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'Fellowships are about recognising your teaching experiences, not your career level'

11 May 2020 | Ashleigh Johnstone Ashleigh Johnstone, PhD Candidate in the School of Psychology at Bangor University, shares her thoughts on going through the Fellowship process as a PhD Candidate who teaches

When I started my PhD, I was both excited and terrified to learn about the teaching duties I would be asked to undertake. I thought back to all the amazing teachers I had been lucky to learn from throughout my previous degrees and wondered ‘how will I ever be able to reach that level of confidence, knowledge, and creativity?’

Luckily the School of Psychology at Bangor University has a teacher trainer programme for their PhD students. This takes place over two years and culminates in the opportunity to put a teaching portfolio together for consideration for AFHEA status.

As someone beginning their teaching career, having a teaching mentor, an experienced member of the teaching team supporting my training by observing me teaching, was invaluable. If I found myself in a tricky or unexpected teaching situation, I knew there was someone who had likely had similar experiences who could give me advice and suggestions.

When I started teaching, I found that I really enjoyed it and so started to take on additional teaching opportunities and attend more professional development seminars. By the end of my two years, there was no doubt in my mind that I would submit my application for Associate Fellow status in the summer of 2019. I was delighted to be awarded this and continued to take on more opportunities and reflect on what I had learnt.

At this point it had been suggested that I apply for the category of Fellow, and while I was tempted, I felt that was for more senior staff, not for PhD students. After having a chat with the co-ordinator in my institution however, I came to realise that Fellowships are about recognising your teaching experiences, not your career level.


One element I really enjoyed was the reflective statements and thinking about why I teach the way I do. It was conversations during this process that made me realise that my attitude towards compassionate and inclusive teaching came from my own experiences as an undergraduate with a health condition.

Throughout this time, I was supported by highly compassionate teachers who helped me find ways to succeed despite a series of barriers that tried to get in the way. This has driven me to work hard to ensure that my students are given every opportunity to succeed, in order to inspire them in the same way that I was inspired.

This insight into my own experiences and how it comes through in my teaching enabled me to try to make compassionate and inclusive teaching the core theme of my application. Once I could see the ‘story’ in my portfolio and application, it helped me pick out the key experiences I wanted to discuss to show how I met the various values and standards.


When I was told in February that my application had been successful, honestly, I did a little jump for joy.

I knew the recognition would look good on my CV and that it may help with future job applications that have a teaching qualification as a requirement, but it was more than that. The insight into my teaching that I developed while putting my application together is just as important as the letters I can put after my name, and it is something I still think about now while teaching and preparing materials.

The realisation that other people also have confidence in my abilities and approach towards teaching was also a lovely reminder to stand tall and embrace my own approach.

I would highly recommend the process of applying for HEA fellowship, regardless of the category. The camaraderie of other people applying at the same time is amazing, and the things you learn from reflection and discussing your teaching style with others is invaluable.

My tips for other PhD students considering applying:

  1. Don’t doubt yourself! If people are giving you opportunities to teach or support teaching, then they have a level of confidence in you. Use this to remind yourself whenever you feel any imposter syndrome brewing!
  2. But also be nice to yourself. Sometimes things don’t quite work the way you want them to, and that’s okay. Reflect on what happened and see how you can improve it for next time.
  3. Sometimes it can be tricky deciding which teaching activities will accurately show how you have met the PSF. It can be really helpful to talk this through with someone who understands the framework and share ideas.


Fellowship demonstrates a personal and institutional commitment to professionalism in learning and teaching in higher education. Across four categories, from Associate to Principal, Fellowship provides individuals with recognition of their practice, impact and leadership of teaching and learning. Visit our Fellowship page for more information and how to apply.

Ashleigh Johnstone is a Cognitive Neuroscience PhD Student from the School of Psychology at Bangor University. She has teaching roles both in this department and the Bangor University International College.

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