In at the deep end: Six recent graduates on life after their degrees

'I work freelance with the Great Britain weightlifting team'
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The Independent Online

'I work freelance with the Great Britain weightlifting team'

Martin MacDonald is a performance nutritionist and a qualified strength and conditioning coach.

"I liked biology at school and was a sporty person, so a degree in sports and exercise science made sense. I particularly enjoyed studying nutrition, largely because I compete as a natural body builder and nutrition is the biggest part of that sport. So I did a Masters in nutrition when I graduated in 2006 and completed it last year. I did both degrees at Loughborough University.

As a consultant nutritionist, I work freelance with a huge range of clients, notably the Great Britain weightlifting team. That involves planning diets, doing talks, going on various training camps, giving one-to-one consultations and answering questions by email.

I also do talks at various clubs and I work with individuals too. I have become known as the expert on body fat in my geographical area, so that attracts people who want to lose body fat and improve body composition. During my Masters, I became a certified trainer in strength and conditioning, so that means I can write exercise programmes for individuals too.

I love the variety of my work – not just the range of people I work with, but the fact that I'm never tied down to one project. There's variety in my work: just last week, I was asked to write an article for The Sun on exercise. I've just launched my own website too: www.mac-nutrition.com."

'I live in New York City'

Hannah Patterson is sport scientist and trainer at The Sports Factory (TSF) Academy in New Jersey, USA.

"My specific responsibilities include planning and organising the annual training programmes specific to each individual TSF Academy club team – girls and boys under-13s and under-23s.

The facility is located 30 minutes from New York City. Living here allows for a high standard of living in an affluent suburban community, while being enough to experience the exhilaration of a fantastic city and a completely different culture. I enjoy the sunshine and working outside in a brighter, warmer climate. And I enjoy playing a part in the development of young players who have the enthusiasm to learn and improve. I wake up in the morning looking forward to going to work.

The only downsides are being away from friends and family, the long hours and limited time off.

I graduated from Manchester Metropolitan in 2007. I have always been interested in fitness training, both within the field of health and athletic development. I applied for the position of soccer coach at the end of my second year in the hope of obtaining a short-term seasonal contract of employment upon finishing my course. I wound up staying.

I hope to build up my qualifications and experience for a senior management position within the American Collegiate System."

'The facilities here are the best in the world'

Ben Holliss is doing a PhD and works part-time for the English Institute of Sport (EIS) as a sports science technician in the physiology department.

"I really enjoyed my degree, which I completed in 2007. I'd chosen it because I enjoyed human biology and sport. The University of Exeter had an excellent department. You felt really valued as a student.

By the third year, I was specialising in exercise physiology and enjoyed it so much I decided to do a Masters at Loughborough University. Now I'm doing a PhD in altitude training and endurance performance. I'm looking at whether training sessions in a simulated altitude environment can improve your performance more than if you were just training in a normal environment. We know that in certain individuals, it does have a beneficial impact, but I'm trying to find out more. The PhD is sponsored by Sporting Edge UK, which manufactures altitude chambers, and is jointly funded by Essex University and the EIS.

In the time I'm not working on my PhD – about half my time – I work for the EIS, ensuring the facilities the athletes use here are the best in the world, as well as supporting the physiologists.

I'm motivated by the fact I work with some of the very best British athletes; and alongside some of the best support teams and practitioners in the world, who are all extremely passionate about pushing the boundaries of sports performance."

'My work explored the effect of dehydration'

Sarah Benjamin is a sport scientist for the human performance unit at the University of Brighton.

"I've always been involved in sport – I competed at a reasonable level in swimming. I'd also enjoyed science at school, although I wasn't particularly studious. But I managed to get a good degree. I think it was because, for the first time, I'd found a subject really applicable to my interests.

When I graduated in 2006, I went to work for Essex University, where I'd studied. I was working on some guidelines for people writing sports science papers when I came across a guy who was doing a research Masters on the psychology of Olympic swimmers. I asked if I could do something similar and the university said yes. For my degree, I looked at the potential protective effect of mental toughness attributes in Olympic swimmers. I came up with some interesting results.

Whilst doing that, I got a job at Lucozade as a sports scientist. It involved things like presenting on the effect of dehydration and giving out nutritional information. It was varied and interesting.

Because there wasn't the security of an ongoing contract, I applied for my current job, which involves working with a range of athletes – some as young as 13, who are mostly identified as gifted and talented athletes. They come for sessions ranging from nutrition to benchmark testing.

It's such exciting work because there are some great athletes out there. And I love using my degree – really putting it into practice."

'The role is incredibly challenging '

Harriet Saberwal is a school sports co-ordinator in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

"Originally, I applied to do English and media courses at university, but I changed my mind after doing PE at A-level. I had a tutor who explained things so well that it made me want to continue with the theoretical side of sport.

I loved my SES degree at the University of Essex. Having graduated in 2004, I did a PGCE and got my first job in a large comprehensive in North London. It was a great job with a very varied work schedule.

Two years on, I was ready for a new challenge and I've just moved into my current role, which involves working across two secondary schools and 14 primary schools and is about improving the quality of PE and encouraging more participation in sport.

That part involves three areas. First, encouraging the pupils at the top of the achievement ladder to take part in more quality coaching outside school. Second, encouraging those on the middle of the ladder. And finally, encouraging those at the bottom to do more varied things to keep them interested – for example box fit club or archery, as opposed to the conventional sports that may turn them off exercise.

The role has so many strands that it's incredibly challenging and it's lovely to use my degree and my experience of teaching to bring about genuine improvement."

'I like being in an athletic environment '

Nik Diaper is a performance profiler for the English Institute of Sport (EIS), a role which is partly funded by the British Paralympics Association.

"I used to be an elite performer in international swimming. I did a degree to find out more about how to perform better – and it worked.

After I graduated in 2002 from Manchester Metropolitan, I got some work experience with the Great Britain wheelchair tennis squad. My role was to assess and monitor player fitness and to advise coaches on training.

Meanwhile I did a Masters in exercise physiology – also at Manchester Met. I realised that without that extra qualification, I'd be limiting myself.

As soon as I'd handed in my dissertation, I went to the Paralympics in Athens with the wheelchair tennis squad. It was a phenomenal experience.

I then went to do an internship with the English Institute of Sport for a year, which allowed me to get some real experience with Olympic sports, and I worked with some top level scientists. I then went straight into a full-time post as a performance profiler. A large part of my role is finding Paralympic athletes for 2012. I also prepared and supported the paralympic team for Beijing 2008 and I travelled out there myself.

I'm still an athlete at heart, so I like being in an athletic environment. It's challenging and often involves pressure, which suits my personality. Helping people to achieve what they set out to do in sport is extremely rewarding too."

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