PhD lockdown story: Tom Owens

Tom Owens, PhD student, Sport

Tom Owens, a member of USW’s Neurovascular Research Unit, talks about PhD life under lockdown and contributing to a new documentary on concussion in rugby union.

Tom, who graduated with first-class Honours from the Sports and Exercise Science degree before progressing on to his PhD, is a former elite athlete having been part of the 2013 Great Britain Cycling Team for downhill mountain biking. He is in the final stage of his PhD which looks at concussion and the link to early-onset dementia.

Tell us about PhD life during lockdown

"Lockdown has provided an excellent opportunity to continue the write up of formal publications that will complement my PhD thesis. It has allowed me to concentrate on improving my writing, although I do miss the practical aspects of the laboratory.

Tom Owens, phd, concussion in rugby

Tom, pre-lockdown, using transcranial Doppler ultrasonography to determine cerebral blood flow via the middle cerebral artery

"Members of the Neurovascular Research Laboratory meet virtually on a weekly basis to discuss progress and catch up with one another. It’s been great to keep a frequent line of communication.

"I am working on two research papers. One paper discusses the influence of playing position and match events on concussion incidence in professional rugby union.

"The second paper seeks to determine blood-borne, cerebral and cognitive markers of concussion among rugby players.

"I am also attempting to adhere to a revision routine in preparation for my PhD viva and helping out with various other projects being planned by the Neurovascular Research Laboratory - so a busy time, but all good!"

Tell us about the documentary

"The documentary, which was filmed in our lab pre-lockdown, follows Adam Hughes, a former-professional rugby star who played for Newport Dragons, Exeter Chiefs and Bristol RFC. Adam was forced to retire from the game due to repetitive concussions and prolonged symptoms that still affect him today. 

"The documentary aims to highlight Adam’s recovery and the risk that concussion poses in rugby union, whilst also exploring innovative technology that is now protecting players.

How did you come to be involved?

"The Neurovascular Research Laboratory has been investigating the effects of concussion for several years, whilst my own research has focused on the consequences of concussion in both current and retired rugby players. We were approached in order to provide information about how Adam’s cerebral blood vessels performed during a series of challenges and cognitive tasks. 

What was it like to take part? 

"As a postgraduate research student, I was very pleased to be included in the documentary, especially at this stage of my research career. It serves as a great opportunity to share my research in the wider community and raise awareness regarding the risks of concussion across all sports.

"Media communication is often an aspect that is missing from a young academic's CV so I was pleased to have the opportunity to participate and build a well-rounded profile in both academic and public spaces."


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