Student Profile - Paddy Dempsey

Paddy Dempsey
Paddy Dempsey competing in the 2016 CCS Postgraduate Symposium

Paddy Dempsey is a PhD student at Baker IDI in the Physical Activity Laboratory where he is supervised by Professor David Dunstan, Professor Neville Owen, Professor Bronwyn Kingwell and Dr Julian Sacre. He studied exercise physiology in his home country of New Zealand before moving to Melbourne for his PhD.

What is your research about?

In modern society many adults spend up to 70% of their waking hours sitting. There is growing evidence that this can have serious health consequences - particularly for people with type 2 diabetes.

I am interested in identifying the doses, timing and patterning of physical activity that are required to optimise metabolic and cardiovascular health. Specifically, my research focuses on understanding the potential for prevention and management of type 2 diabetes through reducing or ‘breaking up’ the large proportions of the day spent sitting. To contribute to our understanding in this area, my studies draw on two parallel strands of evidence. Firstly, data from large population-based studies, which use high-quality objective and self-reported measures of physical activity and sitting time, and secondly, controlled laboratory studies in which ‘breaks’ in sitting time are manipulated.

What made you choose this area of research? Have you always been interested in it?

I have always been fascinated with science and how the human body works. My research in the area of exercise physiology was initially motivated by my own athletic pursuits, but evolved over time.

I became interested in how I could apply the scientific principles I’d learned to battle chronic disease. We still have so much to figure out about why physical activity works and how to get more people to do it. This is where I felt I could make the biggest difference.

I was drawn to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease because they are such big issues. There is so much potential to make a real impact through small and simple changes in the way we live our lives. We need to do more to find ways to make physical activity, less sitting, and other healthy behaviours ‘the easy choice’.

What have you enjoyed most about doing a PhD?

Science can be tough and frustrating at times, but also incredibly rewarding – you never stop learning. Making a difference is really what drives me in my work. I enjoy the scientific method and the exciting feeling of breaking new ground. I also really enjoy discussing ideas and learning from the amazing minds I have the privilege of working alongside. There is also lots of variety and this helps to develop some great transferable skills.

I saw that you undertook your Undergraduate and Master’s degrees in New Zealand. Did you grow up in New Zealand? When did you move to Australia?

I moved to Melbourne for my PhD in early 2013, having completed Undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Human Physiology and Sport and Exercise Science at Otago University, New Zealand. I was born in New Zealand, but actually spent half my life living in Kenya. I’m really enjoying Melbourne – there is so much going on and so much to do. It’s good that New Zealand isn’t too far away though, it’s always nice to visit home from time-to-time.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I was brought up on farms and orchards in New Zealand, so I enjoy getting outdoors and doing practical things. I also enjoy playing sports, movies, fishing, running, travelling and surfing whenever time permits. Beer brewing has been a recent hobby or ‘experiment’.

What did you find most difficult about the Three Minute Thesis Competition? What did you enjoy most about competing?

The Three Minute Thesis was definitely the most challenging form of presentation I have ever done! However, I am so glad I tried it, and would definitely recommend every PhD student give it a go at least once!

Distilling down so much work, while also adding a little ‘X-factor’ is tough. It forces you to work out what the most important elements of your research are. It actually also helped me with my PhD Thesis and the bigger picture of it all – which was a nice side-effect!

What advice do you have for others considering or just starting a PhD?

Before starting, I think some important things to ask yourself are:

  • Will a PhD get me where I want to be? What skills do I hope to gain in the process?
  • Will I enjoy this topic and will it keep me interested for the next 3-4 years?
  • Is the laboratory a good fit for me? Will I like and get along with the supervisors and colleagues I will be working with?
  • Can I work independently, but will I have plenty of support (e.g. funding, feedback, technical) along the way when I need it?

First explore all your potential options, then trust your gut.  Remember, you are still a student – be willing to try things, make a few mistakes, and get outside your comfort zone.  Do not assume anything and ask lots of questions.  Expect setbacks and criticism, but stay positive, determined and persevere. Take time for yourself, family and friends and take time off and do things you love outside of the PhD. Talk to lots of people with different experiences, values and beliefs.