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January 15, 2013

ACE Event: Talking Teaching – Professional Development Opportunities

The Academic Careers and Employability session on 10th January was on the subject of Teaching and Professional Development opportunities, both at Warwick and beyond. In this post I've collected together the information that we covered in the session; do feel free to comment if you know of other similar opportunities for UK teachers in higher education.

Why Professional Development?

We began the session, led by Christine Smith from the Learning and Development Centre, discussing why we might want to pursue professional development opportunities. Christine asked us to think about "why is teaching important to you" and "what do you want to get out of your teaching". Later on, we also considered teaching challenges that you have overcome, and challenges that still remain to be dealt with, which professional development activities can also be helpful in addressing.

Professional Development at Warwick

The Learning and Development Centre have a number of initiatives to professionalise teaching and learning at Warwick:

There are two award schemes:

  • Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence, for all staff who teach or support student learning at Warwick
  • WATE PGR, to recognise teaching excellence among postgraduate research students who teach (those within a year of gaining their PhD are eligible for this route)

In addition, the LDC support PGR and ECRs who teach through "Talking Teaching with Peers", a discussion group to share advice and experience around teaching issues.

There is also an annual Teaching and Learning Showcase, and Faculty-specific showcases throughout the year - the Faculty of Science Showcase is coming up in February 2013.

Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning also has a number of schemes to support innovative, interdisciplinary, inclusive and international teaching and learning at Warwick - particularly relevant to ECRs is the Pedagogic Interventions scheme which encourages active and performative approaches and digital media initiatives with funding awards of £1000.

If you want to take your teaching beyond the confines of a small seminar room, then IATL's bookable spaces and the Teaching Grid are worth investigating (see this blog post on one example of using the Teaching Grid).

Professional Development beyond Warwick

The Higher Education Academy's professional recognition service is well worth pursuing as an early career teacher (note that the LDC courses above are now accredited through the HEA, but if you took these courses in previous years then you will need to apply as an individual). There are four levels of professional recognition, two of which are applicable to early career researchers: Associate Fellow and Fellow. Which one you apply for will depend much on how long you've been teaching and what kinds of experience you have gained, as Fellow status requires fulfilling all five areas of activity (compared to 2 for Associate Fellow).

Gaining HEA professional recognition is valuable in giving you nationally-recognised accrediation of your teaching and learning: it's a portable asset that will stay with you when you move between institutions; it indicates your professional identity to others in higher education, demonstrating that your practice is aligned with the UK Professional Standards Framework; and it demonstrates your commitment to professionalising and developing yourself as an HE tutor. If you have a lot of teaching responsibilities as an ECR then it's highly valuable to get recognition for all the hard work that you put into this.

I'm currently putting together my application and I'd identify a few other key benefits as follows:

  • Writing the application involves completing an Account of Professional Practice which requires concise and well-supported detail about your teaching experience; this helps you to articulate your teaching practice in a way that is beneficial for job applications and interviews where you may have to talk about your teaching approaches/philosophy with examples to hand.
  • Reflective and critical thinking about teaching practice is useful in recognising the value in what you're achieving through your teaching (something which it's easy to lose sight of in the weekly treadmill of marking and preparation) and helps you to identify ways in which you can further improve.
  • Peer/colleague support and discussion: writing the application is a useful opportunity to gain feedback about your teaching from more experienced colleagues, and to discuss teaching practice with your peers - one suggestion from the session was to set up a working group of peers to give feedback and advice on one another's applications.

If you have any other information on how early career researchers can continue their professional development in teaching, either at Warwick or beyond, do let us know.

October 10, 2012

ECRs at Warwick – what's on offer?

In this post I've attempted to draw together all the different services and opportunities on offer to early career researchers at Warwick. I'm taking ECR in the broadest sense to encompass everyone from those just finishing PhDs to those who might be new to Warwick as postdoctoral tutors or research fellows - not all services are relevant to everyone but I've tried to indicate what is applicable to who.

Wolfson Research Exchange ECR Network: this network is open to all early career researchers, whether you've just submitted and are awaiting your viva or are in a research or teaching post - all are welcome! By joining the network you'll be added to a mailing list keeping you up to date with all the latest events and services for ECRs, you'll get opportunities to network and make new research connections, and an online profile on Research Match will enhance your visibility among the research community. You can email for more information.

