First postgraduate researcher completes PhD through Stellenbosch cotutelle programme

Tuesday 11 May 2021

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Odelia Van Stryp, a postgraduate researcher (PGR) from Coventry University’s Centre for Sport, Exercise and Life Sciences (CSELS), is the first candidate to successfully complete the university’s cotutelle programme with Stellenbosch University (SU), South Africa.

As part of the cotutelle PhD programme, Coventry University PGRs are enrolled at another international university and split their PhD research period across the two institutions. The candidate is jointly supervised by academic staff at each institution and, upon successful completion of the programme, graduates with a PhD or equivalent title from both universities.

Cotutelle candidates form part of a prestigious network of research candidates, benefitting from the supervision, guidance and expertise of renowned international research teams.

Odelia’s research specialism is in Sports Science, focusing on ‘Kinderkinetics’, a field that concentrates on promoting and enhancing the development of young children through scientifically based programmes focusing on children’s gross motor skills. Her research journey began after completing her masters studies at Stellenbosch University;

Odelia Van Stryp outside campus on sunny day.

My Study Leader at SU discovered this opportunity so we decided to take a chance and contact Professor Michael Duncan. We quickly realised that we had similar research interests and I was excited about what I could learn from his expertise.

For the application process I had to apply to both institutions and underwent each university’s recruitment processes in order to get my project – and the ethical clearance – approved.

During the first year of my PhD I travelled to Coventry University to meet Professor Duncan, and also attended a physical activity measurement seminar at Cambridge University.

Odelia Van Stryp

Odelia’s research explored the effect of ‘active brain-breaks’ in the classroom on the physical activity, fundamental movement skills (FMS) – which include running, hopping, throwing and catching - and executive functioning (which involves concentration levels and the ability to move quickly between tasks) of children aged six to seven years old. Active brain breaks are short bouts of physical activity that break up periods of academic learning in the classroom environment, with the aim of promoting physical activity and stimulating the brain.

Odelia worked with 191 children aged six to seven years old in two primary schools in the Cape Town area, South Africa. The children took part in two, ten minute active brain breaks, twice a week for six weeks. This six week intervention is the first focused on FMS to be implemented in South Africa. Pre- and post-intervention testing revealed that the children’s object control skills (including kicking, catching and throwing) saw greater improvement than their locomotor skills (running, hopping and sliding). Odelia also found that the active brain-breaks resulted in an improvement in the children’s executive functioning skills. The active brain-breaks decreased children’s sedentary behaviour and increased their vigorous physical activity.

These research findings suggest that implementing active brain-breaks could potentially assist children in being more physically active, and these fun, cost effective and easy-to-administer activities can be done at any time during the school day.

The cotutelle PhD between Stellenbosch University and Coventry University represents a unique opportunity where the strengths of both institutions, in this case as related to children’s physical activity and movement skills, can be augmented to produce research that strategically develops both institutions, but importantly has practical impact for society in the UK, South Africa and more widely.

Professor Michael Duncan, Centre for Sport, Exercise and Life Sciences

Find out more about Coventry University’s cotutelle programme and explore the research opportunities that are currently available at the Centre for Sport, Exercise and Life Sciences.