My name is Jennifer Fitzpatrick and I am a recent graduate of the B.Sc. (Hons) Physical Activity and Health Science course in the Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) (formerly known as Athlone Institute of Technology). I chose TUS to pursue further education due to its exceptional academic opportunities, state-of-the-art facilities and overall close-knit community. I had an incredible four years throughout my undergraduate degree and I am very excited to be continuing my journey in TUS as I embark on my PhD. I was particularly delighted to begin my PhD journey on October 1st, 2021, the same day that Athlone Institute of Technology became a Technological University! My PhD project is co-funded by TUS and the Irish Cancer Society*.
My Research Journey
My passion for research began during my third year of my undergraduate degree, where I completed an internship in the ‘Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition’ in the University of Newcastle, Australia. This experience supported the development of a wide range of academic, applied and personal skills, from conducting a systematic review, to analysing cognitive responses to high intensity interval training in high school students. This experience sparked my motivation and ambition to complete a PhD. During the final year of my undergraduate degree, I completed a research study on the relationship between physical activity and indices of mental well-being (anxiety, depression and overall mental well-being) among healthy adults. I was also involved in a group project where we developed, implemented and evaluated an eight week online physical activity and nutrition programme for transition year students (aged 14-16 years old). Due to Covid-19 many aspects of both projects changed suddenly, but this challenge assisted in improving our skills of adaptability and creativity in order to overcome any issues that we encountered.
Since graduating in May 2021, I completed three internships. Alongside the ‘Bioscience Research Institute’ in TUS, I analysed the impact of a social hurling and football programme for males on their levels of physical activity and mental wellbeing (‘GAA for Dads & Lads’). As a volunteer instructor, I engaged with ‘ExWell Medical’ based in Athlone Regional Sports Centre, which is a community-based exercise class for individuals with a chronic illness e.g., diabetes, heart disease, cancer or COPD. The experience I gained while interacting with participants provided an excellent opportunity to improve my skills on pre and post testing, exercise adaptations and ensuring all exercise classes were inclusive to all. My final internship included working as a research assistant for ‘ExWell Medical’ and ‘CanTeen Ireland’ on the development of a community-based exercise programme for survivors of childhood and adolescent cancer. This project allowed for greater skills to be developed on this specific population, an area my PhD will be researching.
PhD Application Process
Under the guidance of Dr. Mairéad Cantwell and Dr. Kieran Dowd I began discussing and researching PhD opportunities during the final year of my undergraduate degree. My motivation for researching health behaviours in oncology stems from both academic and personal motivations. Through family experiences of cancer and the opportunity during my undergraduate degree to learn about the impact of health enhancing behaviours (e.g., physical activity participation and healthy eating) on individuals living with and beyond cancer.
In January 2021, alongside Dr. Mairéad Cantwell, Dr. Kieran Dowd, Professor Niall Moyna and Ms. Cliona Godwin I began the competitive process of applying for PhD funding with the Irish Cancer Society. The experience I gained while being involved in the process of project development was extremely beneficial from the beginning as I was researching this specific topic, engaging with multiple collaborators and developing study methods, to name a few. In August 2021, I was delighted to receive news that I would be commencing a PhD in October! I am honoured to become a TUS and Irish Cancer Society PhD research scholar. My PhD project will focus on developing a physical activity and dietary behaviour programme for teenagers aged 12 to 16 years old who have completed active cancer treatment.
Why a PhD in TUS?
Throughout my undergraduate degree I received exceptional leadership and supervision from Dr Mairéad Cantwell and Dr Kieran Dowd. Their motivation towards research is inspiring. I believe, the relationship built throughout my undergraduate degree with my now PhD supervisors will reap many positive benefits. I am very excited to be a member of the Sport Health Exercise (SHE) research group in TUS, where I will be joining the exercise and health strand. I will be promoting the importance of physical activity and dietary behaviours in the treatment and management of chronic disease and contribute to the research effort in this area.
I am extremely grateful to TUS and the Irish Cancer Society for supporting and co-funding my PhD project and I look forward to what the future entails!
*This work is partly supported by the Irish Cancer Society SNAH Research Scholarship CRS21FIT. The opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Irish Cancer Society.