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Aurora case study: Dr Helen Vaughan

03 Dec 2018 | University of Liverpool

Aurora came at a very important time for me. It gave me time to reflect on what I want to do and, importantly, why. 

After the tumult and stress that comes from short-term contracts, I left fundamental physics research in favour of making a bigger impact through teaching. I was selected for a permanent role as a lecturer with The University of Liverpool’s flagship Central Teaching Laboratory. After three years of being involved in the start-up and operation of the facility (and winning awards), it was clear that my role needed to develop from “getting things done” to making and leading educational changes. 

As a teaching-focused physics lecturer, outside a traditional academic department, I found that I needed to look outwardly to develop. Prior to Aurora, I had often found myself isolated because of my career choices and struggled to construct a version of myself that fit within the traditional academic model. I benefitted from the environment created by Aurora and the variety of role models as they showed that every route can have an impact. It also highlighted to me that 'Leader' is just an individual’s title, but leading is something that happens in collaboration with other people. This belief has been very much embedded with our team’s application for, and recent recognition with, a Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence by the Higher Education Academy (HEA).

One of the stand out moments of Aurora was reflecting on my own deeply held values about education and what drives me. I have been really inspired by one of the women I met through Aurora, who was struggling to decide whether to take on a project. It was clear to me that this project would give her a huge sense of well-being and achievement and that was when I started to select and work on projects aligned with my values: those that improve the student experience and the state of physics education across many sectors.

Being able to tap into my core beliefs has changed the way I work: it has made finding the right collaborators and leading projects easier. Recently I successfully led a team to establish an inter-university degree programme that provides physics undergraduates with a professional teaching qualification and provides another route to create science teachers. This raised my profile such that I have been recognised as Senior Fellow of the HEA, and I have been selected for our Faculty’s education leadership course. 

There has been an immediate impact for me, my work and my institution but I think the value of this course is lasting. I find myself seeking out role models to observe, putting myself into situations where I have to lead and always remembering “nothing you do is wasted”. 

Being able to tap into my core beliefs has changed the way I work: it has made finding the right collaborators and leading projects easier."

Dr Helen Vaughan
Lecturer (teaching and scholarship)
University of Liverpool

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