Gaining a competitive edge in sports science

Tonia is a University of Birmingham Alumni and part of Birmingham Evaluating Skills Transfer (BEST) project –  investigating the value of courses held in outdoor pursuits settings for the development of groupwork skills (BEST Outdoor).

During her time at Birmingham University, Tonia was elected as the Women’s Captain of the Rowing Club and achieved a First Class hons degree in Sport and Exercise Science.Training on the Severn

My name is Tonia Horgan, I have recently graduated with a first class honours degree from Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Birmingham (2012-13). I am looking to pursue a career in the very competitive Sport Science industry, so when an opportunity to undertake a work placement arose earlier this year I jumped at the chance to apply.

The opportunity was at the University of Bath, a close competitor to the University of Birmingham in the University league table for Sport Science. I was very interested in stepping out of the Birmingham bubble and experiencing sport science in action at a different university. I didn’t know beforehand exactly what my role would be, but I was aware that Bath had excellent facilities so this was an opportunity that could not be missed. In addition, my final year modules and dissertation had primarily been focused on the Psychological aspects of Sport and Exercise Science, so I was hoping to build a broader understanding of the key Physiological principles in a more applied setting. My first impression of the Sports Training Village at the University of Bath, is one that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. The incredible facilities were lined with Olympic flags welcoming the visiting nations for their pre-Olympics training camps. I was based with Team Bath in the Human Performance Centre, in the Sports Physiology Lab, shadowing the Lead Applied Physiologist.

The majority of the equipment I had seen before during my Undergrad degree, but it was really impressive seeing it in a real working lab. During my time on placement I experienced a wide range of physiological tests, which were performed on a number of Olympic and Paralympic athletes to help with their preparation for the Olympic and Paralympic games in London. These tests included V02max tests on the treadmill and bike, lactate testing in the pool, skin fold calibrations, DEXA scans and BIODEX strength tests. In addition to this I helped carry out field testing, including speed and agility tests on local Football and Rugby clubs to help with selection of the teams for the upcoming seasons.

I received a lot of guidance and support from my supervisor and fellow students who were coming to the end of a yearlong placement with Team Bath. Over time I grew in confidence, which meant I was given more responsibilities and was able to take more of a lead role in performing the tests. Even though I felt out of my comfort zone at times, I felt the best way to learn was by actually conducting the tests on the athletes myself. I have been able to develop a much thorough understanding of the key Physiological aspects of Sport Science, more specifically how different types of training can reduce lactic acid production increasing resistance to fatigue during exercise, rather than through a textbook but demonstrated in real life through the lab testing.

It made me realise that just by doing a Sport Science degree doesn’t automatically make you a good Sport Scientist. The degree has provided me with a solid theoretical foundation, but what I now fully appreciate is that it is really important to be able to apply that knowledge in a real life setting, that comes from a lot of practice and experience. I found it extremely beneficial talking to professionals who have been successful in the field, as they provided me with invaluable advice on career options and working in the Sport Science industry.

In terms of employability skills, I have had the opportunity to enhance my teamwork, active listening and communication skills, through successfully working with colleagues of all levels to achieve desired objectives. I had to demonstrate professionalism at all times when working with the external clients, including punctuality and professional etiquette. I have also gained confidence in using my own initiative to complete tasks and duties, when not being directly supervised. Overall, I feel the more personal skills which I have been able to develop during this placement will enhance my employability and transfer well into my future endeavours. I would highly recommend a work placement – it was a fantastic learning experience and one which I know will help me to fulfil my ambition of becoming a Sport Scientist in the future.


About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

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