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PgCert case study: Sat Sehmbey

Katharine Dwyer, Communications and Events Manager, Teaching, Learning and Employability Exchange

Employability & Industry Manager (Creative Shift), Careers and Employability   

Sat works to build partnerships with the Creative Industries and to design collaborative projects that offer unique industry experiences for students. He completed his PgCert in Spring 2021 and we sat down shortly after to ask about his experiences of the course.  

Good morning Sat! So, how did you find out about the course?  

I found out about the course through my colleagues in the Careers and Employability team. Quite a few of them have already done this course and they all recommended that if I got the opportunity I should go for it.  

The conversations revolved around what you learn and what to expect. A nice thing that they all told me was that you’ll meet so many cool people from around UAL that you’d never normally meet or cross paths with, so I was excited about that.  

And was meeting and talking to your peers one of the highlights of the course for you? 

Yes, especially starting in-person then going through pandemic. Having groups of people that you’re connected with was really helpful and supportive. The others did their final project presentations 2 or 3 days before me and we checked in over Whatsapp: “How was it? Any tips?” That kind of communication was just so helpful. And we said, you know, once all of this is over, we’ll catch up in in the real world again. Have a couple of beers, shoot the breeze and just talk PgCert.  

I also had another colleague on my team, Lora, doing the course. Because we’re in the same team and do similar work, it was so helpful to check in with her every week too.  

Is there anything else that you would particularly say was a highlight?  

Being able to share some of the work that Creative Shift within Careers and Employability are doing. That generates interest from other academics, which was great.  

Other highlights were seeing some incredible projects by other people on the course, which were just amazing to learn about.   

And what were the challenges of the course for you?  

Definitely moving from in-person to online. That was a huge challenge. But the PgCert team were so understanding of that. They adapted the modules, the learning materials, the hand-in dates.  

I really learned and sympathised with the current students and their setup. It’s a very difficult time for them and as a PgCert student, I’ve got a snippet of what they must be going through and how they must be feeling. It’s tough. Networking and socializing is such a challenge because you aren’t able to do that as much, or as naturally, online.  

Was there anything about the course that wasn’t as you expected?  

Before I came onto the PgCert I was expecting a lot of practical elements to it. About running sessions or delivering workshops to students, and then being assessed around that. Or putting plans together for submission.  

When I arrived it was all big books and heavy reading! Philosophical discussions and debates and even poetry crept into it as well. It was a very creative arts learning experience, very different to what I was used to, so it took me a while to settle in.  

So if I understand you, you were expecting it to be quite focused on the nuts and bolts delivery of teaching, but actually it was much wider?  

Yeah, it’s super philosophical in in some ways, but really useful. It was a lot about questioning the core of what you do and why. In my role, I was able to question why are we doing these live briefs with industry partners? What’s really in it for the students? 

Obviously students will get employability skills from projects, material for their CVs and portfolios as well as industry experience.  The PgCert allowed me to think a little deeper about how I can help build better student communities and create spaces/environments that help them to leverage their skills, assets and the expertise they bring along. I started to think about how we shape their experience and make it valuable. 

The PgCert is a big time commitment. What made you decide that it would be worthwhile?  

If I’m honest, every single one of my colleagues told me: “make sure you plan your time well and do your work.” And I thought, well that shouldn’t be a problem because I enjoy learning. Doing something you’re interested in after work and also linking it to my role at UAL would be fine.  

I only understood what they meant once I started the course. The day job that everyone does here at UAL is complex, so trying to restart your brain in the evenings to do the PgCert, that took a lot of power and motivation, and sometimes you just don’t have that. That’s where connecting with all the other participants was really important. That’s definitely one of the things that got me through the PgCert.  

We created a WhatsApp group with 5 or 6 of us, so on days where I thought “I just don’t understand any of this,” I’d go to that group and put the question out there. I’d get 5 different responses, showing me different ways of tackling it. Which was so good instead of getting stuck at a dead end. 

How did you find the academic reading? 

I found the academic reading really pushed me out of my comfort zone. There was a lot of tough text and academic language to process, which was frustrating at times. But I did find some unique gems that catered to my interests and passions of music, rhythm and community building. Such as Rhythmanalysis by Henri Lefebvre (watch this video presentation about rhythmanalysis by Dr Dawn Lyon), Alfred North Whitehead’s work around rhythms in education and Étienne Wenger on Communities of Practice.  

