Skip to main content

Supporting Senior Fellow applicants through Writing Retreats

30 Oct 2019 | Raj Dhimar Raj Dhimar, PGCE, SFHEA, Fellowship and Awards Advisor, Advance HE has been supporting prospective Senior Fellow applicants since 2011. In this blog, he offers a comprehensive guide to the retreats.

Many higher education professionals considering Senior Fellow are well supported and guided by Advance HE member institutions through their accredited programmes. As we continue to grow interest in Fellowship globally, inevitably there are some individuals who for a range of reasons are unable to access Advance HE accredited provision and work independently (usually without any support or guidance) on their Senior Fellow applications. These are likely to be higher education professionals from non-member institutions, or they may be higher education professionals who have gained an awareness of the opportunity to be professionally recognised for their effective teaching and/or learning support practice in higher education.

Senior Fellow Writing retreats

Advance HE organises Senior Fellow Writing Retreats for prospective direct applicants aspiring to gain Senior Fellow. Since 2011, I have supported prospective applicants in their goal to build their evidence of successful and effective practice, so that they can meet the requirements for Senior Fellow. Each writing retreat provides time and space to think, discuss and reflect on your professional practice, away from your busy day-to-day working lives.

The objectives of the writing retreats are to:

  • enable you to engage in critical reflection about your professional practice in higher education
  • help you understand the expectations for what is required to become a Senior Fellow
  • provide opportunities to share issues and discuss experiences with colleagues in relation to your Senior Fellowship
  • facilitate space and time to progress your thinking and draft your application

Each event starts with a short group session to explore your practice and expectations, followed by active engagement in developing your own application. You will have the opportunity to engage in one-to-one advice to discuss your application.

If you decide to participate in an Advance HE Senior Fellow writing retreat; here are some pointers to help you make the most of the day.

Senior Fellow application requirements

Let’s be clear about the application requirements. The Senior fellow application is 6000 words and comprises of a Reflective Account of Practice (RAP) and two Case Studies. I would recommend a split of 2000 words for the RAP and 2000 words for each Case Study.

The RAP is your professional reflective commentary of your practice in your higher education career (this is a selection of relevant examples of your practice commensurate with Descriptor 3 of the UK Professional Standards Framework 2011 (PSF). Your examples at Senior Fellow category are likely to be amalgamated under topics of responsibility or practice themes. In each example, you should explain what you have done, why you have done it that way, how you did it, how you know it was effective, and what changed.

The two Case Studies should explain significant contributions you have made to learning and teaching in higher education. The Case Studies should explain how you meet the requirements of Descriptor 3 of the PSF, and at least one of them should be based on meeting criterion D3.VII, “Successful co-ordination, support, supervision, management, and/or mentoring of others in relation to teaching and learning” (page 6, UKPSF). In good Senior Fellow applications, this criterion is often demonstrated and embedded throughout an application.

Preparing for the writing retreat

Fellowship Category Tool

Complete the Fellowship Category Tool to enable you to determine whether Senior Fellow is the most appropriate category for you. Use the outcomes to explore the possible focus of your Senior Fellow application. Begin to map and plan your application; the Case Studies are a good place to start.


Develop your knowledge and understanding about the Senior Fellowship requirements by accessing your guidance and application pack in advance of the event. The pack includes a number of files including: a copy of the Professional Standards Framework for teaching and support learning 2011 (PSF), Introduction to Fellowship, What is the PSF, Dimensions of the Framework, Senior Fellow Applicant guidance and template, Senior Fellow Supporting Statement guidance and template, frequently asked questions (FAQs) and the Code of Practice.

Dimensions of the Framework

The Dimensions of the Framework is a great resource which can help raise your awareness and understanding of the possible practice that can be used as evidence across the PSF Dimensions in the context of Senior Fellow. Take the opportunity to make sense of all the guidance and bring your queries for discussion on the day.

Collate documentation

Collate and note the value and impact of any professional self-assessment surveys, performance development reviews/appraisals. Consider how these enable you to evidence your higher education practice and effectiveness in the context of Senior Fellowship.

