The reflective process of applying for the Associate Fellowship can be just as rewarding as achieving it. As a PhD researcher, I found it a highly valuable and manageable application which could be easily interwoven with my studies, so long as I approached it with a fresh and flexible mindset.
From the financial challenges of self-funded study, to writing a Literature thesis in a world full of closed libraries (and not to mention with a mind marred by innumerable Zoom quizzes), lockdown didn’t seem like the most creative time to write and reflect on my teaching practice. However, it was this very out-of-comfort-zone-approach that I found helped me to reimagine my experiences in pleasantly unexpected ways. I was able to use the unique challenges presented by the pandemic to my advantage. For example, while I initially thought my application emphasis on virtual, rather than in-person, teaching could be seen as detrimental, I reframed my experiences by focusing on what I’d learned about being adaptable and responsive to unprecedented levels of change. I also centred on the practical skills I gained so rapidly, like screen-share teaching, that I may not have acquired in a conventional academic year. Therefore, whatever difficulties you may be facing when approaching the Associate Fellowship application, try to positively reimagine these challenges by focusing on what you learn about yourself (in terms of tenacity and resilience), but also on the unforeseen practical gains that hardship can often accelerate.
Reflect and record as you go
For me, one of the most unexpected parts of the Associate Fellowship process was how regularly I thought about aspects of the application pre-, during, post-, and outside, lesson teaching. Because much of the application requires you to gather evidence of particular pedagogical moments, it’s really useful to reactively jot down any reflective thoughts or specific challenges you might have while (or just after) teaching, mentoring, or facilitating. These hyper-specific examples can sometimes be hard to recall, or may not feel as relevant later on, so having them recorded in the moment is a huge help to your future self. It also helps gradually build your application in draft form so that your word count creeps up a lot more than expected. In addition, these immediate examples will likely resonate with your examiners as the most authentic snapshots of your teaching journey.
Top tips for applying (and beyond)
- Embrace the new - as Fellowship applications really do require you to think in a new self-reflective way (something which can be challenging and alien if you’re not used to such introspective writing), I recommend approaching the writing process in a way that also feels new to you. For instance, I usually write large blocks of my thesis in extended sittings with a clear(ish) idea of what I will focus on each day, but I found that the application required me to dip in and out, writing reactively in draft form when thoughts and recollections came into my head, rather than pre-planning swathes of text. So embrace the new and be prepared to read and write out of your comfort zone.
- Collaborate with a mentor - make sure to seek out an experienced mentor who is willing to provide honest feedback on your application and help it improve. Actively working together with my mentor on drafting the application made it so much stronger so I could see it through external eyes and assess where I needed more (or, usually in my case, less) explanation or detail. A good mentor should also guide you by helping you to interrogate your teaching practice through constructive questioning. Often being asked the most simple questions, such as ‘what do you enjoy about teaching?’ or ‘what did you learn from that?’, are the most galvanising prompts for self-reflection.
- Capitalise on institutional support - individuals from subscribing Advance HE institutions benefit from discounted application fees, helping widen access opportunities. Make sure you research what application support your institution may provide. The University of Birmingham’s ‘Beacon Scheme’ enabled me to pursue Associate Fellowship free of charge, which was immensely helpful, especially as it also applied to PhD students. I also made sure to attend the Associate Fellowship orientation, writing, and advice workshops that my university provided so be sure to soak up all the support on offer.
- Reap the benefits – while achieving Associate Fellowship should be a springboard for you to keep developing and improving your teaching practice, don’t forget about the multitude of short-term wins that your original application materials can provide. Once you’ve clicked submit, refer back to (and save!) the records of your readings, teaching evidence logs, and professional development activities that you’ve spent so long crafting. You can use these handy records for job interview competency questions, research profiles, CV and LinkedIn polishing, or even for a celebratory Tweet (this was in fact how I was approached to write this very blog post, so don’t underestimate unexpected post-application opportunities).
So if you’re tentative about applying for Associate Fellowship during a tricky time, just know that being out of your comfort zone can be much more productive and rewarding than you might expect, especially when it comes to an application process that is so formative and introspective.