One year has passed since I was appointed as an Academic Staff Developer at the University of Bristol. It was an exciting year full of new experiences and connections. My post was a maternity cover position, which meant that after a year, today Monday morning, I was not going back to my office at Senate house.
As a ritual for moving on but also a contribution to those other Educational and Researcher developers on the move, I wanted to write this post to share some of my learning of moving to a new higher education institution.
Academic developers (including educational and researcher developers) share common challenges with researchers in Europe as they often need to move to find employment, which is mostly temporary, and in the meantime between contracts they may find themselves moving outside before returning back to academia. As a result of this, we all need to become more resilient to change and learn how to manage, navigate, and take advantage of it. It is that time of the year when most posts in academic development come up as budgets will be finalised. Here are a few ideas for a safer sail when you land as a developer to a new higher education institution in the next academic year:
- Acquire knowledge of the institutional priorities: When you enter a new land you wish to leave your mark with a few innovative contributions but at the same time you want to be perceived as someone who is on board with the institutional priorities in terms of education, research, and training and development. Thus, take time to familiarise yourself with important documents such as the education strategy, and the mission and vision of your team and talk to people in your team about what are going to be the priorities for the next year.
- Ensure you are fully aware of what your role entails: The fact that the same or similar titles and descriptions are used for positions of academic developers, does not mean that you will be play the exact same role or carry out the same responsibilities as in your previous post. So at the beginning of your post have an open discussion about how you are expected to work towards designing and delivering sessions, communicating with co-facilitators, and following-up with participants or other involved parties.
- Manage effectively cultural change and expectations: Posts often become available when new initiatives are implemented, which will require that you become effective in sensing and gauging the climate towards change. It will be important to learn as much possible facts about the new initiatives, schemes, and changes in the institution as well as how they are currently perceived so that you can address some of the anxiety and possible negativity as well as manage the expectations about a new programme.
- Discover your new home land: As a new starter you will naturally have lots of things to catch up and many new people to meet. To make yourself feel more like home you need to allow yourself some time to have a walk around campus, discover where postgraduates, research staff, lecturers gather at lunch break or for coffee, find out where the staff room is and have those more relaxed informal conversations outside of the office.
- Ask to be introduced and connected: People in your team are those who will put you in touch with other important individuals that you need to contact at the University but also nationwide. Academic developers are among the most well connected and informed individuals on campus. Ask people in your team about important collaborators and useful contacts to have in other professional services’ teams but also about friendly academics. In addition, start to build your network of developers at other nearby institutions and ask to be included in meetings of your professional organisations such as Vitae, SEDA, and HEA. I found these communities to be very supportive of new members and I would encourage you to get involved.
After one year as an Academic Staff Developer in a new higher education institution back in Europe from America, I hope I gained some knowledge and experiences to help me manage change and transition more efficiently and smoothly in the future, and hopefully at some point to be able to obtain a more long term position. In the meantime I will try to keep the connections I have made and develop those transferable skills that would allow me to return to a developer role.