background, Behind the scenes

Fiona’s Story: PhD to Taiwan to the Move Well Clinic

I imagine that if you’ve landed on this page you might like to know a little more about me and how my therapy business came to be. So, here I will give you a not-so-short version of events that led to me choosing my career as a therapist…

Throughout my life I have always been active. In fact, my energy levels as a child have been described as ‘exhausting’. Any opportunity to move was one to be taken – and that included sports. I competed for pretty much every sport I could through my school years, representing my high school teams in tennis, basketball, netball and trampolining.

In 2005, pursued my degree in Sport and Exercise Science at Aberystwyth University in Wales, where I learned that my otherwise impractically fastidious organisational skills and attention to detail lent itself perfectly to the particular processes required for the collection of data in research. Although this wasn’t apparent to me at the time – not yet, anyway.

After graduating in 2008, I began work as a Learner Support Advisor in a local college (Matthew Boulton College, now Birmingham Metropolitan College). I gained a whole new set of skills, as well as knowledge and experiences working with a students with a broad range of learning needs. I enjoyed the welfare and support elements of my work. But at that time I was hoping to save funds and secure a place at a university to study for my masters degree in Sports Therapy. It had been my intention for quite some time to move into this applied clinical route, and I was looking forward to pursuing further study in the area. In the meantime, as part of my employment contract, I was able to secure a free place on the college Level 3 Diploma in Sports Massage Therapy. I took quickly and easily to the manual elements of assessment and treatment, and I was totally engrossed in the anatomical and pathological components of study. Whats more, the treatment methods I learned were closely aligned to my undergraduate dissertation topic which was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2009 (article linked here). That same year, my supervisor approached me to encourage me to apply for a PhD studentship back at Aberystwyth University. I had always felt that I would eventually like to complete my PhD, and as I still hadn’t saved enough funds to pay for the masters programme,  I applied, and… to my surprise I secured the studentship… and my old place back in the university basketball team.

bball team photo.jpg

In 2009, I began my venture into academic research and in 2014 I re-entered the world a different person. The first three years of my programme were funded and I was able to dedicate all my time to collecting data. The main objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of a long-term NHS exercise programme to prevent falls in older adults. It was stressful trying to get to grips with the research methods, especially as during that time I was juggling teaching duties, and simultaneouly studying for a postgraduate teacher training qualification (PGCTHE) and a self-led masters degree (MPhil; the latter was a requirement to secure funding). I spent much of my time moving around teaching, studying, collecting data and in the local hospital recruiting participants for my study. My research was reported on national television by BBC Wales News (link here). I even managed to secure a prestigious Travel Grant from the International Society of Biomechanics in 2011 which enabled me to travel to Toronto Rehab Institute for several weeks and learn more about their cutting edge research. I also presented my research at International Society of Biomechanics Congress 2011 in Brussels, Belgium (poster linked here).


But this was in stark contrast to the final 18 months of my PhD adventure. At the end of my studentship funded period I moved back to the Midlands to complete my MPhil and PhD theses, as well as my PGCTHE portfolio. I no longer was within the supportive environment of the academic offices of my department, and my supervisors now lived on opposite sides of the country to each to each other (I was stuck in the middle!). Even with the support of my family, I really struggled to reach completion. In fact, I quit three times, only to find myself sitting back at my desk within an hour or two.

It was in those final stages of study, whilst battling with imposter syndrome so familiar to academics, that I was often plagued by an undeniable irony; I was sitting miserably at my desk for day-upon-day trying my best to showcase unequivocal evidence that movement enhances health and well-being.

You bet that the moment my PhD viva (interview) was over I made plans to MOVE… to Taiwan!

lhr to tpe
Source: Google Maps

Why Taiwan? This may seem a strange place to suddenly decide to uproot to. It is also totally out of scheme with the earlier part of my story. But, during my late teens I had intended to take time out from study before university to travel – more specifically, to teach English in Asia. My Canadian cousin, Nick, has lived in Taiwan for many years – and I had never visited. This was right time to go.

