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My experience of Fellowship as a Pracademic

04 Jul 2024 | Laura Bains For #FellowshipRelay2024, lawyer-turned-educator Laura Bains of BPP University, shares the benefits she gained from obtaining Fellowship as a ‘pracademic’.

My first career was in law. I practised civil and employment law as a self-employed barrister. I always enjoyed developing and mentoring the next generation of lawyers and in 2015 I took on a teaching role at BPP University to teach postgraduates training as lawyers. This led me to my second, current career in higher education. 

This statement probably seems inevitable and innocuous to read, perhaps superfluous given where it is written, but it has taken me some time to identify that I do now have a career in higher education and am, in fact, an educator. 

Like many ‘pracademics’ (practitioner-turned-academic), I have sometimes struggled with the duality of my position and experienced a sense of imposter syndrome in my early roles in education. One of the big turning points for me was becoming a Fellow. I look below at where this doubt came from and how Fellowship helped address it.

Imposter syndrome  

Professionals in any area are likely to experience imposter syndrome at some point in their career. By being ambitious and holding ourselves to high standards, we risk doubt that we are not good enough; maybe we don’t deserve the role, responsibility, or success we have achieved. This may accompany a promotion or new responsibility, or, as for me, a career change.  

By 2015, I could acknowledge my success and credibility as a practicing barrister, but my move to teaching at BPP University gave me a new sense of being an imposter. I had no teaching qualifications, I had no real knowledge of higher education, I certainly had no academic or scholarly credentials. But I had a passion for the subject I was teaching and I had professional skills and experience that took students beyond anything they might read in a textbook.

Within my first year, I received positive student feedback, passed management observations and saw my students develop. I began to realise that I could teach. But I still had a sense that I was trading on my prior success in my previous role and wasn’t a “real” university educator. Having spoken to others who have come to higher education from a similar route, I think this is a common feeling.  

As good mentors and careers consultants will tell you, the best treatment for imposter syndrome is to confront the feeling of doubt with rationality; to identify your achievements and successes that fly in the face of that nagging doubt. Unfortunately, this is one of those pieces of advice that is rarely heeded. At first thought, the achievements don’t come readily to mind, and who has the time or inclination to stop, think and list their successes?  And so the doubt continues.  


However, for me, I found the time and inclination to complete this process because I sought Fellowship. BPP encourages and supports tutors to engage with the UK Professional Standards Framework and strive for Fellowship. 

After around three years of teaching and some experience of developing course materials, I was keen to enhance and get recognition for my teaching practice, so I enrolled on an internal Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching and engaged with the Fellowship process.  

The process demanded that I stopped, thought about and listed my achievements. Not only that, but it required me to investigate and research the scholarship that underpinned HE learning and teaching. In doing so, I identified where my current practice aligned with existing experience and expertise, and underwent a hugely rewarding process. 

I discovered that my natural inclination to encourage nervous students to attempt oral skills in class was active learning; my joined-up approach to learning outcomes, class activities and final assessment was constructive alignment; my intention to give practical, achievable feedback on how to improve was feed-forward. So many things that I had incorporated into my teaching practice because it felt right or because I’d seen it done successfully elsewhere, were rooted in learning and teaching theory. I had developed my own practice with some trial and error, but now I was discovering the pedagogical evidence that supported it.  

As well as identifying the positives of my current teaching practice, obtaining Fellowship required me to reflect on how to improve as an educator. By exploring higher education pedagogy, I critically evaluated my practice and identified development opportunities. Rather than fuelling the negative self-doubt of imposter syndrome, the process gave me purpose and ownership of my new career path. I began to plan my continuing professional development, as I had in my legal practice. It encouraged me to seek out opportunities to enhance my practice and explore interests in designing course materials, staff training and programme management.   

Finally, the process of identifying my strengths and planning my development made me realise and acknowledge that I was an educator. I had a place, purpose and career in this new field and was gaining experience and credibility in it. 

Exploring educational scholarship gave me an understanding of how wide and diverse higher education is and a sense that I was now part of it. I don’t carry out research or write academic textbooks, but I am a higher education practitioner. I belong.  

I would urge any pracademics with a few years of teaching experience who are considering exploring fellowship to do so. It is easy to convince yourself that you don’t have the time, or the experience, or to question its value for you, but my experience was that this was a wholly worthwhile process that offers you much more than a title. 

Achieving Fellowship or Associate Fellowship is valuable, but the process you undertake to get there, what you will learn about yourself, your practice and your place in higher education is more valuable still. 

If you are considering embarking on this yourself, or supporting a junior colleague to do it, then please do take that leap – you won’t regret it, and you might just find out you are an educator too.  

Find out more about the Global Fellowships Relay – #FellowshipsRelay2024

We accredit CPD programmes delivered by higher education providers around the world, in line with the Professional Standards Framework. Find out more about accreditation.

If you are looking for guidance with your Senior or Principal Fellowship application, find out more about our support programmes here.


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