Akbar Shabir - Sport and Exercise Science - Student profiles - University of Derby

Akbar Shabir

BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science graduate

Vital steps towards a research career

With a published research paper under his belt and a PhD study in full swing, Akbar Shabir has already taken enormous strides towards his goal of a distinguished career in sport and exercise science research. 

Having embarked on our BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science, Akbar

quickly discovered an enthusiasm for laboratory-based practical work but it was the opportunity to engage in research which ignited his aspirations to pursue a future in the academic world.

“The chance to undertake a research project via the independent study module really enables you to stretch yourself as an undergraduate,” he explains. “The time I spent collecting real-life data in an applied environment was invaluable. There was a real sense of achievement in finding meaningful results and I was delighted when they turned out to be of publishable standard.”

For his independent study, Akbar investigated issues surrounding the effects of expectancy on sport and exercise performance, conducting experimental trials which engaged participants in high-intensity cycling.

He used a placebo to mimic the taste and gastric feelings associated with oral ingestion of sodium bicarbonate, a commonly used nutritional supplement. Participants were given pre-exercise information which implied they were ingesting a substance which would increase their exercise capacity. The findings suggested that, for some participants, these expectations enhanced their performance.

Akbar drew on the expertise of Dr Matt Higgins, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Nutrition, to advance and support his study. Their conclusions have added to the ongoing debate about whether psychological skills can be as important as physiological adaptations in improving sport performance and were subsequently showcased in the peer-reviewed journal.

This experience, and other research projects which formed part of his undergraduate studies, were the spur for Akbar to embark on his PhD at the University. They also added a whole new dimension to his CV. He comments: “It has really helped me to become a more well-rounded, accomplished scientist and to broaden my array of real-world, practical skills. I am now very comfortable using a range of laboratory apparatus and I have even been trained in phlebotomy!”

Akbar’s PhD, which will take him three years to complete under the supervision of Dr Higgins, focuses on the effects of caffeine on simulated performance in soccer, endurance capacity and mood states. “It is important to acknowledge the effects that ergogenic supplements such as caffeine may have on the psyche of individuals, as opposed to just their physiological impact,” he explains.

Alongside his PhD, he is also lecturing at the University – gaining valuable experience for what he hopes will be a long, fulfilling and successful teaching and research career. As he says: “It would be nice to repay the University’s faith in me and the continuous support and opportunities I have received here.”

Akbar is full of praise for the staff who have helped him shape his ambitions. “The team here is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly – and they will go that extra distance to help make your time as a student worthwhile. They lend their experience and guidance wherever they can.”

But he emphasises that the onus is on each student to reap the rewards through their own endeavours. To anyone joining the University, he would say: “Work hard, stay grounded, seize all the opportunities you can and do not take anything for granted. You really only get one chance at life so you should try to be the best at everything you do.”