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"The shift to online teaching pushed me to re-examine what inclusivity means"

14 Oct 2021 | Rania Vamvaka As we reach the milestone of 150,000 Fellowships awarded worldwide, PhD student, Academic Tutor and Associate Fellow at Cardiff University, Rania Vamvaka, discusses achieving Associate Fellow status and the effect this has had on her work in LGBTQ+ inclusivity at the institution.

1. Do you remember where you were when you found out you had achieved Associate Fellow recognition?

I found out I achieved the Associate Fellowship recognition a few minutes before starting my field work. On that particular day, I was interviewing a lesbian asylum seeker whose life’s ambition is to attend university. Once I exited the field, I shared the good news with her, and we discussed how I can help her get into an academic pathway, when she receives her refugee status.

2. What did receiving the award mean to you personally?

Receiving the award means that my teaching practices are recognised as effective and emphasises my professional and personal development within higher education. This award is especially meaningful, as I acquired it whilst powering through academic strikes and a global pandemic. Myself and my colleagues who undertook the training/submitted their portfolio at the same time as me, we had to re-configure and adapt the Fellowship’s core values to align with university as well as governmental lines relating to remote teaching.

3. What/who inspired you to apply for Associate Fellowship?

Prior to applying for the Associate Fellowship, I wanted to find out whether it would be the right step for me, given that is it a commitment on top of my PhD and academic tutoring. I had a very inspiring conversation with Dr Michael Willett, the programme director for the AHSS 'Learning to Teach in Higher Education' course at Cardiff University, who answered all of my questions, and re-assured me that I would have all the support to succeed achieving the Fellowship. Dr Willett was next to me at every step of way, by providing useful feedback on my presentations, portfolio as well as answering questions regarding best practice.

4. How did the reflective process affect you and your teaching practice?

Reflective teaching practice allows me to link and tailor my teaching to my students’ learning and development needs. ‘Learning to Teach’ was my first and only formal teaching training. The reflective process has made me think of the seminar space as a place where diverse communities, that would not normally socialise outside the classroom, come together. I started thinking of how I can curate a space where I show respect and appreciation for diverse learners, in a balanced manner that prioritises a value-based learning. I use gender neutral and inclusive language, as well as avoid contested terms such as BAME, when discussing issues that some students might find uncomfortable, such as colonialism and transphobia. I continuously reflect upon my practice and values. Being reflective about my teaching has now become a subconscious practice and I have seen positive effects in the students’ learning experiences.

5. What impact has the award had on you and how do you hope it will impact you in the future?

Climbing the academic career ladder is especially hard for migrant queer women of colour and I believe that Associate Fellowship will be the key to my employment. By achieving Associate Fellowship, I will showcase to prospective employers that I uphold the required professional values and I meet the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching in higher education, thus allowing me to enter the competitive job market with a chance of getting employed.

6. What are you most proud of in your academic career?

I have been involved in various research groups, such as GASP (gender and sexuality group) within the School of Social Sciences. I have been organising and chairing various DTP-funded events highlighting the work of LGBTQ+ researchers, discussing the role of race within academia, celebrating women’s academic achievements and furthering debates on global migration. Such events are well-attended and play a key role in building bridges between academia, the Welsh Government and the third sector.

7. How has the shift to blended or online teaching impacted your practice?

I always try to be as inclusive as possible in my practice. The shift to online teaching in many ways pushed me to re-examine what inclusivity means to me in a virtual space and helped me redefine my point of view. For example, in order to make my trans and non-binary students feel safe and seen, I include my pronouns next to my name, and encourage all of my students to do the same, if they want to. Also, in order to accommodate my neuro-diverse students, I organise the virtual student rooms in a way where they feel comfortable in participating or staying silent – depending on how they feel on the day of the seminar.

8. Away from academia, what do you do to relax/have fun?

Besides being a PhD student, and academic tutor, I am also an LGBTQ activist, advocating for the rights of queer refugees and asylum seekers in Wales. Recently, I have been working alongside the Welsh Government for the LGBT Action Plan which aims to make Wales a safe, welcoming home for all LGBT people. I cannot say that queer activism is relaxing or fun, but it is certainly worthwhile and rewarding and it gives me a sense of purpose. When I’m not wearing my activist hat, I enjoy taking long hikes in the Welsh countryside, reading crime fiction, baking (and eating) cakes.


Rania Vamvaka (she/her) is a Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded Doctoral Researcher/Academic Tutor in the School of Social Sciences (SOCSI), Cardiff University. Her research focuses on the experiences of LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in Wales. Rania is the Co-convenor of Gender and Sexuality research group, based in SOCSI. Rania is a key organiser/activist for the queer PoC displaced community in Wales and works closely with various third sector organisations, such as Stonewall Cymru, as well as the Welsh Government. In her spare time, Rania like hiking, baking and eating cakes.

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