The purpose of this article is not to promote tourism for the beautiful Pacific island of Taiwan, however, if you’ve never thought to find out more I implore you to do so. I kept a blog while I was there – you can check it out here, or take a look at the old Facebook page. One of the main things to know about Taiwan is that it is a cultural melting pot – with historical influences from Japanese, Portugese, Dutch, and of course native Aboriginal tribes, to name but a few. However, one of it’s foremost cultural influence is that of Chinese. Although it’s a bit of political minefield to discuss – let’s just focus on the fact that its proximity to China makes it a great place to observe and learn about Chinese cultures, albeit with a unique (and much more democratic) twist.

Shimen Reservoir, Taoyuan County, Taiwan (Fiona Higgs)

So, why Taiwan? Well, one of the main influences in modern falls prevention exercise classes is Tai Chi – a Chinese martial art form, closely related to Kung Fu. My curiosity in Tai Chi grew over the course of my postgraduate study and I felt compelled to learn more. Fortunately, my cousin happens to be a dab hand at Kung Fu and a student at a superb Chinese Martial Arts School in Taipei. I studied two forms of Kung Fu there (and unbelievably took part in a competition!), before I was invited to learn a Tai Chi form. It was real honour and privilege to be taught by such great teachers and alongside such wonderful students. I still have to pinch myself to think of how incredible my time there way – I will never forget my mornings at the school!

kung fu school taipei

When I returned to the UK I had a desire to return to a career that would allow me to utilise all my skills, experiences and knowledge about movement and health. But I felt disillusioned by the cost of postgraduate masters programmes for Sports Therapy. It was now more expensive than ever to study for the career I wanted.

I was just about to give up on my dreams when a few words of encouragement changed my mindset. I was working as a welfare team manager at a residential English language school when I spoke to a colleague about his own return to university. He had studied a similar undergraduate degree related to Sports Science, but was moving into Computer Science. I had grumbled that I couldn’t afford the time or money to pursue my masters in Sports Therapy. I don’t even remember the exact words he used, but his response was along the lines of, “Yes, you can – you can do whatever you want!”

And that started the ball rolling – I invested some time in investigating my options outside higher educational institutes. I found a fast-track programme, but wasn’t sure about the quality of the course, so I contacted my tutor Mike Grice from my Level 3 Sports Massage course. To my surprise, he got back to me immediately to let me know that he was launching a Level 5 Remedial and Exercise Therapy course. I enrolled the following March and haven’t looked back!

mtclinics KH team
Source: MTClinics

Once I got started with the course I quickly found my feet again. It wasn’t long until I found myself working in one of Mike’s MTClinics sites at King’s Heath, shortly after which I established my own clinic, Move Well, in Stourbridge at Genetix Gym, Lye. I love the work I do, and I am constantly learning and growing with each client I treat. As part of my involvement at MTClinics (of which Move Well Clinic is associated) I have learned from incredible tutors, including my tutor Mike, and lately, Poora Singh (Senior Osteopath for GB Athletics, Team GB) and Derry Suter (Soft Tissue Therapist for Jessica Ennis-Hill). I would be foolish not to mentioned here that I am now registered as an Affiliate member of the Sports Therapy Association (STA), which has been an excellent source of support and help. The STA offers memberships to those in the profession of Sports Therapy, Soft Tissue Therapy and Sports Injury who have undertaken vocational training, and does not require completion of a full 3-year undergraduate degree. Upon completion completion of my Level 5 course with Mike I am looking forward to upgrading my membership to Full membership (in 2018, with any luck!).

To conclude, although I have moved away from conducting research at least for the meantime, health research, and in particular, evidence-informed practice will always be a passion of mine and I will be posting informative content on my Blog pages on this website.

You may wish to sign up for the Move Well mailing list or follow Move Well on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to keep up to date when new articles are posted, as well as news and offers from the clinic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s