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Fellowship from the PhD perspective

17 Jul 2019 | Jack Lownes Twelve months on from his portfolio submission, PhD researcher Jack Lownes shares his experience of applying for HEA accreditation and gives some advice to other PhD researchers thinking of applying for Fellowship.

The Associate Portfolio

In the first two years of my PhD, I’d taken on as much teaching work as I could while still being able to give the time to my research that it demanded. I’d heard of the Higher Education Academy (as it was then called), but it was something I’d associated with academics and teaching staff – not PhD researchers. It was at the start of the third year of my PhD that I was made aware there was more than one grade of Fellowship, and that I could be eligible to apply for one. I went along to an introduction session, decided I’d like to apply for Associate Fellowship, and discussed this with my supervisor. I know that I’m lucky to have a very supportive supervisor, and I’d built up some teaching contacts in the department through my work as a laboratory demonstrator – so I had guidance in my application from experienced mentors who could also provide references to my application.

Over the next few months, I built up my case studies, mapped them to the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF), and collected together the teaching literature in support of my application. It was challenging for a number of reasons, not least because I’m not used to writing in a first person style when discussing my work! I’d decided that my case studies would cover my work as a laboratory demonstrator (UKPSF criteria A2 and K1) and some project supervision work I’d been doing with some final-year undergraduate students (UKPSF criteria A1 and K2). I’d written about more criteria than I needed to for Associate level (A3, A4, K4 and V1), but I thought nothing of it – it was just part of the teaching I’d done.


I took the draft application to my mentor in May 2018. After a few minutes of reading, she questioned why I was not applying for a higher grade of Fellowship. She felt that, knowing what teaching I’d been involved in, I could easily develop my Associate case studies into a full Fellowship portfolio. I was (very) reluctant to do this. This would almost certainly be my last chance to apply for accreditation as a postgraduate researcher, and I’d rather have been successful in gaining AFHEA than unsuccessful in gaining FHEA. But eventually I was persuaded to go for Fellowship…

As it should be, writing a portfolio for Fellowship was more difficult than that for Associate. In particular, I found writing about the criteria for professional values quite challenging, as I felt that a lot of what I was writing should be self-evident.

Nevertheless, I learned a lot about equality and diversity laws in the context of higher education. I found it useful to be able to write more extensively about the activities I’d been involved in as it gave me a chance to think in more detail about why I’d taught or delivered specific sessions or concepts in certain ways. When writing, there were lots of times where I was unsure of what I was doing, or that I’d written something irrelevant or off-topic. However, as previously mentioned, I had a fantastic support network through the process able to offer guidance and advice.

I submitted my final portfolio in July 2018. After a slightly anxious two month wait, I was relieved to learn that my application for Fellowship status had been successful! After a brief celebration, it was straight back to work for a shift in the teaching labs.

All part of the process

Before I applied for fellowship, I focused my teaching on what I was doing, rather than why I was teaching something in a certain way. The whole process has changed the way I approach planning learning activities, how I deliver teaching sessions, and the questions I ask myself when reviewing and evaluating activities I’m involved in. The opportunity to meet other applicants has given me inspiration for designing my own teaching activities, and the whole experience has shown me that fellowship is not an end point, but part of a process – and accreditation plays a key part.

For any PhD researchers who are thinking about applying, here are a few pointers:

  • Build a network of supportive teaching and technical staff. They can be good contacts if you need references for your application.
  • Find a mentor who is familiar with the accreditation programme at your institution.
  • Don’t be put off applying for a higher grade of Fellowship just because you’re only a PhD researcher. Trust what your mentors are saying.
  • Support and encourage other colleagues who teach and are considering Fellowship. Offer to proofread drafts, give constructive feedback and show interest.
  • Use social media to build networks across institutions, and to look for examples of best practice to inform your teaching.

Finally, if you’re unsure about whether or not to apply, do it! Whether you pursue further teaching or not, a nationally recognised qualification demonstrates a commitment to professional development and teaching in higher education. What are you waiting for?


Jack Lownes is a Graduate Teaching Assistant and final-year PhD student at the University of Manchester. His teaching portfolio spans multiple disciplines in the chemical sciences, and covers lectures, laboratory practicals, workshops, and project supervision. He was awarded FHEA status in September 2018.


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