Is it really worth obtaining a Senior Fellowship (SF) and if so, how should one achieve it? These were two key questions that I had before starting my SF journey. The purpose of this blog is to reflect on my experience and share some tips that may enable you to gain a Senior Fellowship. I applied for the fellowship through the Professional Recognition and Enhancement Scheme for Teaching (PRESTige), a scheme for professional recognition at the University of Westminster that provides training and the award the D1 through D3 categories of Advance HE Fellowship. I started this scheme on 11 January 2022 and submitted the portfolio on 6 May 2022.
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Why is it important?
I applied to undertake a Senior Fellowship because of two key benefits: first, to gain a formal recognition and appreciation on my leadership role and contribution to teaching excellence in higher education. Moreover, this experience improved my motivation and sense of belonging in my current institution. Second, to improve my career progression in HE. It is becoming increasingly evident that having a Senior Fellowship is an essential requirement in job descriptions for HE institutions worldwide.
After reflection on my application process and reading different blogs about other colleagues’ SF journeys, the following comprises five tips that applicants for the fellowship may find useful.
1. Complete the Fellowship category tool and understand that Senior Fellowship is not about seniority but level of influence
First, you need to identify the fellowship category that meets your current practice and level of influence using the Advance HE Fellowship category tool. I had to answer 18 questions about my teaching practice and level of influence, then I received a PDF report with a summary of my responses and the fellowship category that matched my current practice. I would suggest to any applicant to record in a document all the questions and options available, including your answers, as it will help you to identify the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training, and leadership activities that you will need to achieve in order to apply for the next fellowship category. Consequently, the Advance HE Fellowship category tool represents an opportunity to map the competences and leadership activities that will help your career progression.
When reading some blogs about fellowship, I found that categories of fellowship did not necessarily match the job titles or level of seniority. Instead, a Senior Fellowship focuses on the level of expertise and influence in other practitioners. This level of influence can be through a formal and informal leadership role. When I applied for Senior Fellowship, I was a lecturer and not a senior one, but I reflected on my leadership role as module leader, and my informal leadership role of influencing my colleagues at university level when using technical tools during online learning. Moreover, you do not have to be a Fellow to apply for Senior Fellowship as the fellowship categories are non-hierarchical and not sequential.
2. Talk to other colleagues
The second tip is to talk to other colleagues who hold a Senior or Principal Fellowship to gather some advice regarding your intentions. This will help to build your confidence and get some input for the application. Moreover, it is important to engage in training provided by your HE institution. For example, PRESTige provided past applications that helped me in identifying a structure and artefacts. My internal adviser gave me valuable feedback to tailor my application and for career development. The participation in writing retreats gave me the opportunity to structure my reflections, the selection of artefacts and receiving feedback on my application from the instructor and participants, which was very helpful for improving it.
3. Plan / structure: to map ideas and theories
Third, organise the structure of your application before you start writing the reflective account of practice (RAP). Every learner has different learning preferences. As I am a visual learner, I need to use maps, graphs and diagrams to conceptualise theories as well as to develop and demonstrate knowledge. One key tool provided by PRESTige is the ‘planning document’ that helped me to structure the areas of activity, the examples of practice, artefacts, the core knowledge, professional values, and pedagogic literature. After mapping all this information into short bullet points, the feedback that I received from my adviser and from the writing retreats helped me to narrow down the examples, artefacts and theories that I wanted to apply.
4. Be patient and manage your time
Fourth, you need to be patient when working on your application. I had to dedicate a few hours per day, even on weekends, to complete it. For the PRESTige scheme’s artefacts, I created a Word document that gathered evidence of my leadership role as a guest speaker, including presentation slides, video recordings, padlets, and polls. It took me some time to review different sources, such as my CV, Outlook calendar, tweets, and LinkedIn posts.
My reflection on each area of activity was structured in three sections, for which I used the following subheadings to signpost the reader: my ‘leadership role’ section that focuses on specific actions that I led at school, university, and national levels. The ‘impact’ section showcases different qualitative and quantitative indicators that measure the level of influence of my actions, including written feedback from students or staff members. In case of video recordings, I used the number of views or downloads. In the ‘what comes next’ section, I analysed the action plan that will improve my competencies and current practice.
5. Be creative in the use of different types of artefacts
Fifth, it is recommended to use traditional and non-traditional artefacts to demonstrate your leadership role. I used written documents to demonstrate expertise in course / module design, the revalidation panel’s comments, the module handbook, assessment briefings, lecture slides, etc. In addition, I used short video recordings (5-15 minutes), images, blogs, podcasts, etc. To analyse the level of impact on the teaching team and students, I used emails from students and colleagues, the Student Module Evaluation (SME), padlets, polls, tweets, audio recordings, etc.
Writing my application for a Senior Fellowship was a challenging path, and it was worth doing for personal and professional reasons. If you are about to start your application for SF, or if you have completed one, which of these tips helped in your journey? And are there any new ones that you would recommend?
Dr Gustavo Espinoza Ramos is the course leader of MA Management, the first online course at the School of Management and Marketing at the University of Westminster. He has also been a module leader of subjects related to sustainability and strategy at the Westminster Business School.