“Working with someone who knows what a successful application looks like, who is going to be honest enough to say whether you are meeting the criteria and what you might have to improve on, is invaluable.” – Claire Taylor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Wrexham Glyndŵr University.
Claire Taylor became a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy having attended one of the HEA’s writing retreat workshops. The former, as she outlines here, only became a reality thanks to the latter. Now Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Wrexham Glyndŵr University, Claire believes Principal Fellowship played an integral part in her appointment.
I desperately wanted to get my application for HEA Principal Fellowship completed. But there was a problem. In order to get it done, I needed to set aside a sizeable chunk of time to what you might call ‘nail it’. I had various draft versions that I’d started, failed to finish, and then put away. It was in bits because, as anyone who works in a university will know, you’re only able to grab 30 minutes or an hour here and there to get any job done. So I required time to bring together what I had, get an overview, and build a narrative. I also needed someone looking over my shoulder who was capable and brave enough to challenge me, to constructively criticise and ask those awkward ‘So what?’ questions. In short, I needed everything the writing retreat had to offer.
In my case the person who was there leading the retreat and asking those awkward ‘So what?’ questions was Sally Bradley, Academic Lead Recognition at the HEA. Sally would say ‘Claire, this is great, but you need to provide evidence of how you’re making an impact, of how you’ve made a difference’. It was a breath of fresh air to have her persistent, nagging voice – and I mean that in the best sense – telling me what was missing from my application. The time spent doing that – listening to Sally, going back to the draft, tweaking it, going through it again – got me to the stage where I was able to submit my application within a couple of weeks. Sally was also able to look at the final draft just before I sent it off, which was really helpful. That came as part of the workshop; you had the actual day, plus what you might call a follow up consultation about your draft to make sure you were on the right lines.
My writing retreat workshop took place in London and involved quite a small group. We started with a brief overview of what Principal Fellowship is and the process of what was being looked for, after which we moved on to talking as a group about what stages we were all at with our applications. We then worked fairly intensely one-to-one with Sally on the critical, detailed input, in between which we had time to read through what we had and tweak it accordingly. In my opinion it’s important to go to a writing retreat with something already drafted. Don’t turn up with a blank sheet because you won’t really benefit from the dialogue with the workshop leader, the person who’s going to make sure that you deliver a convincing, evidence-based application. Working with someone who knows what a successful application looks like, who is going to be honest enough to say whether you are meeting the criteria and what you might have to improve on, is invaluable.
I was Pro Vice-Chancellor of Academic Strategy at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, at the time when I went on my writing retreat. I’m now Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Wrexham Glyndŵr University, where I’ve been since the beginning of August. I believe that my Principal Fellowship played an important role in me landing that position. The board of governors were definitely looking for someone who was focused on learning and teaching and the development of a quality student experience so having a sector-recognised measure of standard stood me in good stead. It meant I was the only Principal Fellow at Wrexham Glyndŵr where they are also quite light on Senior Fellows, so there was an aspirational element to it as well. At Wrexham Glyndŵr the aim now is to get people on track not only with Fellowship but also Senior Fellowship and Principal Fellowship, so my appointment was very much a step in the right direction.