Achieving recognition as an HEA Principal Fellow was a deeply satisfying and quite profound moment in my career.
Colleagues have asked me how long it took to write my application. Academics are busy people and applying for a Fellowship is not a small task. I was challenged to contemplate all aspects of my teaching, not from the perspective of ‘what have I been asked to do?’, but rather ‘what do I stand for and how have I impacted those around me?’. These are quite personal questions and go to the heart of why recognition as a Principal Fellow is one of the most important and precious awards I have received.
In contemplating my work goals for 2019 back in January, an application for Principal Fellow was not even on my radar. I admired the work of the Advance HE in championing excellence in learning and teaching through programs of formal recognition. The reputation of the Professional Standards Framework and the Fellowship program in Australia is growing quickly. However, with the unrelenting daily imperatives and work cycles, an application never seemed to make it up my ‘to do list’.
It was a casual conversation with a colleague mid-year who was finishing an application herself that tipped the balance. She spoke of the importance of this recognition within her own institution, and how fulfilling it was to her personally to have undertaken such a focussed examination of her impact and influence as a leader in higher education.
I am tremendously grateful to her and the other colleagues who encouraged me through the application process. Never before in a long career as an academic have I had such an unambiguous opportunity to honestly ask myself ‘what do I stand for and how have I impacted those around me?’ In contemplating my answer and assembling supporting evidence, I needed to be very honest. This is, and was, challenging! How affirming to find and document the evidence. To have colleagues provide references that further illuminated for me the influence I have had. Although the national and institutional impacts are real and strategically important, it is the personal and more intimate recollections and recounts that I will treasure. This was life changing.
I have absolutely no doubt that I will be a better practitioner and leader in higher education as a result of becoming a Principal Fellow. This will be due in part to my personal journey of development, and in part due to the status of this recognition enabling further strategic impact within my institution, nationally and internationally.
So, would I do it again – in a heart beat!
Should every teacher in higher education apply for relevant levels of Fellowship – absolutely!
Dr Maree O’Keefe is an Associate Dean Learning Quality and Innovation in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, a Paediatrician, and Deputy chair of the University of Adelaide Academic Board. She has held a number of key national leadership appointments in higher education especially related to academic standards and governance.