This blog was originally posted on the former Higher Education Academy website.
Alison Organ is course leader for French and German and teaches modules in French from Beginners to Proficiency level for the Joint Honours degree in Languages, as well as the level 6 'Professional Linguist' module. She also supervises students’ level 6 research projects in French and German. Since September 2015 Alison has been course leader of the MA in Applied Linguistics: Translation programme, and the MFL secondary School Direct PGCE course. She also provides intensive courses in language upskilling for students in the Primary education department.
My path to academia was not through the orthodox research route; in fact, I would not be appointed to my current post now, as I do not hold a PhD. I am now a senior lecturer in Languages, teaching both at undergraduate and Masters level, as well as on the institution-wide language programme and on a School Direct PGCE. However, I started my career in secondary school teaching, then took a career break to raise a family and gained the Chartered Institute of Linguists’ Diploma in Translation. Having worked as a freelance translator and language tutor for several years, I joined a university department in 2003 as an hourly-paid teaching fellow, delivering seminars in French on a Business and Language programme. From there I gradually worked my way to my current full-time lecturing position.
York St John University has developed a dialogic route to Fellowship, and set itself the aim of 100% membership, which it achieved a few years ago. The dialogic route involves meetings with a mentor and a ‘live’ assessment whereby the applicant sets out their grounds for application in an e-portfolio, and discusses them with a panel of assessors. Having found my way into higher education via secondary school teaching and professional translation, I was still struggling to see myself as a fully-fledged academic worthy of the name. Both the mentor meetings and the assessment itself made me realise how much I had achieved and gave me a sense of entitlement which was hugely confidence-boosting. I was also encouraged by my assessor to embark on action research, which paved the way to Senior Fellowship a few years later.
I gained my Fellowship in 2012 and my Senior Fellowship in 2016, and I started mentoring in 2014 and took part in my first assessment in 2016. I now feel confident to lead assessments if my co-assessor is less experienced than I am, and have also assessed some paper applications. I volunteered to become a mentor, and subsequently an assessor, because I wanted to give something back to the process to make sure colleagues could benefit in the same way. On top of that, it is always interesting to gain an insight into their good practice, and it widens the pool of colleagues I know in other Schools. I have also gained experience and confidence in mentoring and assessing which enhances my own skill set.
When it was suggested to me that I should apply for Senior Fellowship, my initial reaction on reading the dimensions of practice was that, because I did not hold a leadership post such as Head of Department, I would not meet the requirements. I was reassured by the Academic Development team that Senior Fellowship was less about leadership in the traditional sense and more about influence and impact. Knowing that I was acknowledged by my peers and by the HEA as a ‘pedagogic innovator’ and for ‘leading from the middle’ has meant a lot to me personally, and played a vital role in my development as an academic. The approach to fellowship at York St John is highly collaborative and supportive, not only during the application process but also afterwards, involving Fellows in the work of the Academic Development Directorate and encouraging their onward trajectory.
It must be said that I believe the dialogic route was highly significant in my positive experience of the process. I welcome the fact that, even if applicants at our university choose to apply using the traditional written route, they are assigned a mentor and encouraged to discuss their evidence, as it was this dialogue, as well as the final assessment, which really brought it home to me how far I had come. I would be interested to know whether colleagues in other institutions have similarly positive experiences of either route, or whether they favour one route over the other.
Find out more about Fellowship.