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Face to Face with Sport Science features

Here are the latest features from Face to Face with Sport Science.

Interview with Claire Stewart

We talk to Claire Stewart, Professor of Stem Cell Biology at LJMU and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

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?

Claire StewartIt has been a busy, but exciting year. I have had a PhD student start (linked to GSK), working on aspects of nutrition, ageing and muscle repair and a second (linked to Unilever and the Cardiovascular Health Sciences Research Group within RISES) is due to start in October. I am a co-applicant on a large grant application, headed by Southampton University and associated with limb reconstruction post land mine injury. I have become a Wellcome Trust Crunch Ambassador and have had training with MerseyStem on the “People like me” course. I have recently been elected as Chair of the British Society for Research on Ageing, the chair of the Female Professoriate at LJMU and invited to join the working group of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs. Papers continue to be published and grants submitted. One successful grant was to the Society for Endocrinology, which funded a public engagement event on Doping in Sport – hosted at LJMU and attended by ~90 delegates (GCSE/A level student, teachers and coaches) in July. I have also been elected to the Society for Endocrinology Public Engagement Committee.

You’ve been involved with public engagement for many years, and in particular promoting more girls to enter STEM subjects what do you enjoy about this work?

I love the interaction with students that such outreach activities bring. I am always blown away by just how bright the students are and how excited by the concept of progressing to STEM subjects. Being able to talk about my research passions and inspire young people to realise their capabilities is very rewarding.

When you speak to schoolchildren about science subjects and careers, what is the key message you try and get across?

I try to convey the opportunities that science careers can bring. The chance to travel, to work around the world, to meet new people, to learn something new every day and to be trained and to work in an area that you love. The notion that to do well you need to study and to work hard but also that you get paid to be inquisitive, which is quite amazing.

You’ve recently delivered on the School's first public engagement grant with the Society for Endocrinology, what did you learn from that experience?

The first thing I learned is that to put together a successful public engagement event you need the support of people who are as motivated by the day being planned as you are. Fortunately, I had that support in Zoe Knowles and Neil Chester, both within RISES at LJMU. I learned that if people are free, they are extremely generous with their time, their engagement and their motivation to help; this was evidenced, not only by PhDs, post docs and staff within RISES, but also by the fantastic support of Mark Roughley, Elaine McNeill and Kate Walchester, who ran the outreach sessions in the afternoon and Emma Smith and her team who were our links to the schools. I learned that it takes a lot more time to develop such an event than I expected and this will help for my future planning. Mainly, however, I realised that such opportunities are fantastic, the day went very well, the delegates seemed to thoroughly enjoy the event and I look forward to developing the web-based legacy that will follow.

Public engagement is becoming a significant part of university ‘core business’ and a key aspect within grant applications amongst ‘Pathways to Impact’. What would say to inspire those academics who are perhaps thinking about being involved in this type of activity?

I would advise them to simply get involved. MerseyStem is a good starting point, being an Ambassador eases you into public engagement with excellent support. I would also advise people to get involved with the regular STEM events being led from RISES. These give insight into how the days are developed and delivered. Ultimately, applying for funding to host an event is the icing on the cake.

So what’s next?

From a public engagement perspective, developing the website linked to the Doping in Sport day is a pressing priority. Subsequently, however, delivering events around the work that we do in association with the Doctoral Training Alliance is something I will look to develop next term. Finally, going to schools as a STEM or Crunch Ambassador will continue to feature over the coming year.

Watch a video of Claire talking about her research at LJMU.

Interview with Greg Whyte

Greg WhyteWe catch up with Olympian, 'physical activity guru' and world-renowned sports scientist, Greg Whyte. Greg is a Professor in Applied Sport and Exercise Science at LJMU and an authority on exercise physiology, sports performance and rehabilitation with extensive experience assessing, treating and improving the performance of athletes and sporting enthusiasts.

He is well-known for training, motivating and successfully coaching celebrities such as David Walliams, John Bishop, Jo Brand, Davina McCall, Gary Barlow, Eddie Izzard and Dara O'Briain in their Sport/Comic Relief Challenges.

So 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 certainly been a busy year. I began the year with Sport Relief 2016 looking after Jo Brand on her 'Hell of a Walk' from Hull to Liverpool (140 miles in seven days), followed by Radio 1's Greg James on his five triathlons in five cities in five days (swimming in freezing open water!), then Blue Peter's Lindsey Russell on her Zorb across the Irish Sea. Since then I have been writing my new book on exercise and pregnancy, 'Bump It Up' which is out in August, as well as lots of media (print, radio and TV) related to Physical Activity, European Football and the Olympics. I've also presented at some fabulous public engagement events including the Cheltenham Science Festival.

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.

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.

Davina McCall and Greg Whyte

Davina McCall at the finish line of her 506 mile cycling, swimming and running challenge from Edinburgh to London for Sport Relief.

You’re probably most well-known for your work with Sport Relief – anything you can share with us that reflects what you set off to achieve with the celebrities on these challenges?

The most important thing to remember is that we all have the potential to achieve something great in life. You don't have to be a celebrity to achieve success but will have to have the one ingredient that all successful people have – the ability to work hard and the tenacity to keep going even when the going gets tough.

Public engagement is becoming a significant part of university ‘core business’ and a key aspect within grant applications amongst ‘Pathways to Impact’. What would you say to inspire those academics who are perhaps thinking about being involved in this type of activity?

Public engagement should be an integral part of every academic's work. But, it's not easy! To excel at public engagement takes hard work and commitment however, it is worth it in the end. After all, an academic's greatest skill is to teach others the wonders of their discipline to create greater understanding.

So what’s next?

My new book, 'Bump it Up', focussing on lifestyle, nutrition and fitness is out in August and I will be working hard on promoting the book. I also have a number of TV projects coming up including the Olympic Games and a series on Human Physiology and Behaviour – busy times ahead!