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Aberystwyth University

UOA 46 - Sports-Related Studies

RA5a: Research environment and esteem

The Department of Sport and Exercise Science (DSES) was established in 2002 with an initial investment of £2 million for building costs and start-up funds, as part of AU’s portfolio enhancement strategy. The innovative and contemporary degree programme developed by the DSES scored the highest satisfaction for any degree course across all subject areas in the 2005-2006 National Student Survey, and was also ranked the best overall (in every category) in Sport and Exercise Sciences. DSES is located in the purpose-built Carwyn James building, which houses specialist research laboratories, seminar rooms and staff offices. Led initially by Professor Doust (now Brighton), and since 2007 by Professor Lavallee (previously, Professor of Psychology of Sport at Loughborough), DSES is best described as an ‘Early Career Department’ which has adopted the strategy of building a vibrant research culture by developing up-and-coming researchers. DSES currently has nine full time members of academic staff (all with PhDs) five of whom are early career researchers in their first full-time HE appointment. Given the early stage of their careers it is encouraging that staff have already been recognised as emerging leaders in the field, having been invited to present keynotes and addresses at national and international conferences (e.g., 2007 International ACAPS Conference), and organise national and international conferences (e.g., 2007 International Reversal Theory Conference, 2005 BASES Student Conference); they have also been elected to prestigious positions within national and international organisations (e.g., Chair-Elect of British Psychological Society Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Chair of BASES Education and Professional Development Division). Staff have also succeeded in securing competitive research grants (e.g., Wellcome Trust, Nuffield Foundation, British Academy), publishing in some of the highest impact factor journals in the ISI Sport Sciences Journal Citation Report (e.g., Sports Medicine, Journal of Applied Physiology, Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise), and have collectively published 80 peer-reviewed original articles in academic journals, 7 authored/edited books, and 34 book chapters during this census period.

Research Structure

Research is currently organised around a single research group comprising those listed in RA1. We do not claim a national or international reputation across the range of sub-disciplines in the sport and exercise field; rather, we have pockets of national and international excellence in specific areas of expertise under a unifying sport and exercise science umbrella.

Burnley’s research focuses on the pulmonary gas exchange responses at the onset of intense exercise. In particular, he has extensively investigated the effects of prior exercise on the oxygen uptake response to heavy and severe intensity exercise. His award-winning research (BASES), which has lead to invited lectures nationally and internationally, has provided key data on the mechanism which underpins the effect of “warm-up”, in addition to quantifying the recovery time course and the magnitude of the performance effect. These studies have important implications for the control of muscle energetics at exercise onset and improving exercise tolerance in health and disease. He continues to investigate the role that the oxygen uptake kinetics plays in determining whole-body exercise performance, and has been the principal supervisor for a project that has led to a novel and time-efficient method of determining the so-called critical power. Burnley is a member of a wider group of researchers led by Professor Andrew Jones (Exeter) investigating muscle energetics, which is one of few consistently publishing work in this field. Their work has led to 11 journal publications in high impact-factor journals since 2001, and provides a solid conceptual framework with which to better understand the role of the dynamic gas exchange and attendant metabolic responses in exertional fatigue.

Davison, an early career researcher, works in the areas of nutrition, exercise immunology and oxidative stress. Towards the end of his PhD studies (session 2005/2006), he was co-investigator on two successful research grants in these areas, totalling c.£63000. His publications are in a niche area within the relatively broad field of exercise immunology as there are few other researchers in the United Kingdom currently investigating the effects of antioxidant supplementation on immunoendocrine responses. His findings contribute to scientific knowledge in this field both from mechanistic (i.e., better understanding of the relationship between exercise, oxidative stress and immune function) and practical (i.e., applied implications for athletes and coaches) perspectives. A recent invitation to deliver a lecture in Lausanne indicates that he is establishing national recognition in this field.

Lavallee is an international authority on the psychology of sport with particular reference to career transitions in sport. His research in the areas of retirement from sport and sport injuries has significantly contributed to theoretical developments on how self-identity and coping processes are shaped by social structures. His innovative research into athlete career and education has contributed to the development of career transition support programmes nationally and internationally. His findings are also used in the on-going training of Sport Psychologists and career and education advisors who work directly with athletes and coaches. Recent work has extended this research in response to government initiatives calling for community approaches to health by focusing on the use of sport as a vehicle to teach life skills.

