Sam Nolan works as Assistant Director at the Centre for Academic, Researcher and Organisation Development at Durham University and is also Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a National Teaching Fellow. Here he talks about his journey to Principal Fellowship, how he supports it internally at Durham, and how he hopes it will inspire others in to follow in his footsteps.
I am Assistant Director of the Centre for Academic, Researcher and Organisation Development (CAROD) at Durham University, where I lead on Academic and PhD development. I’ve worked in Higher Education for 16 years, with roles at the Open University, Purdue University (Indiana, USA), and for the majority of my career Durham University. At Durham I’ve held several roles including Postdoctoral Research Associate in Physics (2003-2007), Associate Fellow in Astronomy (2007-2010), Teaching Fellow (2010-2015) and my current role since 2015. Over my career I’ve shifted my focus from being primarily research-based to moving into teaching and partaking in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Physics, to moving into leading on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and Skill Development institutionally. At the core of my philosophy for teaching is trying to actively create equality in the learning experience for all, and a large chunk of my career has been working with international and mature students.
I’ve been an HEA Fellow since 2012, moving to Senior Fellowship in 2015 and now onto PFHEA status in 2018. In 2016, I also gained National Teaching Fellow for my innovative work in learning and teaching. My primary reason for applying was that at Durham I strategically lead on academic staff development working closely with the University Executive, and develop new approaches for staff to evidence their innovative work and gain Advance HE recognition. Durham is one of the leading members of the Russell Group Universities in terms of staff achieving Advance HE Fellowship, and our new CPD framework, DELTA, is aligned to this. My development of this formed the core of my application for PFHEA. At Durham we provide support for all categories of HEA application from Associate through to Senior Fellow via a variety of programmes. As I run the scheme at Durham I applied directly to Advance HE for my PFHEA, as I didn’t want to chair an exam board where my application was considered! For training I attended the PFHEA writing retreats in York, where Sally Bradley (of Advance HE) gave me excellent support in developing my application.
I have found writing all three applications (Fellow, Senior Fellow and Principal Fellow) a powerful exercise in self-reflection on my own practice, on my leadership and mentoring of others and on the strategic work that I lead. Finding time to put together applications can be challenging, but writing retreats with mentors were a particularly powerful way to help start this process—so much so that we’ve now started our own at Durham for staff, via this almost 100 SFHEA applications have been developed.
Holding PFHEA at Durham helps enhance my credibility as lead academic staff developer, alongside giving me membership of a select group of national strategic leaders in education and development, and I hope to make use of this network in the future. For the University, it will allow me to offer knowledgeable mentoring for staff as they work to reflect on their own practice and develop their applications, and help me raise the profile of the PFHEA award institutionally.
At Durham we’re just launching our new support unit the Centre for Academic Development, with a new building (a Centre for Teaching and Learning) opening next year. This innovative space, for which I have been on the steering group, includes a huge variety of teaching and learning spaces along with an education laboratory where staff can develop new teaching methods with support from Centre staff (of which I will be one). It’s an incredibly exciting time, and getting PFHEA status as I move into this next stage of my career is really rewarding.
For further information on about to apply for Fellowship please click here.