Athlete welfare has received increasing attention in recent years. As well as an improved cognisance of prevention of injury, player welfare now extends to education in relation to other health and lifestyle issues, including strategies to maintain immunocompetence and to avoid illness. One such approach includes the use of prophylactic probiotic supplements to improve gut health by stabilising the gastrointestinal microbiota under the stress of intense exercise. However, the level of understanding of the action of probiotics among the user group is currently unknown. While probiotics deliver beneficial microbes, it is well accepted that reservoirs of infection can exist in athletic facilities. Some data exists in relation to the diversity of bacteria present on surfaces in a gym environment in the US (Mukherjee et al., 2014) and the presence of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infections in a football team (Nguyen et al., 2005); however at present, there is a paucity of research relating to the diversity and quantities of bacteria present in sporting environments used by professional athletes.
Preliminary results from our research group have found the presence of Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus, and coliforms (including E.coli) on personal sports equipment used by elite athletes. An appreciation of the impact of hygiene practices in elite sport requires buy in from the user community and this requires knowledge of the potential risks in order to affect the type of behaviour change that will promote athlete welfare. The primary aim of this project is to examine the diversity of microbes in high performance environments with a focus on selected bacterial agents with the potential to cause opportunistic infection. The secondary aim is to examine knowledge perception and awareness of gut microbiota and use of probiotic supplements in elite sport.
The researcher will be involved in developing an microbiology focussed educational framework based on behaviour change theory for dissemination to end users and athlete support staff involved in implementing hygiene protocols to increase athlete availability for training and selection for competition. The education intervention will aim to educate athletes with regards to the potential role of the human microbiota in athlete health and performance. This will be developed to promote compliance with the increasingly prevalent use of probiotics and other microbiome-focussed nutritional supplements in elite sport.
This project will employ an interdisciplinary team approach utilising microbiology, sports nutrition and psychology expertise to generate high quality publications and research impact. Laboratory methods will be used to assess the presence/absence of a range of microbes in elite performance environments in a range of sports. The body of work will include the development and delivery of a pilot educational framework for athletes and key stakeholders in sport based on a needs analysis undertaken via a qualitative study. It is anticipated that this project will provide an opportunity to generate practice implications and protocols to embed within sporting body guidelines and athlete support services as a measure of research impact.
- 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
- A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.
- First Class Honours (1st) Degree
- Masters at 65%
- Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
- Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
- Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
- Work experience relevant to the proposed project
- Publications - peer-reviewed
- Experience of presentation of research findings
- Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.
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 £15,285 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
The Doctoral College at Ulster University
My research examined the ability of exercise to inflict damage to DNA and other biologically important structures. During my PhD I had the pleasure of being supervised by Prof Gareth Davison and Dr Ciara Hughes. Pursuing a PhD was never a goal from the outset of my academic career - I wanted to be a PE teacher and completed my BSc in Sport and Exercise Science. However, I carried on with my studies and completed a MSc in Sports Nutrition before enrolling in my PhD.If I could give advice to any new graduate student, it would be the nature of research means that things will not always go according to plan. Keep calm, take a break and then carry on. Have a life outside work. Although your lab group is like your work family, it’s great for your mental health to be able to escape work especially when things don't go to plan.
Joshua Williamson - PhD in Sports Science