J. Thatcher's research focuses on self-presentation in sport and exercise, competitive stress and anxiety, and Reversal Theory. She has an international reputation as an authority in the application of Reversal Theory in sport and exercise, as evidenced by her Presidency of the Reversal Theory Society and membership of the Apter International Reversal Theory Research Board. She was among the first researchers to employ a self-presentation framework within sport and was the first to comprehensively study the metamotivational state reversal process within competitive sport. Her current work includes research on psycho-physiological responses to exercise within the framework of Reversal Theory and self-presentation processes in relation to performance and personality variables. Future research developments include multidisciplinary research focusing on exercise for patients in palliative cancer care, and with chronic and musculoskeletal pain.

R. Thatcher is a respected authority on the physiology of team sport activities, specifically soccer. He has examined the impact of team sport participation on immune system function (in soccer) and the responses to sport specific training (in hockey). In addition, he is among the first to examine the use of the Training Impulse (TRIMP) method to quantify training load in team sports and directly relate this to physiological adaptation. Collaborations within DSES have resulted in research outputs examining oxygen uptake kinetics; external partnerships have focused on laboratory measurement issues. He has also successfully developed two separate, but related, lines of research into the role of exercise in the management of chronic disease and psycho-physiological responses to exercise. He is working with NHS and DSES colleagues on breathing mechanics in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is actively developing new areas of research in the medical setting.

Tod (early career researcher), has established expertise in experimental investigations on the relationship between psyching-up and the display of muscular force. The quality of his research in this area is evidenced by publications in some of the highest impact factor Citation Index journals (including Sports Medicine) and his continuing collaboration with international colleagues, including Australia and New Zealand. As his work on the relationship between psyching-up and muscular force has developed, he has begun to examine ways to ensure that sport psychologists are competent to help clients use psychological strategies to enhance strength performance. A second line of inquiry emerging from his interest in psychological factors and strength has been on the relationship between physical activity and psychological well-being. These related lines of research have attracted funding from the Wellcome Trust, the Welsh Ramblers’ Association, and the Countryside Council for Wales.

Wallace, an early career researcher, works in the area of body composition with relation to both health and sport performance. Her research includes bone density, adiposity and muscle mass analysis in male and female populations and relating these factors to lifestyle and exercise/sporting parameters. She is quickly establishing herself in this field, having presented at both national (e.g., BASES 2005) and international conferences (e.g., World Congress on Science and Football 2007, ECSS 2007). She has continuing international collaborations, including colleagues in Belgium and New Zealand. Future research developments include validation of body composition methods and assessing health risk from anthropometric data.

Winter (early career researcher), works on steadiness in isometric force production, including changes with aging and strength training, inter-subject variability in muscle-tendon properties and its effect on movement co-ordination, changes in postural stability with aging and the effect of gait interventions on the fractal properties of the ground reaction force and joint moments. She is quickly establishing herself in the field and has presented her research at national (2007 BASES) and international conferences (e.g., 2005 and 2007 International Society for Biomechanics, and 2003 and 2006 American Society for Biomechanics).

DSES has developed a successful strategy to support both interdisciplinary and collaborative research. Interdisciplinary research is promoted by organising and facilitating research seminars to make staff aware of research activity in cognate areas. Emerging interdisciplinary research opportunities at national and international level are also discussed strategically at DSES staff meetings. As a result, DSES has invested in two interdisciplinary research studentships in the area of psycho-physiological responses to exercise, and collaborative research initiatives are developing across the University (e.g. Davison with the Cell Signalling, Genetics and Metabolomics Group in Biological Sciences). Strong collaborative links have also been established internationally, nationally and locally. A flagship local clinical collaboration has been established with the NHS Trust and County Council examining cardiac rehabilitation and GP referral.

