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Research Blog

In 2018, I ventured onto an exciting path, beginning my PhD journey, only a year after finishing

my master's degree in Design. At that time, I was employed full-time as a Personal Assistant for a senior manager at the University of Bath, an institution that kindly offers its staff an educational discount for studying while working.

Choosing my research topic posed a formidable challenge. My background in fashion design and design theory didn't neatly align with Bath's curriculum, as it didn't offer any courses in art and design. I initiated conversations with academics from various departments, aiming to find the ideal bridge between my interests and available courses. Recognising the intersections of fashion and business, I met with several academics from the School of Management to explore a PhD project revolving around sustainable fashion.

However, a turning point arrived when I revisited my master's degree project – an app that designed personalised fit clothing for women uncomfortable with the gym environment. Realising the potential, I reached out to the Department of Health, and found that Emma Rich and Jessica Francombe-Webb were experts in gender studies in sports and physical activities. I arranged a meeting, discussed my proposal, and stayed connected as I navigated the process of implementing the project. My initial idea centred around developing an app promoting healthy behaviour and allowing women to design their own fitness wear.

To supplement the project, I engaged Kathryn Brownbridge from the Manchester Fashion Institute and Christof Lutteroth from the University of Bath’s Computer Science Department. With the team in place, I officially applied to the Doctoral College at Bath for a PhD in Health, which was accepted in February 2018. That October, I embarked on the PhD journey, starting with team meetings to discuss priorities and initial steps.

A deep dive into literature on physical activity, gender, and the issues of disengagement within school PE revealed significant disparities. Recognising the urgency of addressing girls' disengagement in school PE, I delved into the historical context of gender dynamics in PE curriculum, which had remained largely unchanged since Victorian times. Navigating through various theoretical frameworks, I eventually found a fitting perspective in the works of Karen Barad, who delves into material phenomena and the everyday interactions therein. I also found resonance with the works of Deleuze, Guattari, and Spinoza, especially around the concept of 'affect'.

Over time, my methodology started taking shape, integrating fashion design and video gaming to study how material spaces and objects influence girls' movements and actions within PE. The unexpected arrival of the pandemic in 2020 momentarily halted my progress, but I pivoted by organising online workshops with girls aged 11-15, which proved incredibly enriching.

My journey took a severe turn in September 2021 when I was diagnosed with acute severe necrotising pancreatitis, leading to sepsis. The subsequent months in the hospital were the darkest times in my life. However, with the unwavering support of my supervisory team and the university student support, I weathered this storm.

As I now approach the final stretch, I reflect on the personal and academic transformation that this journey has elicited. I am grateful for countless training opportunities in academic skills, innovation, and entrepreneurial skills, along with my first academic role at the University of Bristol's School for Social Policy.

Over the next few months, I will be writing papers for the Association for PE, preparing a presentation for the BERA conference, and aim to submit my thesis by the end of January. This journey, though riddled with trials, has moulded me into a stronger person and a sharper academic. If you're contemplating pursuing a PhD or any course or training, know that you are capable of succeeding. After all, our challenges shape us into better versions of ourselves.

Physical education (PE) is a vital element of the school curriculum, but engaging teenage girls in PE lessons can prove a considerable challenge. Previous studies have suggested that girls are put off by certain environmental and material aspects of PE, such as a lack of female role models, an emphasis on competitive sports, and the usage of traditional PE equipment.

A novel PhD project has devised a method to delve into this matter, utilising co-creative workshops with 47 girls from two schools in the South West of England. These workshops included mind mapping, art and design, and video gaming as tools to aid the girls in expressing their experiences of PE and in conceptualising a revamped PE experience.

The participants identified several factors that would render PE more appealing to them, including:

An increase in opportunities to partake in activities they enjoy, such as dance, yoga, and martial arts.

Increased chances to interact with female role models.

A shift of focus towards health and fitness, rather than competition.

The incorporation of more innovative PE equipment.

A re-imagining of the PE kit to improve comfort and fit.

The research suggests numerous ways to render PE more appealing to teenage girls. By integrating the feedback received, PE teachers can create a more inclusive, enjoyable PE experience that motivates girls to participate more actively.

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