Student & ECR spotlights – Meet Harriet Koorts, an implementation scientist investigating the mechanisms underpinning the scale-up of activity/nutrition interventions

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

I completed a BSc (Hons) in Psychology (2005), Masters in Health Psychology (2007) and PhD (2012) all at the University of Bath (UK). My PhD focussed on ways to promote physical activity among children and adolescents, and the implementation and evaluation of population-level physical activity interventions. On completion of my doctorate, I wanted to gain experience of implementation in practice so undertook a role as a Public Health Program Manager for the UK National Health Service (NHS). The role involved coordinating the implementation and evaluation of health promotion initiatives within community and clinical health settings. After moving to Australia, I joined Deakin University in 2014 as a Research Fellow specialising in community-based obesity prevention, a role with a dual emphasis on knowledge-brokering and research-to-practice translation. Currently, I am employed as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow/Implementation Scientist within the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) at Deakin University. In addition to my research in IPAN, I provide implementation science consultation to physical activity and nutrition experts within the Institute.

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?

Essentially, implementation science involves studying how we get scientific evidence (e.g. an efficacious physical activity intervention or nutrition policy) to become part of usual, routine, everyday practice. This includes studying not only individual health outcomes, but also the context (e.g. the organisations culture for change or existing processes) that we expect these changes to occur in. My main research interests are studying physical activity/nutrition intervention implementation and scale-up at a state or national level, and the processes and mechanisms which underpin this. Currently, I’m involved in a large 5-year implementation-effectiveness trial to investigate the state-wide roll-out of a school-based physical activity/sedentary behaviour intervention. This trial is being conducted under real-world conditions and I will be looking at factors associated with the interventions uptake, quality of implementation and sustainability over time. 


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

Protecting (and prioritising) time for writing is always a challenge with so many competing demands as an academic. Finite research timelines and grant deadlines also restrict the amount of time I would like to spend engaging and working collaboratively with our stakeholders. It’s of no surprise that stakeholder participation is especially critical when conducting implementation-related research, so ensuring we have sufficient time to do this can be particularly challenging.  

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

In my experience, ECR mentoring that provides guidance on networking, collaboration, resilience to rejection for example has been excellent. Often it’s the less than effective time management/organisation skills – which are fundamental to managing research as with performing in any job role – that can substantially hinder the efficiency of researchers. Greater opportunities to ‘get your hands dirty’ with the real-world issues your trying to solve, without the fear of any detrimental impact on the ECR track record, is something I think would greatly enhance the translatability of research in general, and my own position as a researcher. 

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

In particular with physical activity, but also more broadly within public health, advances in the novel use of technology in health research are particularly exciting, and I think these will frame some of the next major developments in the field. 

Email address: [email protected]

Twitter: @Harriet_Koorts