Staffing Policy

The main elements of the University’s staffing policy are: the recruitment of staff with a proven research track record or demonstrated potential for research; support of early career researchers; enhancing the work of existing staff so that they become leaders in their field; and the provision of time and resources for staff to conduct research. An important factor underpinning DSES’s mission and identity is its ability to appoint aspiring and committed young researchers and then provide them with opportunities and resources to help them develop ambitious research projects in order to make important breakthroughs in sport and exercise science. Of the eight staff included in RA1, four are young researchers who have completed PhDs within the last three years. Research performance and potential are key factors in the University’s probationary procedures, which require Departmental Heads to draw up compacts agreeing teaching and administrative duties and research targets with probationary lecturers. These are used to monitor performance and Departments’ management of that performance. New staff are integrated into DSES’s research culture by being assigned a mentor, who guides them on the pace, ambition and scale of their research and advises on the placing of outputs. They are given reduced teaching and administrative responsibilities, have opportunities to present their work to DSES Research Seminar Series and are encouraged (and given financial support) to participate in conferences. DSES also operates a Research Leave programme for staff, which is carefully targeted on strategic research initiatives.

Research Strategy

Building on its initial investment and early successes, DSES aims to continue to implement a research strategy that enhances and extends research among its members.

This five-year strategy includes:

1. Continuing to conduct fundamental research in the physiological, psychological and biomechanical aspects of sport and exercise, and develop focused research groups in existing strengths while maintaining interdisciplinary links. Two groups are emerging in the areas of exercise physiology and sport and exercise psychology, with four members of staff in each as well as Teaching Assistants in these areas to support research staff in devoting more time to research.

2. The emerging research group in exercise physiology (Burnley, Davison, R Thatcher, Wallace) will focus on pulmonary gas exchange kinetics forms. Researchers will address the working hypothesis that the kinetics of oxygen uptake is a, if not the, principal determinant of endurance exercise performance; DSES has recently invested in a PhD studentship in this area. This focus will provide a framework for investigating other issues, such as exercise tolerance (or intolerance) in health and disease. This is a likely focus of a recently proposed collaboration between DSES and Bangor University.

3. The emerging research group in sport and exercise psychology (Lavallee, J Thatcher, Tod and Akehurst) is well-placed under Lavallee’s leadership to build upon its strengths and make contributions to the sub-discipline and mainstream psychology in the areas of sports career transitions, sports injuries, coping processes in sport and exercise, Reversal Theory, the relationship between psychological factors and the display of muscular force, and self-presentation in sport and exercise. Dr. Akehurst, a new appointment in her first academic role, conducts research on the effects of individual differences (e.g., narcissism, self-consciousness, self-confidence) on sport performance in pressurised situations. DSES will also develop further its research on psycho-physiological aspects of sport and exercise. Future projects will examine adherence to sport injury rehabilitation, and test the utility of sport-based life skills programmes in health contexts.

4. DSES will prioritise research on chronic illness by building upon interdisciplinary and collaborative links, and focusing on functional capacity and quality of life issues in those suffering from chronic disease. Several projects are already underway in this area including one (in collaboration with the NHS Trust and local authority), funded by the New Opportunity Fund, which has examined an exercise scheme for cardiac rehabilitation and GP referrals. Another project is investigating breathing mechanics during exercise in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Future plans include collaborative projects with the local NHS trust involving chronic heart failure patients and a major national project with the Welsh Cancer Trials network to undertake research to inform the management of fatigue in palliative care patients. The Aberystwyth ‘Calorie Map’, developed by DSES to raise local awareness of the link between exercise and health, has led to projects with ‘Walking to Health’ and with the Ramblers Association.

5. DSES is committed to conducting applied research that is innovative and original, and informs practice in sport and exercise science. Staff research expertise has been used widely by international, national, and regional organisations during this assessment period including, Nike, McDonalds, British Petroleum, Land Rover, Wrigley, Football Association, London Science Museum, Canadian Olympic Association, United States Olympic Committee, Japanese Olympic Committee, Scottish Institute of Sport, Sportscoach UK, Welsh Institute of Sport, English Institute of Sport, UK Sport, Countryside Council for Wales, Welsh Ramblers’ Association and Ceredigion and Mid-Wales NHS Trust. Staff have also presented their research to M.P.s at the House of Commons as part of a National Young Scientist Event (Burnley), as well as a Public Engagement with Science activity funded by the British Psychological Society (Lavallee).

6. DSES aims to enhance its research community with further postgraduate initiatives, including a taught MSc planned for 2008. Lavallee has supervised 11 PhDs to completion since 2001 and brings this experience to DSES. DSES awarded its first PhD in 2006, and currently has 6 PhD research students (plus 3 writing-up for final submission). Two PhD students gained scholarships in the Aberystwyth Postgraduate Research Studentship Competition. DSES has also been awarded a Welsh Funding Council scholarship to develop Welsh medium materials in sport and exercise science. AU has also recently invested in additional PhD studentships in the areas of sport and exercise psychology, exercise physiology, and sport and exercise biomechanics.

