I am not an academic yet. At the time of writing, I'm in the limbo period of being a PhD student (the thesis has been submitted, yet I’m not officially a Dr), but also a full time staff member. As I ponder my long term plans, I want to share my insights on how widening participation (WP) work complemented my experience of teaching assistance in higher education (HE) to then achieve an Associate Fellow status with Advance HE. According to the House of Commons Library, widening participation “aims to address discrepancies in the take-up of higher education opportunities between different under-represented groups of students.”
Why do both (teaching and WP)?
During my PhD, I worked as both a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) and an Education Outreach Fellow. The latter role involved delivering research skills talks or workshops (such as, critical thinking or referencing) to 16-18 year olds across England, to equip them with the skills for research. The nature of WP work allowed me to undertake tasks that I would not normally have the opportunity to do as a GTA.
These tasks included: developing/updating content for the new academic year, attending training on presentation and facilitation skills; and adapting my delivery style for different class sizes and time slots. I excelled at building rapport quickly as I worked with many new students! This WP work complemented my GTA role, where I implemented lessons into also teaching HE students, with whom I had a good relationship.
I would spend a full or half day a month on outreach work and reduce my hours if I was also teaching that term. This allowed me to do both roles and work on my PhD to fully benefit from synergies. This brings me to my next point about cross-over.
Look for cross-over between roles
As a GTA, the research skills focus of my outreach work enabled me to better support the 1st year undergraduate and postgraduate students who were new to research skills or needed to develop these. The ability to address large groups and support students one-to-one with activities translated to seminars and office hours in my GTA role. My WP work also gave me the confidence to deliver activities to complement my teaching commitments in HE, such as live polling and peer learning/teaching.
The pedagogy I drew upon informed both outreach and GTA work, as I prided myself on creating an inclusive and safe environment for learning. This meant that my workload did not increase as a result of either role. In fact, it may be that undertaking the varied roles allowed me to be efficient as I was continually showing my commitment to the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) in some role or other.
This quote from a referee for my Associate Fellow application showcases how I go above and beyond – “She is genuinely committed to using education to make the world a better place and her commitment to outreach is admirable and important. Again [as with technological engagement beyond what is expected of her], she goes beyond what you expect of someone as a Postgraduate Research Student.”
Be open to feedback and learning
With WP, you get used to having an audience and evaluation for every single activity you do. Imagine if office hours had an audience. I have presented in dining halls (not during lunchtime!), that should perhaps have been the title of this blog post.
Whereas, as a GTA, evaluation was more periodic, or when I asked for it. There was the usual end of module evaluation, I also obtained my own informal feedback from HE students to coincide with the mid-term assessments. As well as peer observation from fellow GTAs, I chose to have my teaching observed by the module leader, to help me to improve.
If you do another role, there are more opportunities for informal learning and formal Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and ‘engage in CPD’ is an Area of Activity on the UKPSF. In your application for Associate Fellowship, the key is to be clear about how lessons from one role or CPD were applied to teaching in HE.
Final thoughts and ‘call to action’
While I am not currently teaching, I remain committed to teaching and learning in HE through my role as a Collaborative Outreach Officer. I have undertaken CPD to develop my understanding of the diverse needs of under-represented students. For example, mature learners (age 21+), or disabled students who engage in HE.
Finally, in answer to the question in the title, WP came first for me. An Associate Fellowship is possible without explicit WP, but it helped me. My advice to anyone reading this: start small with WP (such as one-off talks or pilots), have confidence in yourself to apply for Associate Fellowship (it is easy to think you have not done enough when part-time), and seek support from colleagues across the institution. What is your advice to those looking to get involved with WP alongside their role?
Tahera Mayat became interested in Widening Participation as a PhD student at the University of Leeds. During her PhD, she taught on various modules (in-person and online) and attended Economics Network training to effectively teach students with varied backgrounds. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Fellowship Application Builder
Advance HE is delighted to offer the Fellowship Application Builder (FAB). A short online, self-directed course of six units designed to enable participants to use their experience of their teaching and supporting learning practice in Higher Education to develop an application for Fellowship (Descriptor 2). Find out more here.
Professional Standards Framework Review 2022
The Professional Standards Framework (PSF) has become a globally-recognised framework for benchmarking success within HE teaching and learning. Since it was last updated in 2011, the learning and teaching landscape within HE has changed considerably making a review necessary to ensure the framework continues to be relevant to higher education now and in the future. As custodians of the PSF, we committed to this review on behalf of the sector in our Strategy 2021-24. Find out more