PhD stories: 1998-2017
Read the stories of RISES PhD students from 1998-2017
PhD students have been an incredibly important part of the outstanding research contributions that the world-leading institute has made across the disciplines of sport and exercise science over the past 20 years. Find out first-hand from some of the students who completed their PhDs between the years of 1998 and 2017 what their experiences were like studying with RISES.
Moira Lafferty (1998)
Story to follow
Philip Graham-Smith (1999)
I completed my undergraduate Sports Science degree in the last cohort of graduates from Liverpool Polytechnic in 1992. At this point I was given the opportunity to work alongside Professor Adrian Lees as project assistant in the Sports Science Support Programme with the British Athletics Federation and their horizontal jumps squads. This was a great initiative where national governing bodies were able to tap into expertise and resource from universities, it also helped to develop practitioners like myself in an era when there was no career pathway for sports science graduates. Part of my role was to provide support to the athletes in national competitions and at squad weekends which we hosted at Wavertree and in the lab in the Mountford Building; the other part was for me to register for a higher degree and conduct research pertinent to that event group. I registered for a PhD which I completed in 2000 entitled: “The kinematics and kinetics of jumping for distance with particular reference to the long and triple jumps”.
The focus of the research was to examine how athletes converted horizontal speed from the approach run into vertical speed to generate an appropriate projection angle and longer jump distance. The programme of studies profiled the characteristics of the long jump and the triple jump take-offs and quantified the contribution of the different mechanisms that enabled vertical velocity to be generated. This research developed our understanding of jumping and helped to redefine the technical model of performance. One of the main findings was the importance of the leg placement and trunk angle at touchdown and the ability to resist knee flexion in the eccentric phase. We also examined the role of the arms and free leg and quantified their contribution to generating vertical momentum and loading the take-off leg. We were given numerous opportunities to present our findings at coaching conferences, to explain the technical model and to highlight what physical attributes are needed to support the model. I don’t think it was any coincidence that long and triple jump entered a golden era from 1995 when both Jonathan Edwards and Ashia Hansen broke world records in the triple jump and the UK went on to win numerous global medals in the jumping events.
Adrian was an incredible mentor, I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. Compared to other ‘academics’ in the biomechanics area at the time, Adrian had a much better understanding of how to communicate with athletes and coaches and how to apply research. Working in the applied world is much more challenging than one would imagine, and to this day, we still use his immortal words “You’ve got to want to make it happen”, his way of making sure we tried everything and covered all bases to complete our job. To reinforce this principle we established an honorary “MIH” award for members of the biomechanics team who were able think on their feet and deliver a service in the face of adversity. Upon receiving the award, it was customary to proclaim ”Yo Adrian, I did it!” (Rocky Balboa, 1979).
The relationships I made with coaches and athletes were strong and I was able to continue my consultancy and applied research with the UK Athletics until after the 2012 London Olympics, after which Professor Tim Cable persuaded me to join him at Aspire Academy in Qatar...the RISES connection continued.
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. As Head of Department at Salford University, I created an identity and reputation around Strength and Conditioning. As Head of Biomechanics at the EIS in the four years leading up to the 2012 Olympics and in my current role at Aspire, we identified characteristics of excellence in support provision to athletes and coaches. An underlying principle has been to underpin teaching and support work through programmes of research that is meaningful, innovative and has real application. The opportunity to work in elite sporting organisations, be it athletics or football gave me an appreciation of what is takes to work in these environments, to support athletes and to make the processes more efficient. It challenged me to develop solutions for data collection, analysis and reporting. The confidence I gained through having a solid ‘upbringing’ in RISES has led to the commercialisation of one solution called ForceDecks, which I am proud to say is making an impact in many professional football clubs and sporting organisations throughout the world.
RISES is about a community, the fact that we were being led by the forefathers of sports science in the UK made us proud to be part of it, it gave you confidence, but at the same time made you humble to be recognised as part of that family. Whenever you travel around the world to conferences you’ll often meet former colleagues and researchers from LJMU, you ask how people and their families are doing and where they’re at now, you tell stories and more often than not, you’ll end up laughing and smiling at some fantastic memories you’ve shared about your time in Liverpool...Great times!
Photo: Philip Graham-Smith meeting up with Asafa Powell in Doha, 2017
Chris Bussell (2000)
Having completed my masters at LJMU in observational analysis I started my doctoral journey working with Andy Borrie and Dave Whitby in the Mountford Building performance analysis labs. We set out to design a series of studies with the aim to model real-time competitive match play to see if there were performance trends in various sports that allowed coaches to predict outcomes from preceding plays. We started to scope up a study modelling squash; however it became apparent that the computing capacity and modelling techniques were beyond what we could achieve at the time. Some 20 years on, we are in the era of ‘big-data’ supported through super-cooled computers with massive computational capacities enabling algorithmic neural-networks to achieve in hours what was beyond scope in the mid-1990s. Technological and scientific advancement go hand in hand.
As a result, I changed my PhD studies and focused on human thermoregulation under the supervision of Professors Tim Cable and Tom Reilly. We also changed buildings to the Henry Cotton Campus. The research set out to study the regional variation of heat loss and peripheral blood flow across different sites of the body. Initial studies examined the impact of relative and absolute workloads on heat gain using arm ergometry and leg cycling. Participants – many of whom were fellow PhD students – undertook separate cycling and arm crank maximal exercise tests from which relative workloads and absolute workloads were set for subsequent steady state trials. Trials were performed early in the morning (c. 0500h) and late in the afternoon (c. 1800h) to enable impact of diurnal variation to be assessed. The conclusions of these studies were simple – it was the absolute workload performed that primed thermal drive. This enabled numerous studies to be carried out that focused in on the mechanisms of vasodilation and why there were variations in peripheral blood flow in the limbs. Through a series of active (exercise induced hyperthermia) and passive (localised heating whilst at rest) studies we set about to understand the regional variations in peripheral blood flow. We established a series of procedures including iontophoresis using acetylcholine and sodium nitroprusside which had never been performed in our labs before and meant that Tim Cable and I had to spend a week in Stockholm to learn the procedures from a dental surgeon! We also used procedures of reactive hyperemia and localised heating to evaluate responsiveness of regional sites to vasoactive stimuli. The outcomes of this work established that the forearms are preferential sites for heat loss due to the increased sensitivity of the endothelial cells to vasoactive stimuli. The impact of this work influences our understanding of heat loss in spinal cord injury patients, diabetics with peripheral circulatory challenges as well as athletes in the control of body temperature.
There was a huge sense of community at RISES with a real excitement and buzz about the research that was taking place. As early career researchers, we had the likes of Drust, Doggart and Graham-Smith as senior PhD students to show us the ropes; staff such as Doran, Richardson and Maclaren to guide us in the value of research informed teaching; with Atkinson and Neville teaching us the importance of robust statistics in producing evidence based practice. We were – and colleagues still are – driving forward in the field of sport and exercise science in the context of human and health science to understand the physical, psychological and social impact of physical activity and high performance on individuals and societies. We knew we were part of something special.
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. From my first full time lecturing post in sport science at Nottingham Trent (2000-2007) through to Head of Sport Science at NTU (2007-2013) and more recently as Head of the School of Science (2013-2014) and Dean of the College of Life and Natural Sciences at the University of Derby (2014-present) the core values I learnt at RISES have stayed with me. My time at RISES as a masters and PhD student shaped me as a researcher and academic and informed my approach to leadership and management in higher education. I have endeavoured to create active, dynamic and collegiate academic communities with strong connections to their subject area.
