Student & ECR Spotlight – Dr Matthew Hobbs highlights the benefits of collaborations between researchers and the Ministry of Health

Please tell us about your career pathway to date (positions and institutes).

Leeds Beckett University (2009 – 2012) BA (Hons) Physical Education

Loughborough University (2012 – 2013) MSc Physical Activity and Public Health

Leeds Beckett University (2013 – 2017) Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD

Leeds Trinity University (2017 – 2018) Lecturer in Physical Activity, Exercise and Health

University of Canterbury (2018 – 2020) Postdoctoral Researcher


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

Currently, I live in Christchurch, New Zealand and work as a postdoctoral researcher at the GeoHealth Laboratory at The University of Canterbury. In a unique collaboration with the New Zealand Ministry of Health, I combine environmental data, for instance, the location of green spaces or air pollution and investigate links with health outcomes such as obesity or respiratory-related diseases. Often this is on a national scale, however, as a result of this unique collaboration, working directly with the Ministry of Health, my reports directly inform policymakers who are responsible for improving public health in New Zealand. It is nice to know the research you are doing is being used!


What are the main barriers you experience when conducting research?

I pride myself in attempting to produce high quality and impactful work, but I try to have a laid back, approachable (and even fun) attitude towards my work. However, I often find that this attitude means that a common barrier for me is that other scientific colleagues don’t take me very seriously. Partly, this may be due to the way I look; I think it is largely due to being young in a field that that is predominantly older. However, in addition to this I also look younger than I am. I also believe that my ‘fun’ approach to science also does not fit with a ‘traditional view’ of what science and research ‘should be’. This often leads to issues of being taken seriously in the science world upon first impressions (it really is painful to see attitudes change once they know who you are!). Recently, I have met a few people who have experienced the same barriers dependent upon their background, so I think it is down to us as a scientific community to really reflect on what science ‘should be’ and for ‘who’.


What could help you as an ECR to further develop in your current position?

In order to develop further I will likely need to widen my methodological expertise perhaps looking at using R and other analyses techniques I don’t currently use or moving in to other fields such as virtual reality. I hope that by widening my expertise in terms of methods and analyses this may open doors to research collaborations with people outside of my field.


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

Following on from my last point I think virtual reality is a promising method as it overcomes the persistent limitation that intentionally exposing participants to adverse environments is not ethically possible. It also uniquely offers ecological and internal validity as features in adverse urban environments, can be closely controlled for experimental purposes maximising experimental control in a traditionally complex situation and environment. Hopefully I will get to use this soon!



You can get in touch with Matthew via email at [email protected] or Twitter @hobbs_PA