Sport and exercise sciences PhD project opportunities

Find out more about our innovative, self-funded PhD projects in areas of sport and exercise science.

We already have supervisors active and engaged in the research topic in our School of Psychology and Sport Science.

British Basketball, Governance, and UK Sport’s ‘No-Compromise’ Funding Approach

Research Group:

Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences

Proposed supervisory team:

Dr Mathew Dowling

Dr Anna Stodter

Dr Justin Roberts

Theme:

Sport Policy and Management

Summary of the research project:

The British Basketball Federation (BBF), also known as British Basketball, is the national governing body (NGB) of sport for responsible for overseeing basketball within Great Britain. The federation seeks “to create world class basketball programme in Great Britain and to lead the overarching strategy for the growth of basketball in England, Scotland and Wales.” (British Basketball, n.d.). British Basketball currently functions as a ‘federated’ governance model, with three home nation associations (England Basketball, Basketball Scotland, Basketball Wales) which operate independently and responsible for organising competitions and developing the sport in their respective domains. This suggests that the primary function is to organise men and women’s teams to compete at international competition. The current Great Britain men’s and women’s basketball teams (GB basketball) were formed by the home nation associations in December 2005 in response to the automatic qualification to compete in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

As a single-medal, team-based sport, basketball has always been considered a low priority sport by UK Sport, the governing agency responsible for overseeing elite sport within the UK. Like many Olympic-based NGBs, British Basketball enjoyed a considerable increase in grant in-aid funding support in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, only to have funding completely cut during subsequent funding cycles, receiving no governmental funding from UK Sport during the Sydney and Athens cycles. Despite lacklustre performances within international competition, which some would argue is due to the lack of funding support, basketball remains one of the most highly participated sports in the country. According to Sport England’s, Adult and Children and Young People Active Lives Survey, basketball is the second most participated team sport (behind football) with approximately 1.3 million participants (Sport England, n.d.). The sport is also notably popular within disadvantaged, urban, and BAME communities making it politically attractive for tackling inequalities within society.

The current project examines the complex nature of the funding relationships between NGB’s and governing agencies such as Sport England and UK Sport and how their governing arrangements have enabled and constrained their strategic decision-making processes. In particular, the project will focus specifically on British Basketball as a single in-depth case study and how they have attempted to navigate their funding relationships over the past two decades.

This research may adopt a range of methodologies tailored to the specific research questions, including interviewing, surveys, and document analysis.

Where you’ll study:

Cambridge

Next steps:

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Sport and Exercise Sciences MPhil, PhD. In the section of the application form entitled ’Outline research proposal’, please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Funding Notes:

This project is self-funded. You may be eligible for doctoral funding through government funding scheme

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Evaluating the effects of commercial exercise programmes and combined dietary strategies on cardio-metabolic risk

Research Group

Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Justin Roberts

Dr Lee Smith

Dr James Johnstone

Theme

Health, Nutrition and Physical Activity, Nutrition, Exercise and Cardiometabolic Risk

Summary of the research project

Despite evidence for increasing levels of recreational time availability in the general population, physical inactivity and obesity trends remain high in the United Kingdom (hscic.gov.uk, 2014). There has been recent interest in the use of high intensity training (or HiiT) as a means to provide a solution to perceived time limitation for exercise, as well as to provide more effective support for individuals who may be less able to undertake prolonged cardiovascular exercise (Gibala et al., 2006; Burgomaster et al., 2008; Kelly et al., 2014; Weston et al., 2014). Current scientific thinking indicates that HiiT provides a type of ‘up-regulation’ of key cell proteins leading to improved fitness and metabolism over time (Burgomaster et al., 2008). However, to date, there does not appear to be any research investigating the impact of more commercial home based training programmes such as P90X™ – a 90 day intensive cardio-resistance training programme or ‘Insanity’ – a similar home based training programme designed around maximal interval training.

The research programme would aim to investigate how such programmes benefit recreational, trained and overweight cohorts, either with or without a corresponding ‘healthy eating’ programme. There is particular interest on assessment of overall cardiometabolic health, and any potential negative effects from such exercise routines.

