Celebrating 500 Fellows at Swansea University – Recognising support for Research Students through HEA Fellowship


While its compulsory for junior staff, I felt it was important that senior academics were also seen to fully engage in this process, and perhaps lead by example, gain the recognition myself.

Steve Conlan, is a Research Professor in the Medical School, leading the reproductive biology and gynaecological oncology research group supporting a range of post-doctoral staff, PhD and masters students as well as undergraduate students undertaking final dissertations in this field. He was one of the co-founders of the Centre for NanoHealth. Read more about Steve through his profile page: https://www.swansea.ac.uk/staff/medicine/research/conlanrs/).

Steve’s account of Fellowship is rather unusual as it focuses mostly on supporting postgraduate students in their goal of gaining higher degrees. Here’s why he applied for HEA Fellowship recognition and what he got out of the application process.

Why did you value gaining HEA Fellowship recognition?

“I work at a University and to me its primary mission is about education. We need scientists of the future who need to be taught about their field and supported to develop the skills necessary for their role.

When I started in 2000, there was some ‘professional’ help for new lecturers. Although you did get “thrown the textbook” and were expected to teach very soon afterwards. For me I learnt to teach and support learning through ‘entropy’.

Now, younger academic staff are learning professionally how to be educators and it’s valued that you’ve undergone this certificated practice. While its compulsory for junior staff, I felt it was important that senior academics were also seen to fully engage in this process, and perhaps lead by example, gain the recognition myself.”

What impact did the writing process have?

“The process was quite interesting to undertake. It made me reflect on what I’ve gained through experience. I was able to consolidate my ideas and consider areas of my supervisory practice where I could offer even more to my students.

It enabled me to bring all my ideas together, review the pedagogic literature and this helped to strengthen my practice.

I’ve always encouraged independent learning. For example, rather than the ‘traditional’ supervisor/student meeting where the supervisor asks the student what they’d done and it feels like they are ‘reporting in’, my students lead the meeting at a peer-to-peer level. We explore ideas, we have in-depth 2-way conversations reflecting the coaching style I use for staff – I apply this to students. Students can invite in their peers to the meetings or other specialists and I provide an environment in these meetings in which they are not intimidated about putting ideas on the table.”

Some challenges? Good parts of the application process?

“I didn’t know much of the pedagogical literature surrounding research student supervision and found it hard to find evidence for this and what’s seen as best practice (the literature out there is quite limited). This is where supervisory teams are helpful to support one another and offer different personal styles.

I found the writing process very easy. There were valuable conversations around the room in the application development sessions – especially with those who already had Fellowship recognition and were seeking Senior Fellowship. The doctoral guidelines from the HEA were a very useful framework too and it was interesting to look at previous examples to gauge the direction and depth of coverage in the various aspects of the application.

The writing styles is completely different to scientific writing. I found it a bit like writing a press release. It’s essential to humanise the writing – it’s about me!

Having someone else’s input to my drafts was invaluable. I’m not afraid to have constructive criticism – you can get word blind and it’s important to put it to one side and put it out there for review.”

Fellows are expected to ‘remain in good standing’ how are you doing that?

“I’m continuing my approach to supervision with a focus on the importance of writing research papers early and in parallel with their thesis writing. Research publications are the commodity of scientists and therefore having a few under their belt and not waiting to the end of the research puts students in a very strong position for their future career prospects. I support them in a structured way, discussing ideas, the writing style, drafting and editing are critical roles for me as a research supervisor.

I’m also now exploring, in my role as Head of Enterprise and Innovation for the School, the ways in which I can incorporate innovation within both undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum. And also encouraging my post-doctoral researchers who do some teaching to seek Associate Fellowship recognition.”

Some tips for those considering applying?

“Start early, plan well, and don’t leave it to the last minute. It’s not hard to write. Get on and Do it!”

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