Rosemary Walmsley is excited about using device-based measures to look at physical behaviours across the 24 hour day in epidemiological studies

Please tell us about your career pathway to date.

I’m currently a second-year PhD student in the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, UK, supervised by Dr Aiden Doherty and Dr Derrick Bennett. Before that, I studied for a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Maths and Philosophy also in Oxford – perhaps not the most conventional route into physical activity research, but I love using my mathematical training to think about problems with a very tangible link to people’s lives. 

How would you briefly describe your current research/job to someone who is not familiar with your field of study/work? What is your main research interest?

My research looks at the association between physical behaviours and risk of cardiovascular disease in adults. My particular focus is on methods for making use of device-based data on physical behaviours in epidemiological studies. I’m interested in different challenges – including methods for using data from the whole 24 hour day, challenges in measuring and classifying behaviours, and alternative or more granular measures which go beyond time in moderate-to-vigorous activity or sedentary behaviour, say.

What are the main barriers you encounter/experience when conducting research, or what information/skills do you lack to conduct high quality research?

During my PhD, I’ve learnt a lot about how to think about a research question, plan research and prioritise – and it’s something I still find quite difficult. For me, it’s hard to find the balance between having a clear question and plan, and being flexible to the interesting things (and/or obstacles!) which come up on the way. Guidance from my supervisors has been very helpful- and ultimately I think it’s about gaining experience and practice…

What could help you as a student/ECR to further develop/grow in your current position?

I’d love to make more connections outside my immediate research field (as well as inside, of course!!). For example, it would be interesting to talk more to people who work on intervention trials, to understand what kinds of observational questions it would be most useful for them to have answers to, or to clinicians to understand what the priorities are from their perspective. 

What do you think will be the next most important development in the nutrition and/or physical activity field? 

Hard question! In my own field, it feels like we’re still in the early days of exploring what we can use device-based measures of behaviour for. We’ve used them to mimic questionnaire-based studies, measuring time in moderate-to-vigorous activity and sedentary behaviour in particular. Increasingly, we use them to derive measures that don’t mimic those from self-report. For example, these might measure types of behaviour it’s hard to measure with self-report (e.g. light activity), the pattern of behaviour over the day or the spread of behaviour across the full range of intensities. As device-based measures become more embedded, for example in trials, it will be possible to understand how these measures associate with health, how to change the aspects of physical behaviour they measure and the impact that has on health. This might allow us to be more precise about the aspects of behaviour which are good targets.

I’m excited by lots of things I read and hear about other areas of physical activity and nutrition research – but I don’t know enough to say what the big developments will be! For example, I find it very interesting hearing about interventions which redesign our cities or other environments to make being physically active easier and more equitable.

You can contact Rosemary by email at [email protected] or via Twitter @R_Walms