John – Professor of Sport

If you would like to work with students and sports people, you have an interest in sports and exercise science and see youself working as part of the team in the next Olympic Games then read on. This may be the career for you.



What attracted you to this job?

I had been working as Director of Sports Science for GlaxoSmithKline, and closely involved with the Lucozade Sport brand, when the opportunity to work at the University of Bedfordshire came along. I wanted to move into an environment where I could really use my skills as an “applied” sport and exercise scientist, and work closely with both students and sports people, so this was the perfect opportunity.

What does your typical day involve?

Because I have a number of roles, no two days are the same. I may find myself lecturing, holding tutorials with students, sitting in senior management meetings, attending a meeting at UK Anti Doping (where I am on the Board), or doing some work associated with the London 2012 Olympics in my capacity of Chair of British Handball. As the University’s Director of Sport, I also make sure our teams are all doing well, and try to watch them compete whenever possible.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Helping my students to achieve their full potential, and seeing them respond and develop as a consequence of the support they are given.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

My daughters think it is very amusing that I am a “prof”, and that this had made me even more absent minded! They also hate the fact that in the early stages of my career, I was involved in the development of the UK version of the “bleep test” – a 20 metre shuttle run test that is used in many schools to test physical fitness, which doesn’t make me too popular amongst their friends!

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

It would be easy to get sucked into working all the time, but I refuse to let this happen! I am very lucky to be able to have control over most of my day, and like to start early in the morning, but then finish at a reasonable time so that I am home in good time in the evenings. If necessary, I can always catch up on emails later in the day. Weekends are protected whenever possible, if nothing else because my wife and I are needed as taxi drivers for the girls!

How did you get to where you are today?

I did well enough in both sport and my A levels to gain a place at Loughborough University to study Sports Science with Geography. I then spent two years working in the sports science labs at Loughborough, investigating the effects of different diets on endurance running performance, and gaining a Masters degree. I then went to work for the Football Association as Head of Sports Science, at Lilleshall National Sports Centre in Shropshire, travelling to the World Cup with Bobby Robson’s England team in 1990. I became joint Director of the Lilleshall Sports Injury and Human Performance Centre in 1992, until leaving in 2004 to work for GlaxoSmithKline, and started at the University of Bedfordshire as Professor of Sport in 2009.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

Firstly, be prepared to grab whatever opportunity that might come along, and really try your hardest to make it work for you – no-one else will do that for you. Secondly though, be aware that opportunities for scientists in sport are still fairly rare, so do everything you can to maximize the skills that you have, including adding “something different” to your CV such as volunteering or coaching – these “extras” can really make a difference when potential employers come to look at your CV.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

There is huge variability – entry level sports scientists may earn £18,000 – £25,000 a year, depending on the role and who they are working for. I used to earn more in the private sector, working for GlaxoSmithKline, than I do now, but if you move into academia as a lecturer, with the ultimate aim of becoming a head of department, you could expect to earn £40,000 – £70,000.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

I love watching and taking part in sport. I’ll watch pretty much anything, but my competitive activities are now based around running in races over distances from 5 miles to a marathon – this year I ran the London Marathon for the 13th time. I also love skiing and hill walking, and travel to the French Alps as often as possible, as I love nothing more than being outside in the mountains.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

Plenty, and they still happen. I once wrote a letter to the head coach of an international team I was working with, complaining about the approach of the team’s fitness trainer. I didn’t bother putting the letter in an envelope, and just popped it under the door of his hotel room. When I knocked on the door a few hours later to have a chat with the coach about the problem, I was greeted by the fitness trainer holding my letter – I’d got the wrong door!


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