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My Fellowship Story

18 Dec 2020 | Dr Kate Cuthbert "It is good practice to layer evidence of impact" – Dr Kate Cuthbert, Senior Academic Practice Consultant, Nottingham Trent University, discusses the path to Principal Fellowship

The article was first published by TILT, Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching, an institution-wide community of practice that recognises inspirational teaching at Nottingham Trent University.

Whilst a lecturer at the University of Derby I completed a PG Cert in Learning and Teaching (with Fellowship tagged on). I still refer to the action research I carried out in the final module of that course. I explored the use of creative activities for teaching abstract concepts (way ahead of serious lego!). I had pharmacists and nurses building three-dimensional models of how they prescribed medicines (Blue Peter had nothing on us).

Then came a long drawn out period when my Senior Fellowship submission got half drafted, bounced around, got put on the shelf, got very dusty, sometimes saw the light of day but then got put back again. I get procrastination, I understand competing priorities but if I am honest the Senior Fellowship could have been achieved 100 times over. It wasn’t about enough evidence but rather the discipline to sit down and write up (sound familiar?!)

So fast forward a number of years during which I had moved from lecturing to more faculty wide roles as Interprofessional Learning lead and educational development projects such as the Accreditation of Prior Learning for Zimbabwe Open University. I then moved from an institution to working nationally for the Higher Education Academy (HEA) as a discipline lead alongside carrying out whole institutional change projects commissioned by HEA subscribers. With about 10 years of this type of educational project work (and three children later) I moved to Nottingham Trent University (NTU) to lead the Professional Recognition Scheme. The irony of that “unsubmitted” Senior Fellowship wasn’t lost on me. And so here began a mission – one that couldn’t end up back on the bookshelf gathering dust.

However, my practice had shifted from one which represented D3 as Senior Fellow (where I was influencing the practice of others) to strategic leadership of learning and teaching. So the Principal Fellowship challenge was ahead.

What did I learn?

Lots about the process and about me as an educator and professional. While the Principal Fellowship deed was done back in July, I am still reflecting on my learning from the experience. That’s no great surprise given my role at NTU is supporting colleagues as they claim for fellowship. Anyway, here are a few headlines which will hopefully help as you build your fellowship claim.

A PF Voice

Thinking and curating is time well spent when assembling a Principal Fellowship submission. I spent a long time becoming familiar from the D4 descriptors. I think in part this was about me developing the confidence to claim Principal Fellowship and taking ownership of the descriptors. I had to find my 'PF voice'. I played about with what strategic leadership looked like in my practice – that’s going to look different in every submission –there’s not one size fits all. Getting myself to that authentic place was certainly helped along by having conversations with colleagues who knew my work and knew me. One conversation sticks in mind that gave me something to latch onto as I grew into my PF voice. My colleague’s advice was to always keep in mind a persona that reflected my take on academic leadership, how I worked with others and what my contribution was. Please don’t laugh too loudly – I am sharing this with friends right!? But as I wrote I kept in mind a kind of ,Mary Portas of Learning and Teaching'! Ok, so there is an element of tongue in cheek but really this helped me be bolder in my claims, it helped me sustain a consistent thread in my narrative and inspired my writing with the quirkiness that kept me writing! It does help to take you away from describing roles and take you back to the how do you do things and what has been achieved because of you. So, who will your fellowship persona be?

Evidence of Impact

Collecting evidence of your impact is a crucial part of the process. Certainly, for Principal Fellowship you will be referring to strategic and policy documents you had a hand in creating. But that’s only part of the impact story. As with most fellowship submissions, it is good practice to layer evidence of impact. One layer maybe about pointing to the products of your labour, the next layer will perhaps be about the difference these products had to learning experience. This “making a difference” layer can be achieved in a number of ways, metrics that illustrate transformation or bringing in the voice of those who have benefited from your practice. This is where the cringing perhaps begins. Asking colleagues and your networks about how you have contributed to learning and teaching is a rich activity and one that is done all the time. As one colleague said to me “Shy bairns get nowt”! However, if you are using soundbites from others it is a good idea to be very specific with what you are asking from them. Share with them the descriptors you are claiming against. Ask them specifically to address an area of impact or the evidence you are seeking to provide the reviewers. Invite them to testify what a difference you have made to their practice, invite them to share any metrics that demonstrates transformation, invite them to be very specific what a difference your work has made to student learning in HE. This will then produce soundbites that are fit for each part of your submission and are distinguishable from one another. Be mindful of how you use evidence and the purpose of that evidence. For both Senior and Principal Fellowship there is a mandate to portray sustained practice but also currency of practice. So really consider how evidence and experience builds on each other. For example, I undertook a large piece of work for the Tavistock and Portman Trust. Once this was completed as a consultant, I left them to it! But five years after that work I was randomly in the audience at a conference hearing their Director of Learning and Teaching discuss how this project had provided the foundation for their current learning provision and development strategy. So, whilst that piece of work would have featured in my submission the golden nugget was the breadcrumb trail back from my consultancy work to the present day. I could establish a sense of longevity and legacy of impact.

Nailing the category

Your submission must sit squarely in the category you are claiming. Yes, your practice and you as a person will naturally flex into D2, D3, D4 as the circumstances dictate but your claim must not slip into D3 if you are claiming D4. Otherwise you are creating doubt. My mentors red penned the material that was operational rather than strategic. This was hard. My leadership experience and approach weren’t always formal, and many times practice/grassroots led. Therefore, I had to position this as part of my strategic approach, evidencing how doing created the pull towards realising policy/strategy. But more importantly this was about selecting the right material for the claim and being single-minded about what was D4 rather than what was nice to share. This leads to another learning point about the importance at D4 about the Record of Educational Impact. The clue here is really in the title – stop yourself from providing a CV! A list of roles isn’t what is asked for but I fell into that trap. Reading advice from Lydia Arnold helped me cluster my achievements in such a way that demonstrated institutional/sector impact of my work.  [See Advance HE's Fellowship Category Tool, Ed.] 

I’ve got tips aplenty! Even more so because I was referred on my first attempt and had to refine (ok read here rewrite) my submission. What got it there was being transparent with colleagues and sharing the pain. Fellowship can be lonely so it is great to have some buddies to help you craft. It is hard to share writing about yourself but getting over it is worth it!

What will I take away from the process of writing up my application...yes there is the effort required but it is a great way to revisit past work and importantly the people I worked with along the way.  

Are you thinking of applying for Senior or Principal Fellowship? Writing Retreats offer 1:1 peer coaching and expert analysis, the space and time to process and craft your narrative for your submission. Find out about our upcoming virtual retreats here.

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