Monthly Profiles

Tracy Kolbe-Alexander

August 2014 | Biokineticist, University of Queensland

Tracy Kolbe-AlexanderI have recently joined the University of Queensland in Brisbane. However, prior to this new position, I was employed at the University Cape Town's Exercise Science and Sports Medicine Research Unit (ESSM) as a Senior Lecturer and Biokinetics Degrees convenor. My work (at UCT) comprised mostly of research and teaching, however I also played a role in promoting physical activity and health in various sectors including governmental departments.

Biokinetics is a profession concerned with health promotion, the maintenance of physical abilities and final phase rehabilitation, by using scientifically-based physical activity programs as a prescription. A biokineticist plays an important role in (i) injury rehabilitation, (ii) management of patients, (iii) sporting performance and (iv) health and wellness promotion activities.

1) Briefly describe what your job involves.
I was responsible for ensuring that both the Biokinetics Honours and MPhil degrees were being delivered inline with the required outcomes defined by the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and the Biokinetics Association of South Africa (BASA). This included planning the course outline, planning lectures and their objectives, securing lecturers and all the related administration. I did a fair bit of teaching for both degrees and represented UCT Biokinetics at HPCSA and BASA meetings. I also supervised honours, masters and PhD students' dissertations.
My work also included research – like all academics, and my research focus is in the area of physical activity and health. My current research projects includes a worksite intervention programme for nurses working in the public sector, and a study investigating the role of the built environment on physical activity and health.
The last component of my work focuses on the translation of these research findings to both the private and governmental sectors.

2) What would a typical day at the office entail?
My days varied, depending on whether I was lecturing or not, but for the most part, I juggled the demands of teaching with my research studies. I often had students coming to the office to discuss course content, and personal matters. I tried to catch up on admin and research / report writing on the days that I was not teaching.

3) Can you describe the most exciting part of your job?
I enjoyed seeing students grow in the Biokinetics profession. The best part is seeing a cohort of students in November and reminding them of how much they have learned since February. The honours year is very challenging and students should celebrate this achievement. Similarly, its rewarding to see masters and PhD students grow as researchers. The other exciting component is seeing the translation of research findings into practice. This is the point of our research isn't it? – To play a role in improving the health of others.

4) What are some of the challenges you had to face and overcome as a woman in your career?
I have 4 children, and sometime I need to make sacrifices in the work arena. This might include declining research opportunities or attending conferences and meetings. So in some ways I feel that my career has progressed at a slower pace than what I would have liked. But my main role is to be a wife and mother, so I often remind myself that my four most important 'publications' with the highest impact factors, are my children.

5) How did you make your career choice?
I knew I wanted to be a biokineticist since I was 15 years old. I loved sport and was fascinated by how the body functions, but I also knew I didn't want to be a doctor. I visited the 'CRIC" centre, which was located in Athlone when I was Std 8 (Grade 10). The staff provided me with information and requirements for Biokinetics, and the rest as they say, is history.

6) What qualifications do you require to work in your field?
A BSc / BA Human Movement Studies followed by an Honours degree in Biokinetics, then an additional year of internship.
However, these requirements are likely to change in the near future, with the development of the proposed 4-year Biokinetics degree.

7) Can you describe the most important skills you require for this work environment?

  • the ability to work and communicate with people;
  • empathy and compassion;
  • the ability to multi-task, work as part of a team;
  • to be innovative;
  • need to continuously update knowledge and Biokinetics-related clinical skills.

8) What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership means service to others – where we lead by example and be willing to serve those we lead and leading by example. Thus I like the model of 'servant leadership'.

9) What advice would you give girls who are considering a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematic (STEM)?
Follow your passion and choose a career where you get to do what you love for 8 (or more) hours of the day. This way you get paid to 'play'. There are many options available to girls and don't let anyone deter you from your dream. Surround yourself with positive people and never give up.