Doing a PhD in sport sciences

RISES student

PhD students have been an important part of the research contributions that the world-leading institute has made in sport and exercise sciences over the past 20 years. To find out what the PhD experience has been like for the students, you can read all of their stories, one from each year since the inception of RISES. We’ve highlighted a few of the common themes that have emerged from the memoirs which reveal what makes RISES a unique and successful research institute and why pursuing a PhD is such a valuable experience.


RISES is well known for its collaborative approach to research, the value of which is not lost on its PhD students.

Chris Bussell, who completed his PhD on human thermoregulation in 2000 and is now the Dean of the College of Life and Natural Sciences at the University of Derby, considers the institute's approach:

“The strength of research training, the importance of networking, valuing colleagues and collaborating were the core principles of RISES and these have stayed with me as I’ve progressed in my academic career.”

Chloe Taylor completed her PhD on the sources of variation in human blood pressure control. Graduating in 2011, she is now a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at Western Sydney University. She agrees that one of the strengths of RISES is its ethos around collaboration:

“The RISES team showed me the value of building strong relationships and I try to do so now in my professional and personal life, because there always is something new you can learn from every individual.”

Supportive, innovative and inspiring mentors

In all of the student stories, the staff of RISES are spoken highly of as inspiring mentors who positively influence their research students.

Phil Ainslie focused on physiology and metabolism of prolonged exercise while at RISES and graduated with his PhD in 2002. Phil is now a Professor at UBC as well as a Canada Research Chair in Cerebrovascular Physiology and Co-Director at the Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health. The staff who supported and inspired him at RISES made a long-lasting impression that continues to inform his role today:

“My approach to student supervision is largely emulated from Prof Tom Reilly (my director of studies). In addition, my approach to how I treat and respect others is largely based on what I learned from Tom. He was a brilliant man and I couldn’t have wished for a better mentor at this early stage of my career. The key influencing points I learned, I think, can be summarised as follows: 1) the importance of perseverance and work ethic; 2) the critical importance of supporting others rather than just oneself; 3) the value and fun of collaboration; 4) being humble and generous to others; 5) that all students (or colleagues) offer something different and not to judge; and 6) the importance of balance.”

Geena Ellison completed her PhD in 2004 on death and regeneration of cardiac and skeletal muscle. Geena is grateful for the support she received:

“The relationships I developed with Dave Goldspink, Tim Cable, Tom Reilly and Bernardo Nadal-Ginard have stayed with me to this day. I have the upmost respect for all of them, and they influenced me in different ways. Dave taught me the fundamentals of being a good and meticulous researcher; Tim and Tom for being the most altruistic, supportive, dynamic and innovative mentors and leaders I ever came across; Bernardo for his outstanding calibre in being a cellular and molecular scientist, introducing me to the ‘big time’ scientific world and guiding me through it even to this very day.”

Chloe Taylor is equally indebted to the people who helped her:

“It was the influence of the people I worked with and the friendships I made along the way that will always stick with me. RISES is a place of magic. It may not have the hippogriffs, polyjuice potions or golden snitches of Hogwarts, but the people I met and worked with are worthy of wizard status, in my opinion. A truly special place, with truly special people. The gathering of so many brilliant individuals was certainly no coincidence.”

Personal development

Many of the PhD students who studied at RISES talk about how the institute helped shape who they became, both professionally and personally.

Philip Graham-Smith, who completed his PhD in 1999 on the kinematics and kinetics of long and triple jumps, recalls:

“I have very fond memories of my time in Liverpool. Leaving LJMU was like leaving home, it wasn’t an easy decision to make but growth comes from stepping out of your comfort zone and taking leaps of faith now and again. I can say for sure that RISES prepared me well. I left in 2001 with the confidence and assurance of knowing what excellence looks like and I’ve applied it in the various positions and roles I’ve taken on since.”

David Priestley’s PhD focused on the life of professional sportsmen and how to support it. He talks about how academics at RISES helped him to gain a better understanding of himself:

“They taught me rigor and humility. Ultimately the influence was a profound one on me personally and thus professionally, as I began to understand myself on levels you only reach through thinking, writing and reflecting clearly (and hurting) in a safe trusted space.”

Niels Nedergaard’s PhD, which he completed in 2017, related to players in team sports and their exposure to load during running locomotion. He is now a postdoctoral fellow at KU Leuven in Belgium.

“Beyond affecting my professional development as an academic, studying abroad for my PhD has undoubtedly made an impact on my personality and has fundamentally changed how I view the world. Changes which I probably will not understand the full impact of before/if I move back to Denmark. I have gained great respect and insight into other cultures through the international environment within RISES and made, what I hope to be, life-long friendships.”

Read the rest of the stories by visiting RISES: 20 years, 20 stories.

Find out more about studying sport and exercise sciences and how to pursue a PhD.


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