An academic career is one that has a great many moving parts and is rarely linear. I started teaching in 2006 at the University of St. Andrews and after getting the “teaching bug”, I joined Keele University in 2008. At first I was working as a teaching fellow in the School of Medicine and already had the teaching skills and experience I needed to do that job well but I was lacking something that I couldn`t quite articulate. During my first few years at Keele I completed a one year post-graduate certificate of learning and teaching in higher education which conferred with it, the status of Fellow of the HEA. As a trained pharmacologist, this masters level course was a challenge for me as it included a significant portion of self-reflection (indeed, a difficult skill to develop) and engagement with a pedagogic literature-base I was barely familiar with in any meaningful way (for better or worse, is there anyone who has not heard of Blooms?). It was this feeling of needing something extra that prompted me to explore a two year secondment into the Learning and Professional Development Centre as an academic staff developer. The reason for this move was not that I was tiring of teaching medical students, it was actually quite the opposite….I wanted to teach them better and I was convinced that the pathway to achieving this was to get out of my comfort-zone as soon as possible and trust me, there is nothing comfortable about a staff-facing role in HE!
Two years into my dual role, I decided to pursue senior fellow (SF) status from the HEA which allowed me to reflect and take stock of where I was in terms of my new experience and career trajectory. SF-HEA was real acid-test for me because many thought that my dual role was in essence, making me half as effective at each. I`m not overconfident enough to say I knew the dual role was not a gamble, but if my circuitous career in HE has taught me anything it`s that there is no straight path on the teaching track and opportunities are created rather than given.
My SF-HEA case studies were, as to be expected, a mixture of student-facing and staff-facing leadership projects / innovations that allowed me to take a “big picture” view of all the things I was doing and see new connections and overlaps. What I really learned in striving for recognition was how to best represent what I was already doing and how to really start to explore the impact my teaching practice was having. With SF-HEA status conferred, that teaching practice significantly sharpened and I acquired new skills, such as horizon scanning and engaging with differing metrics of impact based on individual projects.
It`s no exaggeration to say that my SF-HEA application laid a firm groundwork for the number of professional successes I have enjoyed since then, with much of the writing style, impact evaluation and innovative project opportunities that were in that application being instrumental in my being shortlisted and then recently winning, the Time Higher “Most Innovative Teaching of the Year” award for 2017. What happens next? It’s a good question, and whatever happens I can be sure it will not be dull…..or linear!