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Student Vacation Research Assistant: Establishing a testing protocol for the objective assessment of sleep quantity and quality - Open to current University of Worcester students only*

It is widely recognised that poor sleep can have a negative impact upon sporting performance (Gupta, Morgan and Gilchrist, 2016).These negative affects appear to be mediated by a range of psychological and physiological responses (Halson, 2008), however, a detailed understanding of the mechanisms that mediate these responses is not evident.

There is a growing body of evidence in non-athletic populations (Santos et al., 2012) that impaired sleep may be mediated to some degree by inflammatory mediators such as cytokines. These findings are supported by more invasive studies that have been performed on animals (Chennaoui et al., 2015). Disruptions in inflammatory cytokines have been linked to impaired exercise performance through a range of mechanisms, including those which are impacted upon by sleep deprivation (Robson, 2003; Walshe et al., 2010; Arnal et al., 2016). Indeed there is some emerging evidence to support the notion that upregulation of inflammatory cytokines following sleep deprivation may be associated with impaired performance in repeated sprint exercise (Abedelmalek et al., 2013).

Recent research (Cullen et al., 2017) conducted by the project supervisor (Dr Cullen) has demonstrated an association between perceived sleep quality and the soluble interleukin-6 receptor in a cohort of endurance athletes during a prolonged training study. These findings support the more detailed sleep studies that have been conducted in the general population (Dimitrov et al., 2006), however it is clear that more comprehensive sleep studies are required to fully elucidate the importance of these mechanisms with regards to exercise performance.

Indeed one of the primary limitations of the work conducted by Dr Cullen was the use of subjective measures of sleep quantity and quality rather than objective measures of sleep. There has been a rapid rise in research in the area, largely due to the widespread availability of ‘wearable devices’ capable of providing objective data on sleep quality and quantity, however, the validity and accuracy of these device must be considered along with a range of other procedural factors that can impact upon the data (Sargent et al., 2016).

The primary aim of the project will be to establish a testing protocol for the assessment of sleep quantity and quality in laboratory experiment.

The development of methods for the assessment of sleep is a critical precursor to the planned future research projects of the project supervisor, investigating the role of sleep in cytokine regulation and exercise performance. As such the student will primarily be tasked with the development of procedures to accurately assess a range of appropriate sleep metrics using actigraphs. The University of Worcester already owns the appropriate equipment (actigraphs and Actihearts) for the study and there will be no additional costs associated with the work that the student will be responsible for. The intended duties for the student will not be technically demanding, but will require a good understanding of the topic and research design process which will be informed by a brief literature review and assistance from the project supervisor.

*Please note that this post is open only to students completing the penultimate or final year of an undergraduate degree (or equivalent) at the University of Worcester or partner institutions;


Students completing, or who have completed, an undergraduate degree at another university (with 1st or 2:1 predicted/achieved) who are about to commence postgraduate studies at the University of Worcester.

Closing date: Wednesday 31 May 2017

Reference number: STUVRA1713 - 2012

Job details

Job details

Band 3, spinal column point 6, £8.44 per hour, plus £1.18 per hour holiday pay
8 weeks
Responsible to
Tom Cullen
Interview date

Institute of Sport and Exercise Science

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"Our aim is to attract ambitious students who will be challenged as sports academics and practitioners to be the best that they can be."
Mick Donovan, Head of Institute




The University of Worcester is funding 20 Vacation Research Assistantships for the summer of 2017. These Research Assistantships will provide undergraduates and recent graduates with ‘hands on’ experience of working on a research project over the summer vacation, enabling them to gain insight into a research career, as well as enhancing their CV. These are prestigious awards, marking out a student as a future researcher and potential academic. In addition, this scheme provides UW staff leading on a research project with invaluable support in taking the project forward and experience of supporting and developing a young researcher.

On completion of the project, the supervisor and student must complete a report providing the following information:

• Objectives set

• Objectives met

• Methods employed

• Results

• Conclusions

• Outputs

• Benefits to the student including training undertaken, skills developed, etc.

Main duties

Main duties

1. Conduct a literature search in the relevant area.
2. Assist in the planning and collection of high quality data within a novel research area
3. Recruit participants for preliminary data collection.
4. Assist with the interpretation of the data
5. Contribute to a dedicated research team

*Maintain personal and professional development to meet the changing demands of the job; participate in appropriate training activities and encourage and support staff in their development and training.

*Take steps to ensure and enhance personal health, safety and well being and that of other staff and students.

*Carry out these duties in a manner that promotes equality of opportunity and supports diversity and inclusion, and takes into account the University's commitment to environmentally sustainable ways of working.


Person specification

Person specification

Please provide evidence of how you meet each of the essential criteria:


1. Demonstrate high quality degree level work (achieved/potential to achieve first or 2.1 in sport science, exercise or health related degree).
2. Ability to work independently and apply high attention to detail.
3. Demonstrate accurate and precise data collection skills.
4. Experience of working with Excel or SPSS (statistical package software)
5. Ability to work to, and meet deadlines
6. Good data interpretation skills
7. Good interpersonal skills
8. Ability to contribute to and work well within a research team

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