Building the right STEM lifestyle and career for you

Female lifting the left of another female in physiotherapy

Read how biologist turned physio Samantha McPherson has taken full advantage of the options STEM has to offer

  • 10 March 2021
  • 5 min read

British Science Week is a national event that provides a platform for educators, professionals, communicators and the public to recognise and celebrate the work being undertaken in STEM related fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). This year’s theme is ‘Innovating for the Future’ and, with so many Portsmouth graduates working in STEM, we want to showcase the important work they’re doing and how they are innovating for the future in their roles.

Samantha McPherson graduated in BSc (Hons) Biology and is a Senior Physiotherapist for the NHS. We asked Samantha to tell us about her role, her journey since graduating and her advice for those thinking of working in STEM:

An unusual journey into physiotherapy

I didn’t start out wanting to be a physio. In fact, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I had an interest in biology, people, healthcare, writing, medicine…so many things! Choosing my university course was therefore based on a lot of variables. As I was considering going into either medicine or health journalism (quite different I know!) – I needed a BSc that would give me broad based and simultaneously in-depth biology knowledge and also options! A course that I could use in the future to progress into a chosen specialty. 

A biology degree provided just that! The BSc Biology course meant I was able to explore different aspects of biology and develop my knowledge at medical sciences level which would springboard me into medicine, speech and language therapy, or physiotherapy (my top 3 life options)…or, you know, health journalism!


My time at Portsmouth was fundamental in facilitating my career in multiple ways. Not just academically but in allowing me to explore multiple science careers and adventures.

Samantha McPherson, BSc (Hons) Biology (2006), Senior Physiotherapist, NHS

Due to the diversity of the biology undergraduate degree, I was able to explore health journalism and though I’m not working in publishing, a huge part of my role is health writing. I contribute to several online health platforms, generate copy for medical information and editorials. So, my journo-itch is still there and exercised regularly! 

The perks of a biologist turned physio!

Around my NHS career I have also taken sabbaticals and volunteered in marine conservation. The variety of the undergraduate course meant that I took a module in marine biology and also opted to learn to dive! Some years later this facilitated a wonderful stint spent in Bali diving, photographing manta rays and contributing to conservation efforts! Portsmouth ignited a spark to explore and gave me the skills in which to do so. 
Female sat on a boat in the ocean smiling at the camera

Day to day, my solid biology knowledge and ‘science brain’ means that I am problem solving, interpreting medical data and doing good! My experiences mean that I have had adventures that were built on suggestions from university and not to mention…I met my husband at university; a marine biologist and now science teacher! You can say that Portsmouth really did set me up for life. 

I now work in a Musculoskeletal Team for the NHS. We work as a multidisciplinary team of physiotherapists, psychologists, prescribers, orthopaedic surgeons and community wellbeing teams to provide musculoskeletal care. This involves assessments, treatments, exercise programs, referrals to wellbeing services and emergency triage.

In my role as a Senior Physiotherapist, I work with patients to understand and treat their condition. I have the privilege of getting to work closely with patients to change both their outlook and experience of day-to-day life. Teaching patients how to manage pain and improve their lifestyle is what makes my day worthwhile. Though two days are never the same! I am also so proud of the NHS and how healthcare always defies the odds to rise to any challenge. This last year with Covid-19, my role now involves treating long-covid and working to provide care despite many challenges.

Healthcare is always self- examining and improving, this is a quality that excites me. We can always do better and will always try. The profession and our knowledge are constantly developing which keeps us on our toes. 

Innovation beyond measure

Innovation in my work has accelerated beyond measure of late. We are currently working really hard on innovating health delivery. The pandemic has been a devastating time for most, however as healthcare professionals and scientists we look for opportunity everywhere. Our new way of working has really shone a light on how we can improve and refresh how we deliver physiotherapy. Not only are we providing quality assessments and care online that recent evidence has demonstrated is just as successful in the most part, health apps in physiotherapy have become the norm, which is fundamental in empowering patients to take ownership of their health – much needed at a time like this!

I am leading a team that is providing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and lifestyle education to groups online and creating online communities based on evidence that can empower people to take responsibility for their wellbeing and live better.

Samantha McPherson, BSc (Hons) Biology (2006), Physiotherapist, NHS

As part of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy things are moving at a rapid pace – exploring treating long-covid, implementing more community-based rehabilitation, and providing top quality information. I am part of the ‘influencer team’ that explores what medical knowledge is available and aims to direct people to the right sources of medical information. This in itself is a new concept. People are reaching out for their own health knowledge and we are rising to provide the best. 

Over the years I have been a clinical educator and mentor and I am often asked; ‘what shall I study?’, ‘what is the best path to take?’. My journey was certainly less than direct and will no doubt change again! I serve as a good example that STEM to me equals options. Options are a gift and STEM is so diverse that if you focus on what you enjoy you can discover and build the right STEM lifestyle and career for you. From journalism to marine conservation to physiotherapy. 

At the Portsmouth Open Day some (eh hem) eighteen years ago…I jumped off the train at Portsmouth and Southsea for the first ever time. As I stood rather dazedly in Guildhall Square a smiling face in a purple t-shirt asked if I was here for the university, they pointed me in the right direction and I thought ‘this could be the place for me’, and I was right. 

I encourage you to be a STEM bod from day one; ask questions, explore, make mistakes, evaluate and try again. You never know where it will lead you…

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