The purpose of research is to enhance society by advancing knowledge through developing theories, testing them and translating these findings into some practical benefit to society. As scientists we are ultimately focused on developing our research ideas and questions, putting together research designs which are fit for purpose in answering those questions. We conduct these studies, collect the relevant data and then interpret this data for meaning. We then disseminate our findings through multiple channels including traditional research journal publications, but increasingly through channels more accessible to the general population such as blog posts, media articles and video channels to maximise impact and knowledge sharing. This is all very important for society, highlighted pointedly during the recent and ongoing pandemic. But sometimes we as researchers forget the associated benefits of actually conducting the research, especially in human studies where there are benefits to our research participants.
For example, our research team led by myself and Dr Catherine Norton at UL, and our partners at the University of Ulster, have recently completed a community-based resistance exercise and nutrient intervention in older adults. The intervention involved undertaking a progressive resistance training programme over a period of 8 weeks for all participants. Participants also received either a protein supplement or placebo to be taken twice daily during this period (see more details here in this blog post). We recently completed the intervention phase at UL, and we know how participants performed pre and post the intervention in our key measures of body composition and physical function. But we don’t yet know who was on the placebo and who was on the test protein! That will come later when our partners at Ulster complete their data collection. However, as we have the pre and post data we have the opportunity to share this with our participants. We have provided initial results to participants on their own performance in two separate feedback sessions.
It was our pleasure to show participants where they had improved, how they compare to their demographic nationally and internationally. It was also great to remind some where they came from at the first resistance exercise session, to what they were able to achieve only a short time later. The feedback from the participants to the research team was overwhelmingly positive in terms of how their self-efficacy had improved, how they felt stronger, what they learned during the intervention and the skills and kit they were equipped with can help them into the future. They also spoke of the social connections they made in the group resistance sessions and how this was a much needed tonic for this population coming off the back of pandemic-related restrictions. When we looked at the data, irrespective of what the outcome will be for the test protein of interest, we could sit back and say we ran an intervention that they genuinely enjoyed and which improved people’s health. Personally, I have derived a great level of satisfaction from that and I know that is true for my colleagues also. We don’t always value that as scientists and there is often not somewhere to document that impact, and I think that is a shame. To put a spin on an old saying, the doing is often as important as the outcome.
Dr. Brian Carson is an exercise physiologist in the PESS department, UL, and his research interests are focused on the impact of physical activity, exercise and nutrition on human health and performance.