Reason writes first dissertation at UNA

Kelley Peters, Staff Writer

Kyle Reason, a student in Exercise Science and Health Promotion in the Kinesiology department at the University of North Alabama, is working on a study for his dissertation. When this is completed, Reason will be the first person to have completed a dissertation at the university and graduated from UNA with a PhD.  

Reason is both a PhD student and a Graduate Assistant, and the responsibilities overlap quite a bit as a result; the four main components of his work are taking classes toward his degree, teaching classes at UNA, doing service projects and conducting research. 

After graduating, Reason plans to be a professor at a university, working to teach others what he loves to do. 

Reason’s dissertation will be centered around the psychology of exercise and the effects of perceived endurance on exercise adherence using the Peloton bike. 

Before starting his dissertation, Reason participated in other research within the Kinesiology department. In fact, during his first year at UNA, he received the Outstanding Graduate Student Service award.  

To begin the research for his dissertation, Reason had to first assemble a committee. His research committee consists of Dr. Lauren Killen, Dr. Scott Lyons, Dr. Matthew Green and Dr. Jean Ann Helm Allen.  

“Dr. Killen, who is my go-to person, is my chair,” Reason said. “She’s my advisor, like a mentor. She helped me with the methodology. I would bring her ideas, and she would tell me to rethink a section or tighten something up. She really mentored me through the process. This isn’t my first rodeo by any means, but she’s really helped me as a researcher as well as my writing style.” 

Killen, an associate professor and the Human Performance Lab Director, has a passion for research on home exercise, which is part of the reason that she is the chair for Reason’s dissertation.  

“I think a lot of people think when they get into Exercise Science, we just work with athletes,” Killen said. “It’s a good bit of what we do, but we’re not always trying to make someone faster or stronger. We’re just trying to improve their quality of life and get them to be able to complete what we call activities of daily living, or normal things we do on a daily basis: getting dressed, doing some basic housework, being able to care for yourself.” 

Other members of Reason’s committee, such as Dr. Green, help him with his research as well as guide him into making the right decisions for both this project and future endeavors.  

“As you go from undergraduate, to Masters, to PhD, there’s a systematic increase in creating a person’s ability to work independently,” Green said. “As an undergraduate student, I want to help you a lot. As a Master’s student, I want to steer you in the right direction, but you take a lot more initiative, and you are actually taking ownership of the research. When you get to your PhD, we are on the edge of saying that this person’s ready to go out, be an independent researcher and serve effectively in a faculty role at a university. At that point, the guidance is a lot more vague. We lead them to the right answer as opposed to giving them the answer.” 

Reason used this guidance to craft the methodology for his research. The study began in early September and will not be presented until April, stretching across almost an entire academic year. 

Because the study is ongoing, many of the specific details are unable to be released. However, the basic procedures are as follows:  

“The individuals get measured for height, weight and body fat percentage, just to get basic demographic information,” Reason said. “Then they do a graded exercise test, which gives us a VO2, or their maximum ability to utilize and consume oxygen. I use all of that data later. Then they come in for three exercise trials, one of which is cycling to a predetermined class using the Peloton app. They cycle to the app by themselves. During that time, they can adjust their own resistance. Then they come in on a separate trial and do a similar version of that class that is altered slightly, where they ride with a partner, who is another person from the research study. The last time they come in, they’ll ride without the app, just by themselves.” 

Reason works long hours in the lab with undergraduate and graduate students assisting him. In total, the data collection will take roughly 90 hours, with around 30 minutes per trial to input all of the data collected. At the end of this work, Reason not only hopes to have earned his PhD, but also to have made an impact on the way people approach exercise.  

“The problem in our field is, obviously we want to promote physical activity, but the main problem is we get a bunch of people who don’t exercise,” Reason said. “People find it hard to exercise or continue exercising, which is what we call exercise adherence. We need them to exercise and then continue in order to see the great benefits that exercise has, but what we see is that people start and then drop out. We see this constantly, time after time, with New Year’s resolutions. ‘New year, new me. I’m going to start exercising.’ Then by January 15, its new year, old me. How do I get people to start exercising and continue exercising? We know all of these amazing benefits of exercise. There’s nothing greater for your health than exercise and eating correctly, but if we can’t get people to do that, what’s the point?” 

Using the Peloton bike, Reason aims to find ways for people with busy schedules to have a way to enjoy exercise and stick to it. Having the option of a home workout can make exercise more convenient and accessible. 

After getting his dissertation published, which is required in order to graduate, Reason also hopes to conduct further research in similar areas to get to the root of exercise adherence.  

“I want to write a manual of best practices for exercise physiologists to use in the field,” Reason said. “If someone’s working with a client who is struggling with exercise adherence, what has my specific literature said? What has other literature said? I want to essentially write a field manual on exercise adherence and how to keep people exercising. That’s the long-term goal. It’s going to be year and years of research, but eventually I want to write a textbook or manual, and this is just one small step in that direction.” 

Reason aims to defend his dissertation by early- to mid-April. As the first person to present a dissertation at UNA, Reason is expectedly nervous but excited.  

“I am honored to be the first. The amount of support that I’ve had has been outstanding. I’m excited, but I’m also a little nervous because being the first comes with a lot of firsts. A lot of the procedures are being developed as we’re going through this, so being able to handle some of those curve balls that are thrown at you last minute has been a bit of a challenge.” 

With these new processes comes opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in research and become inspired to continue their education.  

“It’s a great way to recruit some of our best students,” Killen said. “As an undergrad, you don’t know what you don’t know. Some of them have not been exposed to research, so getting them plugged in where they may have a passion is something that we will continue to work toward. It’s kind of a win-win situation. They get the opportunity to not only be involved, but that’s also a good thing to put on a resume. It’s also a way to potentially be a co-author on a manuscript. And Kyle’s winning too, because he has help with data collection. It’s something we encourage all of our students to get involved in.” 

With this inspiration, Dr. Green hopes to fuel the next generation of PhD students in the Kinesiology department. He maintains that history is being made, and UNA will be better for it.