This opportunity is now closed.

Funded PhD Opportunity

Placing the athlete in the centre: what are Visually-impaired athletes’ experiences of classification, and how can we improve it?

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


Summary

To ensure the integrity of Paralympic competition, a system of classification is used to ensure a level playing field between competitors.  For those with visual impairment (VI), individual sports federations are responsible for determining rules for classification, and historically, they have been based on the medical classification of visual impairment as identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO).   As such, visual measures for classification rely on clinical measurement of visual acuity and visual fields.  Medical approaches to VI sport classification create a status quo where decision-making rests with medical staff and not with the athletes.  A further issue is that it is widely recognised that the role and nature of visual capacity on sports performance is very different across sports, and that traditional clinical measures of vision do not translate to ‘real world’ situations.

This PhD will investigate the athletes’ lived experience of classification in visually impaired (VI) sport. While the nondisabled athlete is concerned with loss of form or injury, the Para athlete must also consider how changes in their level of impairment will affect their career. Therefore, an understanding of the athlete’s lived experience is required.  When examining this lived experience, a range of factors that influence classification’s impact on their careers will be discussed, with an aim to exploring how athlete-centred approaches could challenge the existing system. In addition to a comprehensive visual assessment encompassing contrast sensitivity and glare assessment as part of conventional visual function measurements, we plan to include dynamic visual acuity measures to reflect the vision-in-motion capability of athletes, explore both lighting variability and glare on performance, and conduct multiple-object tracking commensurate with the experiences of athletes with visual impairments when playing their sport. We will collect information on the origins of an individual’s VI, in terms of their eye condition, whether congenital or acquired, and their VI progression. This project will examine the experiences of blind and visually impaired athletes, both of the technical aspects of classification and the social implications of the procedure on their sporting careers.

The research team from the Centre for Optometry and Vision Science and the Sport & Exercise Science Research Institute at Ulster University have links with local and national associations to recruit an appropriate population for this PhD project across a range of sports. The external supervisor also has established links with para-athletes and is the Head of Optometry and Low vision services in the Belfast HSCT.  Finally, Kelly Gallagher brings direct experience as a winter para-Olympian gold medallist athlete with a visual impairment and is a key ambassador for the project.


AccessNI clearance required

Please note, the successful candidate will be required to obtain AccessNI clearance prior to registration due to the nature of the project.


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area

Funding

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

    Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

    Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

    Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies


Other information


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

Profile picture of Kieran O'Donnell

My experience has been great and the people that I have worked with have been amazing

Kieran O'Donnell - 3D printing of biological cells for tissue engineering applications

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Profile picture of Michelle Clements Clements

Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Profile picture of William Crowe

Throughout my PhD I’ve been provided with continuous support and guidance by my supervisors and the staff at the University.I’ve also received many opportunities to further enhance my professional development in the form of teaching experience and presenting my work at conferences which will aid in my pursuit of a career in academia or industry.

William Crowe


Key dates

Submission deadline
Friday 7 February 2020

Interview Date
9 to 20 March 2020


Applying

Apply Online  


Campus

Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
The feeling of community at our Coleraine campus makes for a warm and welcoming student experience.


Contact supervisor

Dr Julie-Anne Little


Other supervisors

  • Dr Paul Kitchin
  • Professor Jonathan Jackson, Head of Optometry, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust; Professor Brendan Barrett, Bradford University; Kelly Gallagher, Para-Olympian Gold Medalist Skiier

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