Mindsets for postgraduate research: Developing doctoral intelligence

Research quality concerns could stem partly from students enrolling for advanced degrees, because of the competitive work environment without awareness of the unique nature of education at this level. A clearer understanding about the mindsets needed for PGR in general and the doctorate specifically is thus necessary. Just as there are debates about attributes for the doctorate or attributes due to the doctorate, there are debates about inherent intelligence and the ability to develop intelligence (Sternberg, 2000). Intelligence in this context refers to the broad cognitive and behavioural mental tools or mindsets for problem-solving for an innovative PhD contribution.

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Towards a Manifesto for Programme Leadership: Advocacy, Inspiration & Action

In recent years, programme leadership emerged, tentatively, from the institutional shadows to be acknowledged for the pivotal position it plays between student learning, academic practice and strategic decision-making. This was particularly striking during the emergency phases of the pandemic, where programme leaders came to the fore, reassuring and supporting learners and guiding teaching team colleagues through the challenges of rapid change in institutional policy and educational delivery.  Yet questions remain about the extent of institutional appreciation of the programme leadership role and the practical support, recognition and resourcing that flows to those in these positions.  Continued advocacy and collective championing is, we argue, vital.

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Programme leadership: What’s the point of quality assurance anyways?!

Continuous programme improvement has been historically based on providing documentation and fixing gaps in how a programme satisfies its learning outcomes, based on data and input from multiple stakeholders (Brodeur & Crawley, 2009). How many times have you been invited to a meeting to discuss quality assurance, only to be asked to provide support on how to get through the bare minimum and avoid bureaucratic processes? While those of us in educational support roles feel it is more valuable to focus on the spirit and intention of quality assurance initiatives, how do we create a culture that focuses on quality enhancement rather than bureaucratic milestones?

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Programme leaders challenging binaries in higher education: Academic vs non-academic?

One large green bottle amongst four small clear bottles
Attribution: Jessie1dog ‘I don’t think I belong here’ from Flickr

We are delighted and proud to be involved in the creation of ‘Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in HE: Practical Wisdom for Leaders, Educational Developers and Programme Leaders’ because it recognises the pivotal role of Programme Leaders (PLs)  in higher education. 

It has been noted for some time, and we certainly found in our work with programme leaders, that this group of staff, who work at the junction of pedagogy, academic leadership, and student experience, too often seem to get a raw deal. Given the sheer power of the market forces of student satisfaction and notions of ‘quality’ in the neoliberal academy, it can be hard to see why they are not better valued and celebrated for their incredible impact on the student learning journey.

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Seeding support: a cross-institutional development programme for programme leaders

When the call for chapters for Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in HE: Practical wisdom for leaders, educational developers and programme leaders. Routledge, UK was announced, it was just the right time for us. We have launched extensive programme leader (PL) development programme at UWE Bristol and I was keen to share our experiences. These showed that busy PLs will engage with institutional support, in great numbers, if it does justice to the complexity of their role. I was, and still am, adamant that we should not shy away from developing an extensive programme of support for PLs. After all, we expect a lot from them, so we should be willing and able to offer support that is commensurate with our expectations. The chapter captures the design principles of the programme, which I believe have ensured its success. Here is a short snippet of our story:

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Scoping programme leadership: Nailing Jelly to the Wall

The reality of programme leadership in a contemporary university is so complex and challenging that it is a wonder why anyone takes it on!  In the UK sector there is some movement towards recognising such roles in relation to career progression, thus providing motivation, but it is difficult to demonstrate success in the role in the same way as one might research output. Whilst Robinson-Self (2020, p119) points out that programme leaders “are in a position to be instigators of genuine positive change”, he also describes the challenges of defining the role and of negotiating the potential tensions of freely adapting a programme and the constraints of institutional organisation.

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Sharing practical wisdom: creating environments in which programme leadership can flourish

This is the first post in a Blog Series, edited by Sue Morón-García, focusing on programme leadership. Posts are written by contributors to ‘Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in Higher Education’ (Lawrence, Morón-García and Senior, Routledge, 2022) and will be of interest to anyone practising as or supporting the development of programme leaders and leadership in HE.

