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A librarian’s Senior Fellowship journey

20 Dec 2022 | Donna Gundry Donna Gundry, the Head of Library Services and chartered fellow librarian from Arts University Plymouth writes about obtaining her Senior Fellowship.

As a librarian working within the UK’s newest specialist arts university, becoming the first member of staff to qualify as an Advance HE Senior Fellow since we were awarded university title feels like a great achievement in terms of my own professional development, but it also helps to raise aspirations for my colleagues and the community of students who we are here to support. 

My journey towards becoming a Senior Fellow involved a lot of hard work, late nights, and rewarding work with colleagues and peers to support one another. Ultimately, it became a very rewarding and silo-removing experience which I would recommend to any librarian who has a teaching remit within their role as it provides acknowledgement for a skill set many librarians have. 

For most librarians, the obvious and linear route to a Fellowship is through the Charter Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). However, for a librarian working in Higher Education and managing a department or team, there is another route through Advance HE. Being able to achieve my Fellowship is something that I am incredibly proud of, making me feel that I am on par with my fellow academics. 

I obtained my CILIP chartership (2013) and then CILIP fellowship (2021). Working towards both qualifications gave me an opportunity to write reflectively, which became essential skills when applying for my Senior Fellowship. In both previous experiences, teaching was a minor element that contributed to my overall portfolio, with more of a focus on service development and line management featuring in both my CILIP fellowship and my Advance HE Fellowship. Both my CILIP and Advance HE fellowships have provided time for reflection and opportunities to better understand my management style, teaching delivery and most importantly, myself. 

At the start of my application, I worked as Head of Library Services at Plymouth College of Art, an independent Higher Education Institute, but as I worked towards my fellowship we were awarded university title and became Arts University Plymouth. This was a long time in the making and the announcement created a new energy on the campus. It was a highly exciting time for staff and students, but definitely added to my pressure to succeed as the first generation to achieve Senior Fellowship status under the new university title.  

My journey  

I was one of around 10 individuals from the university to be allocated a place on the scheme. Because my CILIP fellowship involved a working relationship between myself and a mentor, I wanted for my Advance HE fellowship to be different. Alongside receiving the support and guidance of my mentor, I also wanted to create a peer support group for my colleagues who were pursuing fellowship at the same time. I created a fortnightly lunchtime support group session, with each session being attended by about 50% of the individuals submitting. 

Having an organisational support group meant that we were able to keep on track of our progress and meet our deadlines, as well as acting as a sounding board for others and sharing ideas and encouragement. The group was very open to supporting each other and we frequently shared what we had written with others in the group. The process of writing provided me with an opportunity to work alongside academic staff who I had not worked with before. Having the academic year as a deadline for completion also meant that we were able to plan our writing and ensure that this was prioritised at key points during the year.  

The structure of Descriptor 3 supported the flow of my writing and enabled me to reflect and be specific about particular areas of either teaching and learning support or leadership. I approached this with two lenses: one, how did the activity support teaching; and two, what was the leadership element, though some evidence was more strongly weighted to one aspect than another. Thinking in such a manner provided a framework for my writing.  

My tips for an easier completion  

  • First, create a group of others who are going through the same process if possible, because they will understand the pressures and the importance of what you are trying to achieve.  

  • Read everything before you start.  

  • For me it was key to make bullet point notes on each of the Dimensions of the Framework, this meant I had a clear direct and lead of them.  

  • Then doing the same for the Descriptor 3 criteria, which will provide you with a backbone for your writing. Despite changing mine as I went through, it was really important for me to be clear that I have enough evidence to support my application. 

  • Break it down into manageable steps. I found that having a deadline meant that I knew by Christmas, having started in September I needed to have both case studies ready, so I could focus on the Account of Professional Practice. 

Support for Fellowship applications

We have a range of services available for those looking for additional support with their Fellowship, Senior Fellowship and Principal Fellowship applications. Find out more.


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