With lecture halls about to fill up for the new academic year, a PhD candidate working on her third degree at Western has some advice for the fresh faces embarking on their first university experience: think beyond the classroom.
Kinesiology student Erin Pearson recently returned from the United Kingdom, where she conducted fieldwork at the Commonwealth Games with her PhD supervisor, professor and director of kinesiology Laura Misener, and post-doctoral researcher Nancy Quinn.
“I didn’t think I would have these opportunities,” said Pearson. “It’s pretty exciting to take a step back and look at where you started with your research and interests. I did my undergrad, masters and now my PhD here at Western, and you never know what opportunities may come up.”
Pearson is passionate about the social impact of sport, and for her doctorate she is researching how to ensure mega-sport events have long-term sustainable outcomes — a project funded in part by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Sport Canada.
She is also passionate about media-and-marketing strategies of major sport events, in particular the way they represent women and athletes with disabilities, who tend to be under-represented in sport.
Because her own research was closely tied to the fieldwork being done in the UK, she was invited along to help with the research.
Audiences have become used to seeing para-sport events separately, said Pearson. With the Olympic Games, for example, the Paralympic Games are held at a later date, which often leads to less media coverage and lower visibility for athletes with disabilities.
“Our team was doing ethnographic field work onsite, looking at the overall recognition of para-sport at this integrated sport event,” said Pearson. “So, anything from the overall accessibility and marketing strategies of the event to speaking with athletes and event organizers on site.”
The team has the backing of the Commonwealth Games Federation, so the study findings could help support maintaining the games as an example of true integration, she said.
“Sometimes an event is labelled as integrated, but often there are a lot of issues that may prevent ‘true’ integration from happening. It may be related to the overall accessibility of the event space, or athletes may not actually feel accepted within the culture for a number of different reasons.”
The team will now work to compile its findings and write a report on its conclusions.
The whole experience is one Pearson is grateful to have had: “You never know when you do a masters or PhD where you might wind up, and what type of opportunities might appear in the process.”
And that’s the message she would like to spread to students just beginning their academic adventures.
Her path to PhD began when she made the effort to get connected with her professors, and she advises any student looking to find such unique experiences to get to know their professors and ask them about their research.
“During my undergrad I did the Community Engaged Learning project, and that was my first experience working in para-sport.,” she said. “That experience is really what led my trajectory into research and looking at how can we make all aspects of sport, such as the marketing to overall design of events, a more inclusive space.”
Sometimes it’s just about identifying what you are interested in as a student and seeking out those doing research in that area, Pearson said.
“Just start that conversation, because you never know where It’s going to lead you.”