My story begins when I was deciding if I was going to be a Musician or Medical doctor, and chose physiotherapy, still not sure why. After few years trying to be a good physio I realised that making science could be an interesting path for me, so I applied to do a PhD at University of Sydney. Fortunately, they accepted me and I had the most amazing time of my life and never thought about being a musician again (pretty sure I'm not good enough playing). Now I'm a research fellow at Universidade Cidade de São Paulo (UNICID) and the Centre for Pain, Health and Lifestyle (centrephl.org).
Get in touch with Bruno at
So, my relationship with physiotherapy is quite a love story… I was a ballerina for 17 years, and after 6 ankle sprains and some other fractures, I had to do a lot of physiotherapy and just fell in love for the idea of rehabilitating people. During my training in physiotherapy I used to love clinical practice, but science was always something that really intrigued me, and led me to present my first study at a conference. It was amazing, and after that, I knew that the science won me over… And not just science, but also a special guy that started this journey with me… What a brilliant idea, to do physiotherapy research helping patients and clinicians at the same time! After graduation we literally dived in science, starting a master degree. In parallel with the masters I also did a specialization in neurology practice and worked in clinical practice for 4 years. When I was about to finish the masters, my husband and I were presented with the idea of doing the PhD abroad. It was not an easy decision, but we closed our eyes and accepted this new challenge (including the idea of studying a new language)… And here we are! I got a scholarship from Brazil and came to Australia to start my PhD journey… The challenges keep coming, and hopefully that continues. So far it has been the best experience of my life!
Get in touch with Tie at
For the past hour or two I’ve been trying to think of an entertaining way of telling my story of becoming a physiotherapist and how I got to become a clinical researcher. But the truth is, my story is not the most entertaining and is not conducive to this style of writing. I didn’t find the love of my life in the classroom (like Bruno), nor was I a Ballerina (like Tie).
Maybe this is where things get interesting. Throughout my undergraduate training and clinical practice, I repeatedly felt guilty for not really knowing whether the treatments I was providing were really making a difference to my patients. After some introductory library tutorials on Pubmed and PEDro, a whole new world opened up. I was hooked. During my final year of training, I applied for a summer research studentship where I got to learn about summarising evidence using systematic reviews, got involved in a clinical trial, and so on… During that time, I got to share an office with other PhD students in the department and began to realise that they were having way too much fun. So after some (unneeded) contemplation, I jumped across the ditch and enrolled in a PhD at Neuroscience Research Australia. Reflecting back, the PhD really pushed me around in directions that I never would have thought to go. I started getting interested in methodology, statistics, scientific principles, and finding ways of persuading organisations to pay for my flights and accomodation. I also got to spend 3 years with a bunch of super bright and talented people who carried me over the finish line (who still keep me in check today).
I now have a real job, and I still continue to find new reasons (or post-hoc justifications) for why I enjoy this thing so much. I reckon this lyric by Morrissey sums it up nicely… “Everyday is like Sunday…” - each working day somehow feels like a weekend, but there’s always a lingering thought that Monday (real work) is just around the corner. Writing this blurb made today feel like Sunday… but now I’m looking at a to-do-list that is making today feel like Monday.
When I was a kid, I really wanted to do one of these three jobs: fireman (which kid doesn’t want to do that?!), pizza maker, and scientist. Later during my adolescence, I naturally developed a quite critical attitude, in fact, during school classes I was rarely interacting with the teachers except to correct their mistakes (someone told me later that, apparently, that was the reason why they did not like me). About to finish high school, I really wanted to do something related to science but I was told that science is not a job (which can be true if you live in Italy). I had to rule out that option as well as the other two options because of fear of height (fireman) and wishing to study more (pizza maker). Like Bruno, I don't know exactly why but I chose to study physiotherapy, probably because of the desire to become the physiotherapist of the Italian national football team. However, I soon realized that the competition leading to the desired job was way too tight (one position for something like 50.000 physiotherapists in the country). Also, to put it in Steve Kamper's words, I understood that it was better FOR the patients if I was doing something else. So, when I discovered that it was possible to do physiotherapy-related research, my ancestral love for science won me over. Being a researcher was still not a job possibility in Italy, so I just needed to find another place on earth…
…while repeatedly visiting Amsterdam for leisure, I fell in love with the city and the Dutch living habits (?!), and decided that was the place to start my research "career". I did a research master in epidemiology and I just finished a 4-year PhD in musculoskeletal health at the EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research (now Amsterdam Public Health). My PhD journey has been unexpectedly intriguing, I discovered the good things about being a researcher (try do address research questions, writing publications and grants, travel the world, meet people from different countries and cultures, work with the major world experts on a topic!) and the annoying ones (mainly: where does the money for your next salary is going to come from?). So far, my research has mainly focused on low back pain, outcome measurement and systematic reviews, but I try to keep a careful and open eye to all big things happening in the scientific fields that most interest me. Hopefully, the just started post-doc journey will lead me to become an independent researcher, but if that does not happen... I still have two unsatisfied professional loves from my childhood (although I am still afraid of height)
Hey folks! I keep thinking about ICE-CREAM as I write this. I’m triggered! Focus Mary!
