Dr Orla Flannery

Childhood obesity is a hot topic right now: type ‘childhood’ into Google and you’ll see the subject is the number 1 choice for auto-completion. So when Dr Orla Flannery completed her 2009 thesis ‘Childhood obesity: understanding the user perspective to inform prevention and treatment strategies’ not only did she produce a piece of topical research that would ensure her success in the world of academia, it also played a part in her moving into a new role in the area of social enterprise.

Although she is the first in her family of 6 siblings to go on to university, Orla has followed a fairly traditional academic route: “I completed my undergraduate degree and then a Masters at the University of Wales, Bangor. I was unsure what to do after my Masters, I was interested in research and I had a couple of research assistant jobs, whilst working as a researcher at MMU I saw an advert for a GTA [now GTS] at Salford and applied.” The scheme had 2 attractions for Orla “As a student it was great to have an income and have my fees paid. It also provided me with an excellent opportunity to learn on the job but also be supported to develop my skills as a lecturer.” After her initial meeting with Prof Lindsey Dugdill and Paul Wilson, Orla was keen to get started especially as the exercise, physical activity and health degree fitted perfectly with her research interests. So has health and exercise always been important to Orla? “I have always been physically active, as I child I was always competing in sport. I wanted to know why people became obese, and in particular children. As a result of my PhD studies I became aware of challenges that families face to be healthy and I also learnt about the strategies that can facilitate behaviour change.”

Orla’s current position is as Senior Lecturer at the University of Gloucester, but she is about to take up the role of Senior Researcher for Food Dudes Health, and credits her PhD at Salford with enhancing her CV “I was involved in the design and development of new modules. I was also Vice Chair of the University Ethics committee and I worked with a number of organisations locally which really helped me to understand the challenges of working with a range of organisations.” Having got the most out of her time as a GTA, did Orla have a plan of action on finishing her PhD? “I really enjoyed both lecturing and research and when I finished my PhD I started as a full time lecturer in Exercise and Health Psychology at the University of Salford. I continued to work on obesity and health related topics. I also completed my PGCHE.”

Every PhD candidate faces challenges though, and Orla admits that “the PhD whilst it is very rewarding can be a lonely journey. There are many highs and lows throughout.” She does, however, have good advice for anyone facing that challenge; “It is important to pick an area which really interests you, as the motivation to work those evenings and weekends has to come from you. It is a lot easier to do that when you are interested in the topic. It is also important to have people around you who are also doing a PhD. I was very lucky at Salford as Dr Anna Robins was also completing here PhD at the same time and we helped each other. A good relationship with your supervisor is also very important and my supervisor was really supportive”.

As she contemplates her new role at Food Dudes Health, Orla’s focus is currently on developing her research profile. Given that 23% of UK 4-5 year olds are now overweight or obese, as well as over 33% of 10-11 year olds, her contribution is going to be invaluable.