IAS-REx ACE programme: The Institute of Advanced Study - Wolfson Research Exchange Academic Careers and Employability Programme (ACE) is a series of events designed to prepare ECRs for academic careers. Sessions run on Thursdays from 2-4pm and all ECRs at Warwick are welcome to attend, but should contact the Early Career Researcher Network (above) if not already a member.

IAS Early Career Fellowships: if you're approaching the end of your PhD then it's highly advisable to consider applying for one of these awards. The award gives you 6-10months of part-time funding (up to 50%) for career development activities including specialised interview training, advancing your research profile through organising a workshop, and participating in other activities at the IAS. The next round will be for those submitting their PhDs between 1st October 2012 and 31st March 2013, with the Fellowships commencing on 1st April 2013 - the deadline will be announced soon.

IAS Postdoctoral Research Fellowships: these are 2-year positions for postdoctoral researchers to pursue a research project at Warwick. The next round will be advertised in spring 2013, for a start date of October 20123 - in the meantime, you can find out more on the FAQs page.

Other IAS schemes: it's also worth being aware of the other funding streams at the IAS, particularly the IAS-REx Research Networks awardwhich supports early career researchers in establishing an interdisciplinary research network based at Warwick - a great way to collaborate with other researchers and develop your interdisciplinary skills. Most IAS schemes specify that you need to be a permanent member of academic staff to apply; if you're not, then you can approach a member of your department to apply with.

Wolfson Research Exchange Special Interest Groups: these groups provide researchers from all career stages to participate in interdisciplinary research focused around a selection of topics; they are facilitated by early career researchers and there is an academic sponsor for each group. See the website for full details of how to get involved.

Learning and Development Centre support for researchers: the LDC support research active staff - i.e. those in postdoctoral research fellow positions, research assistants, etc - and have resources on their website to point you in the direction of relevant information, as well as details about courses for research staff.

Learning and Development Centre support for ECR tutors: if you are an early career researcher who has teaching responsibilities then you can participate in a number of programmes run by the LDC. The Postgraduate Award Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (previously IAPP part 2) enables tutors to develop their teaching skills, enhance your CV, and progress to gain accreditation from the Higher Education Academy. The PGA in Technology Enhanced Learning focuses on the use of technology in higher education. The LDC also run "Talking Teaching with Peers" for PGR and ECR tutors to share experiences and advice with their peers- the next session is 25th October at 4.30pm.

Please let us know in the comments if there's anything we've missed - either if you run a service at Warwick that is available to ECRs, or if you're a Warwick ECR with useful advice for others.

September 17, 2012

Teaching as an ECR – by Nic

For some, it's an unpleasant duty. To others, it's the reason they got into academia in the first place. Yes folks, I'm talking about teaching.

I'm one of the latter, I have to admit. Teaching a room full of enthusiastic undergrads is the most rewarding aspect of university life for me. In the 2012-13 year, I'll be running more seminars - which is something I've been doing in my department on and off since 2008 - but also lecturing. Designing my own module is pretty daunting, but also hugely exciting, right?!

Having got past the initial "Hang on, what, they've left me in charge?" confusion, I've been thinking more carefully about how one puts a term of study together. It's been useful to cast my mind back to undergraduate days, remembering what worked and what didn't, and what were the most interesting and inspiring modules that I took.

Luckily, the module I'm creating is strongly connected with my own research (music and film), so I've no shortage of texts that I could include. The problem, if anything, is narrowing down the field!

I know that some people aren't temperamentally suited to teaching, but my advice is: if you're offered the chance, grasp it with both hands. The experience of teaching made me more confident as a lecturer, but it also really improved my research skills. The pressure of the seminar room helped me become more articulate, and showed me how problems can be approached in different ways.

Of course, talk to me next year and I might be a nervous wreck! But in the meantime, please leave me a comment with your own opinions about teaching. Do you think it's essential for ECRs? And, if you've experience of creating your own module, any advice is very welcome!!!

April 13, 2012

My viva–vesary; one year of ECR life – by Charlotte

cake2March 31st marked my "viva-versary", which felt like the kind of event that should inspire some reflective thoughts on what I had achieved and learnt in my first year of Dr-hood, and possibly also cake. But it was also an occassion that part of me wanted to avoid because one year on, I'm still not in a full-time research position, and I'm not sure how much reflection-inspiring wisdom I've really gained from the last year. Year 2 is already shaping up to follow much the same pattern as year 1 (with the added pressure that I was really hoping there wasn't going to be a year 2...).