Research Infrastructure and Facilities

The Carwyn James Building houses ten specialist laboratories for research and teaching. Currently about 30% of the laboratories are devoted exclusively to research and one of DSES’s two technicians spends 50% of her time supporting research. DSES also makes use of specialist equipment in the nearby Institutes of Biological Sciences and Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and the Department of Computer Science. Staff have single offices while research students share large offices with 2-3 research students to each.

DSES is very well-resourced in the area of exercise physiology, with specialist laboratories for the measurement of muscle function (Biodex isokinetic dynamometer), environmental physiology (large environmental chamber and the requisite temperature sensors) and anthropometry (underwater weighing tank). The Physiology Laboratories are thus fully equipped to monitor the exercising human in various environmental conditions and exercise modes. The measurement of the transient physiological responses to whole body exercise has been a strong focus since the laboratories opened. There are two metabolic carts which have breath-by-breath capability (Jaeger Oxycon Pro), two Lode Excalibur Sport electromagnetically braked cycle ergometers, two Woodway treadmills, and a full suite of blood analysers (for the measurement of glucose, lactate, haemoglobin and haematocrit). Other biochemical analytical equipment (spectrophotometers, plate readers, cell sorter, GC-MS) is available in the adjacent Institute of Biological Sciences.

DSES’s Biomechanics Laboratory is equipped with a Kistler force platform, and a suite of Sony digital video cameras and APAS software for kinematic analysis. On-going collaborations with the Department of Computer Science allow access to their fixed and portable Vicon 512 optical motion capture and automatic digitisation systems, and the recently completed £10.4 million, EU funded, visualisation centre on campus will further enhance motion analysis capabilities. A range of recently acquired PCB force sensors allow the use of bespoke strength testing devices in support of Winter’s research. Support from the Institute of Physical and Mathematical Sciences has allowed the manufacture of a range of made-to-order mechanical testing devices, and a PDA-controlled EMG and gait timing system that allows over-ground gait analysis.

The Psychology Laboratories are well-equipped to conduct experimental and applied psychological investigations, and include Powerlab and Ballistic measurement hardware and software packages, which are used to monitor a range of variables (e.g. ECG, EMG, EEG, Galvanic skin responses and peripheral blood flow). The laboratories all support a battery of psychometric tests (Schufried’s Vienna Test System) on PC’s which allow psychological assessments (e.g., reaction/determination time, sensomotor coordination, attention and concentration) to be made pre-, post- and during-exercise.

DSES’s work is supported by the University’s excellent library and electronic information resources, as well as the enormous resources of the National Library of Wales (a legal deposit library), adjacent to the campus.

Research Policy and Structure

Institutional research policy is the responsibility of the University Research Promotion Group (chaired by the Vice-Chancellor), which establishes institutional strategy and advises departments. The Research Monitoring Group (also chaired by the Vice-Chancellor) proactively manages research across the institution. Members of this Group meet Departmental Heads on a regular basis to monitor the performance of departments and individuals against agreed strategies and plans. Research monitoring (and mentoring) is also a key element in AU's probation and promotion procedures, ensuring that all academic activity is research-led.

The DSES Research Strategy is sustained through its Research Committee, which co-ordinates and monitors developments in the priority areas. Our research Leave programme and investment in Teaching Assistants supports an active research culture. Links with research users are maintained through an External Research Panel consisting of members of the local and national research community.

Support for Research and Research Income

Central support for research and conferences is provided by the University Research Fund (c.£90,000 p.a.) and the Conference Fund (c.£50,000 p.a.). The Faculty of Science has a separate travel fund (Gooding Fund). Support from AU’s Research Fund is allocated through open competition to provide seed corn funding of up to £10K. It is especially helpful to early career researchers. Since 2002, four DSES research projects were funded through this source. AU’s Conference Fund has supported DSES researchers to present refereed papers at international and national conferences. Staff are also strongly encouraged to apply for external funds, and have obtained research grants from the British Academy, Wellcome Trust, Nuffield Foundation, British Association for the Advancement of Science, Arts and Humanities Research Council, New Opportunities Fund, Gregynog Colloquim Fund, Countryside Commission for Wales, Welsh Ramblers Association and the Lottery Fund. A Departmental Research Enhancement Fund strategically targets research income to staff research initiatives.

