School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences

Research degrees

Computer screen showing heart rate

Enable the human body to reach its potential

Our School’s research excellence focuses on the areas of human performance; health, exercise and active lifestyle; and clinical exercise and rehabilitation. Within these areas we explore basic science questions alongside projects with strong societal impact.

Our researchers have received funding from a range of prestigious organisations such as the Economic and Social Research Council, International Olympic Committee, World Anti-Doping Agency, Sport England, Rugby Football Union, and British Heart Foundation.

We have an outstanding reputation for both education and research. We were ranked in the top 25 for Sports Science in the Times Good University Guide 2023, and 23rd in the UK for research power in sport and exercise sciences (Times Higher Education research power measure, REF 2021).

By undertaking your research degree with us you will be joining an active and thriving community of researchers who are working to understand more about the human body, its potential, and its limitations.

We offer a range of research degrees (PhD, MPhil, MSD), including professional doctorates for those working in relevant fields such as physiotherapy. You will be supported through your research by at least two supervisors, have access to our state-of-the-art facilities, and the wider activities of the university research community.

Explore our postgraduate research degrees Apply online

Our research degrees

Your options

Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD)

A Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD) is a one-year research degree. It sits at the same level as a Postgraduate Taught degree such as an MSc.

You will carry out research into a particular question or problem in an area which aligns with our research and write up your work in a short thesis. Like a PhD, you will complete your MSD by discussing your work in an oral exam known as a viva.

An MSD is an ideal option for those who want to expand their research skills after completing their undergraduate degree. Some students use their MSD research to progress onto a PhD, with support from the School and their supervisors.

Explore our MSD options


An option for those who want to carry out more in-depth research than an MSD, an MPhil is a two-year research degree. As with our other research degrees, you will work on a particular question or problem in an area which aligns with our Research Clusters and with the support and guidance of your supervisors.

You will write up your results in a thesis and will discuss your work in an oral exam called a viva.

You can choose to remain on an MPhil pathway, or you may be able to continue into a PhD with agreement from your supervisors and the School.

Browse our MPhil courses


A PhD is a minimum three-year (six years part time) research degree during which you will use a range of methods to research a particular question or problem in an area which aligns with our research. You will be supervised by at least two members of our academic staff, who will guide you through your research and skills development.

You will write up your results in a thesis and will discuss your work in an oral exam called a viva.

When you begin your PhD at Essex you will be enrolled on an MPhil pathway. If your research is progressing as expected, then you will be transferred onto a PhD pathway in your second year.


View our PhDs See our part-time PhDs

Professional Doctorates

Professional Doctorates sit at the same level as a PhD, but the research topic will be set in a professional context. It combines your professional experience, for example as a registered physiotherapist, with research. It is often a requirement for senior leadership roles in fields aligned with medicine.

Because they are carried out alongside your professional practice, Professional Doctorates in our School are offered on a part-time basis only. You will deliver two portfolios of work demonstrating your professional development and complete a 40,000-word dissertation on an agreed research topic.

We currently offer four Professional Doctorates:

I'm grateful for the possibilities that were offered by the School to travel to scientific conferences, and to work as a Graduate Laboratory Assistant in a multitude of undergraduate modules. These experiences will undoubtedly be a great asset in my prospective career as a lecturer in Sports Science.
Patrick Schoenmakers PhD Sport and exercise science

Next steps

Your research topic

The first step in your research degree journey is to identify the research topic you would like to study.

For many applicants this is based on an earlier work they enjoyed completing, such as their undergraduate dissertation or a particular module they studied at postgraduate level.

You should browse our research or look through our academic staff profiles for an idea of what you could work on. We also have some topics of interest, divided by research areas, that can help you identify a title and supervisor.

While you don’t need to have a specific title in mind this early on, you should have a brief list of potential areas you wish to discuss, based on the topics below, when you are ready to look for a supervisor (PI). We recommend that you contact the PI directly for further information.

