A PhD Student’s Pathway to Research Impact – Heatwaves in the Elderly

The research excellence framework (REF) provides funding to UK universities with the purpose to support the continuation of world-class research. The amount of funding received by a university is assessed against three main criteria: the quality of research outputs; the research impact beyond academia; and the environment that supports research (REF, 2018). A priority from the outset of my PhD (Heat waves in the elderly and the impact of acute and chronic heat alleviating strategies on health) was to achieve impact beyond academia. My aim was to provide evidence-based advice that the elderly could use to improve their health and wellbeing during periods of hot weather.

Kirsty Waldock (3rd year PhD student)

My pathway to research impact began when I was invited to present my second PhD research study, which had been supported by an Eastbourne Leisure Trust grant, at Public Health England’s (PHE) Heatwave Seminar. The annual seminar reviews the national heatwave plan, with the aim to improve the heat-related health policies. My principal supervisor’s, Dr. Neil Maxwell, and my presentations were well received by the attendees. Dr. Angie Bone, Head of Extreme Events and Health Protection, PHE and chair of the seminar, emphasized the importance of our contribution in providing exercise and heat-alleviating strategies and highlighted the importance of reflecting this in future health plans. The outcome of the PHE heatwave seminar was an invitation to write the study for a special edition entitled “Heat-related harm” within the PHE’s journal: Public Health. With the journal article now available online, it is our hope that it will now inform policy and be cited within the next edition of PHE’s heatwave plan. A further intention of the final chapter of my PhD thesis, will be to synthesise data from all my studies into bespoke advice for the elderly so they can better prepare for periods of hot weather and make PHE aware of our new evidence.

Informing public health policy is one form of measureable impact from research beyond academia. On a personal level, I have managed to impact the elderly (65-83 years old, male, female and transgender) who have participated in my studies positively, including the purchasing of more accessible and safe exercise equipment, joining gyms, making new friends of their own age, genuinely enjoying the testing experience and learning how they personally respond to hot environments. This type of impact might not be measureable from a REF perspective, however, it has allowed me to achieve my PhD goal of having a positive impact on the health and wellbeing within my target population.

“it was a pleasure being a volunteer and getting to know a little about your work together”

“You and your colleagues were just wonderful Kirsty, and really made the whole experience so very enjoyable, except perhaps for the core thermometers! Thank you so much for professionalism and kindness”

“It was a great pleasure to be able to support your collective research programmes and to have such an enjoyable time, in interesting circumstances, whilst doing it. I experienced you all as a very friendly and supportive team. You were supportive of the subjects and of each other.

At the same time, however, you were also a very professional team. You all were calm and reassuring. You were kind, courteous and respectful. It was professionally conducted in every respect.”

“whilst it was very time consuming it was very enjoyable. It was certainly an experience I would repeat. Thank you for that.”

Kirsty Waldock, PhD Student

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