During the Young Stroke Physicians and Researchers (YSPR) session at ESO-WSO 2020 virtual conference, four early career stroke physicians and researchers will present their planned or ongoing projects and receive feedback from two renowned stroke experts.

The session was held on Saturday November 7th at 09.45 in Hall C. The webcast can be viewed from within the virtual conference.

In this series of interviews, we are going to meet them and hear about their story.

Today we are meeting with Elissa Embrechts.

Elissa is a PhD student and a physiotherapist from Belgium and she is going to present “An in-depth analysis of the influence of visuospatial neglect on motor recovery post-stroke: study protocol”. Please stay tuned!


Something about myself

Hi! I’m Elissa Embrechts and I’m a physiotherapist since 2018. After obtaining my Master’s degree in 2018, I dove into science and became a true PhD student. During the first year of my PhD, I mainly wrote grants to further support my research, which paid off. I had the opportunity to receive a 4-year grant to perform research, in which I aspire to increase the knowledge on the association between cognitive problems and motor recovery/function after stroke. My further aspirations are to be discovered over the years, but I am already quite sure that it will still involve ‘cognition after stroke’.

How did you get involved in stroke research?

I had the opportunity to carry out my Master’s thesis in stroke research. During that time, I really enjoyed working with the research team and my interests in neurorehabilitation and particular stroke rehabilitation grew exponentially. After completing the thesis, my supervisor asked whether I would be interested in a PhD. Of course, I had no doubts and immediately said yes.

Why did you choose this topic?

The association between cognition and motor recovery after stroke has always intrigued me. I suspected such association to be clinically present. But after reading a lot about the topic I soon realised that this association has not yet been well-understood. Therefore, such cognitive problems are often not directly addressed by physiotherapists, while they might (?) be the reason for the delayed recovery – at least that is what I suspect and what I’m further investigating. My special interests go out to spatial neglect because it is frequently present after stroke and because of its very heterogeneous clinical presentation.

What have been the most difficult challenges regarding your research career so far? 

Pursuing a PhD comes with various challenges. My biggest challenge so far has been the grant writing process. When I started, there was only money to pay me for one year. If I did not get a grant, I could not stay. “Fighting” for a spot and the opportunity to carry out what you love and what you’re most interesting in is both difficult and rewarding. The grant writing comes with many obstacles and insecurities. But it is also THE opportunity to become an expert in the topic. Apart from that, you also learn how to write and how to “sell” your research. Another challenge has been the organisational talent that you need to have. Combining different tasks comes with the duty of planning your schedule: including patients, testing patients repetitively over time (and keeping them motivated), managing the databases, writing manuscripts, teaching, … It took me a while to manage this properly!

How do you balance work life and free time/home life?

I usually don’t feel as if my work life influences my free/home life. But sometimes there’s no escape from it, especially since ‘working from home’ is the new normal now. I guess I have a very clear working routine that I adhere to, which helps me in separating these lives. After closing my office door, I force myself not to open my mailbox and not to think too much about work. So far, this has worked for me.

What do you think a mentor should do to support the projects and the career of a mentee and, conversely, what should a mentee expect from a mentor?

Difficult questions. I believe a mentor needs to find the balance between, on the one hand, giving the mentee the freedom to implement his/her own ideas (for example, while writing protocols and manuscripts). Moreover, the mentor should encourage the mentee to work independently and to find creative solutions for their problems on their own. On the other hand, a mentor should keep a supervising eye and should make adjustments or suggestions to improve the quality of the research. A mentee might expect this kind of supervision, but should not demand the mentor’s full attention. They should both respect each other and each other’s work load.