Human performance research topics

  • Perception of fatigue during any type of exercise mostly for the purposes of effort regulation, but also the prevention of over-training and injuries - Principal investigator (PI): Prof. Dominic Micklewright
  • Decision-making and athletic pacing of endurance sport - PI: Prof. Dominic Micklewright
  • Developing non-invasive optical tools to measure oxygen utilisation and blood flow in sports science: Utilising near-infrared spectroscopy to better understand and influence training and performance - PI: Dr Ben Jones
  • Using resistance training in special populations - PI: Dr Ben Jones
  • Sport Related Concussion: Diagnosis and Return to play and Learn in Contact and Combat Sports - PI: Dr Ben Jones
  • Competitive Engineering in youth sport: Modifying youth sport and physical education to enhance biopsychosocial outcomes - PI: Dr Ben Jones
  • Tactical Athlete (e.g., military, police, fire fighters) injury prevention and rehabilitation, and human performance enhancement - PI: Dr Nick Clark
  • Neural control (sensorimotor control, neurocognition), biomechanics, and clinically-relevant outcomes in hip, knee (ACL, MCL, meniscus), and ankle musculoskeletal injury prevention and rehabilitation, ageing-associated and post-trauma osteoarthritis prevention and rehabilitation, and partial and total joint replacement - PI: Dr Nick Clark
  • Strength and conditioning in youth athletes: the effect of coaching and biological maturation status on adaptations to multimodal forms of training - PI: Dr Jason Moran
  • The effect of language such as coaching cues, metaphors and analogies on motor performance and skill acquisition in youth populations - PI: Dr Jason Moran
  • Resistance training as a mechanism to enhance mental health in young people - PI: Dr Jason Moran
  • Periodisation in practice: the structuring of strength and conditioning programmes to maximise performance in athletic populations - PI: Dr Jason Moran
  • Competitive Engineering in youth sport: Modifying youth sport and physical education to enhance biopsychosocial outcome - PI: Dr Jason Moran

Health, exercise and active lifestyle research topics

Musculoskeletal and orthopaedic projects

  • Understanding the mechanisms driving persistent symptoms in musculoskeletal pain disorders - Principal investigator (PI): Dr Bernard Liew
  • Transformative technologies to optimise musculoskeletal rehabilitation and self-management - PI: Dr Bernard Liew

Healthy ageing projects

  • Muscle force control across the lifespan and activities of daily living - Principal investigator (PI): Dr Jamie Pethick
  • Understanding the gait and balance of older adults - PI: Dr Matthew Taylor
  • Understanding the methodological considerations of collecting movement data - PI: Dr Matthew Taylor
  • Understanding how the personal social network influences and supports people living with dementia to make a healthful behavioural change - PI: Dr Ruth Lowry
  • The design, evaluation, and implementation of rock drumming instruction with people living with dementia or brain injury - PI: Dr Ruth Lowry
  • Systems-based methodologies and evaluations within physical activity and health - PI: Dr Andrew Brinkley
  • The design, evaluation, and implementation of complex physical activity intervention and programmes - PI: Dr Andrew Brinkley

Clinical exercise and rehabilitation research topics

  • Physical activity and the prevention, management, rehabilitation on non-communicable diseases - PI: Dr Ina Shaw

Find a supervisor (PI)

Whatever research degree you choose to take, you will be supervised by at least two academics who have expertise in your area of research, one of them being the PI of the project you selected.

You can find potential supervisors linked to the projects outlined above. You may find several potential supervisors; in which case it is best to contact them individually. We recommend that you contact potential supervisors before submitting your application.

If you are struggling to find someone suitable then you are welcome to email for advice.

Example of your academic writing

Once you have found a supervisor and discussed your research interests and potential topic, you will then draft a piece of academic writing (including references) highlighting the key areas you think are important to the topic you have discussed.

There is no specific minimum or maximum word limit, but we recommend around 1500 words. Creating a piece of academic writing can take weeks to get right, so don’t be discouraged if it needs multiple rounds of edits.

Ideally you will have contacted a potential supervisor before you begin, as they will help you understand everything you need to include.


Once you have completed all the documents you require you are ready to apply for your research degree using the online portal.

If you have all the documents and information required, then the process should take around 20 minutes. You will need to select the course (such as PhD Sports Therapy) that you will be part of, the start date (such as April 2023), and state your title and supervisor.

Research degrees typically start at the beginning of each academic term in October, January, and April. To allow time to process applications, especially for international students who may need to apply for visas, there is often a deadline approximately 8 weeks before the anticipated start date.


