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Puiyin Wong: applying for Senior Fellowship (SFHEA)

Puiyin is a Digital Learning Producer at Central Saint Martins.

AdvanceHE Fellowship demonstrates a personal commitment to teaching, learning and the student experience. It provides formal recognition that can be used for career planning and progression. UAL’s Professional Recognition Programme provides staff with structured guidance to prepare an application for Associate, Fellow, or Senior Fellow. 

Whether you are starting out, want to move in a new direction or have significant experience managing teaching and learning activity, Fellowship recognises the professional status of your existing expertise.

The categories of Fellowship don’t necessarily coordinate with specific job titles, roles or seniority. Use this series of case studies to understand the variety of experiences that may allow you to gain Fellowship. 

Hi Puiyin! Thanks for joining today. To kick us off, what’s your working relationship with UAL?

I worked at UAL for 15 years, mostly in a ‘digital’ role in some capacity.  I was a Digital Media Technician at CSM and LCC for a long time, assisting students with digital technologies (like Photoshop or video editing). Then I became Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Coordinator at LCC, working to support staff with digital platforms and pedagogies in their teaching and learning. 

Since April 2021 I’ve been a Learning Technologist at the Royal College of Art. But I haven’t left completely as I still work for UAL Short Courses. 

[Update February 2023: since the time of writing, Puiyin has rejoined UAL as a Digital Learning Producer at Central Saint Martins].

What’s been your journey to Senior Fellowship (SFHEA)?  

I completed my PgCert in 2018 and within that I applied for FHEA. I had intended that to be the end: as a Digital Media Technician you aren’t eligible for SFHEA because you don’t work with staff. When I changed to the TEL Coordinator role, which specifically supports colleagues, then the option to consider Senior Fellowship opened up. 

After 2 years in the TEL Coordinator role I thought it was a little early to apply for SFHEA, but I wanted to capitalise on my experiences during COVID to bring forward my application.  I felt like I’d had an extra 2 or 3 years of experience crammed into one very intense academic year! 

What was the spur for your decision to apply for SFHEA at the time that you did? 

I first applied in January 2021 and, aside from feeling like I’d gained the relevant experience, I knew I was also starting my PhD in the same month. I wanted to try to get the SFHEA done so I could focus on my studies. 

How long did it take you to write your application? How was the process for you? 

Finding a great mentor was key for me.  It’s not a requirement, but that critical friendship was so important. I met up with him before writing anything at all. We talked through my ideas and what I was planning.  Then once I had a draft, there was an iterative feedback process between us to refine it. 

An alternative suggestion is to join up and peer review with others who are also doing SFHEA. It’s so necessary to get that fresh perspective, I think. You get too close to your own writing after looking at it for days. 

I enjoyed the writing itself.  It’s a celebration of what you’ve done in the last 3-5 years and I didn’t find it a chore.  It was interesting to me to see how much my approach has matured.  From being a student at UAL, to working in student support, then technical support and finally learning technology.  

Time-wise, it was about a month of evenings then a couple of solid days before submission. I chose the reflective commentary, which is like an essay, so collating the references and spellchecking just takes time. 

It was also unexpectedly complementary to my first PhD assignment, which was an auto-ethnography of my experiences and influences.  It helped to be in that academic writing mindset and switch between that and my Senior Fellowship claim. 

Did your thinking about your teaching and learning practice change whilst making the application? 

I realised I’d done more than I had given myself credit for, for example with mentoring more junior colleagues.

It also helped me acknowledge what I don’t want to do in the future! I may have led a certain project in a particular way, but I’d ask for a different type of support structure and resource in future. I enjoy the people interaction and no longer so much the technical or mechanical elements, which is a change from where I was in my previous roles too. 

What was the biggest challenge to overcome? Did you have any setbacks?

I was awarded on my second attempt, which I’ve since found out is fairly common. I applied for the first time in January 2021. I knew it was a bit of a stretch but I wanted to go for it anyway. My claim was referred (meaning I needed to provide more evidence and resubmit my claim) but I got feedback from reviewers that was really specific and constructive.  It still felt brutal, but it was helpful.  Reading between the lines, I think my examples were OK but the way I presented them wasn’t quite right. 

I took some time, really worked through the feedback and resubmitted in May 2021.  In 4 months I’d not done anything really different in my work, so I was really pleased to be awarded in June.  And I received comments that implied I was clearly demonstrating competence, not a borderline candidate, so that was great too. 

Otherwise, thinking about the examples to use and curating the 6,000 words was tough.  My first draft had 8-9,000 words so I had to make the decision to cut whole sections. My mentor reminded me that I only have to meet each criteria once. But even so, cutting out entire examples was painful. 

Did anything surprise you about going through the process of creating and making your application? 

Getting awarded was a nice surprise! I wasn’t sure if I’d get a conditional award, where you have to submit some extra information.  

Elsewhere, the personal validation from colleagues via advocate statements was great.  And I asked a few colleagues for smaller testimonials via email.  I expected a generic 1-2 lines but instead got several much longer, very personalised responses. It was a huge confidence boost. 

Now you’ve achieved SFHEA, what impact has it had, for you, if any?  

I’ve not used it for any career development, so that’s up in the air still. But meantime the internal impact of the confidence boost is very real. I also decided to put it after my name in my email signature, because I think it signals my capabilities as I get to know my new colleagues. It means we start from a slightly different point in our conversations about learning and teaching.  

And I think I might be able to certify passport applications now too, which is a bonus! 

What advice would you have for others looking to make an SFHEA application? 

Go for it! It’s free, what do you have to lose? It only costs your time.  If you’re unsure then talk to Neil Currant (Professional Recognition Programme lead).  He’ll give you honest and straightforward feedback, whilst still being really helpful and encouraging. 

Otherwise, get a good critical friend (or group of friends). And obviously don’t be put off if you don’t get it first time around.  

What’s next for you?  

Well, I have 3.5 years of PhD ahead of me, at least! In terms of Fellowship, it’s a giant leap to Principal Fellowship, where you have to demonstrate institutional and/or (inter)national impact. I have a couple of Learning Technology community projects I’ve started, but it will take years to see results. I think aspirations for the future are important though, so I’m aiming high and for the PFHEA at some point.  

Read more Fellowship case studies

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