On a personal level, transitioning from an undergraduate to a doctoral student was hugely challenging. I was not your classic ‘straight-A candidate’. I found the school learning environment difficult – struggling to pass my GCSEs and having to retake my A-levels to get in to University. It was through my undergraduate project that I really began to ‘get’ independent and enquiry based learning. This inspired me to apply for my masters at LJMU and the encouragement and support – particularly from Andy Borrie and Tim Cable – that gave me the confidence to apply for the PhD post in RISES. The excitement of identifying questions that haven’t been answered or developing techniques that nobody else has used or getting that paper out before another group does, was – and still is – exhilarating.
I recall during my PhD interview, Tom Reilly asking me “Chris, why is it you want to do a PhD?” I thought carefully before responding that it was to create new knowledge, new understanding and shaping thinking about my research area. Tom, reflected on this but wasn’t convinced; so he asked me again…“Why do you want to do a PhD?”…he got to the true answer. Whatever your reason for doing a PhD, the inner strength and resilience it develops in you will make you a better person. To go through this journey with the people I did at RISES – which I can now refer to as my peers and colleagues – was a great honour and is something that will stay with me forever.
Best wishes to RISES for the stories that will be written over the next 20 years.
Lindsey Dugdill (2001)
Lindsey’s PhD submission consisted of six papers published between 1993-2000, five of which were published in peer reviewed journals and the sixth by the World Health Organisation. The research aimed to explore health at work issues from the perspective of the worker whilst developing practical evaluation tools to assess health intervention effectiveness. The papers comprised of an international literature review of workplace health programme effectiveness; a pilot study and two other major empirical studies carried out within different workplace sectors; and a theoretical and practical framework for workplace evaluation. The key findings highlighted that workers are able to articulate a complex understanding of workplace health issues and the health programmes provided must reflect that complexity to see improvements in health gains.
The culmination of research provided evidence that gave clearer directives to health practitioners and organisations interested in developing workplace health provision. Lindsey advocated for collective and participatory approaches to workplace health programme development and evaluation. Central features of the approach were action research methodology, development and sharing of skills, increasing political awareness for workplace health and community development.
The work contributed to the evidence base for workplace health development in a variety of organisational settings and political agendas (Liverpool City Council, Department of Health, Liverpool Occupational Health Partnerships, Large Banking Organisations and the Work Health Organisation). Lindsey’s doctoral work commenced when practitioners had very limited evidence to inform them of how to develop or evaluate effective programmes. The thesis set out an evaluation framework for workplace health promotion programmes and lay down a new set of criteria for good quality evaluation which challenged previously established “gold standards” such as the Randomised Controlled Trial.
The thesis represented eight years of research carried out by Lindsey whilst a full-time member of staff at Liverpool John Moores University. The research added to the evidence base available on workplace health promotion available in the UK, and helped business to provide a strategic response to heath issues. Lindsey continued to contribute extensively to the development of the field of workplace health promotion in the UK and developed an international reputation for public health research and policy development. This included working with organisations such as the Workplace Task Force for the Government; The Health Education Authority as a research advisor and training consultant; The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence; The Department of Health Obesity Task Force and The Chief Medical Officer Task Group on Physical Activity and the World Health Organisation.
Tribute from Professor Tim Cable
I write this section as Lindsey’s PhD supervisor, Director of School and friend.
Lindsey was a complete ball of energy and an individual who seemed to have unquenchable amounts of positivity and optimism. I first met Lindsey in 1993 as an academic acquaintance working in the Centre of Health Studies at LJMU, which in those days was in the School of Human Sciences along with our Centre of Sports Science. Her focus on physical activity and work-place health promotion meant that there were many synergies between her interests and those of mine and the School. After a university restructure, we convinced Lindsey to move to our new School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, where she quickly built on her PhD success to establish the embryonic pathway that gave birth to the now buoyant Physical Activity Exchange. Without her enthusiasm and drive, what we see today would simply not exist.
She championed many projects, and her constant lobbying of agencies and funding bodies gave rise to many novel programmes of work that had real-life impact for people and communities, as well as providing opportunity for many PhD students. One example of these programmes was GOALS (Getting Our Active Life-Styles), which became a long-standing initiative funded by Liverpool City Council. This worked with obese children and their family members to change behaviours and reduce weight. This programme was significant in that it was able to influence and change behaviour in hard to reach and socially deprived communities. The programme was also significant in that it produced a large number of PhD graduates that have established their own independent academic careers, and who still serve to spread ripples of Lindsey’s influence.
It is difficult to write and conceptualise what impact working in RISES had on Lindsey, without first recognising what impact she had on RISES. Despite initially being based in another department, Lindsey was one of the very first members of RISES. The insight and very keen eye for research opportunity that she brought, coupled with her determination to “make a difference” were key to the development of the outstanding research culture that grew in RISES. Her ability to challenge, enquire and breathe life into projects, brought an urgency and “can do” ethos to RISES, which became part of its DNA.
What did RISES do for Lindsey? It gave her a supportive home of like-minded colleagues that listened and empowered her to grow. It gave her the research independence that she strived for and therefore built in her an unswerving, yet respectful confidence. And when the time came, it gave her the ambition and self-assurance to move on to bigger and wider challenges, where she found even greater success.
Phil Ainslie (2002)
My PhD was about the physiology and metabolism of prolonged exercise with particular reference to hill walking. It was a Mars incorporated (as in Mars chocolate bars) funded project and involved a questionnaire-based study, three major field studies (two in the Lake District and one in Scotland) and a prolonged laboratory-based study. In addition to RISES, the project involved visits and related collaborations with Manchester University (c/o Prof Iain Campbell) and Oxford University (c/o Prof Keith Frayn). In addition to learning how to run studies and biochemical assays at Oxford, I was also fortunate enough to spend three weeks in Maastricht with Prof Klass Westerterp for the measurement of energy expenditure via doubly-labelled water.
Although my research program is now more or less completely different from my PhD training, I often think back on a regular basis on how my PhD programme and the students and staff at RISES influenced my career. My approach to student supervision is largely emulated from Prof Tom Reilly (my director of studies). In addition, my approach 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. I am sure there are more influences but – on a regular basis – I make my decisions on how to treat others – whether it be students or colleagues – on what I learned at RISES and with Tom. In addition to the collaborators mentioned above, Don MacLaren was also a great person to have on my supervisor committee. Finally, there are still many of the students who I trained with whom I keep in touch with nowadays. Sometimes it is not as regular as it should be but one thing still clearly stands – there is still a critical connection and level of support for different initiatives from those who trained at RISES (even those who did not overlap). To have these RISES linkages with other students, both past and present, goes a huge way from a networking perspective. Without my experiences with working with the staff and students with RISES, my professional development and related academic career would have been much attenuated and far less enjoyable!
When I was at RISES from 1999-2002, we worked extremely hard when we needed to get things done; however, we also had no problems in socializing hard and did so on a likely too regular basis! I can think of 6-8 individuals (staff and students), whom I am still friends with today, who would be regulars in long days in the lab or field only to be the last ones out of some dubious pub at 2am – there were some wild times that’s for sure! I suspect because of this approach, I have never been one to criticize my own graduate students for having fun and a balanced perspective on work and life. This work and social balance really helped to form a strong supportive environment from all those involved and is something which I continue to strive for today. Upon reflection, it is likely one of the better things one can get perspective on in life.