Throughout the year our School advertises funded studentships with a title and supervisor already set. The amount of funding can range from covering Home fees, to a paid stipend during your studies. These studentships can be funded by research councils or through partnerships with professional sports bodies or clubs, with whom you will work closely during your research.

The university also offers a range of scholarships that can help fund students undertaking a research degree, but do check the requirements carefully as they may change from year to year.

We also support our students to apply for funding opportunities such as travel grants or early career fellowships. Support may include reviewing applications, practising interviews, or providing references. Graduates of the University of Essex can also benefit from an alumni discount scheme.

Essex Rebels player, Claire Paxton
Sports scholarships and bursaries

The University of Essex is committed to supporting and developing high performance athletes. Find out whether you could be eligible for a sports scholarship or bursary, plus a range of additional benefits too when you join the University of Essex.

Explore the full offer

Research clusters

What do we offer you?

Excellent research facilities

Our research students have access to the same facilities as our academic staff. In our School this includes our Human Performance Unit, which has hosted Olympic athletes and local professional sports teams, a biomechanics lab, and performance analysis equipment in the Essex Sport Arena.

Our facilities are supported by our team of technicians, who are on hand to help you access equipment for research and teaching.

Along with the Essex Sport Arena, Colchester Campus has sports facilities ranging from several outdoor playing fields, to a synthetic turf pitch, tennis and squash courts, and the university gym. The Students’ Union is home to approximately 40 sports teams and a Gym & Fitness society, and our School also has close working relationships with various local professional sports teams. All these relationships can help recruit suitable participants for your research.

View our virtual tour

Professional development support

Your research degree will develop your skills in scientific writing, research, data collection and analysis and presenting at conferences.

But whether you plan to remain in academia or are looking beyond to other roles, you will find that additional experience will give you a competitive edge in any job market.

To aid your skills development the university runs a professional development scheme called Proficio. All research students have a pot of funding (ranging from £1000 to £2500 depending on your degree type) which is used for courses that will help you increase your range of skills, such as engagement and impact, research management, and evaluation and problem solving.

Additionally, some of your Proficio funding is ringfenced for conference attendance. This is to ensure that all research students can attend conferences in their field, which are a vital part of research dissemination and networking.

Participation in department activities

Our School runs activities throughout the year to promote research and knowledge sharing within the department, the wider university, and with other institutions.

We run regular research seminars during term time, where an external academic will be invited to discuss their latest work or upcoming paper to an audience that could include undergraduates as well as academics. We invite our research students to present their work in these seminars as this gives you an opportunity to practice public speaking in a familiar environment.

Academics in our School may also organise conferences, such as the recent University of Essex Physiotherapy Conference, where you may be able to present your work through a poster session. We also encourage our research students to volunteer with activities such as the Pint of Science public engagement week.

Regular supervision

While a three-year PhD or six-year Professional Doctorate may seem like a long time, it will go by quickly. Regular supervision will help you set realistic and achievable goals that will progress your research and writing at a suitable pace.

Your supervisor will meet with you regularly to review the progress of your research and help you plan your next steps, such as repeating experiments or working through related papers. You will be able to flag issues, review drafts of your thesis chapters, and confirm that you are on track to complete your work in time.

If your research is interdisciplinary then you can have a second supervisor from another department at our University. Our School works particularly closely with academics from the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, the Department of Psychology, and the School of Health and Social Care. Your second supervisor can help give additional insight into your research and any issues or opportunities you might face.

You will also periodically have a progress review with a small panel consisting of your supervisors and an external expert from your field. These reviews will also ensure that you are on course to complete your research and write-up in the time given.

Beyond academia

Completing a research degree does not mean you have to continue into an academic career path. A PhD or Professional Doctorate can open doors to a range of senior careers in the public and private sectors, such as policy advisors in central government or healthcare leadership roles.

The transferable skills that you will learn as part of your research journey will help you move into non-academic fields. You can start this process during your time at Essex as our Research Enterprise Office (REO) includes a postgraduate consultancy service that allows you to work with employers outside the university.

If you’re already considering a future in consultancy or freelance, or you’ve spotted a gap in a relevant market, then you may benefit from the support offered by the university’s Start-Up Hub, as well as the networking opportunities offered by events held at the Innovation Centre.