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Why I became a HEA Fellow as an early career researcher

16 Mar 2018 | Emma Yhnell Emma Yhnell, Health and Care Research Wales Fellow, Cardiff University.

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

Emma Yhnell is a Health and Care Research Wales Fellow at Cardiff University and is also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Here she talks about her journey as an early career researcher initially applying for the Associate Fellowship and then the transition to Fellowship. She hopes that her journey will inspire other early career researchers to apply for professional recognition of their teaching skills.

As an early career researcher, there are many opportunities available to you. Given the highly competitive and unstable nature of academic research, it can be all too easy to say ‘yes’ to everything. But, let’s face it, we only have so much time in the day so we need to prioritise which opportunities we think will be most beneficial. When I was completing my PhD I was able to undertake a large amount of teaching; demonstrating laboratory practical sessions to undergraduate students and supervising BSc project students and summer projects. I was undertaking this teaching alongside my PhD, so when I saw that the Higher Education Academy offered Associate Fellowships that provided formal accreditation of the teaching that I was already doing, I thought, that I should at least have a go at completing the application.

With the support of what was then the University Graduate College at Cardiff University I attended a workshop on ‘How to apply for the Associate Fellowship’. The workshop lasted several hours and by the end, although I appreciated that there was a lot of work ahead of me, I was much clearer on the application process, which sections of the form needed to be filled in and the specifics of how to fill in the application form.

I was also matched with a mentor who was able to advise me on my application. After several meetings, numerous drafts and copious cups of coffee, I finalised my Associate Fellow application and submitted it in 2014. It was great to have the advice and guidance of an experienced member of staff who understood the application process and how best to evidence my teaching skills. Reflecting on preparing my Associate Fellow application, it was a busy time as I was completing my PhD alongside my teaching obligations. But, with the support of a mentor I was able to put aside dedicated time to understand and reflect on the teaching methods that I had used.

There were some skills and techniques that I naturally put into practice without necessarily realising it. For example, in large undergraduate practical classes, I often simplified concepts using diagrams to promote understanding or I broke the topic down into chunks so that the students gained confidence. Without the help of my mentor, I’m not sure that I would have recognised my teaching skills. After a short wait I received an email informing me that my Associate Fellow application was a success (!), it was wonderful news, I had come a long way and was really proud that my hard work had been accredited.

After this, my academic research life became rather busy, I wrote up my PhD thesis, successfully passed my viva and I was able to publish my work. In terms of next steps and job applications, I feel that having the Associate Fellowship on my CV certainly enhanced my applications. While many applicants could state the teaching that they had done, it was reassuring to know that alongside this I could include the formal accreditation which my teaching had received.

I was successful in obtaining independent funding to continue my academic research. My teaching and engagement activities were highlighted as strong components by the reviewers. Before I knew it I was beginning my fellowship and during this role I had further opportunities to expand my teaching. I was now lecturing large numbers of undergraduate students and I was leading a module in Continuing and Professional Education. It was at this point I dropped my mentor from my Associate Fellowship application an email about whether they thought I would be competitive enough to apply for the Fellowship. Again over several cups of coffee, we went through the Fellowship application form to establish whether I could evidence my skills across all five areas of activity using the core knowledge and professional values described in The UK Professional Standards Framework.

As I had already obtained the Associate Fellowship I was more familiar with the process, but again I went through several drafts of the application, which my mentor kindly provided feedback on. I submitted the application and heard back that it was successful, three years after obtaining my Associate Fellowship application, I had progressed and could proudly call myself a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. I was delighted, this time I felt that I had progressed in my teaching abilities and the fact that this had be recognised was wonderful.  

So where next? The next step for me is to think about a Senior Fellow application. For now, I am focused upon delivering my research objectives and completing my independent research fellowship. I can’t be certain if I would have been successful in obtaining such substantial funding at a relatively early career stage without the Associate Fellow and now Fellow status, but in my opinion, I certainly think it helped.

Find out more about Fellowship.

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