Physical activity and public health course 2016

What are you doing Sept 11-18th in 2018? Because if you are interested in physical activity research you need to go on this course. Run by the people who brought you the PA guidelines we all know and love, this course is an incredible opportunity to learn from the field’s giants and create an instant network of researchers currently trying to forge their careers in PA research from all over the world. It is easily one of the two best things I have ever done as a researcher (the other being the Cardiff University Futures course).

jago-tweet-smallIt all started for me with a tweet by Kristin Schneider which was retweeted by a collaborator of mine Russ Jago. I contacted Russ, who confirmed it was the best thing he had ever done, recommended it for me and agreed to review my application. I cobbled together the money to go from various sources (about $2,000 plus travel), completed the application and was luckily awarded a place.

The course itself was amazing. This year it was hosted by the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. The faculty who contributed were incredible and I won’t list them, but suffice it to say that every topic covered was fascinating, every presenter at the top of their field and every presentation engaging. When I saw the timetable I worried it would be exhausting with morning sessions starting at 8am and post-dinner talks finishing at 9pm. The evening presentations sounded particularly cruel; surely they would be slow torture after a hard day’s learning and thinking. They weren’t. All the speakers were fascinating and I wished they spoke longer.

Just after all of the practitioners jumped in the pool
Just after all of the practitioners jumped in the pool

There are two versions of the course that cross over and share some sessions: one is the eight day researcher’s course (this was the one i was on) and the other the five day practitioner’s course.  It was great that the two courses overlapped as it was an eye-opening experience to hear from people in charge of town planning, say, about the challenges they face in designing places where physical activity and active community are supported. It was fascinating because as a triallist I was keen to randomise, but I learned about another thing called social justice (!), which essentially meant my ideas were terrible.  (It all turned out well though as Charlie Foster bought me a pint for just using the word randomisation in our presentation at the end)! [EDIT: I have since seen this by Pam Eidson which talks about the practitioner’s course which also covers the benefits of both of these courses running together]

Throughout the course we had opportunities to sign up for one-to-one sessions with faculty. I got to chat to Rick Troiano, Bill Haskell and David Bassett. We discussed my ideas for research (which they had already seen, as they formed part of the application) and they gave feedback. All were very friendly and generous with their advice and guidance.

Equally important was the instant network of collaborators we all made. The delegates were all developing their careers in the field of physical activity and you could see collaborations being formed over lunch, dinner and post-prandial beers. All of the delegates were really friendly and interesting people. The atmosphere was electric and it was a privilege to be involved.

Exercise Physiology 101 with Russ Pate
Exercise Physiology 101 with Russ Pate

In addition, turns out I’m a biostatistician. It happened quite naturally. When I met people on this course I introduced myself as a statistician, sometimes a clinical trials statistician. If that person introduced me to someone else they would introduce me as a biostatistician. It happened over and over. So I looked up the definition and guess what? They were right.

A biostatistician is someone who uses or applies mathematics and statistics to varying categories in biology. They design biological experiments primarily in the field of agriculture and medicine; they collect, dissect, and summarize the data, and release information based on the findings of that data.

I have written this blog to document how brilliant this course is, as unless I’d known a former delegate I would have struggled to find out anything about it (this being the only thing i could find online). Please feel free to contact me if you have questions. My only regret is that now that I have attended, I can’t go again. It is a wonderful course and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a career in physical activity research.

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