What’s it like to be a reader in exercise physiology?

Keen marathon runner Dr Chris Easton shares his typical day at the University of the West of Scotland

Dr Chris Easton is a reader in exercise physiology within the School of Health and Life Sciences at the University of the West of Scotland’s new £110m Lanarkshire campus. Easton, who has worked at UWS since 2012, is currently researching the influence of nitric oxide metabolism on health and exercise performance. 

What is it about your job that gets you out of bed in the morning?

The fact that my job allows me to have a positive impact on someone, every single day. Whether that’s through my mentorship and teaching of extremely talented students, helping athletes to improve their performance or by carrying out research that contributes towards improving the health of the population.

What’s the first thing you do when you get to work?

Run. I’m a keen runner and I’m currently training for the London Marathon. I’m fortunate that the new UWS Lanarkshire campus is located next to some excellent running routes, and when the weather isn’t so great for a run outside, I’m able to access the campus’s cutting-edge gym facilities, which are free for students to access (UWS was the first Scottish university to offer free gym memberships to students for its university-owned and operated gyms). Staying active is hugely important for health and wellbeing, and so the fact that I can incorporate it into my working day is such an advantage.    

Who are the people you talk to everyday?

I speak daily with fellow academics and my research students, who are investigating how nutrition, exercise and the environment can influence the levels of nitric oxide in our body. This molecule is crucial for regulating blood pressure and muscle contraction. My students spend a lot of time in UWS’s lab facilities collecting data, so we have daily conversations about protocols and analyses. 

What is the best thing about your job?

The opportunity to engage with people from all walks of life and from all over the world. 

My research has enabled me to work with everyone from Olympic champions, to assess why the East African athletes dominate distance running, to older adults with severe clinical conditions, such as peripheral vascular disease. UWS also has a sector-leading approach to widening access to higher education, so I get to teach students from diverse backgrounds, each with a very different journey to university. 

Another amazing aspect of my job is the opportunity to work within UWS’s environmental chamber, one of only two in Scotland, and the only one in the West of Scotland. The state-of-the-art facility can regulate temperature and altitude to create environmental extremes, which enables my students and I to study how the human body responds to these conditions. Professional athletes can also use the chamber to train ahead of intense sporting events. Recently, I had the honour of working with quadruple amputee Corinne Hutton, as she trained for her Mount Kilimanjaro climb. 

What is your biggest gripe?

I would just love to be able to spend even more time in the lab and working with students. Being busy in the labs, involved in practical, hands-on work with my students is absolutely the most rewarding aspect of the job.

How did you get into your job?

I studied physiology and sport science within my bachelor’s degree, during which I undertook a project supervised by an emeritus professor who encouraged me to pursue a career in research. My PhD examined hydration strategies for exercise in warm climates which led to me helping prepare the Ethiopian track athletes for the World Athletics Championships in Japan. I was encouraged to apply for my current role by a former colleague at Kingston University who had made the move to UWS. He told me about the university’s commitment to invest in state-of-the-art sports labs and, thankfully, he was true to his word, as we now have some of the best sport science facilities in the UK.

What is it about your personality that makes you suitable for your role?

I would describe myself as a ‘people person’ so I thrive on the opportunity to interact with people on a daily basis. I am also hugely passionate about both education and sport, which certainly helps.

Which five words sum up your typical day?

Exercise, coffee, analysis, teaching, research (mostly, but not always in that order).

If you weren’t in this role, what would you be?

I would almost certainly be working as a sports scientist practitioner in elite sport, ideally in football or athletics. 

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