Career Profiles: Kiera Ward

Questions about your career and its development

What is your name?

Dr Kiera Ward

Where do you work and what is your role/job title?

I’ve recently finished my PhD at the Technological University of the Shannon (TUS): Midlands Midwest (formerly Athlone Institute of Technology or AIT) investigating the impact of 60 days 6°head-down-tilt (HDT) bed rest on the physical characteristics (body composition, aerobic capacity and muscle strength), metabolic characteristics (glucose, insulin and the lipid profile) and circulating concentrations of novel biomarkers of insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance (liver-, adipose-and muscle-secreted proteins) in young healthy males, with and without an exercise countermeasure. This PhD was funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) PRODEX programme and Enterprise Ireland and was conducted as part of the “Reactive jumps in a sledge jump system as a countermeasure during long-term bed rest” (RSL) study, which was funded by ESA and hosted by the German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt, DLR). Since completing my PhD, I’m working as a sports scientist, exercise physiologist and active health researcher for EduFIT, which is online health education and functional fitness company. I’m extremely passionate about bringing the evidence to practice to prevent and manage the physiological adaptations associated with physical inactivity, high levels of sedentary time and ageing, which are similar, albeit less dramatic, than the physiological adaptations observed following spaceflight.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Absolutely! Having a work-life balance is so important for your physical, emotional and mental health. During my PhD, I was guilty of working excessive hours but you learn overtime that you can only be productive for so many of these without sufficient rest!

Questions about your current Job

 How did you go about getting your current job?

My academic to occupation route has fortunately been very smooth sailing! A few months after I finished my BSc. (Hons) in Sports Science and Exercise Physiology, I applied for the PhD opportunity advertised on the AIT website (now TUS) and Twitter and I was lucky enough to be offered it! Then following my PhD submission, I was offered my position at EduFIT and I couldn’t wait to get started!

 Describe a typical day.

My PhD research focused on investigating the impact of 60 days 6°HDTbed rest on the physical characteristics, metabolic characteristics and circulating concentrations of novel biomarkers of insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance in young healthy males, with and without an exercise countermeasure. Specifically, we looked at changes in body weight, muscle mass, fat mass, aerobic fitness, muscle strength, insulin sensitivity and circulating concentrations of liver-, muscle-and adipose tissue-derived proteins. To do this, we collected multiple measurements prior to and following HDT bed rest, including blood samples from an oral glucose tolerance test (which measures your body’s response to sugar or glucose). I was very fortunate to be able to travel to the German Aerospace Centre for the pre-and post-HDT bed rest testing phases to meet the subjects and fellow researchers, assist with the transportation subjects to different experiments and observe exercise training sessions and physiological tests being conducted specifically for  our metabolic research team and for other research teams. The blood samples were then shipped to Ireland for laboratory analysis. Many of my days as a PhD student were spent in the laboratory (developing my laboratory skills and techniques, preparing and organising the laboratory and samples and running different experiments such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays or ELISAs) or in the office analysing the data from the HDT bed rest study or reading, reviewing, writing and publishing research articles. ESA’s motto “Life in space for life on Earth” accurately reflects my current role, in which I translate published scientific research obtained from spaceflight and HDT bed rest into easy-to-understand information to prevent and manage the deleterious physiological adaptations (loss of cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle mass and strength and increased chronic disease risk) associated with physical inactivity, high levels of sedentary time and ageing.

 What’s the coolest part of your job?

Every day is different and you are constantly learning!

 Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?


Questions about education and training

 What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?

For my leaving certificate, I took English, Irish, Maths, Accounting, Biology, French and Geography (If P.E. had been a leaving certificate subject, I would have definitely taken it over accounting!). Of these subjects, Biology and Maths have been extremely important in my education and career path. After my leaving certificate, I spent four years at TUS (formerly AIT) completing a BSc.(Hons)in Sports Science with Exercise Physiology and had a special interest in all modules specific to physiology and health. Additionally, in third year, I completed my placement with DEXLIFE, an EU-funded project investigating new ways to detect and prevent type 2 diabetes. I assisted in the scheduling, running and recording of data on numerous physiological tests in Dublin City University as part of this large scale multi-centre project. This experience really cemented my ambition to work in the field of exercise physiology.

Questions about yourself.

 What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

To date, graduating with a First Class Honours in BSc. (Hons) in Sports Science and Exercise Physiology in October 2015 and successfully defending my PhD thesis in January 2022!

 What is your dream job?

At the moment, I am extremely happy working as a sports scientist, exercise physiologist and researcher with EduFIT. We have a small core research team who are extremely interested in spaceflight, bed rest, physical inactivity, sedentary behaviour and ageing and the physiological and metabolic changes associated with these conditions. Our intention is to plan, implement and evaluate research studies in these areas in the future and translate the findings of these research studies to improve the overall health and well-being of the population.

Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

Are there important personal characteristics, or good work experience they can undertake for example. The most important qualities a PhD candidate would be a strong work ethic (perseverance, resilience, determination and dedication), organisational and time-management skills, ability to work independently and in collaboration with others, enthusiasm and a deep interest in the topic of research. These skills are all transferable to the role of an exercise physiologist, in addition to compassion and empathy. Top tip: Keep your Twitter account up to date and follow dedicated pages, researchers and industry professionals in your particular area of interest and continuously look for upcoming opportunities! Through following @esaeducation on Twitter, I read about, applied for and attended the first ESA Human Space Physiology Course in Redu, Belgium