We Are Essex

Patrick's story

Patrick Schoenmaken headshot

A couple of years ago I cycled from Italy back to the Netherlands in a fundraising event. We did seven days of roughly 150 miles per day through the mountains.

When I was five years old my parents gave me the choice for my clubs to be music or sport. It was the same choice my brother and sister had – they chose music, I chose sport. So from the age of five sports were my hobbies. I was always playing outside, not necessarily sport, but physical activity all day long. With that now not being as much of a thing the fitness level of the younger generation is seriously dropping which is very unfortunate to see. If I can contribute to a healthier lifestyle, then I will.

I study Sport & Exercise Science and I’m just finishing up my PhD. My PhD looks at how interval training works and how we can make it better to get the greatest training out of it. I did an undergrad in Human Movement Science back home in the Netherlands; I did a Masters in Sports Science also back at home. Then I worked a bit before deciding I wanted to get back in to academia. So I decided that Postgrad study would be best to find a new career pathway. So I took my own experiences as an athlete and as a coach into the lab to test, and that’s how I ended up at Essex.

I’ve been interested in endurance sports, mainly cycling, for the last 12 years. I ride my bike a lot, I’m a bit of a nutter, but I don’t compete. I’m not very driven in that regards. I like my bike to explore the countryside and get out there, and of course the physical demands are good. But I don’t need to test myself against others or win a race. I just like to have a good bike ride with a nice group of friends and stop for a coffee. My favourite place to cycle is the Alps! But my favourite place here? Well I live on the border of town; if I turn left I go to town centre, if I turn right I go to the countryside. So I just love exploring here – everything between here and Cambridge really! Suffolk is very nice. The exploring and comradery is the story.

A couple of years ago I cycled from Italy back to the Netherlands in a fundraising event. We did seven days of roughly 150 miles per day through the mountains. The money went to Cancer Research. I raised around £5000 – just helping to provide people with a better future was great. I was lucky enough to share the experience with my parents because they volunteered at the sign in points in the mornings and then they were on the side of the street cheering on all the riders. It was an amazing experience to share with them.

I’ve done my PhD full-time. Alongside that I’ve done some GLA work as a lab assistant here in the undergrad modules. I’m now looking at getting kids into cycling. So I’ve done a lot with fellow adults, but now it’s about getting young people into cycling from a younger age so they don’t start from a deficit. That’s the direction I want to go with it.

In my first year I got trapped in a loop where I came in to university and did 8 hours then I’d go home and do more study and analyse more data. So in the first year I think I worked too much and it was draining. I had a good summer break and some private stuff settled and I came back into second year with a fresher mind set. I realised I needed to choose some stuff for life rather than just for the PhD. So I moved house, relaxed into it and restricted myself to work only one evening per week. There’s always work and it’s never done, but I stop myself from working in the evenings and weekends. It’s important to find the right balance.

When I finish my PhD I’d like to become a lecturer, working in sports science or physical activity, that’s one of my goals. I’d also like to be involved in research going on in the labs. So most undergrads’ third year dissertation projects, they’re doing interesting studies but their supervisors are rarely with them in the lab. If you can train an undergrad to be a good scientist, then they are more likely to grow up and do things like what I am doing. There are a lot of exciting opportunities that a lot of people overlook due to a lack of supervision in lab support. So I like to teach, I like that a lot, in my GLA hours; modules like Biomechanics which is more mathematics – students don’t like it so much, but I like it! So I’d like to be a lecturer but still a hands on scientist in the lab; a 50/50 split between those would be ideal.

I’ll move back to the Netherlands at some point but at the moment the job market looks better for me in the UK and my girlfriend is here. I’ve got a nice social life and work life, of course I’m missing some stuff from home but you can’t have it all. As long as you’ve got what it is that makes you happy then that’s enough.


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