First year experience as an IRC Enterprise Partnership Scholar – Conor Raleigh

My name is Conor Raleigh and I am a PhD student in PESS and Irish Research Council (IRC) Enterprise Partnership Scheme Scholar with the Sport Ireland Institute as the enterprise partner. My aim with this blog post is to give an insight into my first year as an IRC Enterprise Partnership Scheme scholar which can hopefully help anyone who considering an application or is interested in what it is like to do research that is linked to high performance sport.

What is the IRC Enterprise Partnership scheme?

This scheme provides a unique opportunity to link a researcher at a higher education institution with enterprise to fund a PhD project over a period of 4 years.

What is your project interested in?

The project is interested in the impact of low carbohydrate dietary practices on bone health and remodelling in elite endurance athletes. Data collection for our first study is live now where we are using an online survey to determine the extent to which low carbohydrate dietary practices are used in endurance athletes and if there is an association between this use and bone injury. For more information and to complete the survey please follow this link:

What is the application process?

At first glance it came across as quite daunting and lengthy, but I would strongly recommend that anyone considering doing a PhD, whether it be funded by the IRC or not, to take a look at the IRC application form as the layout and sections are applicable to any project. The application process required us to outline the background, aims, study designs and deliverables over the entire 4-year project. This was a large piece of work, but I found it very useful in giving a clear focus and direction to the project. This outline can be and will almost certainly be subject to change as the project develops but I have yet to meet someone who finished a PhD project with the same project outline and deliverables as they had at the start. Having the ability to implement necessary changes based on circumstances, changes in literature and results of previous studies is vital to a successful project and I have become comfortable with this. The second part of the application is all about the applicant and required an outline of my motivations for doing a PhD, professional and research experience. Having had a well-rounded education, practical skillset and research experience meant that I felt meeting the requirements shouldn’t be an issue but getting this across and ‘selling it’ is something I have always found difficult. However, this is something that I have learned to do, and it is a necessary requirement in any application process.

What are the advantages of doing a project through the IRC Enterprise Partnership Scheme?

Firstly, the aims of the project are driven by both parties allowing it to have an immediate impact for the enterprise partner whilst also satisfying the research output of the host institution. It also allows me as the scholar to become embedded within the enterprise organisation and in my case, over the past year I have been based at the Sport Ireland Institute in Dublin. I have been working on a number of projects across multiple sports including preparations for the upcoming Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games. I have worked mainly within the physiology service but also work closely with nutrition. This allowed me to gain invaluable experience and expertise in areas including physiological testing and profiling of athletes, resting metabolic rate testing and analysis and heat preparation for the upcoming games across multiple sports. Therefore, one of the big advantages for me is the depth and variety of experience I have gained in my field of interest that is not directly focused on the research project, but it is allowing me to develop professionally. I have also had the opportunity to meet and work with people from a variety of backgrounds both through UL and the Sport Ireland Institute.

Managing and balancing work on the PhD project with applied work with the enterprise partner

Working on a PhD project at UL whilst also working in applied sport science brings a challenge from a work balancing and time management perspective. I have found that being planned and honest with the supervisory team has allowed for both areas to work alongside each other with minimal interference. I have to be aware that each member of the supervisory team has different motivations and points of view, but it is up to me as the PhD scholar to maintain the key focus of the project. Monthly and weekly planning is crucial and sticking to deadlines is a must. Keeping a daily bullet list outlining key tasks and a space to record any thoughts that come to mind throughout the day has been very beneficial for me. Initially I had envisaged that the COVID-19 pandemic would present a major communication obstacle between the research team. We immediately adapted to online meetings, and this couldn’t have worked out better as everyone is now relatively accessible for biweekly review and discussion. Keeping a tidy and organised record of supervisory meetings is something I have gotten into the habit of over the past year and separately I have a research record. A research record is a file where any questions, analysis, thoughts around the project can be stored so that when looking back and recalling for write up or viva preparation I have a clear idea of the thought process at the time.

Have you found doing a structured PhD at UL to be beneficial?

Yes, 100%. I have completed an Introduction to Postgraduate Research module in the Autumn 2020 semester, and this focused on a number of key areas including systematic literature searching and ethics applications. I am currently completing a Research Integrity module which has improved my understanding and awareness of research misconduct and how it is dealt with. The structured module content is engaging, the module leads are very helpful, and it provides a great opportunity to meet and network with fellow PhD students from various departments. In addition to these modules a structured PhD student is required to keep and submit a professional portfolio in the form of an academic CV in year 4. This means keeping track of any workshops, conferences, CPD and qualifications over the four-year period which is in invaluable resource and I would highly recommend it to any student.

In conclusion, I hope this has given a good insight into the experience of applying for and being an IRC enterprise partnership scholar and I would highly recommend the programme to anyone who is considering postgraduate study and wants to maintain a link with enterprise or industry.

Conor Raleigh is a PhD researcher at the University of Limerick and part of the Performance Physiology and Nutrition teams at the Sport Ireland Institute. He is studying the interaction between low carbohydrate dietary practices and bone health in elite endurance athletes. The supervision team for the research project is made up of Dr. Sharon Madigan, Sport Ireland Institute, Dr. Brian Carson and Dr. Catherine Norton University of Limerick and Prof. Craig Sale, Nottingham Trent University. The overall aim of the Performance Nutrition team at the Sport Ireland Institute is to develop and integrate nutritional practices and strategies which maximise an athlete’s ability to train and perform. This aim, along with the aims of Conor’s project, involves an integrated approach as the project pulls together expertise from nutrition, physiology, strength and conditioning, physiotherapy and medicine to ensure a well-rounded and calibrated approach.  View Conor’s research profiles on Linked-In, Orcid, Twitter: @conorjraleigh

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