Photo: Phil Ainslie climbing in 2016
Dave Richardson (2003)
Story to follow
Geena Ellison (2004)
Reader in Physiology, King’s College London
I graduated from LJMU with a first class honours degree in Sports Science (Physiology). I always knew that I wanted to be a Physiology researcher and it was one of the reasons I chose LJMU because of the emphasis on research and science, and less on doing sport! However, after graduating, I did not want to do ‘just any old PhD’ and I confided this in Prof Tim Cable who told me about a new cell and molecular professor who had just joined the department, Prof David Goldspink. After speaking to him, I knew that cell and molecular research was what I wanted to do, so we wrote a British Heart Foundation PhD studentship application, which luckily was awarded.
My PhD was about the death and regeneration of cardiac and skeletal muscle. I was using cellular and molecular techniques to dissect the mechanisms controlling muscle regeneration. My supervisors were Prof David Goldspink (DoS), Prof Tim Cable and Dr Lip-Bun Tan (University of Leeds). I was using an animal model developed by Prof Goldspink where an excessive dose of catecholamines causes myocyte death in both the cardiac and skeletal muscle. I was investigating the regeneration of the skeletal muscle myocytes in a time course, and determining if the skeletal muscle could regenerate all its myocytes following catecholamine-induced damage. The focus was on muscle wasting which accompanies heart failure, my original research question was: Do the excessive catecholamines found in these patients result in continual skeletal myocyte death and regeneration, which will eventually exhaust the regenerative capacity of the muscle leading to muscle wasting?
Unlike the skeletal muscle, in 2002, the adult heart was considered a post-mitotic organ, with no regeneration of its myocytes taking place. Therefore, I was using the cardiac muscle as my control tissue expecting not to see any regenerating myocytes. However, every time I did immunostaining on the heart sections I kept seeing small, positive-stained regenerating myocytes, which looked similar to the positive-stained regenerating myocytes in the skeletal muscle sections! I kept reporting back to Prof Goldspink my findings and he kept telling me to repeat the experiment as the heart had no regenerative potential. But I kept seeing the same thing – regenerating myocytes in both tissues. Then Prof Goldspink showed me a paper, written by one of his old friends and colleagues, Dr Nadal-Ginard, and this paper described for the first time the regeneration of myocytes occurring in the adult heart. I was so excited I asked Prof Goldspink if he could contact his friend and tell him what I kept seeing. So he did and they agreed that I should make a trip to his friend’s lab in New York (yes, New York!) and investigate further the heart regeneration that I was seeing in the catecholamine-induced damage model. I had one small problem – money to pay for the trip!
Prof Goldspink helped me to look for funding and I applied to the British Federation of Women Graduates (BFWG) for an academic scholarship. I went to London for the interview and I told them all about what I had found. I was awarded the scholarship and I went to New York in November 2003 for initially six months. When I was there I worked on understanding more about the regeneration of the heart and the stem cells resident in the adult heart that contribute to regenerating myocytes after injury. These data were included in my PhD thesis. I stayed in New York for five years, returning only to defend my PhD thesis, carrying out a post-doc in Dr Nadal-Ginard’s lab. Publications from my PhD and post-doc have made a seminal contribution in the paradigm shifting work to establish the adult heart as a self-renewing organ with regenerative capacity.
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.
I returned to RISES, LJMU from the USA in 2008 through a Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant and Fellowship, I chose LJMU as my host institution, as I wanted to return to where it all started for me and give something back. Tim and Tom charged me with continuing the legacy of Prof Goldsink in cell and molecular physiology. I think I was successful, I hope I was successful.
Photo: Geena Ellison delivering her YIA presentation at the ECCS Congress, 2005
Tim Donovan (2005)
I was one of the lucky few who got to choose their PhD title and was therefore able to indulge my passion for rowing. Some find their PhD, although useful, a ‘slog’. I never did. I was lucky enough to be supervised by three of the lecturers that most inspired me as an undergraduate. Professor MacLaren guided me through the complexities of academia with an understanding that allowed me enough flexibility to compete internationally but with sufficient ‘encouragement’ to ensure that I was kept on track (most of the time). Through my rowing contacts I was able to use elite athletes to examine, what I thought, were the key faults in rowing pacing strategy. Rowing requires you to compete facing backwards and is one of the few sports where you can only see your opposition when you are in front. This means that a fast start provides you with the optimal psychological race strategy; however the early effort profile is physiologically inefficient. My PhD focussed on the use of maximal accumulated oxygen deficit as a measure of anaerobic and aerobic contributions to different race strategies. I was able to quantify the physiological cost of the traditional ‘fast start’ strategy; identify if these differences helped provide a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of athlete development; and examine training strategies that could impact on the physiological development of athletes to help achieve the optimum race profile.
During my PhD I was selected to compete at the Commonwealth Games. It is a testament to my luck that where most get to go to exotic locations for big international events I got to go to sunny Nottingham (part of the Manchester Games). The training was hard and intense and took its toll on my studies. After the competition I booked an appointment with my supervisor with a view to making a solid go of my final studies. It is clear to me now just how insightful Professor MacLaren was, with a single phrase he was able to coerce and motivate me into action, ‘I was going to suggest you write up an MPhil’. Nothing more needed to be said!
The Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences was in its infancy when I first started my PhD (as a part-time student it took me a long time to graduate – not for what I would consider the normal student issues but because I was indulging my rowing passion further by working for GB Rowing as a coach educator). The department provided me with mentors who were not only equipped with expertise and knowledge but also the interpersonal skills to extract the most from their students. However, what I remember most were the other postgraduates. These were the people who acted as your subjects at the drop of a hat, provided inspiration when the going got tough and acted as sounding boards for ideas that would have otherwise led to hours of fruitless work. In 1999 I had the stupid idea of trying to break the 24-hour world ergometer record. I would turn up at 5am to train in the Henry Cotton Campus labs and work afterwards. The students, some of which are still at LJMU (Professor Close) thought I was a little bit ‘unhinged’; but who stayed up all night with me ensuring that I ate and drank enough (Ben Edwards) and that I did not get cramp (Chris Bussell)? My teaching philosophy of ‘evidence based practitioner’ prepared me for the attempt but it was my friends and colleagues who helped me get the record.
It is clear that the environment was a positive one as most of those that I remember have gone on to have fulfilling and worthwhile careers. It is a testament to the bonds that were created that many of the friendships made during this time have gone on to be forged into successful collaborative partnerships; and the mentors/supervisors are now friends and colleagues.
My role as a lecturer has changed subtly throughout my career. I now need to stimulate and entertain as much as to educate but whenever I struggle I remember some of my lecturers; Professor MacLaren who kept me enthralled for two hours using four acetate slides and a wealth of knowledge on nutrition and Professor Cable who, sad as it may by, made me forget what time it was during his Friday lectures. These are the people that taught me and I now try to emulate and I have no doubt that RISES will continue to train, educate and inform for a considerable time into the future.
Photo: Tim's graduation (top), competing in the 2002 Commonwealth Games (bottom)
Peter Jones (2006)
I joined RISES and a family of about 40 or so postgrads reading for a PhD in Autumn 1997 and as I was studying with some of my peers and others who had taught me as an undergraduate at LJMU it was like joining an extended family. My research investigated the impact of exercise and drugs to treat cardiovascular disease on blood coagulation, fibrinolysis (clot breakdown) and rheology and was supervised by Professor Mahmoud El-Sayed and the late, great Professor Tom Reilly. My research work was carried out in conjunction with the Cardiothoracic Centre, and some of the work I carried out was with patients who had refractory angina. Cardiovascular therapeutic drugs often have mechanisms of action that impair or opposed the beneficial effect of exercise and interfere with the delicate dynamic balance of blood rheology and fibrinolysis.
