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The Aerospace Medicine and Rehabilitation Laboratory often hosts interns who work with us on research projects.  This article brings you an interview with one of our past interns, Arran Parmar.

What course were you studying at the time of your placement?

BSc (Hons) Applied Sport and Exercise Science at Northumbria University.

What was your role in the centre for life project?

Functional Re-adaptive Exercise Device (FRED) assistant, Xsens Motion capture suit operator and Mission X support.

Worked in a team of 5 collecting research data about the movement of participants on FRED and lead simple exercise classes to children aged 7-14. Recruited members of the public by explaining the protocol and screening for any exclusion criteria before they participated. Main duties were operating Xsens motion capture suit, collecting data from the protocol and ensuring safety of participants throughout.

What skills did you learn on the placement that have benefited you since?

Approaching and explaining, in an engaging and concise manner, what the research projects were about to potential participants. Learnt how to use the Xsens motion capture system as well as how to analyse the data captured. This benefited me greatly when doing my dissertation as I used the Xsens system to measure the kinematics of basketball players landing in the lower limbs. I learnt how the research process works and the impact research can have, not only within the specific field of science the research is about, but also how the applications can benefit other areas. From a broader perspective as well, I learnt how much time and planning is required to ensure a research project is carried out properly, which has benefited me greatly in my own work and research with athletes.

What was the most challenging part of this placement?

The most challenging part was recruiting participants. At first I found it challenging to engage the public’s interest whilst also ensuring they were informed about the entire project in a concise manner before taking part. As the weeks progressed this became easier but you sometimes had to change your approach depending on the person. For me personally, I found that taking the time to learn and understand the project itself helped me in engaging the public as I felt more confident about what I was talking about.

What was the most rewarding/enjoyable part of the placement?

The most rewarding part of the placement was being able to contribute to research that I truly thought would make a big impact, not only in aerospace medicine but also in the general population. I was able to talk about ideas and learn from others’ experiences from a slightly different background which I also found rewarding. The most enjoyable part was working with a good team and also the people we met during the placement.

Was this placement useful in applying for jobs?

This placement has been very useful. I have used this experience on my application from for my current Master’s programme and this benefited me greatly when applying for an internship at ESA.

What was the application process like for the ESA internship?

The application process was very straight forward. I had to write a CV and cover letter and then fill out a general application form highlighting my interest and why I would be a good candidate. The process itself is lengthy just because you typically have to apply a year in advance for ESA to sort everything out.

What support did you get in applying for the ESA internship?

I received support from Andrew Winnard who had supervised me on my placement and had done an ESA internship himself, who was always more than happy to provide any information I needed, and also to put me in contact with the relevant people if he didn’t have the answer. The people at ESA were also happy to help with any questions I had and did their best to keep me updated with the process. I also received support from my lecturers at Northumbria University (namely: Dr. Nick Caplan and Dr. Su Stewart) who were happy to look over any of my documents and also provide opportunities which would help with the process.

Where was the internship based and how long were you there for?

The internship was based at the ESA Space Medicine Office (SMO) in Cologne, Germany. My internship lasted for 3 months.

What was it like living in Cologne?

Living in Cologne was different at first but I enjoyed it the more I saw of Cologne. I lived in Troisdorf which is outside of the Cologne city centre due to the ESA office being based in Wahnheide. I cycled everywhere which I found was a great way to explore the area and I visited Bonn quite a lot which was nice. One thing to note is that all the shops close on Sunday and public holidays which I wasn’t aware of at first. Most people spoke English quite well too which was very good for me personally as I did not know any German.

What did you do on the internship?

During the internship I completed a few different projects. The first was inputting training data the astronauts completed into a database so that we could see how the astronauts progressed, along with any issues when completing certain training programmes. This was also partly due to the SMO moving to a different software to store all the data too.

The second project was evaluating, interpreting and providing new ideas for the current test battery the SMO had in place for the astronauts pre- and post-flight. This involved reading lots of literature around testing protocols to ensure they were valid, reliable and could be done in a short space of time. Along with this, for the tests that were agreed upon, I had to come up with normative data so the SMO and the astronauts knew where they were and what targets they had. This was difficult as much of the literature includes participants that are college students, have medical problems, or sometimes elite athletes. This meant that the values within the literature weren’t always applicable. This led to essentially doing a meta-analysis on each test to find values, combine them and then come up with normative data that could actually be used. Once this was complete I then had to put this information into a presentation so that the SMO and the astronauts could easily see why certain tests are conducted, as well what constitutes as poor, average and excellent performances in tests.

A third project was then using past test data and creating individual presentations for each of the astronauts. This had to be concise, easy to read, engaging and informative. This was sometimes challenging when there were missing data and when the tests weren’t particularly applicable based on the previous project.

These were the main things I did; smaller tasks included making a procedure list for how to use things in the gym, input and analyse test data, and help test an astronaut once they landed.

As an addition to the second project, I contributed to meeting with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in trying to come up with a universal battery of tests. This was important to do so that when ESA collaborate with the CSA, NASA and JAXA, to name but a few, the data they have on pre- and post-flight tests can be compared. I do believe that this is progressing and a consensus will be reached shortly on the actual tests that will be used by all.

What was the most challenging part of the internship?

The most challenging part was creating the normative data for each of the tests. This is due to the populations used and having to ensure that the values were applicable to an astronaut population. Another challenge was also explaining why a certain test may be better than another that the SMO may have used for a very long time. This was challenging in that it would mean changing the norm and would also lead to past data becoming irrelevant if the old test was excluded.

What was the most rewarding/enjoyable part of the internship?

The most rewarding part was seeing the bigger picture of what the work I had done could potentially lead to; this being potentially an international consensus on the physical tests used by every space agency. The most enjoyable part was working in a multi-disciplinary team and being able to ask experts within the field a myriad of different questions. I did especially enjoy meeting with the CSA member and being able to contribute my own knowledge to potentially help with a testing decision.

Would you recommend this type of placement to other students on your course?

I would definitely recommend this type of placement. I would say, however, only do the placement if you are willing to invest the time and work hard whilst there. This type of placement makes you think outside of the box and is very different to working with athletes or even clinical populations. It will challenge your knowledge and you will have to solve problems you may have never thought of, simply due to the population you are working with being astronauts.

What are you doing now and where do you see your career taking you?

I am currently completing a Masters of Research in Exercise Science, I am the Sports Science Intern for Team Northumbria, I am the Men’s and Women’s Basketball 1st team performance analyst and a voluntary strength and conditioning coach. Even though I am not as actively involved in the Space industry at the moment as I would like due to time, I do try to keep up to date with the research around the use of exercise as a rehab and prehab tool for spaceflight. I also try to help out with any research opportunities that come up within the Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation.

In terms of where I see my career taking me, honestly I’m not entirely sure. I do want to stay within the research field as I do enjoy it but I also want to work as an applied sport scientist/strength and conditioning coach. I do feel like there is a gap within the space industry for accredited coaches and sport scientists and so if this opens up, this would be a very good option for me. I actively look around for PhD opportunities too with the FRED project being something I would be very interested in pursuing, should an opportunity come up.