“A large part of me wanted to reflect upon the ways in which my teaching and research were symbiotic, and the Higher Education Academy Principal Fellowship was an important part of that reflective process.”
– Denis Fischbacher-Smith, Research Chair in Risk and Resilience, Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow.
A Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy since 2014, Denis Fischbacher-Smith (who is a graduate of the universities of Manchester, Glasgow, St Andrews and the Council for National Academic Awards across a range of disciplines) started his teaching career in secondary education before stepping up to further education followed by higher education. He has since held chairs at a number of establishments including John Moore's University, Durham, Sheffield and the University of Liverpool. His current role as Research Chair in Risk and Resilience at the Adam Smith Business School at the University of Glasgow allows him to cover a broad curriculum of research-led teaching ranging from patient safety across the health sector to terrorism, and has included work with a number of police forces together with the Scottish Government’s resilience division.
I trained as a teacher in mainstream secondary education, so I’ve been teaching since long before the Higher Education Academy became a major player in the HE sector. As such, I have always considered myself as a teacher rather than a ‘lecturer’ and the teaching has always been symbiotic with the research that I do. It is the relationship each has with the other that, for me, is the absolute joy of being an academic. It is being able to do research and then pass those emerging concepts and ideas onto students, and getting feedback from those students about whether it makes sense. That’s the magical part of what we do.
I am of the generation that didn’t get the opportunity to do the Fellowship programme, and I wasn’t exposed to the work of the HEA. Within the College of Social Science at Glasgow, the Dean of Teaching and Learning suggested to several staff that we should apply for Fellowship and that I apply for Principal Fellowship. As I am married to her (Denis’ wife is Moira Fischbacher-Smith), then I didn’t really feel that I could argue against it! At the time Glasgow had no Principal Fellows, and so it was something of a leap in the dark.
A large part of me wanted to use the process to formally reflect upon how important teaching was as far as my day-to-day work was concerned, and how it related to the research that I do. In so many respects, teaching is a real privilege as not only does it allow us to help develop the next generation of academics but also to develop ourselves. Teaching post-graduates, I find that I learn an awful lot from them. It helps me to refine some of the research arguments that are in an early stage of development.
From a personal perspective, the most interesting part of the process of applying for Principal Fellowship was the reflective part. I reflect upon my teaching as a matter of course – ‘Did it go well, did it not go well, how can I update it, how can I develop it?’ However, I’d never really looked back over my academic career and thought much about the trajectory of teaching and learning that I’d engaged in. I did find that reflective process challenging though. Academics aren’t necessarily good at that process and the current Research Excellence Framework environment tends to reinforce that.
Personally, I think any senior member of staff at a university should consider applying for Principal Fellowship. There are two reasons. One, it’s about recognition from your peers that you’ve passed a capability threshold. Two, it allows you to reflect upon what it is that you do as an educator. And I think both of those benchmarks are very important.