How my MSc Thesis Led to a Prize-Winning Paper: Jack’s Story

Jack BentonJack Benton is a graduate of the MSc Clinical and Health Psychology course at Manchester. He recently won a prize for a paper based on his master’s thesis at the annual meeting of the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (ISBNPA) in Canada. Here, he talks about the paper, why he took the course and his career plans.

Starting my master’s

I never had a clear plan when I finished my undergraduate degree in Psychology at The University of Sheffield. The only thing that was clear for me was that I had a keen interest in psychology, particularly in the area of clinical psychology.

The University of Manchester was actually my second choice university at undergraduate level (mainly because I wanted to live further than 45 minutes from my home city Preston!) so, after a bit of digging online, this course seemed to be the ideal fit for my interests.

Jack Benton - graduationIt was only during the second semester of the master’s course where there were more health psychology modules, including public health psychology, that I knew I wanted to pursue a career in this field.

My prize-winning paper

The paper was formed from my master’s thesis. It’s essentially a review of all the best studies that have evaluated the effect of changing the built environment (eg new parks, cycle lanes, urban greenways) on physical activity. You can read it online here.

I was originally intending to complete an entirely different thesis during my master’s, which would have looked at health professionals’ communication and knowledge transfer, but this project fell through and, luckily, I was able to get a new supervisor half way through the academic year.

So, it’s all thanks to Professor David French, who was willing to take me on when he did. He already had some great unique ideas about gaps in the built environment-physical activity literature and I was able to execute these ideas.

The journal the paper was published in is called the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity (IJBNPA) and 18 members of their editing team awarded prizes for leading papers that were published in 2016 in three categories: 1) Best Trial; 2) Best Observational Study; 3) Best Review/Qualitative Study.

ISBNPA conference - Jack's winning paperOur paper won the Best Review/Qualitative Study category. I was genuinely really surprised; I didn’t even know the journal had awards! When we published the paper I was worried about the reception it would get, as we were quite critical of the studies. So when I heard the news about this prize I just felt immensely proud of the team who put so much effort into the project. Also, personally it gave me bags of confidence for the future. Here’s to more prize-winning papers!

The conference was in Vancouver, Canada. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go because one of the co-authors on the paper (Dr Ruth Hunter from Belfast) was already due to attend the conference, so she kindly collected the award on behalf of the team.

I’ve not yet spoken to Ruth in person since she collected the award, but I’m due to meet with her soon, although there is a photograph of the ceremony – I’m very intrigued as to what’s in the prize box….

Next steps

I’m currently working as a research assistant on a project called GHIA (Green Infrastructure and the Health and Wellbeing Influences on an Ageing Population). It’s great because I get to work with a wide, multidisciplinary team, and this role is helping me build a network of contacts for my PhD and future projects.

I was very lucky to land this job and then secure funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for a PhD in October 2017, all within a few months after I came back from travelling in Colombia. I’m now hoping to become an expert in this field and pursue a career in research and academia.

Although I initially didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted to do after my master’s, the high quality of the course, lecturers and university meant that I have got more than I ever hoped for. Manchester is my favourite city in the UK and I couldn’t recommend/thank The University of Manchester enough for the platform they’ve provided me.

You can email Jack at jack.benton@manchester.ac.uk or follow him on Twitter: @jacksbenton

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