Graduate Stories: Josh Kearney

It’s been just over a year now since graduating from the University of Birmingham with a degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences!

It’s been a fun and hectic year that has allowed me to continue growing, filled with experiences of training hundreds of people in sports and fitness, alongside many hours of applications for postgraduate study opportunities. I decided in my final year that I wanted to do a PhD, but have managed to squeeze in a year of quality experience to supplement what I gained from being part of LANS.

Josh KearneyWritten by Josh Kearney

Almost as soon as I finished my degree – completing a double major in Psychology and Sport Science – I was fortunate enough to get a job working as a personal trainer in a gym in South London, a passion I have held for a number of years. Having had limited experience prior to taking this role, it has been an amazing place for me to advance my skills, training a range of clients with goals ranging from physique changes to athletic performance. It is the latter that has most captured my interest though, and so I travelled to Budapest, Hungary to take part in an EXOS Performance Mentorship course all about optimising the performance of athletes. 

Since then I began a journey to become an accredited strength and conditioning coach through the UKSCA, practicing field-based speed, strength and mobility work with a football team. I am currently halfway through implementing the pre-season strength and conditioning programme I have planned with this football team, working with 100 different youth players from 10-15 years of age. In all the training I do, as a PT and strength coach, there is an emphasis on sound movement patterns using my knowledge of motor learning and control.

Alongside this I had been searching for postgraduate study options that suit the research goals I have. I completed several lengthy applications, which included rejections from Oxford and Brunel, and acceptance from Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, only for the lack of funding to become too big an obstacle. Finally though, I was accepted to start a fully-funded PhD project back at the University of Birmingham investigating the neuroscience of movement via the manipulation of tremor-related activity using brain stimulation techniques. The funding is provided internally as part of the newly set up Cognitive Motor Neuroscience Lab with Dr John-Stuart Brittain.

I am so excited to get started, to learn more about the brain in the context of movement and contribute some exciting research to the field of neuroscience. I am keen to use the PhD to gain an expertise of the brain not seen in strength coaches, and use the underlying principles of motor control to both optimise performance in athletes and to restore normal movement to those with disorders (Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Essential Tremor, Stroke…). 

The PhD position will be supervised by Dr John-Stuart Brittain in Psychology, and Dr Ned Jenkinson in Sports and Exercise Sciences, a combination very reflective of the intersection between the two fields I came to explore via LANS. The flexibility of the degree made this realisation of my passion for Neuroscience possible, allowing a module selection not plausible with any other degree. In fact, by the end of second year I had only completed one module in Sport Science. On completion of my degree however, I had completed a whole range of Sport Science modules, including a final dissertation in Motor Control and Biomechanics. My third year in Canada featured modules in Motor Control and Biomechanics which provided a good foundation for my dissertation project, alongside research modules and seminars in Cognitive Psychology which demanded a high level of research, reading and analytical skills. Other modules in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology still support me in my work today, and final year modules in Neuroimaging and Rehabilitating the Brain helped massively when preparing PhD proposals.

I am therefore extremely grateful for the opportunity to have studied the degree I did, and that the actual course started in 2013 and not a year later! It is a key part of the narrative of my journey so far, and I have consequently explained it to interviewers and described it in personal statements with ease. It of course also provides ample opportunity to describe the ‘soft skills’ the course helps nurture as well, including strong leadership, collaboration and lateral thinking – a result of the core breadth modules, trips and discussions I valued highly, which helped set us apart from other courses. 

I am back in Birmingham in January to start the next part of my journey! I am looking forward to more learning, more hard work, and gaining knowledge to help advance my future work in the practical field of athletic development and rehabilitation (and being back in close proximity to the LANS hub!).