Programme leaders (PLs) are crucial to higher education success. They commonly have responsibility for the nexus of the student experience: a programme of study. They work in a highly contextualised environment subject to local cultures (institutional, departmental and disciplinary) and are subject to the strategy and management that shape the systems and processes they must navigate. Our early work with programme leaders and educational developers across the UK and discussions at international events indicated a need for evidence-based, practical wisdom and clarity on how to better develop and support the role.

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Helping students cope – lessons from the pandemic.

As a positive psychologist, I have had a special interest with students’ experience of stress – both those external factors that are perceived as a challenge or a threat, such as assignment demands, deadlines, transitioning to university and building social and academic relationships; and those psychological factors, such as coping style and personality, drawn on to manage those demands and which ultimately impact on wellbeing. This, in turn, has been operationalized through a multiple of indices, from measures of mental health; to life and course satisfaction; anxiety and happiness.

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You’re (still) on mute!” Lessons from a term of hyflex training

Like many institutions, my university – knowing that the continued complications of the pandemic make remote access still useful – kitted out some classrooms to enable students to join on-campus teaching remotely through hybrid, or Hyflex (‘hybrid flexible’) learning. I, and a colleague, had the privilege of introducing our academic staff to these rooms and helping them think about how they might adapt their teaching to this new environment. There have been many pieces on how to teach successfully using Hyflex (such as this, from King’s College), but here are two key things I learned from my first term of training others in this mode.

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Inclusive Academic Practice as Pedagogic Competence

We are all aware that institutions have a legal obligation to support members of our learning community with protected characteristics, and a moral duty to ensure we all have fair and equal opportunity to reach our full potential. However, inclusive academic practice can be a challenging to colleagues who may find the necessary re-assessment of academic knowledge and its production, and the re-thinking and re-shaping of academic practice on more democratic, less imperialist grounds deeply destabilising.  I suggest we, as academic developers, recognise inclusive academic practice involves engaging our personal, political and professional selves but must be complimented with clear guiding principles and advice on practical action and, as Hull’s recently launched Inclusive Education Framework advises, involves the whole institution. The University of Hull has adopted this approach since the launch of the Teaching Excellence Academy in 2019 to positive effect:  NSS returns have lifted year on year contributing to our 42 place uplift in the Guardian University Ranking over the last 2 years, we are now 53rd.

Framing inclusive academic practice as pedagogic competence facilitates this whilst mainstreaming inclusion. Good pedagogic practice in inherently inclusive after all. Based on a model for competence-based education used at the University of Hull (Lawrence 2020; Huxley-Binns, Lawrence and Scott, forthcoming) pedagogic competence is the synthesis of personal, professional and academic experience; disciplinary, pedagogic and institutional knowledge and self-awareness. I have presented competence-based pedagogic practice at two UK Universities: a teaching and a research focussed institution (Lawrence, 2021). Almost all that attended a series of workshops at the teaching focussed institution responding to evaluation found balancing practical steer with acknowledging the personal is pedagogical (if you can forgive this play on the feminist ‘personal is political’) extremely useful, for some revelatory, and almost all found the principles and activities outlined useful and will adopt them.

Figure 1: Competence-based Pedagogic Practice

Building competence-based pedagogic practice

Drawing on my experience using this model in academic development, and the evaluation of and feedback on the workshops, academic developers might wish to bare the following in mind when supporting colleagues in growing their pedagogic competence.


Draw on, recognise and create opportunity for staff to critically reflect on the following as integral to and valuable in academic practice:

  • Individual life experience
  • Past, present and future teaching, scholarship and/or research

For many this is realised through application for Fellowship HEA and peer-observation and the wiley academic developer will embed this reflection and connection within developmental activity.


Ensure colleagues have access to the following information

  • Students within their cohort
  • Disciplinary specific practice and research
  • Institutional process, curricula, assessment & VLE
  • How to create inclusive resources
  • Institutional study and pastoral support services and resources

At the University of Hull we have found staff appreciate and engage with carefully curated resources that offer guidance on interpreting, accessing and using this information as and when they need it, at a time that suites them. Our ‘Teaching Essentials’ VLE has over 650 active users (of approximately 800 academic staff).


