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​A study in movement—and a big move

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink

It's a lot less muggy, although the food is just as good—and just as fried—as what you can get in the South.

But one thing that didn't take much adjustment for Matt Herring, a 2010 Ph.D. graduate with a concentration in exercise and mental health who began a faculty position in Ireland in August, was the cross-disciplinary focus of his new employer, the University of Limerick. As the school looks to expand its depth of research, it saw an opportunity in Herring, who also has degrees in psychology and exercise science and whose research centers on how exercise affects mental health.

Faculty and Grad. Student"The research portfolio at the University of Limerick, while it is expanding, is still somewhat junior to the rich tradition they have, from a teaching standpoint," said Herring. "But they are looking to expand their research and diversify across multiple disciplines. Someone like me cuts across disciplines by nature, because kinesiology, especially exercise psychology, is an interdisciplinary field."

While at the University of Georgia's College of Education, Herring's doctoral dissertation explored the effect exercise has on anxiety, and followed that work with a fellowship at the University of South Carolina that looked at the effects of exercise on combat veterans. At that time, he says, he began to focus on gaining a better understanding of how and why exercise affects mental health.

From USC, Herring accepted a research scientist position at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he worked on one of the largest exercise trials in the country and served on the faculty of the department of epidemiology. These opportunities gave Herring experience with larger population-based research and biomarker research — something the University of Limerick looked for as well.

Still, the path to Ireland wouldn't be possible without the research experience he gained at UGA, he said.

"My research and my interests have continued to evolve since UGA because of the mentorship I had, and because of pilot grant funds (professors) Pat O'Connor and Rod Dishman obtained for me to do my dissertation work," Herring said. "I was able to do good, solid, innovative work before leaving Georgia, and it set me up well to make some of the moves I've made thus far."

He also credits the solid programs at UGA, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, for giving him the chance to allow his interests to evolve over time and still pursue them at UGA.

"From the standpoint of how everything transpired with the track I took while I was at Georgia, it really was a situation of blending my interest in sports and exercise with psychology," he said. "It afforded me the chance to eventually study the psychological consequences of exercise."

O'Connor, a professor in the kinesiology department and mentor of Herring's, said Herring was willing to go above and beyond in his research, tirelessly seeking out every study on the influence exercise training has on anxiety, for example, using a thorough, state-of-the-art analysis for his results.

"Matt is an outstanding young professional who, based on his knowledge, skills, abilities, work ethic, productivity and high ambition, I expect to become one of the world's leading exercise researchers," O'Connor said. "He is outgoing, has a quick wit, is caring and is extremely loyal to his family and friends."

Herring's loyalty also helped forge his path to Ireland. In 2005, while he was getting his first master's degree from the counseling and human development department within the College of Education, he met his future wife, Lisa Brake Herring. She soon embarked on a teaching assistantship in Ireland, and the trip also sparked her love of Irish literature and drama. Once the two were married, Herring said he made a point to target his job search to the Emerald Isle. "We kept in the back of our minds anything that moved things ahead for us, professionally, to afford us to have this adventure," he said.

Now settling in, the couple is still making the transition to life across the pond—Lisa is a teacher and is part of the administrative leadership team at Georgia Cyber Academy, the state's largest virtual charter school serving between 13,000 and 15,000 students in grades K-12. While her job does involve a good bit of travel to the states, she is able to spend time with Matt, too.

"Everybody can deal with time apart when it acts toward the greater goal," he said, adding that the transition to Ireland has been great — it's the transition away from the South, and family, that's been hard.

"I spent 29 years in the heat of Georgia, and basically 33 years I spent in the heat and humidity of the South. It's nice to have temperatures between 40 and 60 most of the year," he said, laughing. "It's very beautiful; the people are very nice. The food is excellent. To use an Irish phrase, it's grand." 

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