Researcher profile: Nikos Ntoumanis
Professor Nikos Ntoumanis hails from the UK, and joined the School of Pyschology and Speech Pathology in 2014. Professor Ntoumanis specialises in health behaviour change research, and collaborates with colleagues from the School of Public Health and the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science. He is the Editor in Chief of Psychology of Sport and Exercise.
Please provide a brief overview of your research career to date.
I started my career in 1998 as a research assistant at the University of Brighton (UK) working on an ESRC-funded (ARC equivalent) project on promoting moral values and attitudes in youth sport. Following this research post, I worked as a lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University (1999-2001) and at the University of Birmingham (2001-2014). I was promoted to a professor in 2011.
How long have you been at Curtin?
I arrived at Curtin in July 2014 to join the School of Psychology and Speech Pathology. I was drawn by the opportunity to work as a research academic, and to be part of a growing group of researchers who specialise in health behaviour change research.
Why were you drawn to academia/research as a career?
There were several factors. Firstly, I am a curious person, and I like to search for answers to questions and problems. Secondly, I like challenges. My work is so varied that I never feel bored; on the contrary, I always try to improve in terms of skills and knowledge, to keep up with research developments in several fields of research.
The flexibility in terms of work schedule was another attraction to the job, particularly because I am constantly juggling work and family demands. There are also other advantages of having an academic career, which I did not consider initially but became evident after I started my career. One such advantage is the ability to interact and work with people from all around the world, many of whom are located within my workplace. The opportunity to talk to the media and to policy makers about my research is another positive aspect of my academic career that I had not initially thought of.
What are your current areas of research interest/specialisation?
My research draws from theories and models in social, health and educational psychology to examine personal and situational factors that optimise motivation and promote performance, psychological well-being, morality and health-conducive behaviour. I use theories and models of motivation and behaviour change to promote motivation for being more physically active in fitness settings, recreational youth sport centres and health care settings (for example, back care and obesity referral schemes) with a variety of populations including young athletes, middle-aged overweight patients, individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and back pain. I am also interested in how individuals manage weight loss and weight maintenance goals.
Who do you collaborate with?
My main collaborators at Curtin are members of the Physical Activity and Wellbeing Lab, Associate Professor Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani, Associate Professor Daniel Gucciardi and Dr Eleanor Quested. The lab is about two years old, but we have been successful so far in obtaining funding from several sources for various exciting projects. Examples include CoachMade, a clustered randomised control trial (RCT) in three countries aiming to reduce young athletes’ willingness to take performance-enhancing drugs, and RIAT, a clustered RCT, which aims to promote walking, reduce sitting and enhance mental health in older adults living in retirement villages. Early next year, we will embark on additional, exciting large-scale externally funded projects. Examples include an innovative program for weight loss in middle-aged men, which uses the attraction of AFL, and a project that aims to develop team resilience in the armed forces.
Outside my school, I mainly collaborate with colleagues from the School of Public Health and the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science. Nationally, my principal collaborators are at the Institute of Positive Psychology at the Australian Catholic University. Having worked most of my life in the UK, I have several collaborators in that country at the University of Southampton, University of Leeds and University of Birmingham. I also have a few ongoing collaborations in continental Europe at the University of Grenoble and North America at Michigan State University.
What have been the challenges and highlights of your career to date?
In the 18 years of my academic career there have been a few changes, the most significant of which has been the increasing application of a ‘business model’ in academia. This has brought new opportunities, particularly for external funding, but also new challenges in terms of using my time in the most efficient and productive ways.
Another challenge is the uphill struggle to keep up with new knowledge and skills, particularly as I have taken senior academic roles internally and externally since I became a professor, for example, journal Editor in Chief of Psychology of Sport and Exercise.
A unique challenge I face in Perth is geographical isolation; there were probably 50 to 60 universities within a two to three hour train journey from Birmingham, which is clearly not the case in Perth! Also, keeping up international collaborations means a lot of late night Skype calls and very long flights.
There have been several highlights in my career, including my promotion to professor at a Russell Group university in the UK, and the fellowships awarded to me by the British Psychological Society and the UK Academy of Social Sciences. This year I have also been very privileged and honoured to receive from Curtin the John De Laeter Award for Research Excellence, as well as the title of John Curtin Distinguished Professor.
What are your interests outside of work?
I love exercising, although I don’t get as much free time to exercise as I would like. I like weight training, swimming, on my own and with my kids, and many years ago I used to play basketball at a decent level. I also like to follow, and read books on, politics. One of the many positive aspects of moving to Australia was that I discovered SBS, which has lots of international programs, so my Danish wife and I try to follow various Danish series on SBS on our Friday and Saturday evenings.