Allow opportunity for staff to critically reflect on the following:

  • Positionality (personal & professional identity)
  • Personal strengths & limits (and where to go /how to develop specific practices).
  • The classroom/online ‘climate’
  • Personal/professional responsibilities (EDI policy and law)

In my experience staff appreciate the opportunity to ‘check their own privilege’ as much as acknowledge their own journey to where they are now and where they want to go. There is much to be said about mandatory EDI training, at the very least it reminds staff of their legal obligations while the meaningful and deeper, consciousness raising work goes on.

Principles for Inclusive Academic Practice

The following principle and examples of action are a starting point to building the ‘knowledge’ necessary for pedagogic competence:

Develop learning community & belonging (Thomas, 2012)
– Regular breaks & social chat in class time
– Team-based activity/assignments & ice breakers (Thomas, 2012)
– Inclusive language e.g. use of the pronoun ‘they’ 
– Decolonize curricula & diversify reading lists, visuals, examples, teaching team (Bhopal, 2018)

Build equitable learning relationships (Freire, 1997; hooks, 2010)
– Share our university experience (Lawrence et al, 2020), past present and future aspirations
– Module/session design in partnership (Cop, 2004; Healey et al, 2006)
– (Rolling) chair of respectful dialogue and discussion, call gaffes to account with good grace (Hooks, 2003)

Deploy active/flipped learning (and explain how it works)
– Explain the obvious: terms, protocols, process (Thomas, 2012)

Personalise learning activities (flexible, applied and relevant, Hocking, 2010)
– ‘Apply x to a situation of your choosing’ 

Nurture and inspire all students (Bhopal, 2018)
– Be flexible and accommodate different learning paces e.g. have ‘Reserve’ activities for groups that steam through a task
– Note that students are more receptive to feedback in positive learning relationship (Donovan et al, 2020)


Framing inclusive academic practice as integral to pedagogic competence helps us be vigilant and alive to our own unconscious bias, evolve our practices, remain alive to our own positionality and prioritise the educational needs of our diverse community. Further, it acknowledges we need practical steer to guide us through the destabilising process of re assessing and reshaping our practice. It is inherently political, but more than that, personal.

Dr Jenny Lawrence AFSEDA, PFHEA, NTF is Director of the Oxford Centre for Academic Enhancement and Development at Oxford Brookes University. Her research interests include programme and educational leadership and wellbeing in HE.
Twitter: @jennywahwah


Bhopal, K. (2018) White Privilege: The myth of the post racial society Bristol: Policy Press

Berry M. O’Donovan, Birgit den Outer, Margaret Price & Andy Lloyd (2021) What makes good feedback good?, Studies in Higher Education, 46:2, 318-329, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2019.1630812

Educause (2012) 7 Things you should know about … Flipped Classrooms. Educause.

Healey, M., Bradley, A., Fuller, M. and Hall, T. (2006) Listening to students: the experiences of disabled students of learning at university. In: Adams, M. and Brown, S. (eds.) Towards Inclusive Learning in Higher Education: developing curricula for disabled students. Abingdon. Routledge

Hockings.C. (2010) Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education: a synthesis of research. EvidenceNet . HEA York

Hooks[1], b (2003) Teaching Community: A pedagogy of hope. London: Routledge.

Hubbard, K and Gawthorpe, P (2021) University of Hull Inclusive Education Framework. University of Hull.

Huxley-Binns, R. Lawrence, J and Scott, G. (forthcoming) Competence-based HE: Future Proofing Curricula in Blessinger, P and Sengupta, E (forthcoming) Integrative Curricula – A Multi-Dimensional Approach to Pedagogy. UK: Emerald Group Publishing

Lawrence, J (2020) Assessing competencies could equip graduates for an uncertain post-Covid future  WonkHE 

Lawrence, J (2021) Advancing Inclusive Education: Competence-based pedagogic practice. Inclusive Education Symposia, Teaching Excellence Academy, University of Hull. January 16th 2021

Lawrence, J. Wales, H. Hunt, L. and Synmoie, D.  (2020) Teaching excellence: the students perspective. French, A. Thomas, K. (2020) Challenging the Teaching Excellence Framework: Diversity Deficits in Higher Education Evaluations. UK: Emerald Insights. pp. 129-150.