Master's by Research projects

If you are interested in studying on our Master's by Research programme, you can find details of current projects, with links to abstracts outlining their content, below.

Application process

To apply for any of our Master's by Research programmes, please complete a research proposal form:

When completing the research proposal form it is recommended that you make direct contact with the supervisor listed against the project title you are interested in applying to.

You can link to contact details for supervisors from the abstracts below or find them on our people page.

Once you have completed the research proposal form, please submit this via the online application system accessed by clicking on the “apply now” button on the Master's by research programme page.

The effect of muscle pain on isometric time to exhaustion of the knee extensors

Supervisor: Dr Lex Mauger

Abstract: Intense exercise induces a metabolic environment in the muscle which elicits exercise-induced pain. The magnitude of the pain experienced is proportional to the intensity and duration of the exercise performed, and has been linked to endurance performance. Exploring this relationship is challenging because it is not easy to recreate the experience of exercise-induced pain independently of exercise intensity. Over the last 3 years, the SSES has validated and employed the use of intramuscular injections of hypertonic saline to replicate the experience of exercise-induced pain in the knee extensors. The purpose of this Research Training Project is to investigate the perceptual and performance impact of increased exercise-induced pain (via an intramuscular saline injection) on the performance of isometric time to exhaustion exercise of the knee extensors. 

Please note, there is a £450 bench fee associated with this project to cover the costs associated with the payment of participants.

Changes in cortical activity associated with tonic muscle pain

Supervisor: Dr Lex Mauger

Abstract: Intense exercise induces a metabolic environment in the muscle which elicits exercise-induced pain. The magnitude of the pain experienced is proportional to the intensity and duration of the exercise performed, and has been linked to endurance performance. Exploring this relationship is challenging because it is not easy to recreate the experience of exercise-induced pain independently of exercise intensity. Over the last 3 years, the SSES has validated and employed the use of intramuscular injections of hypertonic saline to replicate the experience of exercise-induced pain in the knee extensors. The purpose of this Research Training Project is to use EEG to investigate the neural changes which are associated with tonic muscle pain independently and in combination with exercise.

Please note, there is a £450 bench fee associated with this project to cover the costs associated with the payment of participants.

Measuring breathing patterns at rest and during exercise in health individuals and people with asthma related condition

Supervisor: Professor John Dickinson

Abstract: Exercise respiratory symptoms are commonly reported by elite and professional athletes. Symptoms may be related to a number of diseases and conditions, of which the most prevalent in athletes is exercise induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). Other respiratory conditions such as dysfunctional breathing (DB) are prevalent but difficult to objectively diagnose. Athletes with these conditions often receive sub-optimal diagnosis and therapy. Indeed, a large number of the athletes we see through the University of Kent Respiratory Clinic often present with significant exercise respiratory symptoms in the absence of EIB. However, the diagnosis of DB can only be made subjectively in the absence of validated robust objective measures. In the case of DB it is poorly understood how the movements of the chest and abdomen during exercise can influence tidal volume, breathing frequency and respiratory muscle functions.

In the respiratory clinic we use the POWERBreathe K5 device to help athletes develop efficient breathing techniques to maximise the power produced by the respiratory muscles. However, we have so far not quantified which type of movements of the chest and abdomen lead to the greatest power and airflow production. Optoelectronic Plethysmography (OEP) and Structured Light Plethysmography (SLP) are new techniques that can be used to quantify the movements and synchronisation of chest and abdomen wall movements during breathing. We have recently used OEP methods to identify differences in the movements of chest and abdomen during exercise in varying postures. This research has shown that OEP agrees well with changes in lung volume measured by traditional analysis techniques, and furthermore that alterations in chest wall movement provoked by posture modification do indeed alter air flow volumes. The purpose of this project is to:

  1. Investigate the relationship between chest and abdomen wall movements, respiratory muscle power and air flow-volumes in a wider variety of populations and applications.
  2. Investigate the chest and abdomen wall movements from individuals who experience EIB and/or DB.

The expected outcome of the project is an improved understanding of optimal breathing techniques that may be used to reduce symptoms and improve performance during exercise.

The effect of regular exercise training on breathlessness experience of people with cardiovascular disease

Supervisor: Professor John DickinsonDr Steve Meadows

Abstract: Cardiovascular mortality rates are falling due to improved clinical management, but many individuals with cardiovascular disease have functional disabilities, including breathlessness. These impairments reduce capacity to perform activities of daily living (ADL) such as walking, basic self-care and potentially compromises independence, even several years post-event. Disability predisposes them to a chronic sedentary lifestyle, leading to further deconditioning and muscle atrophy, compounding disability and symptoms. 

Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) is markedly reduced in this population, VO2 max » 50% below a healthy age-matched population. Hypertension (HTN), is a modifiable risk factor, yet 75% of cardiovascular disease patients suffer with HTN and other modifiable risk factors (i.e. obesity). In the UK there is no systematic exercise and/or breathing training provision for chronic care of people with cardiovascular disease. Respiratory symptoms on exertion also limit the amount of physical activity this population engage with

Purpose: To investigate the impact of a weekly community-based group exercise session on key health parameters, functional capacity and respiratory patterns of cardiovascular patients.

