Duncan Cross is a senior lecturer and the programme leader for the PGCert Teaching and Learning in Higher and Professional Education as well as supervising postgraduate research students at the University of Bolton. He is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Fellow of the Society for Education and Training. Here he talks about gaining Principal Fellowship, the process for him and the benefits.
I am very fortunate to have had a very broad and (what I consider) interesting career that has allowed me to work with a range of amazing students and colleagues which has spanned Higher Education in the UK and overseas and also across alternative providers, such as HE in FE, private providers and in work-based HE contexts. I’ve also straddled the Further Education and Skills Sector and worked educationally and as a front-line manager in a clinical service in the NHS. Through my career, I gained Fellowship and Senior Fellowship of the HEA and membership and then Fellowship of the Society for Education and Training.
All of these experiences and working with professional standards have led me to a very pragmatic and strategic view in looking at, analysing, and reflecting on my development needs, often with the help of some amazing mentors and coaches who challenged me to develop and critically reflect on what I do.
My journey to Principal Fellowship has encompassed all facets of my career to date, but perhaps the first influential point in my principal fellowship journey was a conversation with a Mentor on a clinical leadership programme at Salford Royal Foundation NHS Trust in 2013. This particular mentor felt very strongly about planning and reflections on career development which needed to be regularly undertaken and that looking at potential future job specifications could help to take a developmental approach to your career.
So it was with a little bit of fear, and excitement that I looked at the person specs for potential future jobs. From this I started to look at the D4 descriptors, as many of the jobs were asking for D4 as an essential or desirable criteria, only to discover that I was working within some of those descriptors already and had been for some time. For me, this was a wake-up call; what had initially been a long-term aspiration for the future was fast becoming a reality.
At that point, I took a really hard and honest look at what I had been doing in previous roles and my then current role. For me, it was important to understand what I was doing in that role and how I could build up further evidence, over time, for my claim for D4. Some of that evidence and experience came naturally because of the type of role that I was in; quality and student experience co-ordinator for national and international collaborative provision, which meant that I lead on strategic developments across the university and across 30 other HE providers. Other evidence came from opportunities to strategically lead on important issues in teaching and learning or from some amazing support from the executive teams who listened when I felt strongly about a vision and allowed me to take a strategic lead.
When I initially started my journey towards Principal Fellowship, I was thinking in terms of pragmatic career development. This changed very early on as I critically reflected on my work in a strategic context. Every conversation was an opportunity to critically reflect on my practice from a different lens, and the process was perhaps as or more important than achieving the end result. And some of those really influential conversations happened just before I achieved Principal Fellowship, Sally Bradley and Diane Nutt both asked me some challenging questions and gave some excellent advice, especially around really thinking what I did strategically vs operationally.
So, why did I become a Principal Fellow? It was an opportunity for me to have my work recognised nationally and internationally, and it was, and is, a way of demonstrating success in my roles that often wasn’t and isn’t recognised. I think it’s important to remember that becoming a Principal Fellow is not a race or something to tick off in your career or qualifications list. It’s an opportunity, as it is with all levels of fellowship, to engage critically and reflectively with the UKPSF. It took 3 years from my initial conversation with a mentor, for me to feel comfortable and confident that I was meeting the descriptors and I was prepared for that to take longer. I’m on a journey, and PF just happened to be on my route.
Having said that it’s not a race, I was the first person at the University of Bolton to achieve Principal FelIow, an achievement my Institution and colleagues were, and still are, very proud of. I’ve been joined by Emily McIntosh our Director of Student Life, and we are looking forward to colleagues joining us with their achievements.
I would encourage anyone thinking about applying for PF to sit down with a colleague and discuss your evidence for your claim. Personally, I found that you have to be open to the process and honest with yourself, the critical questioning, coaching and feedback I had through that process was vital in determining how solid my evidence was, whether I had stronger case studies, or if I needed time to gather evidence of the impact of strategies and policies.
Gaining PFHEA has changed my perspective and position in many ways. I have a sense of validation of my skills at a strategic level; I also feel more empowered to voice my position and lead, especially when my job title may not reflect my experience. Though I absolutely recognise that many colleagues will say that I didn’t need empowering to voice anything, but the validation allows me to (sometimes) speak without a sense of imposter syndrome. I more actively have strategic conversations with colleagues at my institution and externally, and about PF. I also gained access to a phenomenal group of international Principal Fellows, who share their wisdom, kindness, rigour and insight through the PF Network. That alone is a reason to think about working towards and gaining PF.
For more information about becoming a Principal Fellow please click here.