My application to the HEA through the FLAIR Scheme was a task I deferred for as long as possible. I did not have time; it looked too difficult; I had so many other things to do, including research, marking, teaching and administration.
To indicate that I would get down to applying eventually, I attended a briefing event given by Dr Eileen Hyder who heads the FLAIR HEA accreditation scheme at the University. Eileen (who should be sainted) was an inspiring speaker and she made the whole application process seem achievable and also positive in terms of our own career management and self-development. A clear structure for the FLAIR programme was outlined and Eileen explained the number of writing retreats we could attend and the support that was available to us. A time frame was provided, and also an expert summary of what kind of material we should consider including in the various sections of the application.
My procrastination stopped here. As soon as I returned to my office after the briefing event, I sketched out potential case studies and began to penetrate the mysteries of the UKPSF (UK Professional Standards Framework) that turned out not to be ‘mysterious’ at all. Over the weekend that followed, I put flesh on the bones of the draft, began to complete the forms and to gather my evidence and references for my application for ‘Fellow’ of the HEA.
The drafting task proved surprisingly compelling, not least because the body of work I had accumulated surprised me; I had lost sight of the range of activities I had undertaken and of their significance in terms of T & L effectiveness. I realised that all the work that I had been doing over several years was not merely ‘routine’ but was full of T & L innovation, and I began to develop a new sense of the value of my work as I wrote. My self-confidence had taken a battering over the years (such is the lot of a female academic managing the work/children juggle) but completing the forms made me realise that this state of depressed self-esteem had potentially been generated by never having the time or the space to reflect fully on the quality of the contribution that I had been making. Applying to the HEA creates that time and space for reflective self-evaluation.
Because I am used to writing independently, I decided to reserve my writing retreat allocation for the discussion of my draft application (other colleagues prefer to use the retreats to produce their case studies). Armed with my first complete draft, I attended the retreat in early June 2016, the time of year when such mornings ‘out’ look impossible (particularly for Exams Officers). However, I was determined to create the time and, whilst there, I had a long and fascinating conversation with Eileen who read my draft and told me approvingly that it looked like the profile of a Senior Fellow rather than that of a Fellow. My self-confidence leapt another notch.
To all those tempted to skip the ‘Writing Retreat’ part of the application process, think again: advice and guidance at this stage is vital and the three hours I spent at the retreat were enjoyable, relaxed, and crucial in terms of the development of my application. The advice I received prevented many mistakes that I could have made, and corrected others that I had already made.
Following the retreat, I again returned to my office and began typing new sections to draw out areas of activity that I had under-played (not having recognised their significance), and amending others that were not UKPSF-friendly. Once again, inspired by Eileen’s positivity and encouragement, the work was swift and actually rather enjoyable: it had been a long time since I had worked on something exclusively for my own professional development.
I submitted my application shortly afterwards and was soon rewarded with a certificate, a silver pin, Senior Fellowship of the HEA, and a thoroughly enjoyable celebratory Christmas party attended by the Vice Chancellor. Since then I have become a fully trained member of the FLAIR ‘College of Assessors’, working with Eileen and several colleagues across the University who I never had the opportunity to meet before. This work has been a great pleasure and it is an unanticipated bonus of my HEA application experience.
It is not an exaggeration to say that my application to the HEA marked a turning point for me. It gave me a new appreciation of the work I had done and that I continued to do and I began to realise that I could be successful in other applications too. Since then, I have submitted bids for funding, placements, fellowships and promotion. All of this had seemed beyond my reach before I applied to the HEA, and there never seemed to be enough time for it anyway.
Following my experience on FLAIR, I now make time for these bids and applications because I have a renewed sense of the worth of what I have to share within and beyond the University. I have generated new initiatives (including a ‘Gender and Identities’ Student Forum and the SLL Resilience Masterclasses), applied for a Collaborative Award, co-organised a conference, and engaged Jess Phillips MP to come and speak at the University in June. I am doubly active in attending research events, outreach events, CQSD training sessions, and in participating in research networks.
Success breeds success. Looking back, I had fallen into a pattern of under-valuing my work and of not feeling that achievement and recognition were possible for me outside of the seminar room. Eileen’s support, and the FLAIR Scheme as a whole, lifted me out of this and helped me to develop a new perspective on my work and career. I am particularly grateful to Eileen for urging me to apply for Senior Fellowship because I would not have had the confidence to do this without her.
For any colleague who needs help in appreciating the value of what they do, and who needs a shot of confidence, I urge you to embrace the FLAIR Scheme. Apply for Senior Fellowship if Eileen sees the potential. Yes, it takes some work, but it is work that repays you ten-fold.