Once around the world for football – DAAD Prize 2020 awarded to Sharan Gopalan

Sharan Gopalan, an international student from India who recently finished the master’s programme in Sport Science at the University of Konstanz, has won the DAAD Prize 2020. The prize is awarded annually to an international student at the University and funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to honour outstanding academic success and intercultural commitment of the awardee. In the Konstanz sports labs, Sharan Gopalan bridged sport and technology by investigating human balance and posture in virtual reality.

Sharan Gopalan is 28 years old and already has an impressive list of academic achievements to look back on, but despite being a gifted scientist, he describes himself as a passionate football enthusiast first. Being born in India, he received his bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from the NMIMS in Mumbai in 2014. Before he came to Konstanz in late 2018, he spent four years in the United States, where he worked as a computer scientist and earned a master’s degree in Computer Science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. At the University of Konstanz, he was enrolled in the postgraduate Sport Science programme, which allowed him to academically follow his lifelong passion for sport, especially football.

When I decided to come to Konstanz and to study in the Sport Science programme, my motivation was to gather as much information, knowledge, and experience about football, its coaching, and the science of sport and training as possible and to later use what I have learned to advance the development of football in my home country.

Sharan Gopalan

Moving from Mumbai to Konstanz
After spending 15 years of one’s life in a metropolis like Mumbai, with a population of about 20 million, moving to a smaller city like Konstanz, with its 85.000 inhabitants, would have come as a shock for many. Sharan Gopalan, however, was well prepared because of his stopover in the US, where he lived in Raleigh, the capitol of the state of North Carolina: “Moving from Mumbai to Raleigh was the actual change. Raleigh is a university town, just as Konstanz, and very relaxed compared to the crowdedness and the fast-paced lifestyle lived in Mumbai. And while Konstanz is smaller than Raleigh, the feel of both cities and their pace of life are quite similar.”

His decision to enrol in the master’s programme in Sport Science at the University of Konstanz was based on two criteria. For Sharan Gopalan, it was important to study in a country where football and the understanding of sport science are highly developed. “The fact that the University of Konstanz offers an international master’s programme in English and the modern curriculum of the programme put the University of Konstanz on the top of my list of suitable European universities. When I received the letter of admission from the University [of Konstanz], I did not have to think twice about accepting it. My expectations on the programme were that I would be able to expand on a theoretical basis, learn how to question and approach things in an analytical manner, discuss topics with peers and professors, and to contribute to interesting research projects. And I would say that all my expectations have perfectly been met,” Gopalan says.

Besides the university and life and football on and off campus, Sharan Gopalan associates Konstanz with its people. He describes them as exceptionally warm and open-hearted, which helped him pursuing his goals and learning the German language.

After I had arrived in Germany, I decided that I should speak as much German as possible, even if I was making mistakes. I found that people here were very patient with me. That really helped me to pick up the language and to now speak it confidently. I think that the people of Konstanz are great, and they are probably the biggest plus for Konstanz as a city.

Sharan Gopalan

Combining computer science and sport
Sharan Gopalan finished the postgraduate Sport Science programme at the University of Konstanz in December 2020. The multidisciplinary character of the research in Konstanz gave him the opportunity to strongly benefit from his computer science background, even during studying sport: “I learned to appreciate my degree in computer science during the last two years, because the amount it helped me is beyond what I had expected in terms of programming for courses, using statistical software, and the work that I am doing in the lab.”

He is currently working as a student research assistant in the Training and Movement Science group of Professor Markus Gruber, where he also performed the experiments for his master’s thesis in the Balance and Postural Control Lab of Dr Lorenz Assländer. In his thesis, he conducted research on the importance of visual information for human balance in a virtual reality environment. In more detail, he investigated the role that the spatial presence characteristics of a visual scene, which, put simply, is a person’s feeling of “being in the scene”, play for human balance. Such studies will help improving the quality of virtual reality experiences for research and, in the long run, consumer electronics, including sports applications. “I think that the importance of computer science in sport is increasing every day. Today, computers and technology are used in almost every aspect of sport. I feel that having been involved in both disciplines, I am able to understand how technology can be used to bring the best out of the sporting techniques. I look at computer science as a tool that is not absolutely necessary in sport, but it can be used to improve certain aspects of training or of sport in general,” says Gopalan.
Beyond the science of sport
The DAAD Prize, which is awarded annually and comes with a prize money of EUR 1,000 for each recipient, honours excellent international students in Germany. In addition to academic performance, criteria such as intercultural competence and social commitment of the nominees are considered.

The thesis of Mr Gopalan was excellent and he generally shows a very high level of independence, reliability, and reflection, which makes it fun working with him. Moreover, he is always very eager to share his knowledge and his methodological skills with other students, be it during the time of his master’s thesis in my lab or now in his job as a student research assistant. He is very supportive and committed to helping others.

Dr Lorenz Assländer

The helpfulness and commitment of Sharan Gopalan extend well beyond the lab and the campus. To give back to the local community that welcomed him so warmly, he spent two afternoons a week coaching children and teenagers of the SC Konstanz Wollmatingen in football and numerous weekends watching their games, until measures against coronavirus were tightened in October 2020. In parallel, he worked on his UEFA-B licence, a coaching licence mandated by the Union of European Football Associations, which he recently received.

Sharan Gopalan’s plans about what comes next for him are crystal clear. His path leads him back to India: “I highly appreciate the scientific methods and the analytical way of thinking I learned in Konstanz, but my future is not in science. My ambition is to apply my knowledge, on the field, to football coaching and sports development in my home country. Now that I finished the [master’s] programme and that I have been away from home for the past six years, I am really looking forward to going back to India and to start putting my plans and ideas into action. And, of course, I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends again. I have been lucky to have their support and help throughout and they have played a huge part in getting me here.”

Dr. Daniel Schmidtke

Von Dr. Daniel Schmidtke - 10.02.2021