Supporting Statements

Identify two colleagues and request each of them to provide you with a supporting statement to authenticate and corroborate your practice. The two colleagues should be peers/colleagues who are able to act as referees in support of your Senior Fellow application and who are able to comment on your record of effectiveness in teaching and learning. They will have known knowledge of the effectiveness and success of your work. The referees’ role is to corroborate, verify and substantiate your application for Senior Fellowship in the context of Descriptor 3 of the UKPSF. All referees should be familiar with the UKPSF and have sight of your application before submission. Supporting statement guidance and a template for those acting as referees is provided in your guidance and application pack.

At the writing retreat

Engage in discussions with other participants about their practice and what examples and evidence they are using for their application. Kick-off ideas about your plans and approaches to your application. Raise points about your Case Study ideas/choices and acknowledge other colleagues’ practice.

Use the mind-mapping or documenting tools/techniques available on the day to help you plan, create and consolidate your Senior Fellow evidence – e.g. thinking and mapping grids, Case Study templates, etc. These tools can be great for enabling you to gather and consolidate your practice (which can later be restructured and prioritised in terms of relevance to Senior Fellow) and these often prove to be beneficial for other professional purposes, e.g. publication, research, appraisal and career progression.

Application tips

In your application, ensure that you position yourself as an “influencer” of teaching and learning in higher education.  For example, your influence within existing professional bodies, associations and/or leadership development groups for various activities within or external to your organisation may well be such examples to successfully reflect the Senior Fellow criteria. Centralise and make clear your role and contributions in each of the examples you provide.

Your application should demonstrate the quality and depth of your professional practice at Senior Fellow. This is much more important than the quantity of examples you provide – so don’t try and cram too much in. You should make deliberate and selective choices as to which examples you include and which ones you do not. Consolidate your examples together and articulate the shared characteristics which enabled you to successfully lead that work and demonstrate the impact of your practice. Explain the examples of your professional practice experience and its current impact on others’ professional practice and/or on the wider learning and teaching context in HE.

Think about and make explicit in your application, how you have used specific scholarship/literature/professional knowledge/evidence to underpin your practice at Senior Fellow category (e.g. books, articles, plans, guidance, journals, papers, subject material that informs your learning and teaching practice at Senior Fellow category). The use of professional practice/discipline/subject-based scholarship in teaching and/or supporting learning is a great way to demonstrate how your practice has been underpinned.

Ensure that the examples included in your application are sustained. This means they should have occurred over a period of time (usually over the last 3-5 years) and could be considered through framing your evidence through the perspective of “cycles of practice”, “continuing initiatives” or “ongoing development”. This will help you to create a coherent and integrated application which shows value of your work over time.

Engage with the 1-2-1 advice available at the writing retreat to seek clarification on any issues you are grappling with, e.g. quantity/quality of evidence, the nature of your evidence, selecting appropriate Case Studies, understanding appropriate level and depth of explanation and evidencing impact and success.

Engage with the sample excerpts and applications available to support your own understanding of the application requirements. Excerpts include reviewer annotations to guide you about the type of evidence included, and how reviewers’ comment and judge the evidence in an application. This is very helpful for triangulating applicant guidance, with reviewer guidance and judgement forms.

The writing retreat includes the benefit of receiving development feedback, on one occasion, on your draft application – this is particularly powerful as it shows you where your evidence is meeting the Senior Fellow category and where there is room for improvement. This feedback is key to enabling you to understand where are doing well and where enhancements/improvements can be made. In addition, it provides a progression point beyond the writing retreat to support completion and final submission.

Finally, after the retreat, I advise that you create your own action plan to include time scales for completion and submission. Take practical steps to block out time for the next stage of writing and set a completion date. If you face any barriers, take steps to overcome them. When you are successful, you should celebrate your success. Many successful fellows go on support and promote continuing professional development in teaching and learning for other colleagues.

I wish you every success with your Senior Fellow application and may see you at a Senior Fellow Writing retreat!


Between now and July 2020, we are facilitating a number of Senior Fellow Writing Retreats designed for those working on their Senior Fellow applications, book your place now. 


Keep up to date - Sign up to Advance HE communications

Our monthly newsletter contains the latest news from Advance HE, updates from around the sector, links to articles sharing knowledge and best practice and information on our services and upcoming events. Don't miss out, sign up to our newsletter now.

Sign up to our enewsletter