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Sport, Physical Activity and Health - Video

We conduct world-leading and internationally-recognised locally relevant and applied research in sport, physical activity and health.

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We conduct world-leading and internationally-recognised locally relevant and applied research in sport, physical activity and health.


Research in sport and exercise science is conducted through the Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute (SESRI) and is comprised of a multi-disciplinary team of staff and postgraduate students, which represents research quality at national and international levels. Given the applied nature of the research conducted by SESRI, we have developed a range of research collaborations at international, national and local levels involving governing bodies of sport, hospitals and medical facilities and practitioners, local and national government and other key stakeholders in sport, exercise and physical activity.

Research areas include:

  • Adolescent lifestyle and health.
  • Health benefits of physical activity.
  • Social sciences of sport including sport for development and peace; sport and migration; sport and inclusion; pain and injury in sport; sport and identity politics; sport and disability (intellectual and physical) and sport management.
  • Sport and exercise psychology, physiology and biomechanics.
  • Sport technology.
  • Sports medicine and physiotherapy
  • Exercise biochemistry

Additional information can be obtained from SESRI staff aligned to your research interests:

About this course

In this section


Within the group, funding has been secured from a variety of sources including a range of prestigious research councils and charitable foundations, the European Commission, the European Social Fund, the Department of Employment and Learning (Northern Ireland) and from commercial partners through Co-operative Awards in Science and Technology (CAST) studentships and fully funded studentships.Research within SESRI encompasses three distinct fields: physical activity and health; the social sciences of sport; sports science and medicine. Research in these fields is conducted within 3 discrete research centres.


As a full time student, the expectation is that you will work on your project on a daily basis, either on or off campus as agreed with your supervisor. You will be entitled to 40 days holiday per annum.

Part time students are expected to meet with their supervisors on a regular basis, most usually this would be monthly but this is dependent on the project area.

How to apply

Entry conditions

We recognise a range of qualifications for admission to our courses. In addition to the specific entry conditions for this course you must also meet the University’s General Entrance Requirements.

In this section

Entry Requirements

You will need to hold a First of Upper Second Class Honours degree (or equivalent) in an area relevant to your chosen project to be able to apply.

If you have obtained an undergraduate degree from a non-UK institution, we can advise you on how it compares to the UK system.

English Language Requirements

English language requirements for international applicants

The minimum requirement for research degree programmes is Academic IELTS 6.0 with no band score less than 5.5. This is the only acceptable certificate for those requiring to obtain a Tier 4 visa.

Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores.

Careers & opportunities

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Career options

Although academia is considered to be the most obvious path for any PhD holder, with around two thirds of our graduates remaining in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the degree also paves way for a career in industries centred on research and innovation.

PhD graduates are recognised by employers to hold valuable transferrable skills, as the nature of the degree trains candidates in creativity, critical inquiry, problem solving, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.

The most recent Ulster survey of PhD graduates found that 92% had secured employment within the first year since graduation (HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2015).


How to apply

Ulster University welcomes applications from all sections of the community and from persons with disabilities. It is University policy to assess all applications using academic criteria and on the basis of equality of opportunity and you should be assured that reasonable adjustments will be made should you require them.

Once you have selected your chosen project from the lists available on the Faculty pages, you are advised to make contact with the named supervisor on the project as they will be able to guide you in writing your research proposal.

You should then apply using our online application system:

Fees and funding

A number of funded scholarships are available across the University each year for PhD projects. Applications for studentships will be considered on a competitive basis with regard to the candidate's qualifications, skills, experience and interests.

Sources of funding

Fees (per annum)

Full Time:

Home and EU £4195

Overseas £13760

Part Time:

Home and EU £1490

Home and EU (with External Sponsor paying fees) £2130

Overseas £7840

Distance Research Study (Home and EU) £6390

Research facilities and groups

SESRI is comprised of three research centres that conduct research related to sport, exercise and physical activity from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

The Centre for Sport in Society brings together colleagues from across the university who conduct social scientific research on sport. The work currently being undertaken within the group explores a range of themes associated with the cultural, political, social, economic and historical import of sport in a variety of local, national and international contexts. These themes and contexts include analyses of: sport labour migration; sport, the Irish and identity politics; sport and diaspora; sport and equity (gender and disability); pain and injury; physical education and sport; international comparative sport policy, the public governance and management of sport and sport federations and their sustainable role in civil society; sport for development and peace.

The Centre for Physical Activity and Health uses epidemiological and empirical methods to investigate the role of physical activity and exercise in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease and the promotion of psychological well-being. A major strength of the group’s work is the multi-disciplinary approach to research. Our research includes lifestyle intervention studies, investigations of the underlying systemic and cellular mechanisms and epidemiological cohort studies. This work has contributed to the evidence base for recent public health physical activity recommendations and is cited in recent national and international guidelines.

