From Nigeria to Scotland: The story of a GCU PHD student

Fri, 07 May 2021 16:19:00 BST
Henrietta now plans to return to Nigeria and the University of Benin
Henrietta now plans to return to Nigeria and the University of Benin

An international student is reflecting on her incredible 18-year academic journey, which saw her progress from an HNC in Health Care to a PHD at GCU’s School of Health and Life Sciences. 

Henrietta Fawole made the decision to travel from Nigeria to Scotland in 2003, with dreams of becoming a nurseAs a finally professed nun and a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, she recognised the religious significance of the country and also took inspiration from her own family. 

She explained: “I joined the congregation of the Franciscan Sisters in 1999 and I made my first profession of vows in 2002 in NigeriaThe Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Congregation was actually founded in Glasgow in 1847 by two French nuns. 

I lived with quite a few sisters who had come from Scotland to Nigeria. I had obviously been aware of Scotland through them and also through my grandfather, who studied in Aberdeen.  

I’ve always had that connection and it was great to get the chance to move across in 2003.” 

Henrietta originally studied an HNC in Health Care after finding it difficult to get onto a nursing degree programme as an international student. She then completed a BSc (Hons) in Health Science at Paisley University between 2004 and 2007.  

During the first three years of her degree she lived on a convent in Greenock before moving to Glasgow to assist in the care of some of the older sisters.  

Henrietta then decided to make the move to Edinburgh to study a diploma in Nursing Science between 2007 and 2008 before setting her sights on a career in physiotherapy.  

She returned to Glasgow the following year to study an MSc in Rehabilitation Science (now known as MSc Physiotherapy Pre-Registration) at GCU.  After yet another successful spell in Scottish education, she decided to return to Nigeria. 

Henrietta said: “From 2011 to 2016 I worked as a clinical physiotherapist and also as a lecturer at University of Benin. 

I enjoyed doing this but it was quite different because I’d been away from Nigeria for so long. It was good to finally be able to practice what I learned in the UK. I was able to impact on people because I had so many new techniques learned from my time in Scotland. Teaching students was also a fascinating experience that I’m very grateful for.” 

However, the appeal of Glasgow and GCU proved too much for Henrietta and she eventually found herself back in Scotland’s largest city completing a PHD. 

She said: “I’ve lived here for more than six years now. I love Glasgow, the people are welcoming and Scotland is a beautiful country…when it’s not raining!” 

Henrietta made the journey up Cowcaddens Road once again in October 2016 to help develop research on physical activity and fatigue in knee osteoarthritis. She explained why she had such a deep interest in the topic both professionally and personally.  
Henrietta said: “It is a common condition amongst people in both the western and developing world. My grandma actually had it and you can really see how it makes people slow down.  

The fascinating thing is that physical activity is actually good, despite people thinking that they should not walk or move it if they have pain in the knee. Moving eases the stiffness and the pain eventually begins to die down.  

One of the things that always came back to me was that people said that they were too tired to exercise, so it was actually unclear if it was the pain stopping them or fatigue. I wanted to understand the relationship and to know whether we could use physical activity to treat fatigue or whether it was the physical activity causing the fatigue.” 

A PHD is well recognised as a mammoth task at the best of times, however Henrietta had the added complication of a global pandemic. Thankfully, she was prepared and well supported by GCU staff – who she was keen to express her gratitude towards 

She explained “I was lucky because I had finished data collection just before the pandemic started.  

In terms of motivation it was difficult, because I wasn’t able to have regular discussions with other PHD students. It wasn’t easy to get going sometimes and I would say it was more mentally challenging than anything else.” 

Henrietta added: “I need to say a special thank you to Professor Sebastien Chastin, Professor Martijn Steultjens and Dr Andrea Dell’Isola for their wealth of knowledge, unflinching support, tireless dedication, constant feedback and invaluable guidance throughout my PhD studies. A massive thanks as well to Dr Jody Riskowski, my first year director of studies, who continued to support me from far away throughout this PhD journey.

I came with a fear of statistics and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge. My PHD thesis has five different methodologies which means I had five different statistical analyses. Everyone’s support meant I had the motivation to complete them. Throughout the journey they were constantly there, nodding their heads, even when I was putting myself down.  

I had a lot of opportunities to go to conferences and do a lot of learning, which has been amazing and something I’ll always be grateful to GCU for.” 

There are still a couple of small steps to go before Henrietta officially completes her PHD but she already has one eye on the future and isn’t ruling out rekindling her relationship with GCU and Glasgow once again in the years to come. 

She said: “It was amazing when I got the news that I had completed my VIVA. I felt so relaxed once we submitted it and I couldn’t believe I passed with minor corrections. I’m now so close to completing this journey and I can’t even explain the happiness and the joy I have! 

Henrietta added: “In the next couple of months, I’m going back to Nigeria to continue my work as a lecturer at the University of Benin.  

I wouldn’t rule out returning to Scotland because I’m looking at using the findings from my PHD in more detail and it would be good to do some sort of study around the UK.  

I also really want to give back to GCU and Scottish society, so it’s nice to think that I may return one day.” 

By Ross Clark  
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