From Pennsylvania to UL: International PhD with IRIS

I took 30 minutes to talk to new Irish Rugby Injury Surveillance (IRIS) PhD researcher Patrick Dolan about his recent relocation from the United States to join us in UL…..

Where is home originally?   Home is Elkins Park Pennsylvania, a suburb just outside of Northeast Philadelphia. It is a small town of about 20,000 population two hours South of Manhattan New York.

Did you study at university in Pennsylvania?  From 2008 to 2012 I went to DeSales University in Lehigh Valley Pennsylvania and graduated with a primary degree BSc in Sport & Exercise Science. Just after completing my studies, I had a six month stint with the Detroit Tigers Major League Baseball Organisation, as a Strength & Conditioning (S&C) coach in the Minor League system. I had several S&C internships at different universities in the same area throughout my undergad. I then went to Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri for my graduate degree, an MSc in Human Performance. I was fortunate to also work as a graduate assistant, delivering S&C coaching for multiple NCAA teams, as well as some undergraduate teaching.

What did you do since graduation from your masters in human performance? I am a certified S&C coach through the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa) and National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) with more than 9 years of coaching strength and conditioning. I wanted to keep in that vein and worked from 2015-2016 at Santa Clara University in California as the Assistant Director for the Strength & Conditioning department, mainly overseeing the soccer and water polo programs. From 2016 to 2017 I worked as Head of Strength & Conditioning at Manhattan College in New York, and then to the New York Red Bulls Pro Soccer team in 2018 as an S&C coach mainly with the academy there. I currently support the national US Soccer Federation as a network sport scientist for the Youth Teams.

Why the change in direction now to study for a PhD?  I was fortunate to achieve publication of my masters thesis, in a top decile journal on the topic of the effect of carbohydrate, caffeine, & carbohydrate+caffeine mouth rinsing on intermittent running performance. I was always aware of the gap between practitioner Strength & Conditioning, and sports medicine and spent plenty of time in my jobs to research the best practices and information. There is a bit of a glass ceiling with S&C practitioner work in the USA, and academic study on S&C in the States or internationally is one way to go beyond that. Doctorate study seemed a great way pursue the development of S&C methods for myself.

What attracted you to Ireland, and UL, and the IRIS research group?  I come from a large family with some Irish culture embedded in us. I have been here on vacation before and had hoped to return in some capacity. It is an exciting time for UL, quickly expanding and developing as a new university and the PESS department has a reputation for great research and publications in different areas of sport sciences. I was forwarded the PhD scholarship advertisement earlier this year by an Irish S&C friend and the combination of joining a research active department and the IRIS research group seemed like a great opportunity. I was familiar with the IRIS work, and the research was in an invasion contact sport which I could relate my own work to. I previously dealt with athlete testing, injury prevention, mass and hypertrophy issues in prior roles so the IRIS PhD topic of Rugby injury surveillance and intervention was ideal to develop my career. I was fortunate to be awarded the PhD studentship that UL’s Health Research Institute (HRI) are helping to fund.

How was it leaving home in September this year?  Not easy! I have been career focussed over the last decade though, moving across different states in the USA for work, so my family were used to me moving around. Culturally it was a big move to Ireland, but I was happy to trade the cold New York Winters.

Are you settling into PhD and personal life ok? Any tips?  I started the PhD mid-September this year so just six weeks into life in Limerick. I live just two miles from campus and enjoy the cycle commute. Early mornings usually entail going to the gym or pool here-  the sports facilities are excellent. I was keen to keep my professional S&C accreditations current and have just started some support work with Triathlon Ireland a few mornings each week, coaching the elite scholarship triathletes.

I have to say I needed some patience over the past few weeks; despite planning and sorting paperwork well in advance, finding accommodation and finalising immigration status took longer than expected. No major issues though and it is all part of moving country for any job.

I am enrolled on the EHS structured doctorate programme and the initial classes and talking with other EHS PhD researchers has been really helpful. Different perspectives on the PhD process.

Tell me a bit about your PhD topic.  Overall, the IRIS project monitors the incidence, type, nature and severity of both match and training injuries occurring across the amateur and schools game in Ireland. Having started in 2016, IRIS is now designing injury prevention interventions with one of its funders, the Irish Rugby Football Union. My own PhD will provide some depth of analysis and S&C intervention into structured warm-ups and ankle injuries. Structured-warm ups are now targeted by World Rugby as a key method of injury prevention, particularly at the underage level to help long term athlete development. We have found that the ankle is one of the most frequently injured sites at all levels of the game, and I will incorporate a systematic review, deeper analysis of IRIS’ data, and intervention on ankle mobility and strength over the next few years. Alongside all of this one of my PhD roles is to help coordinate the ongoing injury surveillance at the mens’ and womens’ All-Ireland League club level; that is 30+ clubs and 1,600 players over the Autumn and Spring. The season has just started and I am busy auditing the weekly input from club medics.

Dr Ian Kenny is a Senior Lecturer in Biomechanics in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Dr Kenny is co-Principal Investigator for IRIS. Dr Kenny’s research interests include the biomechanics of sports injury and sports medicine, effects of equipment parameters on the golf swing, and musculoskeletal modelling and computer simulation of movement.   You can contact Dr Kenny via email at  or view his research profile on Researchgate.

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