Technician’s Story: Becoming an Advance HE Fellow (FHEA)

By 22nd May 2020 Blog

Zofia Bishop talks about her journey towards becoming a Fellow of Advance HE (FHEA).

My name is Zofia Bishop and I am still in the early stages of my career. I got awarded my General Engineering MEng degree in 2014 from the University of Liverpool. I then went on to complete my doctoral experimental research degree in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Sheffield (UoS) in the field of III-V semiconductors for integrated quantum optical circuits. I was awarded my PhD in January 2019. As I was coming towards the end of my PhD I knew I did not want to pursue an academic career mainly due to the job insecurity and likelihood of the need to relocate that comes with post-doctoral positions and subsequent search for permanent academic roles. However, I did enjoy the working culture at the university, and hence in November 2018 I moved to the department of Multidisciplinary Engineering Education at the UoS as a Senior Engineering (Teaching) Technician. I now manage the Electronics & Control (E&C) laboratory designed for teaching 1st and 2nd year engineering undergraduates from across the Faculty of Engineering. The laboratory has a capacity for 160 students and has 3 other full-time technical staff members under my supervision as well as 3 full-time university teachers. 

As soon as I heard about the Higher Education Academy and the teaching recognition that they offer in the form of the fellowship I knew it would be beneficial to my career to pursue it. As a PhD student I was involved in running mathematics and physics undergraduate problem classes. It included assessing and providing feedback on the associated coursework assignments. I also supervised Master student’s projects and taught them practical laboratory skills in the state-of-the-art research facilities, where I conducted my experiments. In my current role I am responsible for ensuring that all the equipment, components and technical support required for the scheduled teaching sessions in the E&C lab are available and that all the activities are carried out safely and in a timely manner. I also provide technical and academic help to students during the classes and develop teaching materials and new laboratory activities. I thought it was a great opportunity to get formally recognised for all the teaching and teaching related experience in the Higher Education that I have that might not otherwise be immediately visible from my job title or my 1-page CV to my potential future employers. I also realised that if I were to progress to a university teacher position in the future having fellowship of the HEA could be an advantage as gaining this status often forms part of the teaching contract. Furthermore, I work in a culture where Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is encouraged and supported, and can be undertaken during work hours, hence there were no reasons for me not to apply for the HEA fellowship! I was also lucky that some of my immediate work colleagues have been through the process themselves and were happy to advise and provide supportive references. 

After some consideration I decided to apply for the Fellowship of the HEA (rather than AFHEA or SFHEA). I realised that the application process is rather lengthy and hence decided to complete it during the summer months outside of typical semester dates when it is easier to find good chunks of time to focus on the application.

I think more could also be done to make technicians aware of the HEA fellowship and its benefits. Currently academics are strongly encouraged (if not required) to go through the application process, hence the perception that it is academically related. Perhaps HEA should be promoted as part of the CPD for all technicians as they all work in higher education, and in one way or another contribute to teaching, whether they are research technicians, experimental officers or workshop technicians.

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