Back in the day as a PhD student (and postdoc) I would often supervise students in the lab or act as lab demonstrator for undergraduate practicals, but when it came to my CV my formal experience of teaching and the range of teaching I had experience was never well described or recognised. In my new role as a researcher developer in 2007 I knew this was something I wanted to help researchers improve in this area which ultimately led to me and Martina Daly developing the Think Ahead: SURE (Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience) paving the way for the development of the University of Sheffield (TUoS) wide SURE scheme later the next year. TASURE gives PhD students and research staff the opportunity to be primary/sole supervisor of an undergraduate summer research project and ultimately have formal teaching experience.
TASURE also highlighted the need to offer dedicated development sessions for researchers in regard to teaching. We designed a session on researcher supervision, which was the beginning of the University’s excellent Sheffield Teaching Assistant (STA) programme, now expanded and delivered by colleagues in Learning & Teaching Services. For some years now, I have promoted the fact that with this and other teaching experience along with attending teaching development activities, like STA, researchers could gain national recognition for their teaching with the Higher Education Academy (HEA). Previously this was something you applied for individually (with cost implications) directly to the HEA and although I promoted it, I never actually got round to applying for it myself.
In 2015 TUoS became accredited by the HEA to be able to internally award fellowships. I realised it was about time I practised what I preached and finally a few months ago I went through the process of applying for and successfully gaining my Senior Fellowship (which as a bonus is now free to apply for). After talking to a variety of research staff and PhD students recently, its clear still many haven’t realised the process for applying for HEA recognition has changed and I thought it might be useful to reflect on my experience of the process to help others apply in the future.
Here are my hints and tips that might make applying yourself a tiny bit easier:
- Get in the know: TUoS LeTs (Learning and Teaching Services) webpages have a great deal of information about the various structured or self directed routes/pathways available with them through the Learning and Teaching Professional Recognition Scheme (LTPRS) to gain HEA recognition.
- What level to apply for? If like me you have some years of teaching experience but never applied for recognition, the self directed personal pathway maybe for you. I went along to the information event (explorer event) thinking I was going to apply for Fellow status but it became clear from talking to those around me about my teaching experience that it was more appropriate to apply for Senior Fellowship, with actually little extra work (in fact having a larger word count is something I found made it easier). I heard that many other people have done that same thing often thinking they only have associate level experience when really they could apply for fellow.
- Get yourself a HEA application buddy: During the session I partnered up with a couple of people who planned to apply for the same level at the same time as me. We decided to arrange to go for a coffee a few weeks later so we could encourage each other and hold each other accountable to have made steps forwards in our application. I can highly recommend you do the same. It was definitely one of the key things that got me through the process as it really helps to regularly (we met about 4 times in the space of 3 months) talk with someone who is also going through the process and pick their brains about they are tackling some of the sections of the framework in the application.
- Be creative in what you include: Teaching isn’t just standing in front of a lecture theatre of students. There is so much of University life that you do which can either be classed as teaching directly or has an effect on teaching. I included all sorts of things in my application that initially I hadn’t thought would be relevant and again the idea for some of these came from brainstorming with by application buddies and also my referees (see below). Things like acting as a mentor, personal tutor, facilitating tutorials, student research supervision, redeveloping assessment criteria, giving feedback on presentations, tutoring, development of a training needs analysis tool for PGR students and even leading strategy on redevelopment of SRDS procedures for staff were all included in my application as well as the obvious delivery of workshops/seminars to staff and students.
- Keep copies of EVERYTHING: I really wish I had been doing this for the past few years in a systematic way. For your HEA application you need to attach evidence (often more than one type) for every element of the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) for Teaching and Supporting Learning in Higher Education which is a nationally recognised framework for benchmarking success within higher education teaching and learning support. I knew I had over the years got evidence of everything, but finding it took me hours. Some evidence was within emails from 4 years ago whilst other bits were paper copies somewhere in the depth of my filing system. I managed to find it all in the end but if I had my time over, anything I had done around teaching that could be evidence would be properly logged somewhere.
- Find 2 referees who understand applying for HEA recognition (if possible) I was very lucky that the two people I felt were best suited to give me a reference for my teaching had recently also been successful in gaining their SFHEA. It made the process so much easier as not only could they write a brilliant reference for me which was written in such a way as to mirror my application using the language of the UKPSF but they were also willing to read through all my application before I submitted it to check I was covering everything.
- Celebrate afterwards It takes quite a bit of effort to get the application put together, but its worth it to have not only recognition for my teaching nationally but to have some new letters after my name (SFHEA) and to be invited for cheese and wine with the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching.