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Using ‘Senior Fellow’ with pride

04 Nov 2021 | Ellen Spender Ellen Spender, Senior Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Accounting at Swansea University, shares her journey to Senior Fellowship and offers advice to those considering applying.

'I don’t know where to start.'  We are all individuals with our own unique strategies, personalities, achievements and stories, achieving SF enables us to tell our own personal story."

Ellen Spender, Senior Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Accounting, Swansea University

Where I began 

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”  Plato 

My teaching journey began in 1997 when, during my PGCE studies, I was asked at short notice to deliver to a class of professional accounting students. I also did not realise that being asked to cover at short notice was to become a recurring theme throughout my teaching career and has enabled me to deliver a broad range of accounting and finance modules ever since. 

In 2015, after a number of years out of higher education, I was contacted at short notice by Swansea University and asked if I would temporarily cover a module due to a sickness absence and, following a period of teaching part-time in the School of Management, in 2018 I accepted a full-time contract. It was then that I first heard about Fellowship and I decided to apply and was delighted to achieve at my first submission.  

The process enabled me to reflect on my teaching and, following this achievement, I was awarded the Best Lecturer in Accounting and Finance Award in 2018 and also received a nomination for the National Inspire Tutor Award. Achieving Fellowship encouraged me to reflect on the apparent success of my teaching strategies of placing positive student engagement at the forefront of my teaching in order to promote active learning and, I don’t believe it was a coincidence that I received my teaching award in the same year. 

Student engagement: a case study 

The application process also encouraged me to think about why I teach and the importance of encouraging a good relationship with students in order to increase student engagement. I began to think about applying for Senior Fellowship but found the idea of concentrating on two case studies quite daunting. I started to ask myself what do I do that makes a difference to both students and colleagues and what evidence did I have to show my impact? 

In pursuit of evidence 

I began to investigate achieving SF and realised that crucial to success was indeed collecting evidence and again found this a little daunting. I had to think carefully about choosing the topics of my case studies and once I had decided I found that, without realising, I already had amassed much of the evidence I needed. For anyone considering applying, the gathering of evidence will depend on the subject of the case studies you decide to discuss. For me, one was obvious as I was a Deputy Undergraduate Programme Director which meant that I already had much of the evidence required such as evidence from meeting attendance, working groups, changes implemented, emails and the impact of my role on the university was easily obtainable. 

For my second case study where I decided to discuss my role in engaging my students I felt that obtaining evidence may be more difficult. This turned out not to be the case as I had many thank you emails and official module feedback reports as my evidence. I had also been awarded the Best Module Score in Accounting and Finance in 2020 and nominated for an Excellence in Teaching Award in 2021. You may be pleasantly surprised, once you decide on the subject of your case studies, what evidence you have already acquired. 

Testimonials: the positives of social media 

We hear a lot about the negative effects of social media but, for me, social media is a way of keeping in contact with my former students. LinkedIn is just one avenue available to me and it gives me enormous pleasure to be able to follow my former student's careers. Part of collecting evidence for SF is obtaining testimonials to verify your application and so I contacted several former students to ask if there was anything specific that I had done which had engaged them during their time as my student. I was blown away by the positive response and the heartfelt testimonials I received. Sometimes we have no idea of the impact we have on our students. So just ask, read, reflect and be proud of the job you do. 

Testimonials: the positives of a good collegiate relationships 

This is also the time to reflect on your relationship with colleagues and ask if they can provide testimonials for you on the impact of what you do as part of your role. Several colleagues provided written testimonials for me confirming my role and the effect my actions have on my colleagues in my department. You will never know the impact you have on others until you ask.   

Shout and share 

Being able to use Senior Fellow after my name is the proudest achievement in my teaching career. In my classes it gives students confidence in my teaching as I am able to explain how my engagement with former students enabled me to achieve Fellowship. Since achieving Fellowship I am also able to encourage and mentor my colleagues to reflect on their teaching strategies and role within our department so that they can start thinking about their application and collecting the evidence they will need. It is never too early to start, or indeed look for evidence. 

The benefits 

The process of applying for Senior Fellowship enables you to reflect on your own personal development and how your practices influence both your colleagues and your students and their learning experience. For me personally the benefit of taking the time, and it does take time, to apply for SF led to me being awarded the School of Management Best Lecturer Award in Accounting and Finance 2021.  

Achieving SF simply made me a better teacher so stop thinking about applying and pick up your pen and start writing, it can only improve your teaching. 


Ellen Spender is a Senior Lecturer in Accounting and Student Engagement Partner for the School of Management in Swansea University.

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