Resources required: the programme would require access to exercise physiology laboratory space for standard exercise testing/training, as well as access to the HTA laboratory for storage of plasma samples. Additionally, access to the main analytical laboratories would be required for assessment of endotoxin and cholesterol assays. Purchase of, and training in, assay use would be required.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded. Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Sport and Exercise Sciences MPhil, PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Exploring the application of nutritional mindfulness to exercise performance

Research Group

Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Justin Roberts

Dr Lee Smith

Theme

Health, Nutrition and Physical Activity, Nutrition and Mindful Eating

Summary of the research project

Nutritional coaching, and methods to improve the application of nutritional strategies is of current interest to sport and exercise scientists, coaches and practitioners alike. In many cases, nutritional interventions are not reinforced and as such athletes (and exercising individuals) often fail in the consistent application of such interventions. This can lead to poor dietary intake or practices over time, with athlete’s regularly viewing nutrition as important, but not really focusing on its application in comparison to both training and recovery (Roberts, 2015 personal observations).

Levels of nutritional knowledge have been reported to be poor in many athletic groups (Furber, Roberts and Roberts, 2016), with education and advice often coming from non-scientific sources. In many cases, this gives rise to an unconscious approach to eating patterns, with athletes eating out of necessity, on the go, rushed or making poor food choices. Subclinical symptoms such as fatigue, poor recovery, bloating, mental confusion, poor decision making, inflammatory states and gastrointestinal distress may all stem from simple ‘decisions’ linked to food intake.

Strategies to improve mindful approaches to eating behaviours may provide practical means to advance athletic training and performance through improved nutrition and recovery mechanisms. This research aims to explore current practices in a variety of athletic cohorts, combined with practical and psychological strategies to enhance nutritional intake leading to measurable physiological improvements.

Resources required: the programme would require access to exercise physiology laboratory space for standard exercise testing/training, as well as access to the HTA laboratory for storage of potential plasma samples. Additionally, access to the main analytical laboratories would be required for assessment of pertinent assays. All cardio-metabolic testing equipment is currently available in the Sport and Exercise Sciences laboratories. Purchase of, and training in, assay use would be required, if applicable.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded. Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Sport and Exercise Sciences MPhil, PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Finding 30 minutes in the marathon: a systematic approach to training design for the non-elite competitive marathon runner

Research Group

Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Dan Gordon 

Dr Justin Roberts

Mike Ferrandino

Theme

Endurance Physiology, Exercise

Summary of the research project

Marathon running is one of the biggest mass participation sports in the world, with the London marathon alone attracting around 38,000 runners each year. Within this population the largest grouping are the non-elite runners who are either running for personal goals or for charity.

When considering the physiology of the marathon runner, three components dominate, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), aerobic capacity as denoted by the lactate turn-point and the economy of the athlete. Yet when we consider the wealth of literature that has been published in this field the majority either uses small sample sizes or focuses on athletes who complete the distance in times of 2 ½ - 3 ½ hours.

Recent work from our group has focused on how runners pace the marathon, in respect of age, experience and sex across a sample of 1900 runners. Additionally we have amassed a data set from 97 non-elite runners relating to their training habits, underlying physiology and race performance. This project would aim to move from this laboratory data set and apply the findings to athletes wishing to increase their race speed (#30minutes_faster).

The study will follow a group of 300 runners as they prepare over a 9 month period for a spring to summer marathon. The runners will be required to follow prescribed programs based on bespoke training loads which have been derived from our previous works. The study will compare different modalities of training whilst ensuring that the load across groups remains the same. A sub-sample will be assessed on a regular basis for key physiological responses including cardiac function, haematology, respiratory responses, and metabolic responses and training characteristics. This project has an enormous real—world application as the outcomes will better inform the mass participation runner how to use their training time effectively whilst avoiding the negative consequences of training.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded. Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Sport and Exercise Sciences MPhil, PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Fixing the leaky pipeline: student transition into Higher Education (HE). Is it time for a rethink?

Research Group:

Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences

Proposed supervisory team:

Dr Matthew Timmis

Dr Francesca Cavallerio

Dr Jade Salim (external; St Mary’s University, Twickenham)

Theme:

Learning and Teaching Research in Sport & Exercise Sciences

Summary of the research project:

Background: The initial weeks of a student’s HE life is their most important (Gale and Parker, 2014). This view is used to support targeted sessions, (‘induction activities’), during the student’s first day/week. An alternative viewpoint (and that of the supervisory team) is that transition should be viewed as a more fluid and enduring component of the learning experience, a longer process developing throughout the student’s first year. Central to this understanding is the idea that when entering HE, ‘student’ is not something one is by default, but something one becomes through a complex learning process, requiring navigation of ongoing, context-specific, social situations (Gregersen et al., 2021). This project forms part of a wider body of research being undertaken at Anglia Ruskin University which is seeking to understand the transitional needs of students as they enter HE.

Project aim: Identify the transitional needs of underrepresented students within SES and develop sector-wide specific resources to facilitate transition and improved continuation.

