Researcher's Spotlight: Dr. Mark Watsford
Name: Dr Mark Watsford
Faculty: UTS Faculty of Health
Key research areas: Applied biomechanics in sport; performance analysis in team sports.
Which are your key research areas?
I have two main areas of interest for my research. Firstly, I am interested in the neuromechanical properties of muscle as they relate to athletic performance and injury risk. These properties include muscle strength, rate of force development and muscle stiffness. Evidence suggests these properties can influence how athletes perform intense tasks, which ultimately contributes to optimal sporting performance. Interestingly, these same tensile and contractile properties appear to be related to soft tissue injury risk, so investigation of these factors can contribute a great deal to athlete assessment and development. Secondly, I am interested in performance analysis of team sports, with a focus on Australian Rules Football. The match running demands of athletes are an important element of elite performance, so detailed appraisal of how these demands are spread across periods of the match is vital to understanding the optimal prescription of training for athletes.
Why did you choose your field of research? What is driving you?
Having an understanding of the important factors that contribute to athletic performance output and injury risk is a cornerstone of success in elite sport. An understanding of the fundamental properties of the capabilities of human muscle in an applied context can provide coaches with a great base for prescribing training to refine performance while keeping tabs on injury risk. Seeing athletes perform at their peak, whilst being mindful of injury consequences is something that really motivates me to research in this area. Providing assistance to sports scientists who work with athletes is very rewarding and drives continual investigation in these areas.
Why do you think your research area is important?
We all love it when our favourite team performs to the best of their ability. We love seeing athletes from our country succeed. Sports scientists want to see the world’s best athletes perform at their peak, so training programs that can consider the most optimal preparatory activities are a fundamental component of this success. Training that is mindful of the science behind optimising muscle contractile rate and tension can provide a major contribution in this area. Further, pinpointing the physical demands of competition in team sports can contribute to preparing athletes to perform at the highest level, providing the best opportunity for success.
What do you like best/ most supervising postgraduate research?
Working with postgraduate students and witnessing their development is perhaps the most rewarding part of my work as an academic. Being able to work closely with these students and solve some real-world problems is challenging yet very rewarding. Postgraduate students have the time to immerse themselves in their unique research topic, and watching their level of understanding evolve over the course of their candidature is exciting. I love how motivated postgraduate research students bring new ideas to the table and are often ahead of the technology curve, meaning that new innovations can be applied to improve existing procedures.
What makes a successful supervisor and student partnership?
A mutual respect of each other’s knowledge contributes greatly towards a successful relationship. I am a supervisor who provides ample guidance to send the student in the right direction, which ultimately encourages independent work and self-discovery. I also firmly believe in postgraduate students being embedded in professional environments so they can undertake work-integrated learning. Finally, recognising that student life should be more than just work, work and more work, I appreciate the need for students to take the time to take part in a wide variety of life experiences.
How important is international research experience for young researchers?
Working internationally can be hugely beneficial to a young researcher. Experiencing the different approaches to sports science in a variety of countries enables a deep understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Further, experiencing different cultures can assist with the ability to relate to people, which is a major component of being a successful sports scientist. We have to be able to converse with coaches and athletes, so the human side of this work cannot be underestimated. It goes without saying that the international experience of meeting new people can greatly improve your professional network, and can also lead to a number of amazing travel opportunities to see some great parts of the world.
I won the Individual Teaching Award at the 2015 UTS Learning & Teaching Showcase for my work in undergraduate teaching and postgraduate student supervision, with a focus on practice-oriented approaches to learning.
Available PhD/ research projects:
I am regularly looking for researchers to examine relationships between muscle properties and performance and/or injury risk. This tends to be in an applied context, however, I am also open to more clinical/lab-based approaches to these aspects.