After studying the breadth of an undergraduate sport science degree learning the biochemistry of fibrinolysis was a little like learning a different language. Although Don Maclaren had done a wonderful job teaching me sports biochemistry and nutrition during my undergraduate degree this was a step change. I really enjoyed the intense testing time spend in the laboratories working with fellow postgrad Craig Sale. I effectively spent two years taking blood out of people arms, and despite my phlebotomy technique getting a lot better overtime I always had occasional subjects faint. I’m sure it was the overnight fast, or exercise induced hypoglycaemia rather than my technique! Although fainters always followed the same pattern; the sudden arresting of conversation, the thousand-mile stare, the pasty complexion just as the needle was about to go in or come out!
Postgraduate study at RISES taught me knowledge and skills that were invaluable as my career developed working in academia but It wasn’t just academic knowledge I got from my PhD at RISES but the ability to think outside the box, plan, work to deadlines, deal with disasters and work with others. Once you have completed a PhD you increase your resilience and most other things in life are relatively stress free.
For me studying in RISES at LJMU was an incredible time and place to be a PhD student. The City had started to change with the impact of £990million of European funding. The transition in RISES from being a very, very good research institute to being world class coincided with the years I was there. Physically RISES moved from being based in the somewhat antiquated equipped Mountford Building to the bespoke labs of the Henry Cotton campus – I note this has subsequently gone on another level now with the world-leading facilities of the Tom Reilly building. But it wasn’t just about facilities, there was clear leadership and direction of RISES and a great postgraduate community, who have subsequently gone on to be world experts in their own fields. There was an aspiration to be highly successful but in a supportive environment.
My career subsequently developed in leadership positions in several universities (Hertfordshire, Derby, Northampton) and I am currently Dean of Staffordshire Business School. Because of the influence of RISES building a research culture in my teams was always a priority and from my time at LJMU I learnt what a successful team could look like, the importance of innovation and horizon scanning and how you can create a high performance culture that is collegiate. I also realised the importance of social capital as I met and studied with people who I have stayed friends with since then. And wherever in the world I meet people who studies at RISES we have a commonality, we are kindred spirits, sharing RISES DNA.
You also couldn’t fail to be inspired surrounded by experts and with international gurus passing through the RISES doors such as George Brooks, Asker Jeukendrup and Tim Noakes. The benefits of developing research and using it to inform teaching, applied work and income has subsequently stayed with me.
I have a lot of happy memories of the time as a PhD students. Not just the rollercoaster of completing a PhD, but friendships made, using my £6,500 stipend to buy my first house with my future wife, competing in the Wednesday afternoon cross country league, the weekly “prescription” in Dr Duncan’s with Mark Lake, Tim Cable et al. And also the various other things I got involved in, probably when I should have been writing my literature review, such as co organising with Neil Chester the trips to Hollymount International Road Races, the annual pub run (also with Neil Chester!) and co-hosting two hilarious Sport Science award ceremonies with Andy Grant.
I also have a vivid memory of soon after starting my PhD of sitting on the old brown sofa in PhD room in the basement the Mountford Building and having my head buried in some horrendously complex biochemistry journal papers. One of the senior fellow PhD students popped his head around the door and observing me advised me to slow down. He told me I should take the first year easy and not read so much! Whatever came of Barry Drust I wonder?!
Photo: Peter Jones giving a speech
Gabor Barton (2007)
Professor of Clinical Biomechanics, Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University
I stumbled on the area of artificial neural networks as a Hungarian medical student doing a summer placement in Rotterdam’s Erasmus University where I was fortunate enough to get involved with the CAMARC-II project (Computer Aided Movement Analysis in a Rehabilitation Context) under the directions of Dr Wim Grunefeld back in 1993. I started applying this exciting method in my first job at LJMU as a Research Associate but the real opportunity to address a genuine clinical problem emerged when I jumped ship to run the Gait Laboratory of AHH in 1996. Running the gait lab in Europe’s largest children’s hospital within the NHS was a fantastic opportunity and I still enjoy the advantages that reverberate ever since, but the focus of my work there had to be more on reducing waiting times than on research. One of my main reasons to return to LJMU in 2001 was to do my PhD at RISES.
As a part time PhD student (funded by a RISES staff bursary), through my studies I aimed to develop and evaluate an artificial neural network based tool to support decision making in clinical gait analysis. I listened to eminent keynote speakers talking about the importance of objective and accurate decision making on the basis of complex biomechanical data and how non-linear and multi-variate methods, like artificial neural networks, had great potential in this important application. Everything I heard and read strengthened my drive to make progress. Interestingly, although a lot has been achieved but the problem is still out there and waiting to be solved in a way that can help patients on a large scale. Along the way I have learnt methods which I use even today, encountered interesting thoughts coming from interesting people which formed my thinking, and also learned that not everything can be solved.
At RISES I received everything I could dream of. Excellent supervisors who also acted as my mentors, a research culture which valued my efforts and provided space for development. Here I write about Professor Adrian Lees as my PhD director of studies but he was a lot more than that. He had the vision to bring a young, freshly graduated medical doctor from Eastern Europe to Liverpool and take me under his wings. He was always open to my new ideas and he was flexible to take on board my unconventional approach to problems. He also left enough slack for me to solve problems myself, even though it would have been quicker for him to solve the problems for me. His style helped me to stand on my own feet and learn not always to run for help with my problems. Of course it was good to know that he was there when I did need help, and his door was always open. Authors of textbooks and papers sometimes emerge to iconic levels and it is a privilege to meet such authors and then work under their guidance. I have experienced this with Professor Paulo Lisboa. For a while I had been following his excellent work with neural networks from a distance and when he moved to LJMU it became logistically possible to enjoy his direction as my second supervisor. I will never forget how he could start an explanation in a way that would have been crystal clear even for a layperson, and then gradually diving in the depth of multidimensional spaces and Matlab code which is impenetrable for most even today. With Paulo I have learnt that it is good to get lost in a problem because that makes it even more rewarding when the problem is eventually solved. A great advantage of getting “institutionalised” at RISES after my PhD was that I could seamlessly continue to collaborate with my supervisors. I have widened my research scope quite a lot since my PhD graduation in 2007 but I have often returned to the early ideas and in fact some of my most interesting papers still use artificial neural networks. Most of my PhD students also use artificial neural networks and so my supervisors’ efforts have secondary effects on the next generation too.
Starting a PhD at RISES was a critical moment because it provided the foundation for everything else I have achieved professionally since then. We say that a PhD is merely a licence to do research but in fact this license opens doors and gives us confidence to share thoughts with like-minded researchers. In my case this was true both within RISES where it has been a privilege to simply knock on colleagues’ doors and all of a sudden talking to an international authority of their specialist area, and also on an international level mixing with the best. Straight after getting my degree I switched to supervise my first PhD student and I quickly had to get used to the role reversal. Soon I became a reader and I noticed that gradually others came to me for advice, not the other way round. This is amplified even more since my recent promotion to professorship and now I am giving back to my PhD students all the treasures that I received. The RISES spiral continues.
