Postgraduate study and qualifications

My postgraduate study: Monika Ehrensberger, PhD Researcher, IT Sligo

Monika Ehrensberger followed up her degree in Sports Science in Germany by coming to Ireland to conduct doctoral research into neurorehabilitation and 'mirror therapy' for stroke patients.

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Primary Degree Bachelor Degree Sport Science, University of Freiburg

Job title Quality Control Microbiologist

Postgraduate study PhD Research, IT Sligo, ‘Mirror Therapy’ and neurorehabilitation.

Give us some background on your third level education and what you sought to achieve by pursuing postgraduate study?

I have always enjoyed staying physically active and understood the importance of it on my physical health, so the choice of Sports Science with Exercise Therapy was easy. After graduating, I moved from Germany, where I had grown up, to Ireland where I had spent a gap year after my Leaving Cert. It was daunting from an economic point of view, but I was determined to give it a go. The area of exercise and it’s benefits to people with chronic illness is something I’m passionate about. After 4 years of working as a Sport Scientist and Exercise Therapist, I decided to further my career, I felt a desire for a new academic challenge. When the postgraduate research position in stroke rehabilitation and exercise was advertised, I felt it was the ideal next step for me and I applied.

What are the challenges/benefits of working as a researcher?

The research project I am involved in aims to identify the effectiveness of two novel treatment approaches for stroke rehabilitation, which are cross-education and mirror therapy. during the fieldwork phase, I visited every participant on numerous occasions to guide them through a strength training programme. During the visits, participants would tell me about their grandchildren, the hobbies they used to be involved in and about all the aspects of life they can’t enjoy anymore due to suffering a stroke. Working with the participants on this level is very enjoyable and provided the best motivation possible to keep striving for improvements in stroke rehabilitation through research.

Generally, research work is very versatile and every phase of the research project offers new challenges, which keeps it interesting. I also enjoy the teaching hours which postgraduate students get assigned as part of the education pathway. It is a great opportunity to get involved with undergrad students and to gain experience tutoring.

As a Phd student, the management and the organisation of the research project is your responsibility, this can be a benefit as well as a challenge. Personally, I like the fact that working hours are flexible, but it requires a great deal of self-discipline. I was very fortunate to be funded by the IT President’s Bursary at first and to secure Irish research Council funding at a later stage, nevertheless the change in income was the most challenging part of being a research student for me. However, with the right adjustments, it is definitely possible to remain in research and for me the benefits outweigh the challenges by far.

What advice would you have for potential PhD students?

You need to have a deep and genuine interest in the area of research and be 100% committed to the project. Your relationship with your supervisor is also very important. I have been very fortunate to work with Dr. Kenneth Monaghan who is highly enthusiastic, supportive and built my confidence in all aspects of research work. It is crucial that the project is well planned and structured and that you follow the outline as closely as possible.

What are your plans for the future?

Ideally, I would like to secure a post in IT Sligo or another third level institute to continue researching and teaching.

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