In good time

Many students work diligently to complete their studies as soon as possible. This enthusiasm for reaching the finish line is what led to the development of new fast track degree programs at universities worldwide.

But there’s something to be said for taking things slow. Like Liam Kelly did. Liam feels an academic career isn’t a life hurdle to efficiently overcome. It’s something to be savoured, enjoyed, milked for every opportunity it provides. For him, it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.

 

The Plan
“Academics was not always a priority for me.” Liam said when probed about what brought him to Memorial University. “I was passionate about wrestling, and it wasn’t until high school, when I realized that university was the only path I could continue wrestling, that I gave Memorial a serious consideration.”

Now, Liam’s a smart guy. He wouldn’t be pursuing a PhD if he wasn’t. But his lack of attention in high school meant his grades were less than ideal; however, he got his marks up, got accepted and completed his first year at Memorial. He also secured a spot on the varsity wrestling team, but perhaps more importantly, he declared a major.

Dr. Glenn Clark, a retired professor in the Faculty of Education and former coach for the varsity wrestling team, was a real advocate for Liam’s education. Eager to help the young man progress, Dr. Clark introduced Liam to Dr. David Behm, a researcher in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation. Dr. Behm agreed to let Liam shadow him for a period.

“Growing up as a teenager, I was always interested in sport and sport performance,” Liam said. “So when I saw this researcher doing academic work in this area, in the real world, I became interested in kinesiology.”

Liam’s love of sport comes from something deeper than athleticism. “One of the things I’m very interested in, is understanding how the human body can adapt to different types of physiological stress.” Wrestling may have been one way to embrace that curiosity – kinesiology became the next.

During the seven years Liam took to complete his master of science in kinesiology he also worked full time at Memorial, managing the Allied Health Services department. He believes if he had been a time-driven student he would have missed out on additional learning opportunities and life experiences.

“I got to learn and participate more in my graduate studies”, Liam said. “Dr. Fabian Basset, my master’s supervisor, has an enormous amount of experience and knowledge around research and sport performance, and that’s not something you can gather in just two years. Taking longer to finish my master’s enabled me to soak up more of his knowledge.”

It was also during this period that Liam met his wife, Sarah. They married, built a home and had two little girls. He’s aware that those life milestones lengthened the time it took to complete his master’s, however, he says he wouldn’t have done it any other way.

The Research
“The focus of my master’s research was to evaluate the metabolic stress of hypoxia exposure during exercise on substrate metabolism.” Liam explained. “At that point in time, we were thinking about hypoxia and exercise as a way to shift metabolism, and potentially be used for athletic populations, but also in clinical populations as well. The focus of my PhD is in stroke recovery. Now I’m looking at using hypoxia and different exercises as interventions to help people recover after a stroke.”

After stroke, there’s a short window known as the sensitive period, usually up to three months, where individuals are able to optimize the amount of recovery they’re going to receive. Think of it as a period of heightened adaptability. The brain is quite plastic during this time and can find new pathways to reroute the functionality lost in the carnage of brain cells caused by stroke. Once the sensitive period passes, the amount of recovery that’s possible declines. For stroke survivors, there’s an invisible hourglass counting away some of the most valuable minutes of their life. When the sands run out, so does their recovery potential. Liam, his co-supervisors Dr. Michelle Ploughman and Dr. Fabian Basset, and their team, are hoping to introduce a novel way to add more time to the clock, or to intensify the brain’s regeneration of functions within the given time frame.

The Future
Liam’s says the slow track isn’t for everyone. But for those looking to build their education at a pace where they accomplish other things simultaneously, it’s worth consideration.

Liam completed his master’s while also building a life outside of work and school. It gave him time to digest and to learn more thoroughly, which helped him develop a better and deeper understanding for the human body, laying the groundwork for his PhD studies. He credits deans and other faculty members at Memorial for going the extra mile to support him, educate him, and help him carve his own path. That unique experience left an impression. Liam hopes to one day become a professor so he too can pass along that valuable experience to others.

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