I was a pretty confused student when the time came to pick my future career. My favourite subjects in school were history and business studies; these were hardly the makings of a physiotherapist. Physiotherapy in University of Limerick in Ireland was my first choice, followed by four different law degrees, followed by psychology, business studies, and various teaching degrees: a large mix of very different careers! I loved sports, associated physiotherapy with sports, and so felt this was the best first choice for me.
I quickly realised sports injuries was a miniature part of physiotherapy, and more importantly, I was struck by the fact most of the stuff I thought to be true, ended up to be incorrect or shrouded in doubt, and if an approach “worked”, it was never through the mechanisms I had once thought. These were things I had seen as facts, and the revelations left me pretty confused. This made me reflect on the wider delivery of healthcare, and how consumers are probably routinely misled by practices and advice of questionable benefit. I felt persuing a research career would be a good way of further exploring these issues. I was fortunate to be awarded two summer scholarships during my undergraduate degree, and these gave me a nice taste for systematic reviews and other study designs. I applied for PhD funding near the end of my degree, and fortunately it was a success!
I loved my PhD experience. It involved doing some systematic reviews and a clinical trial in Ireland comparing an individualised multidimensional treatment (cognitive functional therapy) to group exercise and education for individuals with non-specific chronic low back pain. During my PhD I also did a significant amount of clinical work, and a part-time lecturing role. During my PhD, I developed a keen interest in public communication, and have written several articles for Irish newspapers in an attempt to debunk many of the myths surrounding low back pain. I have recently become a member of Voice of Young Science, which should further my communication activities in the future.
After my PhD I was very fortunate to be awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship by the European Commission. I will be in the University of Sydney in Australia for the next two years, and will then return to Europe for the last year of my fellowship.
If anybody wants to contact me they can email me on Mary.OKeeffe@sydney.edu.au or catch me on Twitter (@MaryOKeeffe007) where I dabble in from time to time!
My journey into physiotherapy began when I was in primary school and would religiously watch Formula 1 with my brothers and dad. Over time I developed a fasciation with the design of Formula 1 cars and wanted to become an aeronautical engineer so I could work with a Formula 1 team and go to every race of the year. Sadly for me, the marks required to study aeronautical engineering were too high so I needed a plan B. Becoming a physiotherapist for a Formula 1 team seemed like the next logical career path (right?)...so I decided to study physiotherapy.
After realising that there were 100,000+ physiotherapists in the world and only 20 Formula 1 drivers my priorities soon change. This coincided with a 2 year battle with low back pain which fuelled a desire to become an expert in treating back pain and help others who suffered the same issue. After doing a physiotherapy honours project related to low back pain I thought doing a PhD and further researching this topic would help me become a back pain 'specialist'. My plan was to finish my PhD, become an expert in low back pain and open a back pain clinic where I could use these expertise to generate a business out of treating back pain. Unfortunately, once I began to understand that most cases of low back pain don't require formal treatment and resolve with some advice and reassurance, I realised my business model was flawed. Luckily during my PhD I fell in love with the process of researching and soon had a strong desire to stay in research as long as I could. Ironically, a better understanding of the management of low back pain made me realise many people were receiving unnecessary care...probably the type of care I would have provided in my back pain clinic. That brings me to where I am today, where I am researching strategies to reduce unnecessary physiotherapy treatment.