Nearby hills are greener than we think…Sorcha Holohan & Timothy Locke (edited by Brian Carson)

One of the standout aspects to the Sport and Exercise Sciences programme at UL, and what attracted us to coming here, is the work placement in year 3. This gives us a chance to put the theory that we are learning into practise and develop our practical skills away from the classroom. Below we provide our reflections on our CoOperative education experience in the Human Sciences Research Unit (HSRU) in the PESS department.

The search begins!

Sorcha: In life the saying “Far away hills are greener” often holds true, and up to third year I believed it regarding CoOp.  My eyes were set on Australia a year prior, however my best laid plans fell through.  I emailed various departments and labs home and abroad, including Trinity, UCD and Physiotherapy at UL. It wasn’t until October that an opportunity to work in PESS came up. After reading about what would be involved I decided to put myself forward for interview. This opportunity was overlooked by many of my fellow SES students. We met Rob Davies and Brian Carson to discuss the project, who saw hugely exciting opportunities for us, and so we embraced the opportunity and never looked back since!

Tim: Like most, the hunt for placement started in earnest in September. Options seemed endless, physiology, biomechanics or strength and conditioning? Stay in Ireland or go abroad? Look for the mystical well paid placement or accept that CoOp would not be where I make my fortunes? These are the questions that occupied my mind for the first weeks of the semester.  I applied for a few opportunities through the CoOp office, but nothing I was really passionate about and I was actually relieved when I didn’t hear back from any of them.  It was early October when I heard about an opportunity in the HSRU. It was described as a research assistant position for a project looking at the effect of protein supplements. This piqued my interest as protein and resistance exercise was something I always found interesting. I didn’t even realise work like this was taking place in PESS so jumped at the opportunity and applied straight away.

Taking on the challenge….

Tim: For the first three years in college I had read plenty of studies and I was excited to finally get to roll up my sleeves and work on some research myself. I got a chance to work with excellent researchers and cutting edge technology, which was exciting but I also got to see behind the curtain of the research world. I was surprised to see how many different people it takes to complete a project. Physiologists, dietitians, clinicians and research assistants all have to collaborate and work together to deliver. I was also exposed to some of the less glamorous aspects of research. Science isn’t all shiny labs and fancy equipment. There is a lot of ground work including recruitment, data analysis and reading literature. These mightn’t be the most exciting aspects of a project, but they play a vital role in the research process. I was glad to see both sides of research and found my experience highly satisfying, developing key skills that will help with my FYP and future career.

Sorcha: Initially we were both hesitant but “greater things never come from comfort zones”. Physiology wasn’t my strongest subject even though it was (and still is) my favourite and I had no previous knowledge of “real-world” sport and exercise science research, data collection or analysis. I knew I would be working for and with two of my lecturers who come with their own reputations, so I felt like I would be out of my depth. However, writing this now makes me proud of what I have achieved. I involved myself in every possible challenging endeavour from the very beginning and I think that made it a fulfilling experience which will forever stand to me.

Sorcha: The main team that I worked with, along with the other PESS employees that I assisted in studies, are now more approachable than ever. Lecturers that have years of knowledge and diverse experience are only a knock on a door away. I now understand that they are only happy to engage, help and encourage students who are willing to be helped and guided. For me, as a final year PESS student, the pool has now become a pond, one in which we all are happy to accept and share with fellow swimmers, either weak or strong.

Reflecting back on the experience….

Tim: If I could go back and do CoOp again I would choose the HSRU in PESS in a heartbeat. The people I met and the experiences I had will shape my future, and have firmly cemented my ambition to pursue a career in research. If you are thinking about CoOp I would highly recommend talking to your lecturers about the projects they are working on, as you may be surprised by the variety of exciting and cutting edge research that goes on right under your nose.

Sorcha: I urge fellow students looking for opportunities to consider the pools that they usually avoid. The water may seem an unappealing depth and temperature, however, as you work hard and engage, the water will become warm and swimming will be easy and enjoyable.

The scale and quality of research projects ongoing in PESS is astonishing. As undergraduates we had been oblivious to it all, however now we feel like we have a network of researchers and colleagues with similar aims. We also had the opportunity to apply for internships, 8 week funded placements in PESS, which we were successful in obtaining (PESS and Food for Health Ireland). These helped our development immensely.

Finally, we would like to thank our supervisors (Dr Brian Carson, Prof Phil Jakeman, Rob Davies) and the team in PESS (Arthur Lynch, Jennifer Higgins, Marta, Hilka, Roisin, Adam, Rosie, Eoin, Tom) for being generous with their time and sharing their knowledge. We would also like to thank PESS for hosting and supporting us during our time as interns.

Sorcha Hologhan and Timothy Locke are 4th Year BSc. Sport and Exercise Sciences students in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences.

Dr. Brian Carson is a Lecturer in Exercise Physiology and is Course Director for the BSc. Sport and Exercise Sciences. View Brian’s profile here
Contact Brian at:
Brian’s Twitter: @DrBPCarson

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