Annual leave, Grant proposals and Postgraduate teaching qualifications…

Break in transmission

It’s been over a month since my last post here. I thought that I owe it to my reader (hi mum!) to explain what has been keeping me from updating the blog and some reflections on the last few weeks...

Annual Leave

The first reason for my lacklustre blogging performance recently has been because I have been on annual leave for at least some of the last few weeks. I have a young family with two children under 6 years so I have to at least try to take some time off to be with them. Now annual leave is a strange thing in academia. Whilst you may officially be ‘out of the office’ and excused from teaching and admin duties, you are never really on holiday – at least not intellectually. Just because you have HOLIDAY! scrawled across your dairy or marked in your google calendar, this does not stop the creative ideas flowing, or the critical mind and analytical brain working (at least not mine!). Another issue is that for many academics and researchers, the summer is the only time we can really take leave, and also the only time many of us have to carry out research activities. The length of annual leave available to most academics is (in my experience) is very generous. However, fitting in this leave and having a meaningful research career can be tricky. Engaging in research activities can be difficult during the teaching semesters when you are flat-out preparing material, teaching, assessing and managing the endless admin side of things – hence the summer is when the research active are active in research. In my role I teach between the last week of September through to around June each year, July is all about exam boards and graduation – early September is all about preparing for the new semester. That leaves around 11 weeks to take 7 weeks of leave with just 4 remaining for research. The result is many of us are still working when we are on leave, but hey – academia is a vocation, not a job.

Grant Proposal Writing

The second reason that I have been absent from your RSS feed, Inbox and twitter stream is that I have been trying to focus all my energies on an ESRC grant proposal (I promise to blog on this in full later). Now this situation helpfully illustrates the issue of leave I have just described. The call came through whilst I was on leave, and must be submitted before the new teaching semester begins. The result is I have been working on this during my holidays. Despite this I have really been enjoying the proposal writing process. It’s nice to think about a potential new project and put some energy into generating an original piece of research. Now this is not my first attempt at the ESRC process. I wrote a proposal for an ESRC PhD Scholarship back in 2008 (and was successful). What has been interesting to me is how much has changed in terms of the kind of information that is required now as opposed to just 4 years previously. In 2008 the substantive information required was the ‘Case for Support’, ‘Project Summary’, ‘Budget’ and ‘Timeline’. In the current proposal I am still required to submit these documents, but also a ‘Lay Summary’ of the research – in other words a non-academic explanation of the proposed work that can could be understood by the public at large, and an ‘Impact Statement’ detailing exactly what impact the work will have beyond the academic world – i.e what will the real world impact on community and society be, and how I plan to disseminate this (beyond the academic spectrum). This all corresponds or course, with the recent ‘impact agenda’ and move to  ‘open source’ dissemination of academic research. In general I support this but  will record  more on my thoughts in a future post…

Post Graduate Teaching Qualifications 

The final thing that has been occupying my time and stopping me from bothering my reader (hi again mum!), is an attempt to complete my Post Graduate Certificate in Higher Education Practice (PGHEP). It is a contractual obligation of all new teaching staff at my institution that we must complete the PGHEP within two years of our appointment. Now I don’t have a problem with undertaking the training and gaining the qualification – the training is truly useful and I like to collect letters after my name ;). I do however have a problem with the way in which we do this (in my institution). The training takes place over 1-2 years, and you fitting in the workshops when you can – which can be difficult during the teaching semesters. The result is that we are learning the theory and practice of teaching, at the same time as teaching. In other words the early lectures, seminars and even whole courses that we are responsible for are muddled through and it is only after the fact, enlightened to theory and good practice that we realise the errors in what we have been doing. Perhaps a better strategy would be a short, intensive, immersive experience before we are unleashed on unsuspecting young minds. The assessment method for most PGHEP style programmes is to produce a portfolio of work that illustrates you have met and demonstrated the specified learning outcomes. Again I don’t have a problem with this – but I do have a problem with the method with which we are forced to produce the portfolio. We have to use PebblePad – perhaps the worst piece of software I have ever had the misfortune of using. I find it clunky, cumbersome, un-intuitive and prohibitively time-consuming – and I count myself as highly digitally literate. I guess my real issue is that we have to use this – it’s the compulsion that irritates me.

To sum up I have been busy of late and decided to take some time out of blogging to concentrate on the above tasks. So now I am blogging again have I completed all of the above? Hell no. I am on leave as I write this, have yet to complete the grant proposal and have deferred submission of my PGHEP portfolio until November. So much for focussing eh?

As usual if you have any thoughts on the above, please let me know in the comments. 

4 comments on “Annual leave, Grant proposals and Postgraduate teaching qualifications…
  1. I’ve come up with issues around training at my new institution too. I was interested in doing some Early Career Researcher training which takes the form of an intensive week of workshops and such. Trouble is that it was scheduled for the first week of the new teaching semester (doh!)

    In converse though, having the workshops spread over a longer time period may be necessary for some of the activities. At least it was in my qualification as it required reflection on implementing the skills developed throughout the training. If it was all in an intensive block before teaching began I’d be worried that I’d forget a lot of what I was meaning to work on. As with you I’ve had to produce a portfolio as the final but had the fortune of being able to submit paper and/or electronically via email with the opportunity to gain feedback on draft versions through the Blackboard software.

    • Thanks for the comment Chris.

      I guess that it is difficult for institutions to come up with a training strategy that works, and I take your point about some workshops needing to be spread out – ours are, but were usually full days during the teaching semesters which made attendance difficult as most people have at least some teaching responsibility every day. But overall the learning is useful and we all get there in the end I guess 🙂

      Alex

  2. Hmm. So we have raised an initialsaholic hey? I have only three letters worth having after my name, DAD.

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