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Working mum Frankie shares her story in bid to inspire others

Working mum Frankie shares her research journey as an NHS clinician and how much she is enjoying her career after returning from maternity leave. Frankie is doing a PhD investigating different configurations of inpatient stroke care. She is a parent to 2-year-old called Otto and enjoying a successful career as a clinical academic working in the NHS. Frankie has told her story as part of our NIHR Shape the Future campaign.

Published: 15 November 2023

Specialising in stroke physiotherapy

I qualified as a physiotherapist in 2008 and I worked in different roles which involved stroke care and treating severely disabled stroke patients. I now work on acute stroke wards.

Physio is so important for stroke survivors. It’s about giving people back their movement and making life worth living. Whether that’s helping complex stroke patients with pain, being able to sit to eat properly or helping those who are re-learning to walk or use their limbs to gain more independence. It got very personal in 2019 when my grandma had a severe stroke. I saw things from a different perspective.

Pathway to PhD

In 2016 to 2017, I was looking for something new in my work. I did a clinical scholar bronze award, which was a course of mentoring and teaching for frontline healthcare professionals who want to pursue an academic career. I really enjoyed it and it was a wonderful taster of research. It turned out to be the pathway to my PhD.

From that, I went on to do a masters in research methods, followed by a silver award, which helped formulate the pitch for my PhD. This award was just a few days a week, so I could work with it with my clinical practice. My award supervisors helped prep and carry me across the line to be accepted for a PhD.

I am now doing my PhD part-time, investigating different configurations of inpatient stroke care focusing on inpatient rehab. I am also a co-principal investigator on another research project, investigating home-based rehab for survivors of stroke with severe disability.

My PhD is definitely born from being a clinician and my experience of seeing services change and not having the research to know which configuration is best for our patients. It is important to me that I continue to use my clinical skills and maintain close ties with clinical practice. I undertake a weekend shift on the hyperacute stroke unit each month.

Taking maternity leave

I started my PhD on 1 October 2020 and exactly 1 year later, I went on maternity leave. I always knew that I wanted to be a working mum and I have always been maternal. It wasn’t straight forward though, we had IVF which was incredibly challenging and is why we knew we couldn’t wait.

I was very lucky that it fell at a time when a break in my work was suitable. One week before my maternity leave, I disseminated a survey for my PhD which required waiting time for responses. The qualitative data was already collected which my colleagues could analyse in my absence. I did some ‘keeping in touch’ days which were important because I got to be professional me again. I was looking forward to returning to work and enjoying the 2 parts of my life.

Transitioning back from maternity leave was easier than I expected. The research team and supervisors were incredibly supportive. I was ready to start using my brain academically again.


It took a good couple of months to really nail a routine. The main challenge was the mental load of making sure everything was organised at home and work. This took time until a routine was established. The ability to be flexible with home working helped immensely.

Making it work

I am fortunate that my research job does not have the time restrictions that other jobs have. I was also able to reduce my hours to spend more time with Otto. I work at home for 2 to 3 days a week, which means I can walk Otto to nursery.

My husband has flexibility too. We’re a partnership and he is a wonderful Dad. Having a really supportive manager and supervisors has also been invaluable.

Advice to others

Going on maternity leave isn’t a barrier to being a researcher. I would say ‘go for it’ to researchers also wanting to start a family. It’s a decision that will change your life. Jobs will come and go and as much as I love my job, family is everything. You can have both. I think my main tip is to be open with your supervisors about how you are managing.


I can’t talk about my career in research without mentioning 2 people: Dr Rebecca Fisher and Professor Ian McGonagle.

Dr Rebecca Fisher has been my supervisor since the silver award and continues to be through my PhD. Her expertise in stroke research has been invaluable and she has gone above and beyond to support my clinical academic career.

Professor McGonagle runs the bronze award at the University of Lincoln. If anyone can light a fire for research, it’s him. He encouraged me to think bigger and look at my 5-year plan. He was right. I know that was just the start.

Read more researcher stories and find out how you can get involved in the NIHR Shape the Future campaign.

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