There was a lot of free thinking and self exploration that you had to do around the subject in the Curriculum Design elective unit.* You had to make your own map and find your own route. In this context it was a little bit frustrating, but it teaches you a lot about how to shape your project, which direction it should go and why?  

*Note: post course reapproval in 20/21 there is no longer an elective unit structure within the PgCert

It sounds like it’s going back to that student anxiety of wanting to find the ‘right’ answer, which is not what creative education is about?  

To reflect back on the whole programme, it is very creative education based because there was no kind of judgment, “that’s not right” or “well done.” Now that I look back on it, it’s good to have many perspectives.  

Stylised graphic of 4 female fists in the air in solidarity . Pale purple background with darker purple and green clothing seen on the wrists. Nailpolish and henna decorations are visible on some of the hands.
Illustration by Nia Hefe Filiogianni

So if we move on and talk about your project, give me a little overview of what you decided to investigate and why.   

My Self-initiated Project** was about the programme we’re running here at Careers and Employability called Women+ in Leadership. My research question was to identify the key components within the leadership live briefs that impact on the leadership development of the students. From this I wanted to be able to develop these key features into a wider series of leadership events offered by Careers and Employability at UAL.  

I did a small focus group with some of the previous participants, who were also ambassadors for this year’s cohort. I had a conversation with them all on Zoom, asking lots of questions.  

From that I learned so much about why they applied to the programme, what benefits they’d received from it and also what they developed in terms of their leadership experience. I also learned how to improve the programme, some potential fine tuning as well as bigger future ideas. 

**Note: post course reapproval in 20/21 this is now Unit 3, Action Research Project

Did you find out anything that you weren’t expecting?  

That’s a really good question. This project allowed me to identify what the key elements were that made a difference in the students learning journey. 

I learned the value and importance of how:

  • Communities as practice allowed students to be in a safe space where they could bond in their teams, take part in joint activities and discussions, share information and learn from each other. 
  • The leadership coach inspired the leader that was already within the students, through exploring alternative paradigms of leadership. (Such as Ubuntu – West African Philosophy – this loosely translates to ‘I am because we are’ / ‘the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity’.) 
  • An African Storytelling workshop created strong bonds between the participants through activities that used the voice, body, music to build trust with one another. 
  • Students positively engaged with the feedforward mechanism that was embedded into the learning journey. Feedforward is the reverse of feedback: it replaces positive or negative feedback with future-oriented solutions. 

Would you say that the PgCert was an opportunity to slow down and go deeper, a space for reflection? 

Yeah, definitely. It really forced me to slow it right down and dismantle everything. Have you heard of a podcast called Song Exploder? It’s so much fun and it literally does the same thing as what I wanted to do in this project. It’s a podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made.  You hear each instrument from the track individually and learn about why it was created that way. You get to understand if it was put through some sort of synth, or the pitch was altered etc. At the end, all the instruments are put back together into the original track and you hear it with a fresh perspective, which gives new meaning to the music.  

So that’s my inspiration around Women+ in Leadership. How do we learn more about all the elements and then bring them together to understand a deeper meaning within it?

Is there anything you wish you’d known before you started the PgCert?  

Not to underestimate time. Value the time you have and make sure you set aside enough hours every week. And also don’t think too big for your project. If you think too big and too complicated,  you won’t have enough time to do your project well. Think small, think simple, think effectively and then allow things to grow and develop. Your project will naturally tell you what it needs and how need to develop it. 

Finally, connect with your peers and stay in touch regularly. Form subgroups, WhatsApp groups, share ideas. Ask each other questions and get those different perspectives. And if you’re lucky as well, like myself, there might be a couple of colleagues from your team or your department who have done the PgCert, or are doing it too. Check in with them as much as possible.  

Thanks for your time today Sat, it’s appreciated.

Read more: 

What do PgCert students do next?

PgCert participants can continue their research onto the MA Academic Practice, the PgCert’s big sister course, where their individual research interests and methodological expertise deepens and develops further.

The ‘Academics, in Practice’ exhibition at LCC in February 2020 showcased the research from the MA class of 2019.  The variety of research interests continues at this level, with exhibits spanning themes as diverse as roleplay, failure, walking, values, learning spaces, weaving, sustainability and fighting. 

Want to know more?

Read more about the PgCert and MA Academic Practice in Art Design and Communication at UAL. We’ll be running information sessions for the courses starting in January 2021 soon.  Keep an eye on the Professional Development webpages or sign up to the Exchange bulletin for all the latest news.

If you’d like any more information do get in touch:

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