PESS Internship: An Invaluable Experience – niamh o’loughlin.

The PESS Internship programme has been promoted as an opportunity for undergraduate students to spend 8-weeks gaining experience in one of the four PESS research areas, (1) Food for Health, (2) Physical Activity and Health, (3) Sport and Human Performance and, (4) Sport Pedagogy.

Having completed two PESS Internships I can say with certainty that the benefits associated this programme run much deeper than just gaining research experience in the aforementioned topics. I have been lucky enough to have been given an opportunity to progress my studies to postgraduate level and I am fairly confident that my internship experiences here in PESS had a definite part to play in this progression, but more on this later.

I would like to share a little insight into the work I did while completing my internship under the supervision of Dr Brendan O’Keeffe last summer. This Internship was concerned with the REACH Project. REACH is an acronym for Resistance Exercise for Adolescents in Schools. The aim of this project is to develop an introduction to resistance exercise programme that is suitable for delivery in post-primary Physical Education settings. This internship aligned with the ‘Physical Activity and Health’ and ‘Sport Pedagogy’ research themes in PESS. To commence my internship, it was necessary to gain an insight into other resistance exercise interventions that had been previously carried out in schools. I identified key studies using Google Scholar and began to review as much literature as possible pertaining to this topic. I created a document where I condensed the papers into literature summary tables. This was very helpful as it made the information in the papers accessible to both myself and to my supervisor Brendan. The literature summary tables also prompted the creation of a common trends document, where I identified patterns and/or trends that occurred in multiple interventions. Through this research I began to form an idea of what a successful resistance exercise intervention might look like.

The second key deliverable of this internship was to assist in the development of a survey based on current resistance exercise practices and facilities/equipment which has now been administered to a nationally representative sample of PE teachers. While creating this survey, I developed an expert evaluation template in order to gain feedback on the strength and/or relevance of the questions. Moreover, during the survey creation there was collaboration with researchers from the University of Newcastle, Australia. They really helped to refine and improve the survey through the provision of some very detailed  feedback.

The final key deliverable of this internship was to create an 8-week draft intervention based on my interaction with the literature in this area. The aforementioned common trends document really assisted this process. This was by no means a ‘ready to deliver’ intervention, but rather a template of ideas of how the intervention might work/look. I thoroughly enjoyed completing this work, deadlines were never overly strict which allowed me to complete this internship while also working full-time over the summer months.

I mentioned earlier on in this post completing my PESS internships have acted as a springboard for pursuing a postgraduate degree, and in this final section I would like to explain how that has come about. I decided to apply for a PESS Internship in 2021 with the world after coming to a what felt like a complete standstill due to Covid-19. I thought it might be a good way to spend my time, as well as an opportunity to gain some research experience and skills that would stand to support the completion my Final Year Project the following academic year. What I didn’t realise at the time was that this internship would actually act as a catalyst for wanting to pursue a career in academic research. When I was I was made aware of the 2022 internships I decided to apply once again. This time, one of the internships that Dr Brendan O’Keeffe was supervising was of huge personal interest as it was centred around resistance exercise. Luckily, I was awarded with this second internship. Since graduating from BSC in Physical Education last August I spent time researching different postgraduate courses and PhD programmes to explore all the different options and opportunities out there. Before Christmas Dr Elaine Murtagh made me aware of a Cotutelle PhD Programme being run between Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia and Coventry University in the U.K. This programme called for a research proposal around physical literacy and holistic health. I decided to put forward an application with my proposed project entitled ‘The Impact of Resistance Exercise on ‘the self’ in Youth’. This research proposal was heavily  influenced by the literature I engaged with while completing my second PESS Internship as  I was able to identify gaps in the literature with regards to the mental health outcomes of resistance exercise in children and adolescents. Luckily, I was awarded this PhD scholarship and will be relocating to Melbourne Australia next month (May, 2023) to start my PhD. After being awarded this academic scholarship I was told by my supervisors at Deakin University and Coventry University that the PESS Internships as well as my the strength academic references provided by Assoc. Prof Elaine Murtagh and Dr. Brendan O’ Keefe (my internship supervisors) really helped in the success of my application.

To conclude, I would like to say how grateful I am for the opportunity I have now been presented due, in part, to the PESS Internship programme. I would encourage any other undergraduate student to apply for the internships next summer regardless of whether they hope to further their studies or not. Completing a PESS Internship, I believe, is an invaluable experience and something that deserves to be celebrated by PESS faculty and students alike.



Niamh O’Loughlin is a graduate of the BSc in Physical Education in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, University of Limerick.

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