Research Students and Research Studentships

AU’s Director of Postgraduate Studies (DPS) is responsible for the provision of postgraduate training within the University as a whole, and also has a co-ordinating role in relation to the provision of facilities for postgraduates, and the monitoring of academic progress of postgraduate students. The centrally provided AU Research Training and Development Programme is available to all PGR students, according to the specific training requirements laid down by Faculties, Departments or funding bodies. The effectiveness of research training is monitored and reviewed by the AU Research Training Board of Studies. The quality of supervision and Departmentally-provided research training is monitored through the bi-annual Faculty monitoring of the progress of Research postgraduates.

The support team for the DPS has been augmented during the current review period to include an Assistant Director of Postgraduate Studies and a Postgraduate Skills Co-ordinator who has devised a skills training programme to address the Roberts agenda. The DPS also co-ordinates centrally-organised training for both new and experienced supervisors which is supplemented at departmental level. The University requires staff who are new to postgraduate research supervision to be paired with an experienced supervisor. The AU Research Degrees Board (chaired by the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research) oversees quality assurance and the training and continuing professional development of research supervisors.

There is an established University and DSES postgraduate induction programme and research students present their work in progress at regular weekly departmental research seminars. Each research student has two supervisors and progress is formally reviewed twice a year by an independent panel. All research students have their own desk and computer and funds for interlibrary loans. DSES provides funds for all students to attend one national and one international conference during their registration period.

One indication of the quality of the DSES postgraduate intake and its research training and environment, is the success of its students in winning prestigious research-related awards at the annual BASES student conference (including first place and runner-up in 2005, first place and two runners-up in 2006, and runner-up in 2007) as well as the 2007 BPS H.T.A. Whiting Dissertation Prize. PhD students in DSES have also recently been appointed to lecturing posts (Northampton, Chichester and Aberystwyth Universities) and post-doctoral research positions (Exeter University).

Esteem Indicators

(1) BASES Sportesse Sport Science Award Winner for Best Oral Presentation made by an Established Researcher, 2006
(2) Invited Speaker, Research Symposium on the Power Duration Relationship, University of Lille, 2007
(3) Invited Presenter, Oxygen Uptake Kinetics BASES Workshop, University of Exeter, 2007.
(4) Journal manuscript reviewer (e.g., Journal of Applied Physiology, Experimental Physiology, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise).

Davison (Early career researcher)
(1) Invited Speaker, Nestlé Research Centre, Lausanne, 2007
(2) Journal manuscript reviewer (e.g., British Journal of Sports Medicine
, European Journal of Applied Physiology, Journal of Sports Sciences)

(1) Editor, Sport & Exercise Psychology Review, Digest Editor, Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology; Associate Editor, The Psychologist, International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology
(2) Editorial Board Member, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, and Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise
(3) Fifteen Keynote and Invited Presentations at national and international conferences, including Keynote Address at the 2007 International ACAPS Conference
(4) External examiner for 12 PhD students (6 international)

J Thatcher
(1) Chair-Elect, BPS Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology (2006-2008)
(2) Organiser, 2007 International Reversal Theory Conference
(3) President, Reversal Theory Society (2007-Present)
(4) Editorial Board Member, Sport & Exercise Psychology Review

R Thatcher
(1) Director, Research and Development of the Ceredigion and Mid Wales NHS Trust
(2) Chair, BASES Education and Professional Development Division (2005-2007)
(3) Organiser, 2005 BASES Student Conference
(4) Journal manuscript reviewer (e.g., Journal of Sports Sciences, British Journal of Sports Medicine, Medical Science Monitor)

Tod (Early career researcher)
(1) Editorial Board Member, Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise
(2) Invited presenter, Effective Consultant Characteristics BASES Workshop, Edinburgh, 2005
(3) Representative, Countryside Council for Wales Walking the Way to Health Advisory Panel
(4) Journal manuscript reviewer (e.g., British Journal of Sports Medicine, The Sport Psychologist, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology)

Wallace (early career researcher)
(1) Invited presenter, Kinanthropometry BASES Workshop, Liverpool, 2006 and 2007.