This Sporting Life: Sheree Bekker on sports injuries and prevention

Sheree Bekker (@shereebekker) is originally from South Africa, and is now a Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention (ACRISP), Federation University Australia. Her research incorporates complexity theory and qualitative methods to better understand how injury can be prevented in sport settings, and more recently in key areas of global health. Sheree is also interested in academic development, particularly academic connectivity and research presentations. She is a social media editor at BMJ Injury Prevention, student representative for the Australian Injury Prevention Sheree1Network. We asked Sheree how she ended up in science and what she does now.


How did you end up in science? Via Twitter, as you do! I came across my PhD scholarship opportunity via a tweet whilst I was still living in South Africa, and applied on a whim. I had never been to Australia, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. I moved to a regional city called Ballarat sight unseen…and have never looked back. I have always known I wanted to do a PhD, and have been working towards a career in research my whole life in some ways. Growing up I was always interested in what Amanda Palmer described as ‘collecting the dots, connecting them, and sharing them’ – which is exactly what science is!


Injury is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide. When injuries happen they are often framed as ‘accidents’ that happen due to ‘bad luck’. Yet, this obscures the reality that injury prevention research has shown that unintentional injuries are, in fact, predictable and preventable events. #NotAnAccident I often reflect that I was drawn to this field of research because of my experiences growing up in Botswana, and South Africa. Structural inequality is a large and recognised part of the social fabric of life there, and conversations around these issues are nuanced and ongoing. The complexity of such ‘wicked’ social problems, and how these connect with intersectional feminist issues, is of deep interest to me. Like many, recent developments in the global political landscape have only strengthened my resolve to do work that is meaningful in this world. For me, working to dismantle structural and institutionalised inequity and inequality dovetails perfectly with the principles of my work in injury prevention, and global health more widely. There is a bigger picture here.


My background is in human movement science, and I have moved into the public health area of injury prevention through my PhD and other research. I have found myself drawn towards the social sciences aspect of injury prevention, and global health more broadly. My PhD research focused on injury prevention in community sports settings, using complexity theory and qualitative research methods to better understand the knowledge translation processes that occur between research and its use in policy/practice. The research work I am currently engaged in is around catastrophic injury events in community sports settings. I have also recently collaborated on projects working at the intersection of injury prevention in other areas, including road safety, mental health and global health. I feel truly engaged and challenged by my work.


For injury prevention researchers, policymakers, and practitioners our work is successful when it isn’t noticed – when safety measures are working and people are safe. As a result, our work is often rendered invisible – that is until safety measures fail. As an injury prevention researcher, I often get comments that all my work does is ‘wrap people in cotton wool’, that it results in nuisance ‘red tape’, and that we are advocating for the “nanny state” that takes ‘the fun out of life’. Yet, as injury incidents (like the recent Grenfell Tower fire) show, our work is imperative. The outcomes of our work allow people to enjoy their lives more, live longer, and have a higher quality of life due to the prevention of unintentional injury and death. In this way, the outcome that we seek – a safe society – is quite literally a matter of life and death (in all senses of the word).


I adore the arts, particularly dance and poetry. I would love to see more engagement between the arts and health research. We can live longer, but we need to live well too! Reading, writing, creating, and thinking (and a swim!)! I particularly enjoy poetry, and creative and narrative non-fiction. Engaging with creativity in this way – particularly on days in which self-care means space to just ‘be’ – often opens up unexpected and unintended connections in my research. It truly is all connected.


Please welcome Sheree to Real Scientists!

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