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Exercising his research interests for a good cause

Dr Tou Nien Xiang hopes to make a meaningful impact in promoting active ageing among older adults, with the help of his PhD that focuses on exercise and sports science from NIE NTU.

Exercising his research interests for a good cause

Dr Tou Nien Xiang says his PhD candidature provided a robust foundation for his research career. Photos: Dr Tou Nien Xiang

As an undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), Dr Tou Nien Xiang discovered his passion for research while working on his final-year project.

Dr Tou – who was studying sports science and management – decided to take up research as a career in 2016, when he enrolled in a Master of Science programme at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NIE NTU, Singapore). Besides being a post-graduate student, he was also a research assistant in the Physical Education and Sports Science Academic Group (PESS AG). He eventually converted to a PhD programme and stepped down from his research assistant position to focus on his PhD studies.

“As an undergraduate, I really enjoyed the process of conducting experiments and making inferences from the data,” he recalled. “That ignited my interest in pursuing research, and doing a PhD is a good opportunity to develop essential research skills.”

PREPARING FOR A CAREER IN RESEARCH

NIE NTU, Singapore offers a comprehensive suite of graduate programmes and courses curated to support the learning development of both educators as well as professionals from a variety of industries and sectors.

Dr Tou chose NIE not just for its outstanding international reputation but also for the expertise of its faculty members and the quality of its facilities – both aspects that he grew familiar with as a research assistant. “The PESS AG, for example, has all the essential laboratory equipment to conduct research across many sports science areas, including physiology, biomechanics and motor control,” he said.

Dr Tou also found that the first-year courses on statistical analysis, academic writing and study design helped raise the quality of his thesis, which was on understanding individuals’ perceptual responses during exercise.

“It was commonly assumed that fatigue during exercise is determined by one’s physiological limits,” he said. “However, the interesting hypothesis is that such fatigue is perceived fatigue, not true physiological fatigue.”

For his thesis, Dr Tou designed a study in which he examined how mental fatigue affected exercise performance. “Interestingly, participants perceived the exercise to be harder when they were mentally fatigued despite no changes in their physiological responses. Indeed, it’s all in the mind!”

Dr Tou was able to tap on the collective wisdom of NIE’s faculty members who shared their domain knowledge and experience in conducting research. Along with his supervisors and peers, the faculty members were also able to offer broader advice and guidance when Dr Tou initially struggled to adapt to the more independent nature of PhD studies.

Dr Tou at Rocky Mountains, which he visited when he attended the American College of Sports Medicine 2017 annual meeting in Denver, Colorado.

As his studies progressed, Dr Tou started to contribute to the institution through volunteering for the Graduate Student Club, as well as sitting on the organising committee of the NIE Graduate Student Conference 2018. He also attended international scientific conferences with funding support from NIE. In addition, he had the opportunity of teaching both undergraduate and graduate classes, honing communication skills that have since stood him in good stead.

According to Dr Tou, his PhD candidature provided a robust foundation for his research career. “The experience of managing my PhD studies helped me get up to speed quickly in my job responsibilities as a researcher,” he said. “The soft skills that I developed in NIE have also equipped me to work independently and in a team with colleagues and collaborators.”

CONTRIBUTING HIS NEW SKILLS

Dr Tou – whose PhD was awarded last year – is now a research fellow at the Geriatric Education and Research Institute (GERI), where he is working to make a meaningful impact in the area of physical activity to aid active ageing.

“Given that the world population – including Singapore – is ageing rapidly, active or healthy ageing is an important public health issue that deserves attention,” he said of his work, which involves collaborating with community partners to execute research projects aimed at helping older adults maintain their health and well-being.

Now in his third year at GERI, Dr Tou plans to continue developing his career in academia and translate his research findings into practice.

He advises potential PhD candidates at NIE to pursue research topics that they are genuinely passionate about. “Take charge of your own research progress and personal learning,” he said. “And remember that you don’t have to undertake this journey alone. Besides your supervisor, find or create your own support network with your peers, family or faculty members at NIE.”

Interested in exploring a PhD with NIE? Applications are ongoing until Jul 4, 2022. Visit nie.edu.sg/jan2023 for more information.

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