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An unexpected journey to HEA Fellowship

23 Jan 2017 | Dr Melody de Laat Dr Melody de Laat, QUT

This blog was originally posted on the former Higher Education Academy website.

Dr Melody de Laat is a clinical and research veterinarian at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) with over 20 years' experience in both clinical veterinary practice and veterinary research. Her research interests encompass disorders of metabolism and nutrition, incretin biology, endocrine dysfunction, equine lameness, veterinary pharmacology and Australian wild horse health and ecology.

In this blog she describes how she tackled the challenge of a growing commitment to teaching, and her journey to HEA Fellowship.

During my career as a clinical veterinary scientist, I never considered myself be a teacher. I always felt strongly that being competent and capable meant being a diligent student of scientific and medical progress. This attitude was only reinforced by my progress through a PhD and post-doctoral fellowship. However, somewhere along this journey I realised that being a research scientist was as much about teaching, as it was about learning. Teaching myself; teaching and learning with my colleagues and helping other researchers.

Initially I found this realisation alarming! What did I know about teaching methods and philosophies? I definitely felt that to be an effective educator in the sciences, knowledge of my discipline needed to be paired with an understanding of effective teaching practice. So reflecting on my growing cohort of postgraduate students and increasing teaching responsibilities in our undergraduate biology program, I decided that perhaps I had better put my student hat back on and undertake a graduate certificate in academic practice (GCAP). The decision to enrol stemmed from a need to ensure that I was providing the best possible experience for my biology students.

QUT’s GCAP program was fully aligned with ‘descriptor two’ of the UK Professional Standards Framework  (the set of standards, managed by the Higher Education Academy (HEA), which supports initial and continuing CPD for staff engaged in teaching) and that helped me to make connections between the course content, my own experiences, and the professional standards that the higher education sector developed to underpin effective teaching practice. Through GCAP I was also connected to a diverse cohort of peers eager to improve their teaching practice. These colleagues have opened up new pathways to further progress my approach to teaching, and have enabled me to engage in scholarship of my teaching and learning (I can’t help being a student). These research projects working with Students as Partners are exciting, rewarding and have helped me to feel comfortable where once I would have been apprehensive.

Beyond the provision of partnerships and foundational skills, GCAP has encouraged me to continue to investigate, question and improve my teaching practice, just as I do daily as a research scientist. Attainment of Fellowship of the HEA was an important next step in this process, one that was wholly supported by QUT. The continued support, structure and emphasis on professional practice provided by the HEA underpin my commitment to ongoing quality assurance for my practice. Further, being part of an institution that has such a strong commitment to learning and teaching in all its disciplines facilitates ongoing progress in academic practice. I now feel equipped for, and capable of, continuing my journey as a teacher (and student!).

Ultimately, I want to ignite a passion for science, in my case animal health, and biology in our students. Graduates from the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines are declining at a time when we need bright young minds committed to solving some of our biggest questions, and driving innovation in our fast-paced world. I hope that my approach of encouraging systematic enquiry, prompting discussion and modelling the process for students (e.g. outlining my own critical thinking process rather that solving problems for them directly) will enable them to get more from their learning opportunities.

QUT – Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia 

Find out more about Fellowship.

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