and will continue to research and publish. In particular, I am looking forward to the time that live public engagement events can restart.

Professor Graeme Close

So it’s been another busy year for you as regards external engagement work. Tell us a little bit about what you have been up to?

Professor Graeme Close

2019 was of course a Rugby World Cup year, which is an event England Rugby have been working towards for the last four years. I was lucky enough to get the chance to work with England a lot this year, attending two heat acclimation camps in Treviso and then heading out to Miyazaki with the squad for the Rugby World Cup. I had a dual role of nutritionist and physiologist so was tasked with ensuring our heat strategies and travel plans were in place, as well as overseeing the delivery of the sport nutrition structures. This was an amazing experience and one that I enjoyed sharing with the MSc Students in Sport Nutrition when I returned.

What skills and qualities do you need to be successful in working in support roles with elite athletes?

The cornerstone has to be knowledge and I make no apology about saying this. Yes soft skills (personality, communication, empathy) are crucial, but without the knowledge you are a fraud. I therefore tell anyone who asks to spend time getting qualified, reading more than your peers and then grow from a solid foundation. And whilst specialist knowledge is crucial (in my case sport nutrition), it is essential there is also a breath of knowledge such as exercise physiology, sport psychology, etc. Too many students specialise too soon which I think is a huge mistake. Once the knowledge is in place it is crucial to embrace yourself in the environment. Get to know the athletes and make sure they know you are there for them. It really is not about you. You will need to build trust and this can take time. Once athletes trust you (they will soon work out if you have the knowledge or not) only then will you have impact.

What ways do you engage with the general public about your applied work?

One thing I have done this year on the MSc Sport Nutrition course is ask a few of the athletes I have worked with to do a private Q and A with the students. This has been incredible with the likes of George Ford, Peter Stringer, Zoe Gillings and many more giving their time to tell our students the inside information where it comes to sport nutrition delivery. In terms of wider dissemination, I try to share my work and experiences on social media and have recently started a YouTube Channel called “A conversation with Graeme” where I interview members of staff from LJMU about their research. I passionately believe in engaging the general public in the research and this is something I intend to get better at in the coming years.

Any advice for working with the media in your field and who would you like to be interviewed by?

I have huge respect for BBC breakfast and really enjoy listening to the likes of Dan Walker and Naga Munchetty when they translate science to practice. I was lucky enough to be interviewed on the red sofa in the past and would love the chance to do this again in the future. I much prefer live interviews as, although these can be somewhat daunting, you know for a fact that they cannot be edited in a way to distort what you have said. My advice to anyone doing public engagement is to enjoy it and value it. What is the point of us doing research that no one knows about? And who is better to tell the world about your research than you? Finally remember what Einstein told us “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”. When translating our science we need to make it understandable to everyone but not at the detriment of losing its true meaning. I guess this is the real talent of public engagement.

What’s next?

Given the current Covid situation who knows? It would be great to continue the consultancy with England Rugby and help build towards the next world cup. Research wise, I have lots more to do on Vitamin D but I have recently developed a keen interest in CBD oil and its role in muscle regeneration. Given the amount of mis-information on CBD in the popular media, this is a topic that not only needs better research but better public information. A challenge I really do fancy taking on.

Professor Claire Stewart

So Claire, it’s been a busy year for you so far. Could you take a minute to tell us what you’ve been up to?

Professor Claire Stewart

It has indeed been a really busy year and certainly one I would never have predicted!  Over the last 12 months, I have undertaken a number of PhD vivas around the country. I have been involved with the University Alliance in a successful doctoral training grant, which has meant the recruitment of five PhD students to LJMU. I have fulfilled commitments with the Society for Endocrinology public engagement board and as the Chair of the British Society for Research on Ageing. I have undertaken peer review of our research submission to the REF. One of my students successfully defended his PhD and should have moved to San Francisco in April to start his first post-doctoral position.

We celebrated a fantastic MSc graduation in November, which is always a highlight of the calendar year. I have given keynote presentations about my research, including at an event hosted at our University, organised by two of our PhD students (Mark Viggars and Katie Hesketh) and sponsored by the Physiologiocal Society. I continue to represent the university at the Doctoral Training Alliance management meetings, which provide an opportunity to engage with other universities also interested in health research. I was fortunate enough, just before lockdown in March, to attend a writing retreat at the Gladstone library. This was an exceptional opportunity and one which I certainly benefited from. We also had a successful outreach event ‘Here come the girls’, organised and hosted by Professor Zoe Knowles.

You’ve been involved with public engagement with the School of Sport and Exercises for many years, what do you enjoy about this work?

The delivery of public engagement events is an incredibly rewarding opportunity. What I learned is that we are incredibly fortunate to have public engagement at the core of what we do within Sport and Exercise Sciences. There is so much work to be undertaken behind the scenes, before the event can be launched, that I would not have predicted. To have experts on hand to help navigate these processes and to ensure incredibly successful events has been a tremendous learning opportunity for me.

So what’s next?

What’s next is the million dollar question. This will be dictated by how we progress over the coming months. Formulating classes for blended learning delivery and supporting our REF submission will take a priority in the coming months.  From a research point of view, together with a PhD and an MSc student, we are undertaking remote analyses of the impact of lockdown on health and well-being, this will be a core of our ongoing studies. One of my students is due to complete his PhD in December and will hopefully then move to Canada for a post-doctoral position. I hope to spend a couple of months writing - this is something I really love to do, but rarely have time to do it - manuscripts and grants will be at the core of what I would like to achieve.

