Think I'm starting to get repetitive strain injury from all this typing!
Favourite Thing: Field testing – that’s where we escape the lab to collect data in the ‘real world’!
Slimbridge Primary School, Stroud High School (2001-2008), University of Oxford (2008-2011), Bangor University (PhD, 2012-2015)
BA Physiological Sciences, PhD Exercise Immunology
Oxford University Sports Federation President 2011-2012.
Researcher & Lecturer in Sports Science
Mid Sweden University / Swedish Winter Sports Research Centre
Sport scientist living in the frozen lands of Northern Sweden
Hej Hej from Sweden!
I’m Helen, I’m 26 years old and I live in Östersund (pronounced eurgh-ster-sund!) in Northern Sweden!
I’ve lived in Sweden since August 2015. It’s pretty cool here – and by cool I mean very cold! Last winter it was around -20 degrees Celsius outside for most of January! The plus side of that is that we have lots of snow, which makes for a fun-filled winter of skiing in the nearby mountains and ice skating on frozen lakes! I love adventure sports – skiing and skating in the winter and rock climbing and mountain biking in the summer. But my main competitive sport is orienteering, which has taken me to some pretty cool places over the years. I think I have competed in orienteering races in 11 different countries so far!
A little about how I came to be where I am today: I grew up in Gloucestershire and I’ll admit I was a bit of a swot at school. My other passion was sport and as I got into my teens I became more serious about competing in orienteering and the heptathlon. When I came to apply to university, I couldn’t decide whether to study Sports Science or Physiology. In the end, I decided I was really interested in how our bodies work, both in sport and more generally, so I chose to study Physiology. After studying for my PhD in North Wales (Bangor University – an awesome place to go if you love the mountains and adventure sports as I do!) I took the plunge and applied for my current job in Sweden.
I’m working on ways to help athletes to avoid getting sick before big competitions, so that they can perform at their best.
I work as a researcher and lecturer at Mid Sweden University. As well as teaching Sports Science to our students, I also work with winter sports athletes and coaches at the Swedish Winter Sports Research Centre.
As an exercise physiologist I am interested in the way that our bodies respond and adapt to exercise. For many elite athletes, there is a fine line between ‘peak form’ and training too much so that they become tired, unwell or injured. How much training is the right amount? How long should we allow for recovery in between training sessions? Are there any special foods that will help athletes to stay healthy? How can athletes avoid getting sick before a big competition? These are the sorts of questions I am working hard to find answers to. Of course, the answers are not straightforward!
My Typical Day
Lectures, emails, some data crunching and an all important ‘fika’!
After arriving at work and checking/replying to emails, I’ll go downstairs to the staff kitchen for a fika. ‘Fika’ is the swedish term for ‘a coffee break, with friends or colleagues, sometimes involving cake’. Fika breaks are an institution in Sweden. I meet my colleagues for around 20 minutes at 9.30am each day. Sometimes we talk about work, sometimes we talk about our plans for the weekend, and it’s a great chance to have a quick discussion with someone about an idea or problem that isn’t big enough to make it worthwhile scheduling a whole meeting.
After that, it’s on to the day’s work. My working days are very varied. Sometimes I’ll be with our students, giving lectures or running practicals in the lab. These classes require some preparation, so other days I’ll need to prepare, mark work or write exams. The student study modules that are 5 weeks long, so I spend 5 weeks seeing them almost every day, before they move on to study a different topic with a different lecturer.
When the students are off studying other subjects, I spend my time on research. Research studies take several months to complete, so sometimes my day involves reading and planning, sometimes I’ll be in the lab collecting my data, and then when all that’s done I’ll need to spend some time to write it up into a coherent scientific research paper.
One of the things I love about my job is how varied it is! It’s pretty hard to describe a typical day, because every day and every month brings new ideas and challenges!
What I'd do with the money
I’d go into schools to share my work and experiences and hopefully buy some cool equipment to take with me!
I was inspired to study Physiology when science TV presenter Prof. Alice Roberts came to my school with a great big science bus and talked to us about her career and her work. I’d seen her TV programmes and I already thought human anatomy and physiology was something I would like to study. But that visit to my school and the chance to speak to her about her work was what made me decide to pursue my degree in Physiology and ultimately my career as a scientist.
Therefore, I want to pay it forward. I don’t have any particular schools in mind (apart from, perhaps, my old schools!) but I’d like to get out to as many as the budget and my time would allow. Maybe I could even use the money to borrow a science bus?! Anyway, if I win and you want it to be your school, please shout loudly!
Topics I think it would be cool to talk about:
- Science careers (Human Biology, Physiology, Sports Science)
- Mythbusting in Sports Nutrition
- The science of Elite Performance
- Practical ideas to test yourselves in P.E. lessons.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Approachable, confident and energetic
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Frank Turner, but I’m quite enjoying some of Jess Glynne’s tunes at the moment!
What's your favourite food?
Italian food – Lasagne and Tiramisu take some beating!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Cycling the West Coast of France self-supported this summer.
What did you want to be after you left school?
A sports scientist or a physiotherapist
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Of course not!
What was your favourite subject at school?
P.E. or Maths
What's the best thing you've done in your job?
Sending my research study participants down a very fast Zip Wire in the name of science!
What or who inspired you to do what you do?
Dr. Alice Roberts, when she visited my school.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you be?
A physiotherapist or a member of a mountain rescue team.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) To have the time and money to go on more adventures 2) For my body to stay fit and healthy enough to be able to run when I am in my 80s and 3) to be able to ‘apparate’!
Tell us a joke.
Why can’t you trust atoms? Because they make everything up.
My workplace is called the Swedish Winter Sports Research Centre. It is part of Mid Sweden University, pictured below. I took this picture on 4th Nov after we just had the first snow of the season!
The people who work here work in one of three main jobs. Some of us work with two or all of these things!
- Teaching Sports Science to students
We have undergraduate and graduate degree programmes in sports science. The undergraduates are all Swedish and learn in a mix of Swedish and English. The postgraduates learn in English.
Here are some of our students doing some laboratory practicals with one of our lecturers, Haris.
For the past few weeks I have been teaching anatomy to our first year students. I’ve been making good use of my friend ‘Bones’ in my lectures, pictured below!
2. Doing research.
If you work at a university, an important part of your job is to do science, and find out new things. I do research in a few different areas. Some of my work involves studying how the body responds to different environmental conditions. To do this research we use our environmental chamber, pictured below. It can go down to -20 celsius, up to +30 celsius, and also simulate altitudes as high as Everest Base Camp!
Next week we will be using our environmental chamber to look at how our breathing is affected by doing interval running in different temperatures. I’ll try and post some more pics then!
3. Testing athletes from the National teams.
This is something I don’t get to do so much in my job! But it’s another important part of what my workplace does. Here is a video from when the Swedish downhill ski team came in for testing last spring. Take a look!