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PhD student: Tom Calverley

Tom Calverley.jpgTom Calverley, from Leatherhead, Surrey, is a PhD student in the Neurovascular Research Laboratory at USW. He has already landed a great job in industry.

The research experience and associated skills that I have attained during my time as a PhD student at the University of South Wales have enabled me to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry. 

I work as an Associate Project Manager at a contract research organisation, a company that runs clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of medical drugs. Simply put, I interact with a wide variety of departments across the company to ensure that the clinical trials are delivered to the expectation of organisations that develop the drugs. 

This role has allowed me to focus on the parts of research that I really enjoyed - interacting with people and overseeing research projects. More importantly, I am able to play a small role in a process that ultimately improves patients’ lives. 

My PhD investigated the neuroprotective benefits of exercise. My interest in this field of research stemmed from the third year of my Sport and Exercise Science degree at USW. I attended a number of lectures and laboratory sessions demonstrating how the human body, particularly the brain, responds to different environments and challenges, and how stressors could be applied to improve physical health. From that moment I was hooked on the physiological adaptations that optimise physical health. 

I was fortunate to be awarded a PhD studentship at the University of South Wales under the guidance of Professor Damian Bailey and Dr Chris Marley that enabled me to conduct research investigating the effect of physical activity on brain health. I conducted a number of studies, the highlight of which was a 12-week randomised control trial where older adults completed a 12-week high-intensity interval training programme. A bonus of this was being able to interact with a variety of characters on a daily basis, some of whom were keen on golf (which meant we had common ground, despite my lack of ability!). 

PhD developed career potential

During my PhD, I had plenty of opportunities to attend internal and external conferences to present my research (the USW catering team did an excellent buffet for the internal conferences, which was a perk).  I enjoyed attending these and having the platform to share my work and learn about research conducted by others. 

I would not hesitate in recommending the University of South Wales to a potential postgraduate researcher. The support provided by the Graduate School was excellent, and they run a large number of training sessions to help students develop their academic and wider skillset. There are also an abundance of opportunities to interact and socialise with other PGRs, which was particularly important for me. Furthermore, my supervisory team were incredibly knowledgeable and allowed me to become a capable, independent researcher.  

Focus on employability

One of the main skills I developed as a PhD student was the ability to work independently. While the support available from both the supervisory team and Graduate School was excellent, I was required to oversee all of my research projects and had to “take the ball and run”. This is a skill that I am required to apply on a daily basis in my current role in order to progress the research projects that I am involved in managing. 

While I was always relatively comfortable speaking publicly, the internal conferences organised by the University of South Wales gave me a platform to develop my competence in presenting complicated information an easy-to-understand manner. This was further honed by opportunities to lecture undergraduate students, which I was able to do alongside my PhD studies.   

Cognitive decline and dementia have emerged as one of the greatest health threats of the 21st century. Tom's PhD research is examining the efficacy of physical activity as a countermeasure to cognitive decline. His research shows that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can not only improve cerebrovascular function but can also improve cognitive function such as memory.