At a typical staff development session, if you ask a participant how they came into their academic role, chances are they were from a professional background. This may not be surprising as higher education has always had a long association with many professions and industries. Yet the demand for professionals in academic roles -practitioner academics- has grown significantly over the years with public services, such as nursing and policing, now requiring mandatory HE qualifications (Bekhradnia and Beech, 2018) in parallel with rapid growth in degree apprenticeships (Universities UK, 2019).
Fresh to the role of an academic but not new to a career, many of these colleagues may be a ‘dual professional’ (Andalo, 2011; Bradley, 2019) joint post holders holding a practice role and an academic role concurrently, however, some will come directly into a full-time academic role. Yet moving from a practitioner role to an academic one can be a challenge (Wilson et al., 2014) that can be associated with negativity (Gourlay, 2011; Shreeve, 2011). However, this sizeable cohort entering into a novel, unfamiliar territory is often met with a ‘one size fits all’ mode of induction and support.
Yet, HE has an unrelenting need for these industry-rich, practitioner academics to settle in and stay and this acute and unique experience into an academic role can be anticipated as it involves a transition of socio-cultural practice and space (Kitchener, 2021). Supporting practitioner academics to gain familiarity with their role is therefore paramount and educational developers are well-positioned to guide this. Underpinning induction support and guidance necessitates the recognition of the diversity of backgrounds and one approach is to recognise and draw attention to the assumptions and expectations that accompany the academic world.
- Steps to acknowledge the volume of tacit knowledge within HE with channels to focus on this (such as informal discussion groups or a handbook on everyday working practices);
- A glossary of common acronyms and terms;
- An established practitioner academic as mentor.
Moreover, discrete academic support should also be made available, recognising that for some being a lecturer may be their first experiences of HE if they completed all professional training in their previous posts. Having access to study skills can help accelerate the support they are able to pass on to their students.
Critical to this induction support and guidance is to highlight what is traditionally valued by HE in terms of symbolic capital (such as journal papers). This may be a revelation to a practitioner academic whose knowledge, skills and experience, initially recognised in securing employment as an academic, may lack comparable recognition on commencing work in HE. Yet by supporting practitioner academics to recognise the added value and enrichment they bring to academia, particularly towards employability, networking, and currency of professional practice, the value of their background can be highlighted and appreciated.
Thus, by applying a ‘pick and mix’ heterogeneous approach to induction support, the uniqueness of the professional to academic career transition can be sensitively supported to aid successful outcomes that enrich not only the professional academic but academia.
Dr Mary Kitchener
Educational Developer, Oxford Centre for Staff Learning and Development (OCSLD), Oxford Brookes University, Oxford.
Andalo, D. (2011) The Rise of the Dual Professional Lecturers. [Accessed 29/07/19]
Bekhradnia, B., & Beech, D. (2018) Demand for Higher Education to 2030. HEPI Report 105. [Accessed: 24/01/2020]
Bradley, S. (2019) Dual Professionals: Career progression and professional development? [Accessed 09/07/20]
Gourlay, L. (2011) ‘I’d Landed on the Moon’: A New Lecturer Leaves the Academy. Teaching in Higher Education. 16 (5), 591-601
Kitchener, M. (2021)Supporting Academics’ Full-time Transition from Professional Practice to University. A Qualitative Study. Unpublished EdD thesis. Oxford: Oxford Brookes University
Shreeve, A. (2011) Being in Two Camps: Conflicting Experiences for Practice-based Academics. Studies in Continuing Education. 33 (1), 79-91
Universities UK (2019) The Future of Degree Apprenticeships. [Accessed 24/01/20]
Wilson, M. J., Wood, L., Solomonides, I., Dixon, P., & Goos, M. (2014) Navigating the Career Transition from Industry to Academia. Industry and Higher Education. 28 (1), 5-13. [Accessed 28/02/16]