Photo: Gabor Barton at his graduation ceremony
David Priestley (2008)
My PhD was about people. The human condition, or more specifically, the life of professional sportsmen and how to support it. I interviewed professional sportsmen from across the north of England about what affected them most, and they kept saying that their life was a mess. Obviously I was hoping for more (fashionable and attractive) performance based responses that would interest coaches and NGB’s more, but the reality is that they kept talking about their lives, in and out of sport. I then took these findings to focus groups within the clubs themselves, with the audience being coaches and senior management of that club. The results shocked one club, who disregarded the findings and essentially ended up arguing with me, and themselves about the relevance of the data never mind any implications. The other club found it, and my interest, fascinating, and was keen to see how they could help their people. I then immersed myself in an ethnographic research project in which I (literally) lived with those same two clubs and their players for an entire season and wrote a diary of my daily interactions and observations – which was entitled “first at breakfast, last at the bar”. That almost killed me, as it meant long days and nights, and extensive travel for over six months (on top of a full-time job). I combined all the interviews, focus groups and ethnography together and drew out some practical implications for how sports (clubs and national governing bodies) can better manage and develop their people – within the current landscape of support that existed at that time, and how research could expand its knowledge of helping people with their (real) life in professional sport. In the end, the research was about how to help people with their life in and out sport, and that meant it was expansive, complicated, muddy and quite overwhelming for most people who seemed interested in it.
I was fortunate that before I came to uni I had two teachers who shaped my life – you know the ones, those special people you meet and never forget. I then met a couple more lecturers and supervisors in RISES who essentially shaped and nurtured my (not their) entire thinking at that time (and for about 10 years). Many lectures at RISES provided generic skill and guidance that related to technical matters to fulfil an academic requirement – and at times I needed that like any student does. And look without that, I wouldn't have progressed so it’s obviously a prerequisite, but alone, that wasn't it, nor is it worth spending too much time on. Mostly it was the time spent with those special few, listening, sharing, debating, arguing, and connecting on a level you rarely do with most people, never mind someone at Uni or in a professional setting. I am a parent now, and can see why they say that the greatest gift you can give your children is time. I look back on the time I was given, with fondness. That time always felt like it was for me – which is a unique skill those people had, and isn’t always the case in professional life.
I was encouraged to let my critical thinking go wild, and to structure thoughts and arguments (firstly), but also do it alongside some critical texts and authors I never knew existed, or usually existed outside the spheres my profession were telling me to look at. But crucially, I also wasn't discouraged from trying to be bold, in applied settings to fit (or restrict myself to) an a academic need, and those settings were challenging to work in – and yet those special few were honest enough to admit that they didn't know the answers sometimes either. That made me gravitate to them more, especially when they were brave enough to reveal themselves and their own struggles (at the right times and not at the wrong times), which only encouraged me to reveal mine. 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. I was fortunate to receive a grounding that was theoretically sound and broad, and yet personally fulfilling. I could even say, I felt the few special ones cared about me, which couldn't have been easy when they had so many demands. Ultimately, I even sense they were at times under pressures themselves, but they managed to hold the pressures they were under, and not let them affect my own. Only now, can I appreciate how skilful and beneficial that was.
At LJMU and within RISES itself, I met my closest friends, the two godparents to my children, and my wife. Connections like that last a lifetime and enrich my life daily. Connections I find myself still turning to in times of need, to share good news, or just to say hello. I am thankful for the people who made RISES what it was to me then, and remains to me now, because it was the people, I will always remember – and I can always have those memories with me.
Photo: David's wife (top) and his dad (bottom)
Claire Stapleton (2009)
Story to follow
Les Parry (2010)
My career in professional football started in 1990 when I became physiotherapist at Tranmere Rovers in the English Championship. During the next twenty years it became evident to me that time out injured impacted differently on the various components of physical fitness. I saw my job as returning injured players back to training as quickly and as close to ‘match-fitness’ as possible. This normally meant a conservative approach early in the injury-return cycle then an intense pre-return period aimed at reversing the detraining effects of the early feet-up phase. I began to think, what if we could safely reduce the severity of those negative effects of the detraining period? If we could reduce the level of ‘match-fitness” lost during that early period we could potentially reduce the number of days unable to train, reduce the incidence of re-injury and maximise the squad size that the manager has to select his starting 11 from each week. I needed to explore this more, I needed to systematically investigate the effects of injury on ‘real’ footballers with ‘real’ injuries. It was decided, I was going to get off my backside and do something about it. I was going to do it properly, I was going to make sure that my work was professionally carried out by utilising the rigours of higher level academic research, I was going to study for a PhD.
My university of choice was quite easy, not because of geography, most work was distance, self-driven learning anyway. I chose LJMU because I like to be associated with the best and for any study involving football, there was little doubt which was the best and that was RISES within LJMU. For the following seven years I explored which components of fitness were significantly affected by different levels of inactivity for different periods of time, with different injuries. The findings from these investigations led to looking into how these negative adaptations impacted on physical performance. Finally, I explored possible training methods to reduce these negative impacts. My PhD thesis was entitled “The epidemiology of injuries in elite soccer and the impact of injury-induced detraining on physiological performance”. Seven years was a long time but for me it was real research. I was using real players in real situations so the time needed to collect data from sufficient injuries ranging from one week to nine months was the length of time I was willing to commit.
Like most PhD students, there was a period in the middle of my studies when I wished I hadn’t started it but had gone too far down the road to throw it all away. It was difficult and it was taking all of my free time as I was working seven days per week so the study time of necessity could only be at 4am to 7am each morning. This period of my study made me realise how important the support of my supervisors was, especially my Director of Studies, Barry Drust. Without his drive and constant availability, together with the support of the world-leading RISES department, I’m sure the seven years would have extended into double figures! This seven years of study culminated in a stage of my life that made me realise my true potential. It was at the point that I was writing up my thesis. By that time I had gone on to become caretaker manager at Tranmere and, being only caretaker, was still fulfilling the role of physiotherapist. Imagine it, picking the team, taking training, treating and rehabilitating injured players, managing on match days, strappings, massages, team talks, set plays, making match decisions, running onto the pitch, post match analysing matches, watching matches most nights to scout opposition and looking for new players, all at the same time as writing up my PhD!!! It sounds impossible and without the support of the University and my supervisory encouragement it would have been.
To bring this up to date, I was sacked by Tranmere after being in charge for over two and a half years. To that point in my career the advantage of me having a PhD had been limited to its impact on my self belief and my understanding of how far I was able to push myself. The ‘Dr’ title has never been seen as an important prerequisite to a career as a football manager, some may suggest it may be a hindrance! However, in other fields within professional football it is a definite advantage and mine was to prove beneficial to me. No longer had I left Tranmere Rovers and Manchester United came knocking. They saw my football experience coupled with my academic qualifications as a real attraction and it wasn’t long before I was plying my trade as Elite Player Development Manager in the academy at the Carrington Training Ground. That was five years ago and my career has gone from strength to strength. It took some adjustment moving from the field of adult professional football to the more structured world of developing the next Manchester United first team player, but I was prepared, I had the skills to adjust. I had been through a period of my working life that had been so demanding that I knew anything else that followed would be achievable.
I now look back with pride at my academic achievements. Due to circumstances my post-PhD path took a different direction than was planned but, in the end, it led me to a better place than I had hoped. I am a driven person, but even the most driven can’t do it on their own. My best decision was the selection of the university at which to study. I was lucky, I hit the jackpot when selecting LJMU. Nowhere else in the country could have given me the level of support I enjoyed at RISES. Nowhere else could have given me the level of expertise I was able to draw on, or the laboratory facilities I was able to take advantage of. This choice had nothing to do with geography, it had everything to do with me wanting the best for myself.
