Anja Zoellner

Anja Zoellner

Doctor of Philosophy candidate

As someone who grew up playing football, PhD student Anja Zoellner hopes that her research will help identify potential risk factors to young football players and provide recommendations on mitigating these.

“My PhD is looking at the relationship between early specialisation – the intense, year-round involvement in a single sport from a young age – and movement competency in youth football players. I chose this research based on my own interests in biomechanics and injury prevention, as well as having grown up playing football.

“Essentially the aim of my doctoral research is to help young players enjoy the game and stay injury-free for longer, which in turn will hopefully help to keep them engaged, active and playing for longer.”

Anja’s PhD research is supervised by Associate Professor Chris Whatman and Dr Kelly Sheerin from AUT’s School of Sport and Recreation, as well as Associate Professor Paul Read from the University of Gloucestershire in the UK.

The right environment
The people she has met throughout her studies have been one of the highlights of her time at AUT, says Anja who expects to complete her PhD in 2022 and hopes to stay in academia.

“I’ve enjoyed the collaborations that go on between students, staff and industry. Everyone is always happy to help; whether that’s with data collection, technology, advice or introductions. There’s always someone who is able and willing to help out.

“My supervisors have been amazingly helpful and supportive throughout, ready to push me when I’ve needed it but also supportive and reassuring when that was needed.”

Another standout experience for her was participating in the writing retreats for postgraduate students.

“These have been amazing for so many reasons. They’re always super productive weeks where I’ve managed to make great progress on writing, processing and analysing data. They allow for more casual interaction and discussions between staff and students, and they’ve enabled us to explore some really special locations.”

Collaboration and support
Anja says she would highly recommend postgraduate study in sport and recreation at AUT.

“After talking to students at universities across the world, it makes me appreciate the set-up we have here, with the SPRINZ offices and lab, the staff expertise, the collaboration, and the proximity and access to athletes and sporting organisations. The opportunities and connections that have come out of these collaborations – from working with national sporting bodies on research to helping guide recommendations around youth sport participation – have been a great learning experience.”

She has also appreciated being in such a supportive environment.

“Over the past few months, I’ve been on leave with a concussion but have had constant contact with my supervisors, other students and staff checking in on how I’m going, asking how they can better support me. That has been amazing. Being able to take a leave of absence has been great to take the pressure off, so I can rest and allow my brain to recover without pushing it too soon.”

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