Project outline & indicative research methodology: This project requires a student with a background in qualitative research methods. There are 3 distinct phases of the project.

Phase 1: With support from our PSRB (The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences - BASES), institutions teaching SES will be invited to participate. Responses from students' experiences of transitioning into HE, along with descriptive information (e.g., gender, ethnicity) will be collected to better understand the sample. Narrative Thematic Analysis (i.e., examining cultural themes portrayed in the text) will be used to analyse data from a sociocultural perspective, identifying narrative typologies representing the diverse experiences of students transitioning into HE.

Phase 2: Digital resources will be created, and participating institutions will implement the resources to support the key transitional moments; pre-transition, early transition (e.g., welcome week), and throughout first year of study (e.g., PDT sessions). Evaluation of the success with implementing the resources will take place.

Phase 3: Continuation and performance metrics obtained from participating institutions will be used to evaluate the success of this project (compared to sector average and own institution’s historic data). In addition, as students enter their second year, they will be asked to reflect upon the usefulness of the resources for facilitating transition; reflections occurring via focus groups, or one-to-one interviews.

Where you’ll study:

Cambridge

Next steps:

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Sport and Exercise Sciences MPhil, PhD. In the section of the application form entitled ’Outline research proposal’, please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Funding Notes:

This project is self-funded. Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Gastrointestinal modulation using omega-3 and probiotic strategies and its effect on cardio-metabolic health in obese and non-obese populations

Research Group

Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Justin Roberts

Dr Lee Smith

Theme

Health, Nutrition and Physical Activity, Probiotics and Gut Health

Summary of the research project

It is known that the bacteria of the intestinal tract differs between obese and non-obese cohorts (Dibaise et al., 2008). It has been proposed that such differences may explain transient gut wall permeability leading to conditions associated with increased circulating toxins. Additionally, with increased visceral fat stores in obese conditions (Depres et al., 2008), there would appear to be a connection between gut health and hormonal ‘messaging’ from adipose tissue. Increased levels of inflammatory hormones (e.g., resistin) have been demonstrated to result in higher concentrations of circulating low density lipoprotein (Steppan et al., 2001; Steppan et al., 2002; Al-Daghri et al., 2005) cholesterol (LDL-c), so called ‘bad cholesterol’. Levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ have been implicated alongside increased cardio-metabolic health risks.

It is proposed that nutritional strategies to support the gastrointestinal bacteria and provide competitive exclusion of endotoxins may alter such ‘messaging’, leading to a reduction in cardio-metabolic risk either with or without exercise. The use of omega-3 fatty acids combined with probiotic strains may offer practical interventions to support gastrointestinal health (Das, 2002). Improvements in cardio-metabolic risk offer considerable economic and societal impact considering evident obesity trends in the United Kingdom.

Resources required: the programme would require access to exercise physiology laboratory space for standard exercise testing/training, as well as access to the saliva laboratory for storage of plasma samples. Additionally, access to the main analytical laboratories would be required for assessment of endotoxin assays, cholesterol assessment and resistin assessment using enzyme-linked immunoabsorbant assay (ELISA).

The project would require sponsorship of nutritional supplementation throughout the research programme (omega-3 fatty acid, probiotic formulas), and we have an excellent working collaboration with a leading clinical nutrition company. Purchase of, and training in, assay use would be required, if applicable.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded. Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Sport and Exercise Sciences MPhil, PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Good governance National governing bodies of sport and the UK sport governance code

Research Group

Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Mathew Dowling

Dr Anna Stodter

Dr Justin Roberts

Theme

Sport Policy and Management

Summary of the research project

In April 2017, UK Sport and Sport England co-published a new sport governance code, which sets out the principles of ‘good’ governance and the levels of transparency, accountability and financial integrity required for any sport organisations wishing to receive public funding (through UK Sport or Sport England). The creation and implementation of the code was a key part of the Conservative Government’s sporting strategy set out within Sporting Future (DCMS, 2015).

Governance in sport has become a central concern in recent years (Hums & MacLean, 2018; King, 2016). This interest has emerged, in part, from broader societal concerns surrounding governance (e.g., Enron scandal and economic crisis) but also due to recent high profile failures within sport (e.g., FIFA and the Russian doping scandal). There is no single agreed upon definition of governance, but ‘good’ governance can be broadly understood as the effective and responsible management of an organisation.