Chloe Taylor (2011)
Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science, Western Sydney University, Australia
I joined Liverpool John Moores University as a shy but motivated 18-year old, uncertain of where I wanted to go in life. I left LJMU confident and inspired, with a strong research foundation, and excitement for the experiences that lay ahead of me. When I started my undergraduate course in Sport and Exercise Science, I knew that I liked sport and that I liked science, but it did not occur to me that I would leave LJMU with a PhD under my belt. However, I quickly fell in love with physiology and was fascinated when I heard about the human body clock. This spurred me on to do my major project on the effects of time of day on post-exercise hypotension (it’s greater in the afternoon, by the way), supervised by Greg Atkinson and Helen Jones. I consider the decision to knock on Greg’s office door one of the best and most important decisions I’ve ever made. It set me up for everything else to come.
My PhD thesis was titled ‘Sources of variation in human blood pressure control’. Admittedly, a broad title written towards the end of my PhD when I realized I needed to fit all this work under one heading! Whilst the chapters of my PhD were fairly diverse, (combining the effects of exercise, posture, and circadian rhythms on blood pressure), the process itself represented a consistent journey towards research independence. In the initial chapters I examined issues of ‘regression-to-the-mean’ in the context of post-exercise hypotension studies, a topic I was guided through with great skill (thanks, Greg!). I moved on to work with staff at the Liverpool Sleep Clinic, where I assessed ambulatory blood pressure and physical activity in patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. This provided me with the opportunity to build confidence liaising with clinical staff and patients, and learn about managing a research project from start to finish. Half way through my PhD my supervisors provided me with the opportunity to travel to New Zealand for two months to work with a colleague of theirs, Shieak Tzeng, at the University of Otago, Wellington. I consider this to be a real turning point for me and my career so far. It was the first time I had travelled overseas on my own and the first time I had been outside of Europe, so I was nervous and not sure what to expect. I was thrown in at the deep end, designing studies and collecting data. There were so many new things for me to learn, from analyzing data in LabVIEW to using the transcranial Doppler. We spent long days recording baroreflex responses (important mechanism of blood pressure control) in our volunteers.
For me, I think the light bulb moment was observing in real time how rapidly the human body responds when it experiences a fall or rise in blood pressure. I have enjoyed studying the baroreflex ever since. By the end of my visit I had collected data for a number of studies that I felt I could take real ownership of, ultimately leading to several publications and strengthening the relationship between RISES and the University of Otago. I learned about the importance of collaboration and partnerships, and developed connections that are still very much alive today.
Armed with a series of publications, experience in a number of research labs and some extremely useful connections, my PhD program gave me a strong start to my research career. But 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. I will always admire Tim Cable for his ability to bring together such an epic group of people and for fostering such a positive and supportive culture. I believe the team spirit and strong bonds between academics, professional staff and postgrads were second to none. It was a fun place to be and I always felt very lucky to be a part of it.
With my PhD supervisors Greg Atkinson, Helen Jones and Tim Cable, I had an enviable supervisory super-team, possessing the perfect mix of skills, knowledge and humour. Even those outside of my direct supervisory team would go out of their way to help. Danny Green and Keith George were always so generous with their time. 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.
My experience as a RISES postgrad is something I look back on with a big smile and a fair bit of nostalgia. There was a real sense of unity in our postgrad room, and a culture built on supporting one another. My time with my fellow postgrads taught me the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people and the value that comes with a diverse set of skills and interests. Being in their company is one of the things I miss most.
RISES gave me the opportunity to learn, travel, and grow, both professionally and personally. Thanks to the strong start that RISES gave me, I was offered a lecturing position at Western Sydney University in Australia where I am now a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science. I take many of the lessons I learned during my time at RISES and apply them to my work in Sydney. In particular, I try to emulate the generosity and commitment of my PhD supervisors, with the aim of providing my students with equally amazing opportunities. I’m not sure whether the magic of RISES could ever be replicated elsewhere but I certainly aspire to do so.
RISES and LJMU will always be special to me.
As I’ve sung many times before, I’m John Moores ‘til I die.
Photo: Chloe at graduation with supervisors Helen Jones and Greg Atkinson
Jonathan Bartlett (2012)
My PhD titled “Exercise-induced cell signalling responses of human skeletal muscle: the effects of reduced carbohydrate availability”, had two key directions. Firstly, it centred on understanding what the molecular signals are that drive skeletal muscle adaptations following a single bout of exercise. This study found that exercise activates a number of signals in the muscle that initiates a process of training adaptation that permits a higher intensity and/or longer duration of the subsequent training session. The most novel and successful part of this study was that it was the first study in humans to report exercise increases a molecular protein called p53, which was classically regarded as a tumour suppressor. This finding opened up a new avenue of research in exercise molecular biology, and has since seen that publication cited 122 times since 2012.
The second aspect of my PhD examined how manipulation of carbohydrate (i.e., the restriction of) may alter the molecular signals deemed responsible for training adaptation. I had two groups of participants; one was fed normal amounts of carbohydrate and performed a single bout of high-intensity exercise. The other group performed a similar bout of exercise but following a prior energy depleting exercise bout (the night before) and restriction of carbohydrate through the night, during the subsequent morning exercise session and following exercise. The study found that the signals within the muscle that are responsible for adapting to the single exercise session were increased more so in the carbohydrate restricted group compared to the carbohydrate fed group. These findings, combined with previous literature, contributed to a new thought on how training and nutrition should be prescribed alongside one another and not as isolated parameters.
My PhD was particularly suited to my needs due to the passion and interest I had in both training and nutrition. Luckily for me, RISES had the perfect mentors who had similar interests as I and therefore, together we were able to design the most appropriate PhD for me and one that also contributed heavily to the literature. In addition to my PhD programme, RISES also presented with a number of research and applied industry opportunities. For example, I was involved in multiple research projects that taught valuable lessons in being able to work on multiple projects simultaneously. This work complemented my own PhD and publications (I finished at RISES with five first author manuscripts), resulting in being a co-author on an additional 4-5 manuscripts. As I wanted to continue in a research role after my PhD, this was really important for future job prospects.
From an industry perspective, RISES have a number of great staff with strong industry links. This was really important for my professional development as I wanted to work in professional sport but with a research component. During the course of my PhD, I spent 18 months at Liverpool FC providing sport science support to their elite development players. Thereafter, I was afforded the opportunity to work with the England National Soccer teams, travelling across Europe, providing hands on sport science support at European Qualifying events, European Championships and an U20 FIFA World Cup. This well-rounded experience was integral to where I am now in Australia, where I lead my own research group and sport science department in a professional Australian Rules Football Club.
The staff at RISES simply don’t see you as just a part of their job – they have genuine interest and personal care for you. Although I am not employed anymore by RISES, I continue to work and collaborate with members of staff at RISES, due to the personal relationships built up during my PhD. Importantly, however, my mentors have become close friends, whom I regularly speak to, lean on for both personal and professional advice and enjoy spending a beer with at conferences around the world! In addition to staff, a number of the past students are now what I would call my best mates. They become the life and soul of your PhD when spending all day, every day with them in the office and labs, and for that reason makes the PhD experience very enjoyable.
Notwithstanding, the daily interaction within and relationships that I built at RISES has held me in good stead in my most recent jobs in Australia. They drive, challenge, motivate, empower you to become independent in order to be successful anywhere. Indeed, it is these ‘soft skills’ that are just as important as the research skills (i.e., study design, data collection, analysis, write up, and publishing) during a PhD programme.
Photo: Jonathan Bartlett cycling
George Wilson (2013)
In 2009 I embarked upon research into looking at the effects of weight-making on the physical and mental health of jockeys. Given that jockeys have a constant battle with the scales and commonly employ deleterious practices to make weight daily (notably heavy sweating and starving), I really wanted to find out how such practices impacted upon health. In addition, how could I develop ways to counteract this, change behaviour, and thereby get jockeys to make weight using healthier, objectively devised methods, as oppose to culturally-derived ones. Being a former professional jump jockey (race-riding over fences) from 1985-86 and who had to quit due to losing the battle with the scales, I had a huge personal interest in this having undertaken extreme measures to make weight (lost a stone in five days on one occasion) when race riding.