The one thing that characterises the last year is being busier than I knew possible. My approach has been very much say yes to everything, and one thing I have realised from this is that you just never know what something will lead to: in everything that I've done, one opportunity has lead to new contacts, more work, and other opportunities arising. As a result, this year has been far more exciting, varied and interesting than I imagined.

But the one thing that has suffered as a result of endless extra jobs, teaching, and public engagement activities is dedicated time for research and publishing. I've managed to squeeze in two conference papers, three articles and start on a co-edited collection, but my plans to make substantial progress on The Book are only now getting off the ground (more of that in another post). While I've been assured that this isn't too terrible, I had really hoped to have a proposal by now. With the academic employment situation being the way it is right now, publishing is by far the most important thing I need to focus on.

So in the next year, it's clear that I need to redress the balance and put publications first, whilst still keeping engaged with the academic community and, quite importantly, earning enough money to live. But how do you do that? I don't want to give up any one area - I think the combination of teaching, research and admin is good experience if you can do it, and valuable preparation for an academic job. Also, as much as I enjoy the research above everything else, I really value teaching and other work, and go back to the research feeling refreshed and motivated.

The one thing I've realised that I can do is PLAN. The last year hasn't just been busy, it's been haphazardly so: a process of saying yes now, and worrying about when and how later. Whilst this has been great and exciting, it's also been stressful because the bigger projects keep getting pushed back and back. I've had long-term goals, but I haven't had a long-term plan that's realistically accommodated those goals and consequently have found them constantly overtaken by short-term projects.

So for next year, my plan is to plan more carefully: make the big deadline the priority, and work around that - not vice versa. I'm already considering very carefully what I'll take on, and realistically working out how it'll all fit together. In doing this, I immediately feel more in control of what I'm doing and that I have a choice as to what I do. And I think that's maybe the most important thing: feeling like I have the choice and the control over what I'm doing. Immediately I feel just a bit calmer about it all, and even a bit more positive about the prospect of a year 2.

January 16, 2012

The black hole – by Deborah

Writing about web page

Welcome to new blogger Deborah Butler! Deborah is an Early Career Fellow at the IAS, with research interests in apprenticeship, gender, sport, embodiment and horse racing. She will be one of our regular bloggers on Researcher Life.

Gemma has written about the trials and tribulations of the viva, a procedure I too have been through so can personally reiterate much of what she has expressed. My blog is about what happens after the viva. The thing that made me realise that my time at Warwick could soon be over was not being able to sign in onto the intranet. My password and log in were no longer recognised. Yes, I had been awarded my PhD and have an Early Career Fellowship but suddenly a simple thing like signing in was denied. It brought it home to me that, whilst the signing in process was fixable, through HR, it might only be temporary anyway should I not be awarded a Post-Doc, which is probably unlikely anyway, get a job at Warwick, even more unlikely, my life will soon be changing.

Doing a PhD is an all consuming affair even when you are working elsewhere, as I was, together with family commitments. Keeping them all ticking along just seemed to happen, it is now that the PhD has gone that my routine has been needed some adapting. I am still working and the family are still there, as are one or two small projects I am involved with. I guess what I am trying to say, probably not very clearly, is that whilst you may wish for a post-PhD time when it arrives it can be a bit of an anti-climax. I have been working on a couple of papers, even getting one submitted (and waiting for it to come back, rejected!) I wish I had started them post-viva when the initial euphoria was still present, not waiting a week or so by which time the data seems stale and flat, like a tin of coke, the day after opening. It is about staying self motivated - give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back, have a glass of whatever takes your fancy, then get back in front of that keyboard. The PhD is just a beginning of a hopfully succesful career

November 23, 2011

ECR perspectives: the Teaching Grid for ECR tutors

As Fran Scott's blog post explained, the last ECR network event was based in the Teaching Grid, where the staff showcased the wonderful facilities in the Experimental Teaching Space. The timing of this event was perfect for me as last week I taught classes in the Teaching Grid for the first time, so the event stimulated some useful ideas about how to use the space. I wanted to follow up Fran's post with a blog on how I used the space, offer some tips for ECR tutors, and would love to hear from anyone else who has used the Teaching Grid.

The seminar was on Allen Ginsberg's Howl, for first-year students on a literary theory module. I have been reading up on enactive, open-space learning methods as part of my work towards PGA IAPP, and this was a perfect opportunity to explore this; this complex poem needs to be read aloud to really get a detailed engagement with its language and form. I also wanted to use some visual and auditory stimulus that would encourage different creative responses. In past years, exploring the poem in these ways has been rather more limited by teaching in a cramped office with little space even to move into group work.

