Depending where in the world you might be reading this, there is a slim to good chance you’ve heard of the university I graduated from: University of Stellenbosch.
Surrounded by vineyards, it is, ironically, a sporting Mecca.
In fact, in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics many of the British sports based themselves there.
Conversely, it probably doesn’t matter where in the world you are, there is almost no chance you would’ve heard of the university where I completed my post-grad work: the University of Zululand (aka UniZul).
Ignored by the apartheid government it was recognised as ‘previously disadvantaged’ and, admittedly, wouldn’t have been most graduate’s first choice.
However, the Biokinetics (think: Exercise Physiology or Exercise Therapy) program had some awesome aspects that I’ve yet to see in the more internationally recognised and prestigious programs.
Below are some of the valuable elements the program had that should be introduced to all places of study :
On Fridays, the students had to present two journal articles to the class and staff (including the Dean).
As long as the journal was related to sport, exercise, therapy or training it was acceptable.
The audience was instructed to ‘tear apart’ the studies presented.
This lead to an interesting dynamic where, as the presenter, we would make sure we’d identified every flaw and weakness in our presentation – having a staff member correct us wasn’t great, but having a fellow classmate do it was humiliating.
By the same token, the audience analyzed every detail presented in the hope of picking up an undetected shortcoming.
To this day I still read every journal article as though I was presenting to the class, scrutinizing every aspect of the study. A good habit to develop for sure.
A knock-on effect has been every presentation since then is exponentially easier to deliver as the delegates are more forgiving.
The third benefit of this practice was every student (both as the audience and the presenter) was being exposed to new research that deviated from the prescribed course.
UniZul had a relationship with the local hospital and on Thursdays the Biokinetic students would attend the orthopedic operations.
While this lead to arguably my most embarrassing life story, from an educational point of view it was fantastic.
Until you have watched a live ACL or total knee reconstruction, it is impossible to understand how much each operation resembles a woodwork class more than twenty first century medicine.
Watching these operations might not be classed as ‘critical’ to my development, I’d definitely put them in the ‘hugely valuable’ column.
Use it… Use it again…. And again.
Catching up with students who were doing their post-grad at other universities highlighted an attitudinal difference between the faculty at UniZul and the rest.
Many of the other universities exposed students to some technology (often through observation) and assumed that was enough.
UniZul was different. Isokinetic testing (remember, this was a while ago : )? VO2 Max testing? Blood testing? Physical screening? Everything we learnt we applied and tested on every classmate.
(Sure, it might have meant having to run a VO2 test many times... Or not being able to walk after eccentric KinCon hamstring tests...)
BUT when we were in front our first patient we were ready.
A Full Time Job
The expectation at UniZul was that, if you weren't in class or working on your thesis, you were in the Lab (read: Clinic) seeing patients/clients to fill up (at least) a 40 hour week. In other words, UniZul recognised that Class taught the science but the Lab developed the art.
We worked with athletes, house wifes, business men, kids... It didn't matter. The mindset was to coach and to rehab and to train anyone and everyone we could get our hands on to develop those 'soft' skills.
Frequently our class was 'volunteered' by UniZul to provide services to the public.
For example, we massaged at local and national running events; did health screening at Expos; performed blood tests at shopping centres; worked at the local special education school; etc.
Firstly, this was great for the exposure of Biokinetics.
Secondly, again, it developed our people skills. Interacting with such a wide variety of clients, patients and athletes in all sorts of setting enormously increased our confidence and our ability to connect once we became professionals.
Living in Australia now, I am hugely grateful for the opportunities and development UniZul provided for me and hope that other universities and programs and learn and grow their program so that their alumni are grateful too.
1) Journal Presenting - to develop 1) critical thinking and 2) public speaking skills.
2) Operations - to gain a deeper understanding of what your patients and athletes are recovering from.
3) Use it... Again and again - building confidence through repetition.
4) Full time job - tacit knowledge is just as important as explicit knowledge.
5) Volunteering - gaining exposure to as many different environments as possible.