I am currently in the 4th year of my PhD studies working on the Student Activity and Sport Study Ireland (SASSI) under the supervision of Prof. Catherine Woods and Dr. Ciaran MacDonncha. My research journey began in the 4th year of my undergraduate studies when I got to work on the Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity (CSPPA) Study and on completion of my Sport Science and Health degree, I was accepted to continue my studies in DCU on SASSI. This cross sectional study aimed to investigate the physical activity beliefs, attitudes and behaviours in a representative sample of third level students on the island of Ireland. As a researcher on the study I:
- Assisted with the data collection and analysis of over 8,000 student surveys from 32 Irish third level institutes;
- Developed and coordinated a health and fitness assessment for over 400 students from 5 Irish institutes;
- Contributed to the write-up of the final SASSI report and presented the findings at the study launch; and
- Use the large dataset to answer a number of research questions that formulate my PhD.
I understood that the majority of my time would be spent working on SASSI, but I never realised the other opportunities I would get throughout the course of the study. Here I will give a brief recap on my journey and the highlights so far. While completing my research in DCU, I was given the chance to travel and work in the Institute of Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) at Deakin University, Melbourne. Although this meant moving away from home for two months, I recognised the benefits of working in a new university and meeting new researchers. As part of this trip, I got to collaborate with IPAN researchers and learn new statistical analysis techniques that would shape my future papers. It was a great opportunity to see both the similar and different research that was being conducted in another country and I returned to Ireland with a number of attributes that would help me in the rest of my research. Coming to the end of my second year, I was offered to continue my research in UL where both my supervisors would soon be based. Initially, I was hesitant to leaving the campus and people I had been surrounded by for the past six years, but the possible opportunities awaiting in UL could not be turned down (the rising cost of rent in Dublin also helped). The transition was difficult at first but thankfully, it was not hard to settle in on the vast campus that is UL.
Not long after settling into my UL life, another doorway of opportunity opened for me. This came in the form of a project called Keep Youngsters Involved (KYI), which is an Erasmus+ project investigating the prevention of sports dropout in European youngsters. I represented UL at the kick-off meeting in Ede, Netherlands in December 2016. Of course, this would involve more work and having to leave my comfort zone once again to travel to a new place and meet new people. As this research question is close to my own, I realised the potential this had for expanding my knowledge, developing my research skills and connecting with others interested in physical activity promotion among young people around Europe. As part of the UL KYI research team, I have attended two meetings and helped to present the findings from the first phase of the project. The best part about working on KYI are the insights I have gained and applied to my own research, especially for critically assessing research questions and always asking ‘How can my work be applied in the real world?’. Next up for the KYI team is the HEPA annual conference in Croatia where we will present a symposium, which again will be another first for myself and something I look forward to.
Throughout my PhD, I have tried not to turn down an opportunity to present my work at conferences, help or work with new people, attend workshops, teach classes and learn new skills. This has led to me presenting and working with people in countries around Europe as well as South Africa and Australia. I am a huge advocate for seeking opportunities to improve and enhance my skillset that present themselves throughout the path of a PhD, which also develops my time management skills as I always have to ensure that I have the time to complete my own research. Of course my research journey has come with a number of lows, all of which I have overcome by staying positive and using the support offered by my family, friends and supervisors. Overall it is only when I look back over the past number of years that I feel grateful for the number of opportunities that have been offered to me as a result of this PhD.
Joey Murphy is a Postgraduate student in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Contact Joey on Joey.Murphy@ul.ie ;