Research in the Centre for Sports Science and Sports Medicine aims to further our understanding of the learning processes, mental imagery processes and biomechanical principles governing sport and exercise performances across the spectrum ranging from beginner to elite performer levels. Key disciplines include cognitive and behavioural psychology and biomechanics. The centre also conducts research in the area of sports medicine, particularly acute soft tissue injury management; ankle sprain prognosis and rehabilitation; cryotherapy and recovery.

Sports science and experimental exercise and health research activities are largely facilitated in three world class well-equipped laboratories in physiology, biochemistry and biomechanics at the University’s Jordanstown campus, along with a ‘field-lab’ in the new Sports Facility. Researchers also enjoy access to other departmental laboratories in the University as well as facilities in local hospitals. All postgraduate students in the area are provided with an individual workspace in a postgraduate study room.

Staff research areas

Dr Gavin Breslin

Sport and exercise psychology with a focus on two areas: 1. cognitive explanations of motor skill acquisition. This research aims to get a better understating of the role of visual perception and action during learning through laboratory based studies 2. Physical activity and psychological well- being in marginalised groups, this research aims to establish effective interventions for increasing physical activity, reducing sedentary behaviour and improving well-being in children and adults.

Dr Paul Darby

Sociology of Sport: Current research focuses on sports labour migration; the role of football academies in West Africa; the sport for development and peace movement; the politics of sport in Africa and sport and transnational identities.

Professor Gareth W Davison

Exercise, Health and Disease. Current research interests include cellular and peripheral free radical production in exercise, health and disease. In particular our laboratory is interested in the by- products of DNA, lipid and protein oxidation and the effects of antioxidant supplementation in exhaustive exercise and diabetes mellitus. We have used the novel method of Electron Spin Resonance spectroscopy to quantify free radical generation during exercise of varying intensity and duration, and would envisage applying this tool to future projects within exercise and pathology.

Professor David Hassan

Research interests focus upon the relationship between sport, politics and national identity. Future research will examine sport and national identity in the Irish Borderlands alongside a more focussed investigation into the role sport plays in the projection of identity for women on the island of Ireland.

Dr Paul Kitchin

Dr Kitchin's research examines how sport can use business principles to achieve sustainable growth. He is also interested in examining the professionalisation in the management of sport, particularly small to medium not-for-profits entities across the Britain and Ireland.

Dr Katie Liston

Sociology of sport, health and exercise, sport and gender, physical education, sociological theory, sport in Ireland and national identity. Dr Liston’s future projects will include an examination of the sport, race and ethnicity nexus in Northern Ireland as well as ongoing collaborative work on sport and migration.

Dr Conor McClean

Exercise metabolism and biochemistry in healthy and clinical populations. Current research includes the effects of ingesting high-fat meals on parameters of cardiovascular health and the protective role exercise may confer. We have also examined the effects of short and long term exercise interventions in pre-diabetic populations (Impaired glucose tolerance) with specific focus on changes in oxidative stress, glycaemic control and arterial stiffness. The group is also interested in the use of antioxidant supplementation as a potential prophylactic to exercise-induced muscle damage.

Dr Andrea McNeilly

The effects of brisk walking and antioxidants in the prevention of metabolic disturbances associated with obesity and impaired glucose tolerance (which predisposes individuals to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus). Recent research has focused on the use of technology to enable individuals to complete brisk walking at the required intensity and dietary intake patterns in different populations including athletes.

Professor Marie Murphy

The effects of walking on cardiovascular & metabolic health. Prof Murphy’s research
has focused on the effects of brisk walking (accumulated, short and long bouts, varying intensities) on health. In addition she is interested in the evidence base for the development of physical activity guidelines. In particular our group is interested in intervention studies with sedentary but healthy and diseased populations (e.g. obese and diabetic), which attempt to alter health risk by incorporating brisk walking into daily life.

Professor Eric Wallace

Sports biomechanics/engineering; This research aims to gain a better understanding of the relationship between swing mechanics, physical fitness and equipment technology for
a range of golfers of different skill levels. The effects of different club parameters and player physical characteristics are examined using laboratory-based and field tests of performance. Biomechanical analysis is undertaken along with computer modelling.


Dr Carla McCabe

Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute

T: 02890 366388



My name is Andrew Morrison and I’m a PhD student at Ulster University. Having previously worked for the Professional Golfers Association in the Education department, I was looking to develop the research in the area of golf biomechanics. I chose to apply to do my PhD at Ulster as I knew their biomechanics facilities were second to none, and had previously followed the golf biomechanics research coming out of the department. The support I have received from my supervisory team has been excellent, and has helped me progress through my PhD and develop my research skills in preparation for a job in academia.