Effects of acute exercise and chronic training on individuals with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Supervisor: Professor James HopkerProfessor John Dickinson

Abstract: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major public health issue. The prevalence of diagnosis in England in 2014-15 was 1.82%, which equates to over one million people. This places a considerable burden on the healthcare system as well as on the individuals living with the disease. COPD is a common, preventable disease characterized by persistent respiratory symptoms and airflow limitation. While COPD is progressive and not fully reversible, it can be managed. 

Recommended treatment includes bronchodilator therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation (PR), which can improve exercise capacity, dyspnoea and psychological wellbeing. The existing body of evidence points to the potential value of regular exercise for people with COPD, but also to the clear need for further larger-scale controlled trials that employ techniques of assessment better attuned to measuring changes that occur in the patterns and efficiency of breath control, and use of the lungs (in particular a shift from upper thoracic, shallow breathing to deeper breathing with long out-breaths supported by the diaphragm), rather than relatively crude assessments of overall lung capacity.

The central cardiorespiratory and gas exchange limitations imposed by COPD impair ambulatory skeletal muscle oxygenation during whole body exercise, restricting the capacity for exercise and the activities of daily living. However, in contrast to the attention given to pulmonary limitations, little is known about peripheral vascular changes in COPD, and the extent to which they limit exercise capacity, and whether they are response to a period of exercise training.

This aspect of the project aims to evaluate the extent to which peripheral factors per se contribute to impaired contracting lower limb muscle oxygenation in COPD patients, and whether they are response to a 6 week pulmonary rehabilitation programme.

Caffeine and immune responses to exercise: effect of genotype

Supervisor: Dr Glen Davison

Abstract: Exercise has been shown to affect most areas of the immune system in some way. Moderate exercise or training (in line with general health recommendations) is associated with enhanced immunity and lowered upper respiratory illness (URI) risk.

On the other hand, athletes participating in regular intensive training, especially endurance athletes, are more susceptible to URI and strategies to maintain or enhance immunity are of benefit to such individuals. Endurance athletes have high training loads and may undergo periods of intensified training. As such, interventions that can help to enhance immunity and reduce URI risk are desirable for such athletes.  

Caffeine has been studied extensively as an ergogenic aid in Sport and Exercise Sciences, but there is also some evidence showing that caffeine supplementation may protect some components of immune function (such as salivary immunoglobulin A, IgA, secretion) in response to physiological stressors like prolonged exercise.

The general caffeine research shows large inter-subject variability (in performance measures) in response to caffeine, with some individuals suggested to be caffeine non-responders. Recent research has suggested that this is related to genetic factors, and a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the CYP1A2 gene has been identified as a key predictor of responses to caffeine. This gene codes for cytochrome P450, which is responsible for 95% of caffeine metabolism in the body.

Therefore, this SNP determines the rate of caffeine handling and metabolism in the body after ingestion. A number of recent studies have found differences in the magnitude of enhancement in endurance performance between participants who are AA homozygous (fast metabolisers) compared to those who carry a C allele (AC and CC, slow metabolisers).

However, there is limited research on the effects of this SNP on immune responses to exercise and URI risk. The purpose of this project is to determine the effects of CYP1A2 gene SNPs on immune responses to exercise.

Please note, there is a £400 bench fee associated with this project to cover the costs associated with genotyping.

The impact of community-based physical activity on the thoracolumbar fascia in sedentary people with lower back pain: an ultrasound imaging study

Supervisor: Dr Kyra De Coninck

Abstract: Chronic lower back pain remains a poorly understood multi-factorial condition, associated with reduced quality of life and function.

Traditionally, research in lower back pain has focused on vertebrae, trunk muscles, motor control and biopsychosocial factors. Despite this substantial body of research, chronic lower back pain remains a prevalent global issue affecting health and well-being. 

Recently, the thoracolumbar fascia has been recognised to play a role in the pathophysiology of chronic lower back pain. Currently, no studies have investigated the effect of a training programme on the thoracolumbar fascia of sedentary people with lower back pain.

This project seeks to advance methods of analysis as well as furthering our understanding of role thoracolumbar fascia plays in chronic lower back pain:

  1. by measuring the thickness and echogenicity of thoracolumbar fascia in people with lower back pain, using a grey-scale analysis of ultrasound images.
  2. by measuring the impact of an increase in physical activity on the thickness and echogenicity of the thoracolumbar fascia in sedentary individuals, and comparing these findings to a matched control group.

Previous cross-sectional studies have revealed that echogenicity of thoracolumbar fascia was found to be significantly higher in people with chronic lower back pain compared to those without lower back pain.

This could be an indicator of an altered collagen fiber density or fibrosis of the specialised connective tissues in people with lower back pain.

