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Helen Quirk

Post-doctoral launching fellow

Changing behaviour at the population level theme, Health inequalities theme

University of Sheffield

h.quirk@sheffield.ac.uk

Research Interests

The understanding and promotion of physical activity and addressing inequalities in health and physical activity behaviour.

Helen's Academic Career Journey

Helen’s interest in psychology started when she took A-Level Psychology, followed by an undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Sheffield.

“I’m fascinated by people, always have been. Their backgrounds, behaviours and why they do what they do. Some call it nosey, I call it inquisitive!”

Aligning this with her passion for physical activity, exercise and sport, Helen completed an MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology. Her dissertation involved interviewing female football players about confidence and Helen quickly realised how powerful it was to listen to the experience of people through research. Her PhD from the University of Nottingham involved exploring the experience of physical activity for children living with type 1 diabetes to understand how to promote activity in a population that faces many challenges. This sparked an interest in exploring the barriers to active lifestyles faced by certain groups of people and the subsequent health inequalities experienced. Her first post-doctoral researcher role was at Sheffield Hallam University where she got the opportunity to work on a range of physical activity related projects.

“Although I’ve worked on a lot of different projects with different methodologies, I get the most out of projects that work closely with people to understand their experiences. So much can be gained – personally and professionally – from really listening to people’s stories”.

Helen found those early post-doc years in research really important for figuring out her research interests. Some of her most fulfilling projects have been when working with organisations such as parkrun.

“Working with organisations like parkrun, who deliver weekly 2km and 5km run/walk and volunteer events every week across the world, is great because it’s a natural experiment for researchers to explore what works in the real world and for whom. Through research and evaluation, you can start to see impact of findings on the organisation’s practice, which is really rewarding”.

Helen regards herself a pragmatic researcher, using methods that are best suited to answer the research question. Her main interest and expertise is in qualitative research.

“I channel the genuine interest I have in other people into qualitative research and really enjoy interviewing people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures. It’s so rewarding when an interview provides people with the opportunity to have their voices heard”.

Helen became a SPHR post-doctoral Launching Fellow in April 2020. She is grateful for the opportunity to develop her experience, skills and networks. She is keen to develop her skills in participatory action research and co-production and would also like to gain experience in public engagement methods. Whilst she appreciates the importance of academic publications and conference presentations, she would like to develop skills in the dissemination of research findings beyond academic audiences. She’s keen to learn about knowledge mobilisation and finding ways of ensuring research findings are disseminated among the right people in the most effective way.

“This fellowship comes at an opportune time in my career where I want to focus my energy on my own academic aspirations and research ideas. I’m excited about taking my research in new directions by using participatory approaches to understand how to enable populations to keep active, particularly those in poorer circumstances and with the highest risk of sedentary lifestyles. Using this fellowship as a springboard, I hope to develop skills in leadership, project management, grant writing and collaborative working to enable me to deliver programmes of work that are forward-thinking and innovative, cutting across traditional boundaries to deliver improvements in health. This fellowship provides opportunities to develop future partnerships for collaborative research. My longer-term plan involves being at the forefront of research and practice that sees more culturally appropriate, community-centred approaches to promoting physical activity across communities.”

EXPERIENCE

  • 2020
  • NIHR SPHR Post-doctoral Fellow
  • University of Sheffield
  • 2016
  • Researcher
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • 2012
  • PhD in Psychology
  • University of Nottingham
  • 2011
  • MSc in Sport & Exercise Psychology
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • 2007
  • BSc in Psychology
  • The University of Sheffield

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