So the Teaching Grid provided the perfect environment for getting students up on their feet and engaging with the text differently. I set up a central area with seats around a Smartboard, from which a recording of the first performance of Howl played as the students entered. I gave instructions for the seminar exercise - to prepare a performed reading of a designated section of the poem in small groups - and displayed these on the smartboard for the duration of the session. On a projector at one end of the room, I displayed the original manuscript of Howl (complete with Ginsberg's scribblings where words have been changed) and I had the book available for students to refer to.

The students dispersed into groups around the room and set about the exercise. The performed readings were to offer interpretations of the poem, and the students were asked to think about the language, form, and how they were going to divide the lines/words between their group members to achieve a particular effect. Initially, they did this using techniques that might typically be employed in a seminar; but as they started to speak bits aloud and work with different performace possibilities, they began to think much more about different interpretations that and new readings and understandings to emerge. They were more attentive to the intricacies of the text, as they had to pause and consider words they didn't know or understand (but had previously skimmed over), and before long they were fervently analysing the text.

Some groups chose to listen again to the recording, or spent time concentrating on the manuscript copy. I've used these resources in previous years, but here students could dip in and out of different areas and go with what sparked their creativity - in the seminar room, it's more a case of everyone doing the same thing at the same time. There was noticeably more energy and vibrancy to the discussions, and the groups could explore how they used the physical space in their readings - all the while making as much noise as they needed to with no worries about disturbing the class next door!

At the end, we reconvened to the central area and each group took their turn to present their section. All the presentations were markedly different, creatively exploring the text and producing some really interesting readings of the poem - more diverse than when they are set a piece of passage analysis in class. We ended with a short discussion about why they'd made the choices they had, the processes they'd gone through to get to their final readings, how the different interpretations worked.

The students certainly seemed to find this a useful exercise, and I felt it was useful for them to work in a different way that was creative and fun, yet productive. It was also useful as a tutor, and got me thinking about teaching in a different, and more creative, way. I'd recommend that other ECR tutors use the space to explore new teaching methods, or simply to give old methods a new twist. My advice would be to plan carefully: have a clear sense of what you want the students to get out of the session. Create a clear structure around activities as the students (and you) might initially feel out of your comfort zone; direct instructions and aims helped to establish the boundaries, within which creative responses could flow!

For busy ECR tutors, it's also worth noting that this wasn't much more time-consuming than organising a typical seminar - I'd just say it's important to start thinking well in advance, so you aren't rushed in your planning. Make time to visit the space before the day, as this is also vital for getting a clear idea of what is on offer and what you can do. I'm already thinking about how I could use this in other modules, and hope to be back in the Teaching Grid soon!

Charlotte Mathieson is a tutor in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, where she completed her PhD in November 2010. She researches Victorian literature and culture with particular interest in mobility in the mid-nineteenth century novel.

November 22, 2011

ECR perspectives: Fran Scott on Enhancing your Teaching

At the latest ECR network event on Enhancing Your Teaching, Jess Humphries and Christine Smith from the Learning and Development Centre introduced the new Teaching for Researcher programme, while Nazia Hussein and Becky Woolley gave ECR network members a tour of the Teaching Grid and discussed interactive learning methods.
The "How to Enhance Your Teaching" event offered a great opportunity for ECR members to consider how they might develop their skills in teaching by attending courses like the Teaching for Researchers programme, whilst providing the opportunity to meet likeminded fellow tutors from other disciplines and sharing (both good and bad!) experiences.
To begin, Jess and Christine talked us through the various elements involved in the T for R programme: two half-day workshops, two shorter workshops and an online workshop, which will include studying topics such as ‘Assessment and Feedback’, ‘Small Group Teaching’, ‘Session Planning’, ‘Dealing with Challenging Situations’, among others.As an ECR part-time tutor who often struggles to find time for anything other than teaching preparation, the course seemed ideal—involving significantly less time than the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Professional Practice (PCAPP), and yet still comprehensive, getting to the heart of matters that can improve our teaching and the relationship we have with our students. The course received good feedback from our members.
There followed a lively discussion about the balance between teaching and research, with several ECRs admitting that they often feel overwhelmed by the amount of teaching preparation they are expected to do, with departments unable to offer much, if any, support to new tutors. Members suggested that they were often anxious about their seminars and lectures: were they interesting enough? Did students understand? Was their marking good enough?It was agreed that these are common worries for ECR tutors (who are often expected to jump in at the deep-end), and there was a general feeling that an ECR tutor support group would be very useful.
Following more chat, wine and nibbles, Nazia Hussein, accompanied by Becky Woolley (Teaching Grid Manager), took us around the Teaching Grid and showed us how the space might be used. Members were surprised to find that there was a variety of technology on offer, including iPads, wireless projection equipment, smart boards, video editing equipment, as well as a wide, flexible space that encourages tutors to be experimental. We discussed our ideas and experiences of the Teaching Grid, before finishing with a Q and A session with Nazia and Hussein.
We left the event both encouraged and excited by the possibilities before us, and with a new desire to make the most of our teaching and to seek support from our peer group.
Fran Scott is a tutor in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, where she recently completed her PhD; her research explores the history of midwifery, female sexuality and female health in the eighteenth century, and the impact it continues to have today.