The current project examines how NGB's have interpreted and implemented this new code of governance and assess what impact it has had on these organisations. Potential avenues of inquiry include: (i) how NGB's have interpreted the new code of governance, (ii) the barriers and challenges faced by NGB's in adopting the new code (iii) whether the new code has changed governance practice. In doing so, this project seeks to understand the implications of the new governance code for all sport organisations and improve its ongoing implementation.

This research may adopt a range of methodologies tailored to the specific research questions, including interviewing, surveys, and document analysis.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Sport and Exercise Sciences MPhil, PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Impact of Ischaemic Pre-Conditioning on Oxygen Uptake Kinetics: Implications for training and recovery

Research Group

Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Dan Gordon

Dr Marie Gernigon (External - University of Paris-Saclay)

Theme

Cardiovascular, Respiratory, Exercise

Summary of the research project

Ischaemic pre-conditioning (IPC) is characterised by brief episodes of ischaemic followed by reperfusion and appears to offer both cardiac and vascular protection against prolonged ischaemia and ischaemia reperfusion injury (Murray et al 2015). Recent works have also offered some insight into potential ergogenic benefits within sport (Marcolo et al 2016, 2017). Such an approach has been cited as enhancing mitochondrial biogenesis, capillary density and promoting enzymatic adaptations key to cardiovascular control and regulation. The study of oxygen kinetics during exercise offers insight into the mechanistic basis of muscle energetics by assessing the integration of the respiratory, cardiovascular, and muscular systems at the onset of exercise (Gordon et al 2011). To date, little is known about how IPC effects both on and off-transit VO2-kinetics with the majority of work focusing on the impact of an IPC intervention pre-exercise. However, understanding from work on prior-priming exercise (Burnely et al. 2012) informs that the application of the IPC either during a preceding bout of exercise or in the recovery period could have profound effects on the subsequent VO2 kinetic response. The implications of these findings will be of significant interest to both clinicians and athletic populations as a speeding of the VO2-kinetics at the onset of exercise, contributes to a reduction on the local muscular strain and enhances O2 availability. This study will bring together world leading expertise from ARU and also the University of Paris-Saclay to investigate the impact of IPC during exercise on VO2-kinetics. The programme will focus on the following themes:

  1. Impact of an IPC intervention during an exercise bout within prescribed domains of work (moderate, heavy and severe) on the VO2-kinetic response in a preceding period of exercise
  2. Impact of an IPC intervention during the recovery period following a prescribed period of exercise on the preceding VO2-kinetic responses
  3. Impact of fluctuating IPC applications during an exercise bout within prescribed domains of work (moderate, heavy and severe) on the VO2-kinetic response in a preceding period of exercise

This project will make use of the extensive facilities within the Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences and will focus on the assessment of the integrated responses of cardiovascular, respiratory and muscular systems during exercise. As such we will make use of such approaches as breath-by-breath analysis, thoracic impedance cardiography, near infrared spectroscopy and localised blood sampling.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded. Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Sport and Exercise Sciences MPhil, PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

The use of green tea strategies combined with exercise training to promote enhanced fat oxidation and cardio-metabolic health: part 1

Research Group

Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Justin Roberts

Dr Lee Smith

Theme

Health, Nutrition and Physical Activity, Green Tea Extract, Fat Oxidation

Summary of the research project

There is current scientific and public interest in the health benefits of functional foods, particularly with reference to green tea and related extracts. A recent publication by Roberts et al (2015) demonstrated that the acute use (4 weeks) of a high strength, decaffeinated green tea extract promoted significant improvements in the ability to use fat as an energy source during exercise, as well as increasing short term aerobic performance. Additionally, this study demonstrated that in recreationally active individuals, bodyfat was significantly reduced following short term green tea extract supplementation. It is proposed that the potential health and ergogenic benefits of green tea use stems from the active catechins, of which (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) may have profound bioactive properties.

Following this recent publication, there has been widespread media and public interest in the longer term use of green tea with particular reference to population level studies. The aim of this research project will therefore be to undertake collective studies leading to a larger population based study investigating the use of specific green tea formulas in conjunction with exercise training on body composition, fat oxidation and cardio-metabolic health.

Resources required: the programme would require access to exercise physiology laboratory space for standard exercise testing/training, as well as access to the psychology laboratory for storage of plasma samples (HTA authorised facility). Additionally, access to the main analytical laboratories would be required for assessment of pertinent blood assays.

The project would require sponsorship of nutritional supplementation throughout the research programme (green tea extract capsulation) – we currently have a good collaboration with a leading clinical nutrition company who will be supporting this research through product supply. Purchase of, and training in, assay use would be required.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded. Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Sport and Exercise Sciences MPhil, PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.