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Sport, fitness and exercise science

A medical student and research volunteer on a stationary exercise bicycle

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If you love sport and exercise, the UK is the place to be. With a long sporting legacy, high-profile events – from tennis at Wimbledon to motor racing at Silverstone – as well as sport science courses at world-renowned universities and colleges, a UK qualification is respected by employers worldwide. You’ll also find cutting-edge facilities, and research that’s changing the world of sport and fitness.

For more about sport in the UK, see Sport on campus and in your community and UK sports events throughout the year.

Here, two academics from the School of Sport, Health & Exercise Sciences at Bangor University explain what you could learn, and how it could lead to the career of your dreams.

Meet the experts

Dr Jamie Macdonald
Health, Exercise and Rehabilitation; The Extremes Research Group

'I have a particular interest in hypoxia (oxygen deprivation), which can affect humans at high altitude and people with conditions such as chronic kidney disease. As I write this I am sitting on a train returning from conducting a workshop that was aimed at preparing expedition leaders to take young people mountaineering at high altitude.'

Professor Tim Woodman
Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance

'I have a particular interest in stress, emotions and performance. As I write this I am in my office (with an amazing view over the sea as it happens) preparing to write a paper with a student on why some people are more likely to miss a penalty in football (soccer). As I am also Head of School, I am also preparing an award speech for our students at graduation.'

Why should I study sport and exercise?

Do you realise that you are special? By reading this article, perhaps you already share with us an enjoyment of physical activity; like us you have a desire to push your body in mind and muscle to perform at your very best; like us you lust for that feeling of euphoria that comes whenever we participate in physical activity and play sport.

If so, then you are officially 'weird', in a very positive way! In fact, in Western countries fewer than 5% of people meet physical activity recommendations. Most choose to ignore that regular participation in physical activity would reduce their risk of cancer, dementia, heart disease and many other life-threatening conditions. Even fewer people are lucky enough to experience the highs (and lows) of competitive sport.

Or perhaps you share our love and passion for watching, reading and talking about sport? Then you are part of a huge worldwide community. Whether supporting close friends or following athletes and teams through their wins and losses, the desire to watch sport can be so powerful it might cost us considerable time and money, and create friendships – it can cross cultural, ethical and political boundaries.

This passion is why you should choose exercise and sport as your undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

What can I study?

In the UK you can study Bachelor of Science (BSc) or Master of Science (MSc) degrees in sport, health and exercise science – and the science aspect is very important. These courses don’t teach you to play sport, but help you to understand it, from physiological (heart, lungs and muscle), psychological (mind, emotions) and biomechanical (human movement) perspectives.

At undergraduate level we believe that you need to know a little about each of these perspectives because, quite simply, any physical activity will always involve all three. However, at postgraduate level you can choose to specialise in a more specific area, which allows a deeper understanding of a particular issue. You’ll also have the opportunity to follow your interests and widen your future career options by focusing on 'sport' (the study of elite performers), 'health' (how physical activity can rehabilitate a patient from injury or disease), or 'exercise' (how physical activity can prevent illness).

What careers could I go into?

These skills equip you to follow a career supporting elite athletes, working in national health settings, or delivering physical activity interventions in the community. You could gain further qualifications to teach, or to become a physiotherapist, occupational therapist or psychologist. Or you can use the transferable skills from your degree – such as leadership and communication skills – for a different career such as the emergency services, travel and hospitality, or management.

But let’s be realistic. With so many people sharing our passion for sport and exercise, there are now many more graduates with degrees in sport and exercise – so it’s important to improve your employability by getting the best degree classification you can, from a reputable institution, and participating in relevant extra-curricular activities to boost your CV.

(For more advice about choosing and finding a job after you graduate, go to Entering a career.)

Can I take part in new research?

Research is such an important aspect of a good degree programme in sport and exercise science. Research-active lecturers allow students to access the most up-to-date, exciting and state-of-the-art research and information. Participating in research allows students to develop important transferable skills including the ability to think critically, to analyse and present data, and to develop skills including problem-solving and time management. Perhaps most importantly, research-active lecturers are critical thinkers themselves, allowing them to assess and select the best methods to teach their students.

We also work closely with professionals – we believe exercise and sports practitioners should be involved in every step of the research process, from identification of the problem, to the design of a study to answer that problem, collection and analysis of the data, to dissemination of the findings. This ensures that the research is relevant, useful, interesting and accessible to practitioners in the real world.

Finally, what essential tips and tricks can you share?

From talking with employers, a key requirement for job applicants is to combine their degree with practical skills and applied experience. It is thus essential that students take every opportunity to develop their CV (curriculum vitae, or résumé).  Getting a good degree – in terms of classification and from a reputable institution – is the first important step.

As students, you should expect to have to complete work experience and to spend considerable time developing skills such as laboratory techniques before landing the dream job. Don’t be too proud to complete menial but essential jobs such as carrying bags and making tea (we have both done it, sometimes at World Championships!) – if it gets you access to the experience that you desire, then it is worth it.

Humans are very complicated. That is why broad reading of all the disciplines of sport and exercise science will allow you to take a holistic and multidisciplinary approach when working with athletes and patients. Without this, you may not be able to see the broader picture and the context of the specific work that you do as a sport scientist.

And finally, have the courage to live your passion. As we say in Bangor: work hard, play hard! 

Student stories

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