PhD study at SPARC

PhD study at SPARC

A PhD in the Sport and Physical Activity Research Centre (SPARC) is a unique experience. As a research centre devoted to cutting-edge applied research, we offer a vibrant community in which postgraduates can work, and a thriving research environment. We work with elite athletes and have world-class facilities

We recruit high-quality, motivated students to carry out theoretical and applied PhD projects which are often sponsored by external clients. Students are supervised by world-leading academics and enjoy an excellent working environment. Collectively, we provide a stimulating and supportive environment with extensive facilities to support the research.

Students also undertake a programme of training in research methods, literature reviews, oral presentation skills, project planning and costing, academic and technical writing skills, IPR and patents. Many of our PhD graduates stay with us through post-doctoral employment and permanent research posts.

PhD supervision is available across each of the centre’s key areas of expertise:

  • Sport & Human Performance Research Group
  • Sports Engineering Research Group
  • Sport Industry Research Group
  • Physical Activity, Wellbeing and Public Health Research Group

There are currently over 40 PhD students at SPARC, and our PhD completions in 2019/20 provide an insight into the diverse range of topics studied within the centre.

To find out more on how to apply for PhD study please contact us at

PhD alumni

We have an excellent track record of working with PhD students and are incredibly proud of their achievements. Our students go on to secure high-value careers throughout the sports industry and academia.

Current alumni roles within industry include:

  • Computer Vision Scientist, Amazon;
  • R&D Engineer, HEAD Sports;
  • Sport Intelligence Consultant, English Institute of Sport;
  • Product Development Engineer, Pentland Brands.

Alumni are well-represented in academia, with current roles including:

  • Lecturer in Biomechanics, University of Derby;
  • Research Fellow, Sheffield Hallam University;
  • Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, Manchester Metropolitan University;
  • Senior Lead Researcher, Institut Sukan Negara Malaysia.

Some of our previous students have received international awards for their research. Dr Bodil Oudshoorn won the 2017 $20,000 Nike Award for Athletic Footwear Research at the 2017 Footwear Biomechanics Symposium. Dr Peter Olusoga (Stress in sports coaching; 2012) and Dr Liam Slack (2015) were awarded the Thesis of the Year by the Association of Applied Sport Psychology. Dr Slack also received the Human Kinetics Young Researcher Award (2015) for his work on mental toughness training intervention with elite referees.

Our PhD students also secure conference hosting funding. Mike Thelwell, one of our current PhD students, was recently awarded an engaging sports engineering grant, funding by the ISEA, to host a Sports Engineering Seminar Day. This was co-hosted by the Sports Engineering Research Group and the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University.

What our PhD students say

'Having the opportunity to combine my PhD studies with working in an Olympic programme required support and understanding from the staff at SERG. Their supervision and guidance benefitted me as I learned how to meet the required academic standards, and my sport as new methods, practices and knowledge now contribute to the development and performance of elite divers. It has been a fulfilling and professionally rewarding process - thank you to SHU.'

Dr Adam Sotheran, Head of Sports Science and Medicine - British Diving

'I completed a part-time PhD whilst working in CSES (now Physical Activity, Wellbeing and Public Health Research Group) full-time. Having the support of experienced colleagues during my PhD was invaluable and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to spend time working with people with multiple sclerosis doing research that had a direct impact on their lives.'

Dr Anouska Carter, Principal Research Fellow, Sheffield Hallam University (Physical Activity, Wellbeing and Public Health Research Group)

'I found my whole experience as a PhD student with SIRC [now SIRG] to be incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling. As a remote student, I could not have felt more welcome whenever I visited the centre. Whether it was in-person or virtual, my supervisors provided the best support I could have asked for. They pushed me all the way to think differently, challenge myself and grow in confidence and ability.”

Adjunct Professor Annie Smith, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia 

'My PhD provided me with the knowledge and experience required to pursue my career as a researcher. I most enjoyed engaging in academic discussions and debates with my peers, challenging my learning and developing a more philosophical and critical perspective of my research and life.'

Dr Alice Bullas, Research Fellow, Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre

'I enjoyed being part of CSER (now the Sports Engineering Research Group) – spending time with other staff and students, having the opportunity to co-supervise student projects for the MSc Sports Engineering course. 

'I also very much enjoyed the opportunity to learn and develop new skills during the PhD, which I still use on a daily basis at HEAD Sports. Presenting my PhD work at two ISEA conferences was also good fun. Perhaps the most challenging (but also rewarding) part of my PhD was during the final 18 months, when designing and doing the final lab experiment – and of course writing it all up!'

Dr Nathan Elliott, R&D Engineer Tennis and Squash Racquets, HEAD Sports 

‘I had an excellent experience as a research student. I felt thoroughly supported throughout my research journey by approachable, accessible and considerate supervision. Dr Larissa Davies, my Director of Studies, was understanding of the challenges I had in combining full time work with doctorate level study, ensuring that I adhered to deadlines whilst accommodating the demands of my work. The entire team were very supportive, I welcomed the opportunity to discuss my research with enthusiastic peers, sharing advice about data collection tools and highlighting pertinent literature. I strongly recommend SIRG as a home for research and I continue to enjoy the network of critical friends’.

Dr Rebecca Peake, Head of Student Recruitment, College of Business, Technology & Engineering, Sheffield Hallam University

'During my PhD, I enjoyed being a part a great team, with fun, interesting and inspiring people. I really enjoyed my project – modelling and testing tennis rackets – and working alongside my industrial sponsor in Italy.'

Dr Tom Allen, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, Manchester Metropolitan University