Jim Pounder, who has recently been granted Principal Fellowship status, shares his experience of a process that was salutary but ultimately rewarding. Jim is Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) at Fiji National University.
In December last year I embarked on the process of applying for Principal Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. Having held posts at Head of Department, Dean, Associate Provost (Academic) and Provost levels and for the previous six years before joining Fiji National University, having been Director of Teaching and Learning at Lingnan University (the Hong Kong liberal arts University), I felt the award of Principal Fellowship was ‘in the bag’ so to speak and peers and colleagues assured me that attaining Principal Fellowship would be a ‘piece of cake’ for me.
In view of this, I quickly prepared and submitted my application focusing on the levels of responsibility I had held and how these posts had carried with them a strategic responsibility for teaching and learning and looked forward to a successful outcome. Alas, it was not to be, my first effort was referred for resubmission and I was advised to contact Professor Sally Bradley for assistance with the resubmission. So much for my complacency!
Sally was both direct and helpful. It was obvious that she knew what she was talking about and I realised it was time to put my ego to one side and listen to her advice, which I did. As a result, my resubmission bore no resemblance to my original application. First, rather than thinking that my past positions would speak for themselves (I had included only three Records of Educational Impact (REI) in my original application), I reflected on and dissected my learning and teaching contributions over the years and came up with ten REIs. One thing that had been impressed on me by Sally was that it was insufficient to state the various initiatives I had led without providing evidence of the impact of these initiatives, especially on student learning. Much information gathering was required both from my own records and from those of past colleagues to demonstrate evidence of impact. The evidence was there but needed to be articulated by me and linked to the relevant REI and this was no mean feat. I can say that rather than the application taking me one day to prepare as was the case with the original, the resubmission took me more than a week, which included burning of the ‘midnight oil’! Fortunately, the resubmission was accepted but the title of this blog says it all; it was a tough journey.
So, in the spirit of learning and teaching, what have I learned from this experience? Well first, I have learned the value of humility. I have occupied senior positions in academia for over 25 years with the result that I was certainly complacent in preparing my first application. On reflection, I feel sure that if I had not been shocked out of my complacency by the evaluation of my original application and the mentoring comments of Sally, I would not be writing this blog now. Secondly, I have learned the value of reflection. The process of reflecting on my experiences over the years and the initiatives in learning and teaching that I have personally led or enabled to be led, has allowed me to view my own career in context and exposed what has often been more of a subconscious commitment to enhancing teaching in particular. This commitment is conveyed in a catchphrase I often use when called upon to speak on the subject of learning and teaching which is that “excellent teaching changes lives”. Thirdly, something that I have alluded to earlier but want to reinforce here is that it is not enough to develop a number of initiatives that seem to make an obvious impact on learning and teaching; this impact needs to be tested, evidenced and recorded. Finally, I want to make the point that, generally, anything that is worth having is worth striving for. I thank Advance HE for making the process of applying for and attaining Principal Fellowship a stringent and taxing one. I have a sense of achievement now that I am sure I would not have had if the process had been ‘a piece of cake’ to quote one of my earlier idioms.
I hope this blog has not been off-putting to those who feel that they could possibly qualify for Principal Fellowship. Believe me when I say that the time and effort is well worth it, so be encouraged. I thank all who have helped me arrive at the end of my tough journey and am very happy to engage with anyone reading this blog who would want to learn more about my experience. For this purpose, I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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