As there was very little peer-reviewed research into this, and virtually none in GB, when looking for subjects for this work, I found myself inundated with jockey volunteers from apprentices starting out to senior figures and household names, both on the flat and over the jumps. Unfortunately, the authorities who controlled British horseracing at the time where very reluctant, even antagonistic toward cooperating with my work from the outset. However, given I had the ‘shop floor’ so to speak on side which resulted in four studies, and five publications, including identifying the issues and successfully implementing healthier alternatives, this actually led to the authorities to getting on-board with the work that was to follow my successful PhD. As a result, it is largely viewed that LJMU jockey research team which resulted from my PhD, is the lead team on jockey health, fitness, and weigh-making globally, and via sponsorships from both home and abroad (totaling nearly £400K), this work is as vibrant as it was in 2009 with big in-roads into changing weight-making culture for jockeys around the world.
The whole PhD process for me over the four and a half years that it took was a thoroughly wonderful experience. My supervisors were second-to-none and offered constant guidance and positive critiquing of my work, plus reviewing my publications and assisting with having these studies to the high quality required for publication. In addition they were very helpful in acquiring students to assist in my data collection when jockeys were visiting – without this it would not have been possible to have conducted a number of these studies. The way I have developed professionally with my research techniques (e.g., lab work), academic writing, and professional presentation of my findings (to name three key aspects), have flourished under the guidance of my supervisory team. As a result of a successful PhD, I have gone on to do four years to date of postdoctoral research continuing the ‘jockey’ work and it is all down to the support, enthusiasm and belief from RISES, making me feel a valued and important contributor to the ‘team’.
The most important aspect of the relationship with my supervisors was the way they understood me as a mature student returning to education after a substantial break, and treated me with respect and made me feel comfortable at all times.
Career-wise my PhD and post-doc work has seen me presenting across the globe, with visits to Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, Poland and Rome. It has opened up huge opportunities and allowed me to forge collaborations around the world with both academics and stakeholders in horse racing. In this regard, I know that am very fortunate and thank LJMU, my supervisors, colleagues and RISES in allowing me to do this.
Photo: George Wilson tests jockey AP McCoy
Daniel Parnell (2014)
Senior Lecturer in Business Management, Manchester Metropolitan University
My PhD was primarily about managing behaviour change, in individuals, communities and organisations. Working with the award winning charity and community arm of Everton Football Club, Everton in the Community (EitC), my remit was to understand the effectiveness of their community programmes in delivering positive behaviour change in local Liverpool schoolchildren.
The study was undertaken through the methodological process of collaborative action research between RISES and EitC. Our primary focus was to understand the effectiveness of community programmes delivered by EitC by focusing on behaviour change in the children, whilst developing collaborative ideas to enhance practice across the charity.
The initial study (or reconnaissance phase) shed light on the need for a number of performance management changes. These changes focused on operational and strategic changes within EitC, in order to enhance the effectiveness of their community work within Liverpool primary schools. This resultant shift from exploring the behaviour of children, to the strategic and operational behaviour of EitC subsequently formed my PhD, future scholarship and academic career.
The PhD formed the foundations for further extension research and collaboration with the Football Foundation (UK’s largest sports charity), the English Premier League, the English Football League, and all 72 football clubs, the International Olympic Committee and a number of International Governments, resulting in experience evaluating the effectiveness of projects funded in excess of £15 million.
Higher education is a curious case to reflect upon and consider. In this respect, you only know the institutes you have worked within or experienced. I went to LJMU as an undergraduate and then straight into my PhD with little knowledge of other academic institutes or activities. Since then, I have held senior positions in four universities, and it is clear that RISES offered, supported and delivered an exceptional PhD programme. The provision and collegiate spirit was personal, developmental, challenging and international. The staff were forthcoming with challenges and care, for myself, and others to deliver towards the best international conferences, to work towards the meaningful socially impactful research and to share our research across a range of potential outputs.
We were well-prepared for such endeavours and debate, through the development of a genuine and inclusive PhD research culture for staff and students. These are fond memories of attending the major global sport management and sport science conferences every year, staff and students, a significant collective. These academic pursuits were the grounds for further scholarship, academic networking, social friendships, but also a place to be proud of the research undertaken by RISES as we levelled our work with others and added to the rich and continued history of the institute.
One of the key strengths of RISES is the collectiveness associated within the PhD students and staff. There was a shared understanding, purpose and intent across the group to deliver academic success alongside the development of a caring, supportive and social environment. Completing a PhD is a personal journey that varies for everyone. There are so many uncontrollable factors that can influence research, whether it is professional contexts or unexpected external factors or personal circumstance changes. One thing that is ‘controllable’ is the people and the support provided by the staff and students within RISES.
It would be difficult to share the countless personal reflections of my own, or others I have been fortunate to have played a part in. When you are in the programme you are part of the fabric, the support is the norm, the collectiveness is real and the feeling is special. When you leave, you realise that there may not be anything better.
Photo: Daniel Parnell speaking at conference
Daniel Owens (2015)
In May 2012 I embarked on an exciting PhD programme supervised by Prof Graeme Close and Dr James Morton, with the objective to investigate the roles of vitamin D in muscle function and regeneration. Having worked with Graeme during my undergraduate research project, I was keen to undertake my doctoral research in his team. Together, we developed a project that incorporated physiological studies as well as cell and molecular biology investigations with the help of Prof Claire Stewart and Dr Adam Sharples, which would turn out to heavily impact my future career and research interests. The main findings from our project made an important contribution to sport science and nutrition research by identifying a role for vitamin D in the recovery of muscle function following muscle damaging exercise. The project, although at times tough and on a limited budget, was a great success. In addition to publishing all of the studies from my PhD in International journals, I was fortunate enough to represent RISES by presenting my PhD data in the UK and abroad at sport science congresses. The highlight of my PhD journey was to win a Young Investigator Award at the European College of Sports Science (ECSS) congress in Malmo, Sweden (2015). I was extremely proud to win this award in front of my colleagues and mentors who had supported me so much during the three years of data collection leading to that moment. As part of this award, the ECSS gave me the opportunity to travel to Wakayama, Japan in September (2015) to represent the college at the Japanese Society of Physical Fitness and Sports Medicine annual congress. This opportunity was a fantastic experience where I made some close friends and a rare chance to visit what has become one of my favourite countries.
The team at RISES had a huge impact on my professional development and career. Firstly, the support from my mentors gave me the confidence to progress onto a post-doctoral research post in Paris, France at the Institut de Myologie, a world leading research institute for muscle diseases. The exposure to molecular and cellular biology at RISES equipped me with the tools to be successful in a highly competitive laboratory abroad. I owe a great deal to the staff at RISES for this opportunity. In addition, Prof Close and Dr Morton have always been an inspiration to me as researchers that balance science and applied practice. I have tried to emulate this in my professional career and it was the opportunities first afforded to me by Prof Close and Dr Morton that allowed me to begin that journey. During my PhD I was able to balance laboratory research with nutritional consultancy at the Rugby Football Union and England Rugby age grade teams, both experiences that gave me a different perspective of how we can use applied practice to inform our laboratory research. I’ve maintained this theme in my career by gaining entry onto the Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register and continuing to provide nutritional support to elite sports organisations, whilst maintaining an active research profile. Without the opportunities that RISES presented to me during my PhD, I could not imagine being able to do what I do. It is a unique place that allows young scientists to grow in a way that compliments their talents.
