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.
For nearly three weeks I have served as the facilitator of the Starting to Teach compulsory program for the Teaching Assistants at the University of Bristol. The program was designed for postgraduate students who were new to teaching and were the instructors for classes such as tutorials, seminars, practicals and labs. When planning and designing the sessions with my colleague Jane Pritchard we agreed that as a facilitator of the sessions I needed to serve as a role model and lead engaging sessions that involved the participants with each other, through different types of learning and teaching activities and by exposure to relevant supporting teaching material.
Through the development and facilitation of these sessions I learned a lot about how to set expectations at the beginning of the session, how to scaffold participants to gradually become more involved, and how to differentiate tasks based on the participants’ responsibilities as TAs across disciplines. In this post I would like to share some facilitation strategies when running compulsory sessions for lab demonstrators and small group teaching, the types of activities that help involve participants and develop basic, core understanding of key ideas and strategies for planning and implementing teaching, assessing student learning and evaluating teaching.
Establishing yourself as a researcher: A post-pilot reflection
On the way home from the #vitae14 (@Vitae_news) conference to Cardiff and as much as I wanted to enjoy the Midland’s countryside I also felt the urge to write about a recent researcher development event that myself and a colleague Researcher Developer from UWE facilitated on September 1st . This was a collaborative effort between the University of Bristol and University of West England to organize an event on Researcher Productivity under the guidance of the SWW Vitae hub manager Anne Goodman (@VitaeSWWHub).
If you are an early career researcher who moved to a new post or a more experienced one in your position for a while you often find yourself concerned with how to improve your productivity. Two factors that relate to a researchers’ productivity are time-management and the ability to communicate with people effectively. As the researchers participants in our workshop realised their roles are complicated and they encompass several obligations that often cause them feel overworked and to doubt whether they enjoy their job. In addition, researchers interact with a range of individuals including PIs, supervisors, UG, PG students, different stakeholders, and other colleague researchers. All of these individuals have different preferences in approaching and completing their work and different preferences in communicating information and arguments. In order to become productive and fulfill your career goals as a researcher time management and effective communication are among the core skills you will need to cultivate.
As academics we typically participate in conferences for several reasons such as: to present our work, follow work that we are interested in, and attend meetings of divisions or other groups we belong to. However, there is another type of conference activity that I consider valuable for academics to engage in: providing mentorship by leading professional development workshops for Early Career Researchers (ECRs) including graduated students and postdocs. This summer I facilitated such a workshop at the meeting of the Junior Researchers of EARLI and I found it to be one of the most rewarding conferencing experience I recently had.
I was invited to facilitate a workshop on professional e-portfolios from the JURE 2014 committee organizer with whom I met in a previous JURE conference and discussed about potentially running this workshop. I was preparing for it with great anticipation for several reasons. First, it would be the first conference I would attend with my new title as Academic Staff Developer and it would be the first time that I would facilitate an e-portfolio workshop for an audience outside the US. But I was mainly excited because the conference was taking place in my home country at my alma matter the University of Cyprus. It felt like a full circle now, returning there after my graduate studies and realizing that I was finally starting to do what I enjoyed mostly: educational development.
I find the advice columns in the Chronicle of Higher Education informative for candidates of academic and administrative positions and personnel in institutions of Higher Education. An intriguing recent post by Professor Leonard Cassuto titled “It’s time to overhaul a foolish job application requirement” challenged the usefulness and rationality of requesting candidates or applicants for academic jobs to submit a teaching philosophy. Cassuto’s argument was twofold as he argued that (1) teaching philosophies are tiresome for search committees to read because of their bad quality and lack of authenticity have adequate teaching experience to draft a personalized and effective statement and (2) applicants suffer through the task because the generic prompt is a bad prompt for writing.