Dr Tom Owens graduates this week at ICC Wales

Tom Owens, PhD student, Sport

This week we spoke with Dr Tom Owens, Neurovascular Research Laboratory, who is graduating with his PhD.

How does it feel to have completed many years work?

It still feels strange to be honest. I joined USW in 2013 studying for my BSc Sports and Exercise Science. I then returned to USW to study for the PhD, researching, brain function in rugby players following repeated concussions.

I completed my PhD viva in November 2021 and was given the award February this year but it was a really busy time in the academic year, so it passed without much fuss. Graduation will be the time to celebrate.
Researcher attaching brain monitoring equipment to a man's head

Why this area of research?

I am a keen mountain biker. I noticed that myself and my friends would get knocks to the head and had symptoms of concussion but we didn’t really understand what they were.

Concussion is controversial in mainstream sports, like football and rugby. I thought, if mainstream sports have a problem then we aren’t miles away from the other sports. What is this injury and what does it mean for the future of sport?

Dr Tom Owens, elite mountain biker

What were the challenges?

It has been challenging to juggle it all – the teaching, planning, research, writing etc. It is difficult by nature. Like with most PhD students, there can be days of extreme pressure. I am fortunate that my teams in the Neurovascular Research Laboratory and the academic teams in sport and chiropractic have been really supportive, so thank you to them.

And the highlights?

Towards the end of my first year of the PhD, I started as an Hourly Paid Lecturer (HPL), teaching on sports modules. In 2020, I started as a full time lecturer in Biomedical Science across various sport and chiropractic modules.

One of the highlights is definitely the teaching. Conducting cutting-edge research at the same time has meant that as we have discovered new and exciting information, I have been able to share it with the students – particularly post-lockdown.

I won Research Student of the Year at the 2019 USW Impact Awards for my research with professional rugby players. I was nominated for Best Lecturer at the 2022 Student Choice Awards, which was an honour. In years to come, maybe I will win.​​​​​​​

Dr Tom Owens doing research

What’s next?

I like the academic life. I have a good balance at USW where we can teach and conduct research. I want to continue with my research and see where that takes me.

Our concussion research has investigated young and retired rugby players but only males, the natural progression this Summer is to study a sample of female rugby players, to better understand brain function. Similarly, Chris Marley and the team have looked at heading the football and links to concussion in males, and we plan to replicate the study with females.

In my spare time, I like unconventional sports, mainly motor sports. Anything with speed and adrenaline. After graduation, a group of us are planning to road trip to the Lake District and Scottish Borders.