This project will expand on these findings and explore whether an altered structure is reversible by investigating the effect of tissue loading on the structure of the thoracolumbar fascia in sedentary humans.

The project will contribute to the emerging field of research into the pathophysiology of the human fascial system. 

The acute effect of exercise on BDNF levels on people with Parkinson’s

Supervisor: Dr Glen DavisionDr Steve Meadows

Abstract: There are 145,000 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) in the UK which represents around 1 person in every 350 (Parkinson’s UK, 2018). Exercise is a recognised method to help manage the array of PD symptoms, e.g. sleep problems, fatigue, mood and mental health, as well as slow the progression of the motor symptoms. Whilst the benefits of exercise are well-known, the biological mechanisms that cause these effects are less clear.

Evidence is emerging, however further research is needed to inform future treatment of PD. Some preliminary evidence in human and animal studies has suggested that neurotrophic factors (such as brain derived neurotrophic factor, BDNF), which are released in response to exercise, may be implicated in the exercise benefits. Neurotrophic factors are important biological substances produced within the brain/CNS, but also in skeletal muscle during exercise, which are important for brain neuroplasticity, survival, differentiation and neuronal growth and have important roles in many brain and cognitive functions. 

There is now a substantial body of evidence showing that physical activity induces neurobiological adaptations (including improved cognitive function) and that this may be related to exercise-induced release of neurotrophic factors (e.g. BDNF) from skeletal muscle (Campos et al., 2016; Coelho et al., 2012). The effects of exercise on neurotrophic factors has been reported numerous times in many independent studies, but there is limited work on older people and very little work in a PD population.

Purpose: To investigate the impact of exercise on BDNF levels, functional and cognitive capacity in a PD population. This will be a laboratory-based study.

Please note, there is a £400 bench fee associated with this project to cover the costs associated with the measurement of BDNF.

Nutritional strategies to protect the gut during exercise

Supervisor: Dr Glen Davision

Abstract: During exercise blood supply to the gut is reduced and core body temperature in increased. These are normal physiological responses but induce damage to intestinal epithelial cells, and a temporary increase in intestinal permeability. This may contribute to gastrointestinal complaints frequently reported by athletes. Strategies that reduce the acute effects of exercise on gut damage and permeability may therefore be of benefit to athletes. Numerous nutritional interventions have been studied, but further research is required to more thoroughly determine the optimal type, dose and duration of supplementation required for optimal benefit (or the minimal dose required to elicit these benefits). There is also limited research examining the effects when various strategies are combined. This project will allow the student to investigate the effects of novel nutritional strategies on gut damage and permeability markers in response to exercise.

Please note, there is a £400 bench fee associated with this project to cover the costs associated with the measurement of gut markers.

Sport  management & contemporary critical enquiry: Enduring issues, current challenges & future opportunities

Supervisor: Dr. Geoff Kohe 

Abstract: Description: "In recent decades, both nationally and internationally, the sport sector has experience considerable growth and development as an area in which to play, spectate, work and research. From the management of sport mega-events such as the Olympics, World Cup events, Commonwealth Games, to transnational and regional sporting competitions, local/grassroots sporting initiatives, the sport sector represent a vibrant industry of enterprise and opportunity. Yet, the sport sector has also been confronted by an array of enduring and contemporary issues (e.g., funding and political challenges, the roles of corporate stakeholders in sport spaces, athlete/sports worker welfare concerns, 'legacy' issues, marketing and public relations crises, and contentions over social justice and inclusion, to name just a few). Subsequently, many questions remain about how to improve the sport sector and the experiences of all those working within it. 

Sport (and the related domain of physical activity, leisure and recreation) are in need of critically conscious, engaged and inquisitive Post-graduate researchers with a good understanding of the sport sector and a desire to change practices and outcomes for the better. If you are interested in the socio-cultural, historical and political aspects of sport, the Olympic movement and legacies, national identity and public memory, or   the production and governance of sport museums/heritage, sport and spatial politics, any other similar topics related to the sport sector, I invite you to consider studying with us on the MRes programme. Please contact me further should wish to have a discussion about your proposed research topic or PG study' 

Non-Pharmacological management of asthma and exercise induced bronchoconstriction

Supervisor: Professor John Dickinson

Abstract: Asthma and exercise induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) are usually treated with inhalers such as inhaled Beta-2-Agonists and corticosteroids. However, there are many non-pharmacological therapies that may also help control respiratory symptoms and/or asthma/EIB severity. Potential therapies could include: breathing pattern training, diet/supplements, exercise or nasal stents. The focus of these projects will be to investigate the potential for these non-pharmaceutical therapies as add on therapy for athletes with asthma/EIB.

Use of GPS to monitor performance in team games

Supervisor: Professor James Hopker and Professor John Dickinson

This project will investigate the use of GPS systems to support the performance analysis of team sports. Projects could investigate using GPS to compare work performed between positions or time in game. They could investigate GPs data spanning several seasons and/or compare player performance against game in relation to game frequency.

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