School of Sport and Health Sciences

Sport and exercise science graduate secures £0.9m UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship

Brighton sport and exercise science graduate Dr Jessica Mee has this month secured a £0.9m UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship grant to investigate the impact of heat strain on women’s health and performance.

The study, for which Dr Mee has received £942,349 in funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will look at how to improve women’s health and performance by mitigating heat strain. The research will not only expand on current knowledge of heat mitigation and management strategies but will examine the specific ways it impacts the female body.

“We’ll be evaluating a range of females, from those who are sedentary, physically active, and trained, as well as those of different body sizes, ages, and menstrual states,” Dr Mee said. “The issue with the current research is that there is a clear under-representation of females taking part in studies, so an improved understanding of females in this area where the study uses robust and high-quality research methods is an urgent priority.”

Dr Mee, who is now a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Worcester, first became interested in environmental physiology while studying for the Performance in Environmental Extremes module as part of her BSc(Hons) in Sport and Exercise Science at Brighton. After graduating from her undergraduate degree in 2010, she took this interest forward into her PhD at Brighton, examining the impact of heat tolerance on performance in female athletes.

Dr Neil Maxwell and Dr Jessica Mee with graduates

Dr Neil Maxwell (left) and Dr Jessica Mee (centre)

Dr Neil Maxwell, Reader of Applied Environmental Physiology within the School of Sport and Health Sciences, supervised Dr Mee’s PhD and is a co-applicant on the four-year UKRI grant. He will continue to act as her research mentor for the lifetime of the grant. 

Dr Maxwell said: “Throughout her PhD and since continuing her research in this area, Jess has been an integral member of our Environmental Extremes Lab, a team made up of researchers both inside and outside the University of Brighton who work collaboratively to provide high quality research into how to live and safety engage in effective physical activity whilst in inhospitable environments.

“Having been fortunate enough to work with Jess for many years now, I have seen her grow into an independent, well respected thermal physiologist and I relish the chance to support her in this new and exciting challenge. I truly believe she will make a measurable difference to women across the world through this fellowship.”

Supporting women in extreme environments

Traditional heat mitigation strategies are often not accessible to people who need them most, whether because they are living in areas of poverty or working in occupations involving outside activity. In addition, current mitigation strategies can compound the problem by contributing to greenhouse gas emissions which increase the risk of future extreme heat events. Dr Mee’s research will, therefore, be looking at sustainable and accessible strategies to mitigate and manage heat strain. 

Dr Mee said: “Our research will look to provide evidence-based guidelines to support females for when an extreme heat event occurs such as the heatwave which we all experienced in the summer of 2022. We will evaluate our participants’ health and performance including looking at their productivity and how present they are in the workplace.” 

Dr Maxwell added: “A priority of the study centres around evaluating heat mitigation strategies to offer advocacy to help females across the age spectrum manage the heat better. This is more important than ever with our warming climate, and with so much evidence coming from studies on males, it’s imperative to ensure future guidelines draw from bespoke, female-based data.”

The hope is that Dr Mee’s study will not only improve understanding of how heat impacts women, but also kickstart more research into the area. “Once we’ve examined the current landscape of existing research and conducted our laboratory studies,” Dr Mee said, “we will create education resources and practical guidelines on how best to mitigate and manage heat strain, and also change the landscape and encourage more researchers to conduct studies on females.”

Learn about sport and exercise degrees at Brighton. 

Kerry Burnett • 19/12/2023

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