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Beyond Fellowship: Reflection, Mentorship, and Lifelong Learning

29 Sep 2023 | Karen McRae Karen McRae, Manager (Academic Education, Learning and Teaching Services) at Navitas in Sydney, achieved Senior Fellowship in 2019. In this blog, Karen reflects on the impact Fellowship has had, and continues to have, on her practice.

Karen McRae, Manager (Academic Education, Learning and Teaching Services) at Navitas in Sydney, achieved Senior Fellowship in 2019. Following that milestone, as part of her role, she has been leading the Navitas Advance HE Fellowship program, mentoring and guiding aspiring Fellowship applicants through the application process. To date, over 200 Navitas staff members across Australasia and Europe have achieved Fellowship through this program.

When I was first introduced to Advance HE Fellowship, the prospect of official recognition for my dedication and contributions to higher education was undeniably appealing. However, as I delved into the requirements of Fellowship, I swiftly realised that this journey would entail more than a mere recollection of events and would require a deep dive into my practice.

Amidst the fast pace of academic life, finding time for reflection had often seemed like an elusive luxury. Working on my Senior Fellowship application provided me with an opportunity to pause and follow a structured method to reflect and dissect my educational approaches. Since I had quite a few years’ experience up my sleeve, I was confident in the duties conducted in my role as a Program Convenor (at the time) – the real challenge lay in explicitly and succinctly articulating that proficiency and demonstrating the true impact of my work.

As a starting point, the integral checkpoints of 'what, how, and why' have helped me unravel the multi-dimensional facets of my higher education practice and leadership preferences. Instead of listing all the intricate details of my career, I approached my Fellowship application as a platform to narrate a personal evidence-based story of the past five years in my profession. Through this reflective process, I surfaced motivations and rationales that had been guiding my decisions. What became immediately apparent was that nurturing a sense of belonging among students and fostering a mutual network of support among my teaching team were constants in my approach, emphasising my alignment with the values outlined in the Professional Standards Framework (PSF). By applying the Advance HE reflective model, I delved deeper into the origins of my decisions, which led me to discover a strong alignment with educational theories and approaches, thereby strengthening my overall decision-making processes.

Questions like 'how do you know' and 'so what' guided me in my quest to gather evidence that could substantiate the impact I had, even when acknowledging my contributions within collaborative team efforts presented a challenge. In this pursuit, I delved into how I personally influenced my colleagues and took note of the feedback I received, gradually discerning recurring patterns in my strategies and preferences. While it was invigorating to reflect upon and celebrate milestones in my career, this introspective journey also required me to confront my vulnerabilities and acknowledge that there is always room for improvement. This process proved both humbling and challenging, yet recognising weaknesses is an indispensable step in our ongoing growth and progress. The question 'what's next' served as a reminder that learning is an ever-evolving journey, filled with continually emerging horizons to explore. It also prompted me to reflect on the real-world application of my professional development learnings and the importance of implementing newfound knowledge where appropriate, followed by a thoughtful evaluation of the impact these changes have on others and on my practice.

A significant aspect that my Senior Fellowship application has brought to light is the dedication and enjoyment I derive from the success of my teams. Throughout my application, I highlighted moments where I observed improvements in my team's approach, witnessed a notable increase in morale, and genuinely relished celebrating their achievements. These experiences not only helped me to connect with my passions in education but also played a pivotal role in shaping my career trajectory, as after achieving Senior Fellowship I transitioned to a role within a Learning and Teaching team. As a mentor guiding aspiring applicants through the Advance HE Fellowship process, I continue to employ similar reflective methods as guiding principles and work diligently on processes to support our global program. Comments like “I wanted to reach out to express my heartfelt gratitude for all the efforts you have put into arranging the information and providing support to us. Your guidance and support is instrumental in ensuring a smooth and organised flow of the progression. I truly appreciate your commitment to making sure that we have all the information we need to succeed in this program. I am looking forward to your continued guidance on the program” and “thank you for your endlessly positive support” simply make my day! I continue to place a strong emphasis on building communities and fostering networking opportunities, which have not only facilitated my professional growth but have also resulted in the formation of lifelong friendships.

Central to this entire process is the cultivation of self-awareness—a vital element that encourages us to celebrate our achievements and positive impacts while remaining acutely aware of areas where we can further strengthen our skills. It is crucial to acknowledge that our learning journey is a perpetual one. Personally, I find myself in a continuous state of learning, drawing inspiration from mentors and mentees, deriving lessons from both successes and failures, and gleaning insights from the experiences of Principal Fellows, Associate Fellows, and aspiring Fellows alike. While the concept of lifelong learning is often touted, Professor Sally Kift rightly emphasises that “lifelong learning must become a practical reality for people; it cannot stand as an abstract goal” (Kift, 2023, p. 6). Similarly, just as we instruct our students in reflection, as educators, we must also recognise that 'mastering' reflection is an ongoing process that demands practice and nurturing. The more we refine this skill, the deeper and richer our insights become. Therefore, while acknowledging hard work and achievements remains valuable, the Fellowship journey is an ever-evolving symposium of personal and professional growth, where recognition serves as a stepping-stone rather than a final destination. Even after attaining Senior Fellowship status, the reflective process continues to act as a compass, guiding me to stay on course, while continually progress, and continue making a meaningful impact.

Support your Fellowship application

Are you thinking of applying for one of our categories of Fellowship? We have developed specialist virtual programmes to support individuals as part of a cohort, in the UK or Australasia, to achieve either Senior or Principal Fellowship. The programmes will provide guidance, dedicated writing sessions, review of a draft PSF 2023 application with one to one feedback, prior to direct submission to Advance HE.

Learn more and apply for the programme here. 

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