Undertaking a PhD programme challenges you personally in many ways. As a ‘creator of information’ it’s necessary to be innovative, constantly engaged, highly organised and maintain a solid work ethic. This can sometimes obscure the idea of a normal work-life balance and is very tough to deal with. In this respect, the staff and students of RISES were a major support to me. There is a great social environment in the institute between students and staff, who are always there to remind you that you need to have a beer and switch off for a bit! Having worked in other research institutes, I cannot say that this is the same in all labs and so I appreciate that aspect of RISES even more now upon reflection. I also believe that the staff at RISES set a remarkable example to students. I personally feel that observing the manner in which my mentors worked and engaged with the public and the elite sporting world whilst remaining humble taught me soft skills that I am extremely grateful to have. The culture within RISES is special and does not exist by chance. The institute attracts exceptional people from the technicians and students, to the professors and director. It is a great privilege to have been educated and to have contributed to the success of the institute, which continues to breed sport scientists of a different calibre.
Photo: Daniel Owens at graduation with Prof Graeme Close and Dr Adam Sharples
Makoto Uji (2016)
I was awarded my PhD in the Brain and Behaviour Research Group at Liverpool John Moores University in 2016. My PhD thesis, “Practice conditions leading to the acquisition of perceptual-cognitive-motor processing”, supervised by Professor Simon Bennett, Dr Paul Ford and Dr Spencer Hayes, investigated the acquisition and transfer of perceptual-cognitive-motor processing underlying dynamic and complex performance in a novel computer-based task. Interacting within our surrounds requires the individual to perceive and identify relevant from irrelevant information, in order to plan, select and execute appropriate actions. In doing so, it is necessary to take account of inherent variability in sensory and motor systems, as well as the external environment. Therefore, my thesis aimed to better understand how the human brain integrates perceptual, cognitive, and motor information to produce and control successful movements during skill acquisition. Particularly, I used experimental approaches to examine how eye movement and cognitive decision making and strategies were changed as performance became better during the computer-based task.
During my PhD programme, with a lot of support and help from my supervisors, I have become competent with programming Matlab to create visual stimuli for the computer-based tasks, and EyeLink1000 to measure eye movement during the task. I have also used Matlab for the offline data analysis. Additionally, I have been fortunate to present key findings from my PhD studies for oral presentations at international conferences such as ECSS, and publish some papers. Furthermore, in order to develop my knowledge, I was also encouraged to attend a summer school entitled “Perceptual organization: Interdisciplinary approaches and research skills” at KU Leuven, Belgium. The event was organised by Professor Johan Wagemans and was intended for PhD students and postdocs working in vision, who were interested in deepening their knowledge of perceptual organization and broadening their research skills. I was one of forty people selected to attend the summer school, where lectures were given by internationally-renowned speakers in the area of phenomenology, experimental psychology, psychophysics, computational modelling, neuropsychology, neurophysiology, and neuroimaging. These skills and experiences I gained at LJMU during my PhD programme developed me further as a researcher and provided me with an incomparable opportunity to advance my knowledge and skills leading to recent work as a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham for a project examining the spatiotemporal dynamics of human brain function using neuroimaging techniques. The aforementioned support and help by supervisors at LJMU enabled me to pursue my interest as a researcher, such that I have been gaining knowledge of how non-invasive neuroimaging can be applied to study human brain function, and have personally become deeply interested in using neuroimaging techniques to understand the spatiotemporal dynamics of neural network function.
RISES was very well organized and provided a great opportunity to interact with many other PhD students and researchers during the time of work and socialising. It was my pleasure and enjoyment to listen and talk to other PhD students about my research and other areas in the PhD office, laboratories, and pubs after work. I valued this time to consolidate my knowledge. Furthermore, RISES has a lot of international students and researchers, and this provided me with a valuable opportunity to communicate and work with people from different backgrounds. I believe that this helped me a lot to become more adaptable and flexible working with different people in different environments. Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience and provided me with a unique opportunity to advance my professional and personal skills for my development.
Niels Nedergaard (2017)
Postdoctoral fellow at KU Leuven, Belgium
Recent developments in wearable sensor technologies (GPS and accelerometers devices) have allowed sports scientist to objectively monitor training load in professional team sports on a daily basis. As a biomechanist, I did however quickly discover that the current research and application in applied team sports settings primarily focusses on the physiological load demands, whereas the biomechanical load still remains largely unexplored. While the former refers to the work-energy relationship when the players move around the pitch, the latter refers to the external forces the players are exposed to from their movements around the pitch. In other words, if the body were considered as a car, applied sports scientist traditionally monitors the player’s fuel consumption. Keeping the car analogy, the athlete’s soft tissues (bones, cartilage, tendons and ligaments) work as shock absorbers for the external forces that players are exposed to. These shock absorbers undergo considerable stresses over time and just as a high physiological load leads to an empty fuel tank, a high biomechanical load leads to wear and tear of the shock absorbers which over time and with insufficient recovery can lead to undesirable damage of the soft tissues (overuse injuries). The overall aim of my PhD project was therefore to explore the accuracy, of a single sensor device mounted on the player’s upper trunk, to estimate the whole-body biomechanical load team sports players are exposed to during running locomotion. Based on the outcome from an initial validation study of the wearable sensors ability to measure whole-body biomechanical loading, we introduced a novel biomechanical/mathematical approach that has the potential to better monitor whole-body biomechanical load due to player-ground interaction in field environments, a necessity if applied sports scientist and researchers wish to predict the consequent musculoskeletal structural adaptations of training sessions and match-play.
It is a cliché that the departmental research environment and the PhD supervisors of your three-year PhD rollercoaster ride largely influence the researcher you become, but it is undoubtable a cliché that every former PhD student, including me, can relate to. Having graduated with a PhD in sports biomechanics from a world leading research institute with state of the art biomechanical facilities, is something I only dreamed of when I started my sports science career back in Denmark in 2007, but will hopefully serve as the perfect stepping-stone in my pursuit of a career within academia. Working alongside the likes of Dr Jos Vanrenterghem, Dr Mark Robinson, Prof Paulo Lisboa and Prof Barry Drust, whom formed my multidisciplinary supervisor team, and observe their approach to research has undoubtedly built the foundation of my research DNA. In fact, working on a multidisciplinary research project and experiencing how particularly, my biomechanical supervisors Jos and Mark work as a team has made me realize that research is not a one-man job. Similarly, RISES aspiration to conduct applied research, which at times can be a challenge in biomechanics because we tend to get “lost” behind our computers, is something I will try to translate to the best of my capabilities in my future career.
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. Furthermore, I am proud to have been part of the RISES family and followed the footsteps of the likes of Prof Tom Reilly, Prof Adrian Lees, and Prof Tim Cable just to name a few. Beyond the unlimited source of inspiration, working alongside talented researchers and students have not only made me aware of my limitations as a researchers but also an experience which has boosted my self-confidence! Though I have to admit, that the firsthand experience of the hard work and dedication it takes to conduct quality research has made me wonder whether the world of academia is the right place for me, but that might just be the post PhD completion, over analyzing, critical thinking mind of mine constantly questioning every single decision I make. I do, however find comfort in the fact that it is not the never-ending publication race or the prestige of landing big grants that gets me out of bed every morning, but rather the joy of working with sports and the impact I hopefully have on the people and students I work with.
Photo: Niels Nedergaard at graduation with supervisor Mark Robinson