Professor Zoe Knowles

Zoe Knowles

So Zoe, it’s been a busy year for you so far could you take a minute to tell us what you’ve been up to?

It’s been busy for sure but was another academic year where as a School we continue to inspire the next generation of sport and exercise scientists and share our research with the public. We’ve taken a whole staff approach to our engagement work which has been through a range of projects. I loved hosting the second Here Come the Girls: The Future of Sport and Exercise Sciences event for International Women’s Day in March which was really popular. I’m loving the continued work with Eureka Mersey as we design inaugural gallery content for their site planned for Opening in 2022. We held several co-production events with our partner High School and our staff have enjoyed working with them supported by the Eureka team to design installations/activities. We set the first one up like Dragons Den and they were a tough panel for our staff to pitch to, give me a grant panel anytime!!!

You’ve been leading the School External Engagement portfolio for over 8 years now how does that work on a day to day basis?

I work with marketing, outreach, press/media colleagues as well as those responsible for REF submissions regarding impact. We are lucky to have staff who are knowledgeable in these areas and I try to act as a conduit between the academics and these services. It takes a real collective effort to put on events, make programme content for the media etc that shouldn’t be underestimated but we are experienced on that. Externally being connected to the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement has kept me updated ion initiatives and I have received some mentoring/support through them this year which was great.

For all academic staff engagement work challenges them to think about how they communicate their research to the public or school pupils…..and it’s great fun when you are involved!  Some staff like to front public events, some take part in platforms such as ‘I’m a Scientist…stay at home’ and others enjoy working with TV/radio.  I often say to staff ‘how would you explain that to an 8 year old’……now there’s a question we could all ponder about our work! Whilst we set our engagement initiatives to correspond with events such as major sporting events and public campaigns like  ‘walk to school week’ etc we also have a great set of staff who are experienced in press and media to offer comment to whatever is topical. I like that balance of planned work and dealing with the unexpected or current issues in my role, every day is different!

Sounds like it’s full on – what’s next?

I'm passionate about supporting colleagues who want to specialise in this work to be bold in their decision making about focus and scale. It’s rewarding but a road less travelled in the traditional sense of career progression for academics. Place based engagement is becoming a particular focus as that of the Civic University and there is scope for considering what this means to our core business in the School and the wider University sector – none more so than as we recover from CoVid19. I’m looking forward to seeing the emergence of the City Centre Forest School on our campus as a project by which we can engage with the local community and schools through that space – it’s a novel venture and one I am proud to have been involved in.

Dr Carl Langan Evans

So it’s been another busy year for you as regards external engagement work – tell us a little bit about what you have been up to?

It’s been another brilliant year and I’m really fortunate to be working with elite athlete in both professional MMA and boxing, who I provide with strength & conditioning, applied sport physiology and nutrition support. In MMA I’m currently working with a local fighter Molly McCann who is signed up to the UFC and is on course to break into the top 10 world ranking, then putting her on trajectory for a world title shot. Molly is currently on a 3 fight win streak and is competing at the new UFC ‘Fight Island’ this week, hopefully taking another victory against a top competitor. In boxing I’m also working with another local fighter James ‘Jazza’ Dickens, who is currently competing in the MTK Golden Contract Super Series Tournament. This past year he has won both the quarter and semi-finals of the tournament with only one more fight to go and secure a 6 fight contract with a major promotion heading towards a world title fight. Both athletes are becoming well known for their involvement in our world class research on weight restricted sports and have become the epitome of ‘making weight safely’ inspiring others to reach out and engage with our world class expertise.

What skills and qualities do you need to be successful in working in support roles with elite athletes?

Soft skills are certainly important and the ability to engage with athletes from a variety of sexes, backgrounds and with varying personalities is key. I always say practitioners of every discipline must be ‘amateur psychologists’, as this skillset can be the difference between you having a positive or negative working relationship. However, I must say that in my opinion there seems to be too much of an emphasis on these skills in the current landscape and the drive for fundamental knowledge, both broadly and specifically within the disciplines seems to be getting lost. The soft skills are only as effective as the interventions and guidance being put in place, so we never lose sight to constantly keep upskilling our core knowledge.

What ways do you engage with the general public about your applied work?

A key example that comes to mind is helping my father to continue playing football at the ripe old age of 70! My Dad currently represents for the England National Over 65’s Veterans Team and I help him to stay in shape, whilst also trying to alleviate the stresses and strains that obviously come from playing a full 90 minute game by employing fundamental science from what we know about recovery modalities. Additionally, I do a number of talks and seminars for amateur combat sport athletes at local clubs to share my expertise and give back to the community which I came and developed from during my youth.

Any advice for working with the media in your field and who would you like to be interviewed by?

It’s very rare you are given the opportunity to showcase your work and an area that you may be extremely passionate about, so when given the chance embrace it. Don’t be nervous, no one knows more about what you are talking about than you so try to enjoy the process and learn from every opportunity, so next time you are more prepared. I would absolutely love to go on the Joe Rogan podcast, which has such a huge global audience and is formatted in an open and honest discussion.

What’s next?

I’m hoping to continue supporting both Molly and Jazza on their journeys to the top, whilst also getting interest from other top fighters in the work we do. I’ve been very fortunate to start a post-doctoral research fellowship with a key mentor of mine Professor James Morton, so once the current situation allows I’m looking forward to getting back in the labs and continuing to carry on with a number of exciting research projects!