Role Modelling and Strategically Leading – the value of Recognition as a Principal Fellow – Part 1

In the HEA Fellowship blog, we’re continuing to measure the impact that HEA Fellowship has on teaching practices, on students and on the practices and approaches of peers.

Dr. Claire Morgan, PFHEA
Dr. Claire Morgan, PFHEA

Claire Morgan gained her Principal Fellowship recognition in November 2021 and joined a small, but growing number of Principal Fellows at Swansea University.  Claire is Associate Professor in the Medical School, Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Science specialising in cancer genetics.

Claire gained her PFHEA through the themes of strategic leadership in establishing/delivering the first NHS funded Genomic Medicine MSc in Wales to educate the healthcare professionals in genomics, Programme Director for the Genetics and Medical Genetics BSc Programmes, her external roles such as external examiner for HEI institutions including Bangor, Aberystwyth, Kings/St George, as well as her advisory role in subject specialist groups.

She shares with us why she applied for Principal Fellow recognition and what this means to her.

My honest answer in why I applied is that the University decided to embed HEA fellowship status into the University’s strategic goals. I therefore applied and obtained Fellowship in 2015 and in 2016 I applied for Senior Fellowship. However, in the process of applying for both FHEA and SFHEA it became more than a “tick box” exercise but one of self-reflection and to examine my own teaching practice. Now as programme director of the UG genetics and medical genetics programmes and the MSc Genomic Medicine programme, I felt I should apply for Principal Fellow to continue my journey of self-reflection but also to act as a role model to my colleagues and the students on my courses and for external recognition that my teaching and leadership is of a high professional standard.

Obtaining PFHEA is a prestigious accolade. It allows my teaching to be recognised and that my efforts and commitment to both students and staff are valued.

In terms of applying, Swansea University doesn’t have an internal route which is accredited, so all applications are submitted direct to Advance HE for scrutiny. Following the retirement of Professor Jane Thomas, Director of SALT and PFHEA holder herself in November 2020, there were no structured support options available internally.

But Claire is self-admittedly “someone who is very independent” and while SALT established an internal TEAMs site for staff interested in applying for PFHEA, she also contacted AdvanceHE and reports that she “had a detailed discussion with Sally Bradley, senior advisor for HEA Fellowships, which was extremely beneficial.”

In commenting on the application process itself, Claire notes

“The application process is challenging on several levels. You have to provide specific details of your leadership and your contribution and what impact that has had at institutional level or beyond, whilst at the same time adhering to stringent guidelines and word counts. You also must “blow your own trumpet” which can be disconcerting for many people – myself included! But what is key to obtaining PFHEA status is how well you can evidence your strategic leadership with specific examples and ultimately the impact of your leadership.”

There are four categories of Fellowship recognition, Associate, Fellow, Senior Fellow and Principal Fellow with these often being mistakenly for things you progress between and/or reflect seniority.

While Claire has gone ‘through the categories’ so to speak, she notes that the key difference between Senior Fellow (SFHEA) and Principal Fellow (PFHEA) is that

“SFHEA is concerned with supporting other members of staff through supervision, mentoring etc through leading academic teams or specific areas of L&T. The PFHEA still encompasses these roles, but PFHEA goes beyond supporting immediate members of your team. You must demonstrate and evidence your leadership across the University and also externally – how you have led changes that has far reaching impact”

The UKPSF which underpins the Fellowship categories was launched in the mid 2000s and re-issued in 2011 following a consultation. Its probably fair to say that Swansea had a slower start that other institutions in adopting the UKPSF and numbers of Fellows remained very low – less than 100 staff holding any category of Fellowship in 2015. The UKPSF though is embedded within framework for reward and recognition, from appointment to promotion.

So, with that timeframe in mind, is having Fellowship recognition changing perceptions of teaching?

“Definitely, no longer are lecturers seen as “just doing teaching”. Having HEA fellowship is formal recognition, either internally or externally,  of your commitment and experience to the educational process and your area of expertise.

Having to apply for PFHEA directly to Advance HE added another level of esteem as my application had to be reviewed externally giving me confidence that my leadership and impact could withstand external scrutiny.”

Helping others to get their Fellowship recognised

The internal route to HEA Fellowship administered by SALT relies heavily on the contributions of those who already hold Fellowship/Senior Fellowship or indeed Principal Fellowship, to support colleagues in preparing their application.  Claire has acted in that role as mentor and assessor and notes that its

“not only a rewarding experience by helping others but has been of personal benefit to me too. Providing feedback on applications and assessing submissions requires discussions with my colleagues, which has allowed me to learn from them and their experiences.

Not only am I able to disseminate my own best practice to others, but I am able to learn from them in turn, and disseminate best practice from other colleagues/departments (as well as an awareness of what may not be best practice) into my own teaching and that of my teaching staff, as a result enhancing student satisfaction, curriculum development and career progression of my teaching team.”

Quite often, those with PFHEA recognition are not teaching/supporting learners but involved in strategically leading policy.  Not for Claire though and when asked if she might stop teaching now she has PFHEA recognition she gave a robust NO.

“This is my job and I enjoy it. I am passionate about genetics and genomics and imparting that information onto students. I also enjoy supporting colleagues and in turn learning from them.”

And, so those thinking about, but perhaps not turned their attention to gaining recognition, she gives this strong advice.

“Just do it – it is such a valuable and rewarding exercise/experience. You cannot “fail”, you get the opportunity to respond to feedback and revise your application. It makes you think about your teaching, why you do what you do and how you can improve, at the same time as obtaining validation and recognition for all your hard work and commitment. There is nothing to lose but so much to be gained.”

Recognition Team Note

For more details about gaining recognition for your teaching through HEA Fellowship, please see the SALT website:  https://staff.swansea.ac.uk/academies/salt/recognition-hea-fellowship/
and/or contact salt@swansea.ac.uk for information about joining the PFHEA MS Teams site.

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