PhD life – A career in research, a gateway into the applied world, or both? Niall Kelly

Before completing my MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology in Belfast, it was my intention to spend 12 rigorous months applying myself to learning a trade that I love, and enter the working world shortly after, with Chelsea Football Club or the Miami Dolphins. Upon its completion, I realised that this was not a realistic expectation. Apparently, multi-million dollar teams do not want to trust a sport psychologist with no experience and no accreditation, who’d have guessed?

Unlike many other MSc programmes, an MSc in Sport Psychology is but a stepping-stone to securing a job. Obtaining relevant experience at an affordable rate that will enable you to apply for accreditation with the Irish Institute of Sport (soon to be CORU) is the real challenge and one of the biggest barriers for individuals who wish to pursue this career in Ireland.  I began to explore my options, and spoke to as many influential people as I could to equip myself with the knowledge I needed. With very few internships on offer to acquire experience, it became obvious that I needed to further my education and my knowledge.Niall Kelly image1bSince I started a PhD in University of Limerick, I have had many applied opportunities. I contacted numerous sports teams, and luckily, some of them replied. Some opportunities have been good, some not so good, but every experience has allowed me to learn about myself and develop my skills. I am in the process of affiliating myself with an organisation that gives me two things: access to sport specific participants to conduct research, and access to a pool of elite athletes who are more than willing to engage with the use of sport psychology to enhance their well-being and performance.

Niall Kelly image 2Conducting research, while engaging with the development of applied knowledge (and its delivery), at the very least gives you options. First, the more I exposed myself to the development of my research proposal, the more I realised that a career in research is a very exciting prospect. Second, working with teams and affiliating myself with organisations to conduct research, increases my knowledge of the field as well as networking opportunities, should a career in applied sport psychology materialise down the line.

Additionally, PhD life has afforded me the opportunity to participate on many projects within the department, guest lecture, attend conferences internationally, and expand my knowledge of psychology to other areas. For example, my supervisor Dr Mark Campbell is bringing me to a gaming conference in Germany to collect data on elite gamers in two weeks. The world of Esports is always something that has fascinated me, and I am hugely passionate about gaming in my own spare time. I am very excited to be gaining an insight into the world of gaming in a professional sense, and to explore how sport psychology might be utilised to help this population.

The downside to the way in which I have pursued my PhD, is the constant feeling that all of my working fronts are interdependent, and the demise of one area could see a setback in others. For example, failure to achieve a sufficient affiliation with a sporting organisation, or a failure to deliver a sufficient sport psychology service to it, could result in my failure to deliver on my current proposed research. Complete acceptance of this is key however, and linking passion with profession is crucial. It is an exciting and challenging environment: what more could you want?

Niall Kelly is a Postgraduate Student in the Physical Education and Sport Sciences Department at the University of Limerick. View Niall’s profile here.

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