From One Academic Family to Another: My Move from RGU to UoA

From One Academic Family to Another: My Move from RGU to UoA
2024-03-15

As I sit down to reflect on the past almost three years, it's hard to believe how quickly time has flown since I made the leap from my role as an Online Learning Developer in The School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences at Robert Gordon University (RGU) to becoming a Teaching Fellow within the Institute of Applied Health Sciences, the University of Aberdeen (UoA). This transition has been more than just a change of scenery; it's been a profound chapter of growth, challenges, and newfound horizons.

But let’s start with a little background, my journey started back in 1998 when I was made redundant from my Legal Secretary job, we had just received our first PCs and was told not to press a “certain” button as you’d get the “blue screen of death”.  I, for those who know me, pressed the button.  So, when I was made redundant, I decided to go back to college and learn about this Information Technology which was taking over.  I enjoyed the subject so much that I eventually went to RGU to do my degree in Software Engineering which I achieved in 2002. 

After a couple of years working in a small company, building, and fixing computers, I decided a move was needed.  I joined RGU in 2005 as a Learning Technologist in the Centre of Education Learning and Teaching (CELT) which eventually became the Department for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching and Assessment (DELTA) and it was during this time that, under the watchful eyes of Charles Juwah, Catherine Ogilvie and Geoff Goolnik that I started on my HEA journey. 

My Role in CELT initially was to support the schools with the use of software in their teaching, which included teaching academics on how to use the new software which was coming online, such as Video conferencing tools and the like.  It was whilst I was doing these sessions that I was advised by Geoff that going for the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education Learning and Teaching would be useful to my career path.  After completing the first two modules of the PGCERT it allowed me to achieve Associate Fellow of the HEA and once I completed the last two, I got Fellow.

However, it was during my time with the School of Pharmacy and Life sciences that I finally got to my then goal and that was to achieve my Senior Fellowship with the HEA due to my focus on the coordination, management and development of the Postgraduate Pharmacy suite of courses at RGU (Advanced Pharmacy Practice, Clinical Pharmacy Practice and Pharmacist Independent Prescribing) with the support and help of Anita, Trudi and Brian and my mentoring of new members of staff.  I wouldn’t have been able to attain this without the support of my friend and Mentor  the late Professor Lesley Diack who “knew I could do it”.

I was also known as the “plagiarism guru” as the whole world of Academic Integrity fascinated me and so I was often called upon to help with queries.  This resulted in my new approach to re-educating students on how to avoid plagiarism.  Which was to adapt the Evidence based training framework called T.H.E.P.A.C.T. (Technology Helps Easy and Practical Accessible Curriculum Teaching).  This framework was initially developed for Pre-K Students, however, after speaking with the founder Phyl Macomber, I thought it would be an interesting way to teach the students.

At RGU, I was part of a tight-knit academic family where every corridor and lecture hall felt like a familiar embrace. The decision to leave RGU wasn't an easy one. It meant leaving behind cherished colleagues who had become friends and students who had made a lasting impact on my academic life.

Joining the UoA as a Teaching Fellow marked a shift not just in institutions but in my entire approach to academia. The first year was a whirlwind of adapting to a new way of working, as in I needed to ask for support from our wonderful eLearning team rather than sorting it myself.  After almost 16 years of being the “go to person”, it was strange having to go to someone else.  Also immersing myself in the rich academic culture and building connections with a fresh set of colleagues. It was like starting a new chapter in a book, with each day unveiling a bit more of the plot.

In my new role, I’ve discovered that it's not just a job; it's an ongoing journey of self-discovery and learning. But this one is different to the journey I had been on for the last 16 years, as now I am classed as and becoming an academic!   The dynamic academic environment, coupled with the support of my colleagues, has empowered me to explore innovative teaching methods and integrate cutting-edge assessment into the courses I teach. For example in the work-based learning team, of which I am now a leader, we have re-jigged the assessments for both the postgraduate 15-credit and 30-credit courses to change to a final oral assessment (from predominantly written submissions) which allows the students to consolidate their learning and perform better in the final assessment.  The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and a reflection/review exercise will be done at the end of each course.  

I have had some challenges and fears raise their ugly head the first one being “imposter syndrome”.  It wasn’t until I attended a session given by Kate Atkin, where I first came upon this phenomenon.  It actually made me realise that there was a name for how I was feeling, and that I wasn’t the only one.  The second challenge I had was that I was allotted some undergraduate personal tutees, that certainly made me feel like a grown-up having others I was responsible for in a pastoral role.  The third challenge was the first time I had to mark a script and give some academic judgement, this was a surprise and I kept doubting myself!, but I think I am getting there.  The fourth and most important challenge I have is the answer to the question of “research aspirations”, what do I want to research?  I have a lot of ideas around AI and how we could use it to benefit our teaching, but is that because of my computing background?  Then there is work-based placement, how can we incorporate dynamic and innovative assessments?  My mind is whirring! 

The students continue to inspire me, their eagerness to learn, question, and explore keeps my own passion for education alive. The sense of community here has fostered an environment where curiosity is not just encouraged but celebrated, creating a dynamic and engaging learning experience.

As I move towards marking my third anniversary of my transition from RGU to UoA, I can't help but feel grateful for the experiences, the challenges, and the growth that have defined this chapter, with a lot of firsts: first conference as an academic (HETL) to having my first lot of personal tutees.  While I cherish the memories from my time at RGU, these past years have been instrumental in shaping my professional identity. Here's to embracing change, nurturing knowledge, and to the exciting academic adventures that lie ahead! 

Thank you to  Amanda for giving me the chance, Kirsty for nurturing me, Heather for steering me and my husband Ross for being my tether! Not to mention all my colleagues in the Postgraduate Educational Group.  You guys Rock!

Thanks for reading.

T

Published by The School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, University of Aberdeen

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