PhD Opportunity: Sustainable Physical Activity: A Pan European Study in six urban centres.

PhD Opportunity: Sustainable Physical Activity: A Pan European Study in six urban centres.

University of Limerick

The University of Limerick (UL) with over 16,300 students and 1,700 staff is an energetic and enterprising institution with a proud record of innovation and excellence in education, research and scholarship. The dynamic, entrepreneurial and pioneering values which drive UL’s mission and strategy ensures that we capitalise on local, national and international engagement and connectivity. We are renowned for providing an outstanding student experience and employability and conducting leading edge research. Our commitment is to make a difference by shaping the future through educating and empowering our undergraduate and postgraduate students. UL is situated on a superb riverside campus of over 130 hectares with the River Shannon as a unifying focal point. Outstanding recreational, cultural and sporting facilities further enhance this exceptional learning and research environment.

The research project will be hosted by the Physical Activity for Health (PAfH) research cluster within the University’s Health Research Institute. The cluster is the largest and most successful research group in this field in Ireland, and provides an excellent research community for peer support, networking and training.

Summary of the overall GoGreenRoutes project:

The objective of GOGREEN ROUTES is to position European cities as world ambassadors of urban sustainability by implementing nature-based solutions (NBS) and advancing our understanding of urban re-naturing on human and environmental health. In addition to exploring the impact of NBS (interconnected green corridors in public spaces) on ecosystem restoration and resilience, and climate change adaptation and mitigation, we investigate the impact of nature-based interventions on multidimensional health-termed 360-Health. Nature-based interventions are programmes, activities or strategies that aim to engage people in nature–based experiences with the specific goal of achieving improved health and wellbeing (Gritzka et al., 2020). Previous research using the ecosystem services framework has focused upon narrow definitions of health (e.g. stress reduction and attention restoration) whereas there is now ample evidence of broader benefits from human nature interactions including resilience and pro-social behaviour (Donnelly & MacIntyre,  2019).

PhD Project Description: The role of this PhD will be to analyse patterns of physical behaviours of residents in the area of the interventions across six European cities. We are seeking applicants with a Bachelors or Masters degree (2.1 honours or higher- or equivalent) in physical activity, sport sciences, health sciences or allied disciplines.  The candidate must be highly motivated and have excellent research, writing, and communication skills, skills in quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, and some project management skills.  This project provides a unique opportunity to be part of a large-scale Europe-wide intervention to determine the most effective methods of increasing physical activity in green environments. Data collection (starting in year 2) will span six European cities, providing opportunities for travel and collaboration with European partners.

Approach: GOGREEN ROUTES transdisciplinary consortium will pioneer a unique approach augmenting NBS, urban design with NBI focused on promoting sustainable physical activity. This comprises (a) green exercise programs for local schools and workers in local businesses (b) active travel for students and those working in urban areas and (c) social play in urban settings and (d) the use of restorative natural green spaces for active recreation. Green exercise refers to physical activity in natural settings.

The appointed PhD student will be working as part of a larger team including other PhD students, post docs and research assistants.  The main focus of this PhD will be a cluster-randomised controlled trial, conducted to determine green-route intervention effectiveness in increasing outdoor physical activity levels and health.  The primary outcome measures for this intervention study will be the amount of daily time spent in thigh-worn accelerometer-device measured physical activity (light, moderate and vigorous), and the amount of time spent sedentary.  Secondary measures will include sleep time and quality, measures of stress, body composition and resting blood pressure.   Other PhD work may include an analysis of intervention programs using mixed methods approaches (e.g. walking interview methodology), usage of green spaces measured via questionnaire, Big Data (e.g. google mobility patterns) and localised data from citizens observatory. Data on environmental quality and predicted increases in tree canopy coverage, thermal comfort and biodiversity and reductions in co-hazards of localised air and noise pollution will also be evaluated as part of the wider project.

Data analysis: The PhD data collection will be preceded by a systematic literature review, focused on an analysis of the green intervention components which were most effective in increasing physical activity levels.  After the data collection phase (years 2 and 3), work will focus on analysis of self-reported and objectively measured physical activity and physical behaviours, and the impact on aspects of health including individual health (BMI, well-being, reduced stress, sleep quality), community health (social cohesion) and planetary health). Increases in active travel are predicted at different levels for our six target cities (e.g. up to 20% in Limerick) based on baseline findings. Green exercise and changes in urban mobility modes (e.g. from car to bike) will be analysed.

Funding Notes

A studentship of up to €22,530 per annum is available. This includes a tax-free annual stipend of €18,000 plus up to €4,530 to cover the annual fees (EU student rate only), for 4 years from 1st September 2020. If a suitable candidate from outside the EU is recommended after interview, they will be required to supplement their fees directly or through additional grant application.

Contact: Investigators for this project are Principal Investigator Prof. Alan Donnelly (, Dr Norma Bargary & Dr Giles Warrington. Applicants should submit a cover letter, along with a full Curriculum Vitae (Five pages max. including contact information for two referees) with a 300 word expression of interest) to Prof. Alan Donnelly, at before the closing date on Friday 17th July 2020 at 17.00 hours (Irish Standard Time).

Informal enquiries are welcome, please email the principal investigator.

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