November 03, 2011

Enhancing your Teaching as an ECR

Writing about web page

tgAt the next event for the Research Exchange ECR Network, we'll be focusing on how you can make the most of your teaching practice as an Early Career Researcher and enhance your employability through services available at Warwick.

Jess Humphries from the Learning and Development Centre will announce a new course for ECR tutors which combines modules from PGA IAPP and PCAPP; and the Teaching Grid will showcase their facilities that can help enhance your teaching practice as an ECR.

There will be time around the session to network with other ECR members over a glass of wine, so you can also share teaching experiences and advice with other tutors.

Registration is required for this event - please email to reserve a place. If you're not yet a member of the ECR network, you can join the network online or email to find out more.

October 10, 2011

Beginning a new post in a new institution

Towards the end of the PhD and in the ECR years before a stable job, the question that keeps coming up is: what kind of gainful employment are we going to find? Do we want a research or teaching position (assuming we haven’t lost the will and want to get out of academia altogether)? How far away do we want to consider moving? What kind of department do we want to be in? And how much money will we have?

Those are the kinds of questions which occupied me during the last few months of my PhD, and I was lucky enough to go straight into a temporary full-time contract at a new institution. While I love my new job, however, after starting it I realised that all of my thoughts had been about getting the job, and little to do with what it would be like actually starting a position as a faculty member after years of being a research student. With that in mind, here are a few tips for when you find yourself moving to a new institution.

1) Keep up the energy. Hopefully you’ll have time to prepare before you meet students; but, if you’re like me, you may well find yourself thrown straight into teaching. You’ll need plenty of energy to get through the first few weeks, as inevitably you’ll be dealing with all the usual trials of teaching while also attempting to settle into a new environment. Be proactive!

2) Get to grips with the systems as soon as you can. These will probably be the biggest differences to what you’re used to, and it takes time to learn how to use new systems for student records, personal tutees, online workspace, e-profile builders and whatever else your new institution may have. Don’t underestimate how much this slows down your work, and allow yourself time to get to know the programmes.

3) You will probably get dumped on. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is inevitable – if you’re the new member of staff, you will probably take on teaching elements and administrative responsibilities that no-one else wanted. Don’t complain! If you’re willing to do a good job in areas that others were not keen on, you’ll get a good reputation very early on.

4) Get involved: go to socials, help your new colleagues out. While you may have a big workload, you are also coming in fresh and have the opportunity to choose what you want to be involved in, so have a look around and see where you can make yourself useful. Particularly if you’re on a temporary contract, the more you’re involved with your department, the more chance of your contract being extended!

5) Avoid politics. There are conflicts and differences in any department, but the new person has the chance to be genuinely collegiate. Get to know as many of your new colleagues as possible, and use the opportunity to learn about other areas of research. Don’t just stick within your particular research group.

6) Make friends with the admin team. You will need them. A lot.

7) Bring positive experiences from your last institution to the table. While you don’t want to harp on about “The way we did things at Warwick was…”, don’t undervalue your old experience. You may be surprised at how differently things run at your new institution, and a fresh perspective on debates will often be welcome.

8) Look after yourself. Particularly if you’ve moved house to be near your new job, the chances are you’ll be trying to establish a new life for yourself alongside the new job. Take the time to unpack properly, to fill the fridge, to feel at home. Check out the local cultural life, find places where you can continue your hobbies or play sports, and look after yourself. The chances are you will spend much of your first few weeks very tired indeed, so make sure you can unwind properly.

Finally, good luck! It’ll be hard work, but well worth it when you’ve met your first students, given your first research paper and received your first paycheque!

Peter Kirwanis a Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the University of Nottingham; he completed his PhD research on The Shakespeare Apocrypha in August 2011.

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