The start of my academic career – one month in!

It’s now over a month since I left my ‘thirdspace‘ role working as a Learning Developer for the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull to start my academic career. Being a Learning Developer, however, was a job I loved in a profession I adored. I had amazing colleagues, and we were so close we were like a family. I am happy to admit it was hard to walk away from all of that, but now that I am a month in, I am convinced it has been a great move.

The lead-in to my academic career in education

There was a time I would have thought I’d end up in a geography department. Yet – I’ve come to realise the School of Education has fit like a glove. I’ve done a Doctorate in Education; worked as a Learning Developer; worked as an Education, Research and Policy Co-ordinator; volunteered as a school governor, am currently the chair of governors at two schools; adopted three children with my husband, and am a trustee of a local community charity. How could I not see education as where I was meant to be?

More than anything, I am so thankful for working on a recent visit day with a local college. Speaking to those prospective students affirmed to me that I was in the right place and had the right experience to share. Everything I have worked towards led me down this career trajectory. Funnily enough, it was one of my new colleagues made this connection for me. I am, indeed, in the right place!

Teaching as an academic

The teaching has been everything I could have hoped. The master’s content is mostly pre-defined, and we’re delivering set content. This is great, as it ensures students get consistent provision, but our workshops provide enough flexibility to ensure we leave a mark and adapt to our students’ needs. The dissertation module has also been restructured, and it has given me some opportunities to get involved. I’ve covered some lectures for a colleague and have helped to develop the sessions around literature reviews. Alongside the level 7 content, I’ve been fortunate to be part of one of the new level 6 modules. As it is new, nothing is written – and it gives real freedom to write and teach content in the direction we like.

I’m yet to miss the materials I’ve previously delivered for the Skills Team – but given the modules I’m focused on, it’s been very similar content to what I’ve done before. I’ve also been able to retain support for the Postgraduate Training Scheme (PGTS), and I am still teaching on Modern Researcher 2. It’s been nice to keep something a little familiar and be able to continue this small piece.

One of the prime differences to this context of teaching from the Skills Team is that I am part of the team setting/marking the assessment. As such, when I give students assessment advice, I can do so in confidence – knowing it will link to the expectations of the course team.

I’m still awaiting my module allocations for trimester 2, and I look forward to seeing what that will bring. All in good time…


Although students are at the heart of everything we do and permeate academic practice, it feels wrong not to draw specific attention to this. I’m really beginning to get to know some of the students, what motivates them and what their research interests are. As I’ve mentioned, we have a very international cohort, which has provided me with excellent opportunities to learn more about different educational systems. I’m so impressed with the passion and drive these students have, and I can’t wait to see what they do.

There is also some level of nerves. What will those mid-module reviews reveal? How will the summative module evaluation questionnaires reveal? At assessment – how will the students do? There are only some small nerves here, but I think this is important. It helps me keep student interest at the forefront of my mind.

Scholarly practice

Ironically, even though I have ‘left’ Learning Development, I’ve had more time for Learning Development scholarship this last few weeks than I have done in years. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve not got time to burn, but I have some scholarship time in my workload. That’s never happened explicitly before. I’ve been able to get a funding bid in with some colleagues, write a short journal article (brief communication) and serve as a guest editor of JLDHE, taking four articles through to completion. There is much more on the cards, and I have a book chapter to write for January, which I am looking forward to! Right now, however, my focus has to be the PCAP – and finishing my research project which focuses on analysing the Compendium of Innovative Practice: Learning Development in a Time of Disruption. More on that another time ?

All this scholarship fits in so well with my new role – and I look forward to seeing how it can impact student learning in my modules and programmes. I’ve also joined JLDHE as a permanent editor, and as I teach on the level 6 and level 7 research and dissertation modules, it’s a great fit with my teaching practice too. I’m learning a lot more about research and peer review as every week goes by – and great learning to pass on to my students.

Key reflections on my academic journey so far

The Wilberforce Building - the home of two academic departments including the School of Education -- and my office!
The Wilberforce Building – My new on-campus home!

As I have reflected upon over several of my previous blogs, this role is giving me the thing I wanted more than anything – the ability to scaffold learning and develop meaningful relationships with students. I’m now in my seventh week of teaching, which means I’ve seen some of my students for over 14 hours of contact time. We’ve got to know each other, connect and work on contemporary educational debates. I can’t wait to see what they focus on in their assessments. Marking and feedback will also be something I enjoy – yet another part of the academic cycle I’ve long been excluded from in my previous role.

Dr Lee Fallin holding a spider plant.
New plant for the office!

So far, I’ve blogged about:

  • One of my early reflections focused on teaching my first workshops. I focused on those initial connections with students, and the joy of my allocated modules.
  • Next up, I was able to think about some of the contractual changes and broader opportunities/responsibilities associated with my first (official) week as a lecturer.
  • For week 2, I focused on re-engaging with assessment & feedback. I was intentional in calling this ‘re-engagement’ as I have done assessment and feedback before – it has just been some time!
  • Finally, my last post drew attention to Personal Supervision and to what extent it was new or not.

As you can tell from the introduction, this was a huge move for me. Leaving a workplace and career after ten years was a risk, but it is something that is paying off very well.

Leaving the thirdspace

For the last decade, I’ve been working in the thirdspace as a Learning Developer based within the University Library at Hull. Learning Developers work to support student learning, often working to challenge and expose the hidden curriculum to empower student success. This support is delivered in many ways and can include personal appointments, bookable workshops, online courses, resource development and in-curriculum teaching. Over my time as a Learning Developer, I regularly engaged in all these formats. It is also important to note that as a profession, Learning Development is diverse – with some based in Faculties and others in central services. Whatever that base, it is usually a defining aspect of that specific learning development role, framing the role, responsibilities and relationships that surround it.

Learning developers as thirdspace professionals

The position of Learning Development can also impact contracts – either professional or academic. Here lies the problem. Learning Development rarely aligns with the academic-professional dichotomy, and this is the same for many professions that engage in academic-related activities. This has been heavily investigated and theorised by Whitchurch (2003, 2008, 2009) as The Rise of Thirdspace Professionals.

[Thirdspace professionals include] teaching and learning professionals, research managers, learning technologists and staff in academic practice, library and information systems. The situation would therefore appear to be more complex than a straightforward ‘academic’/‘non-academic’ extrapolation from employment statistics. Although they may be classified for employment purposes as non-academic, an increasing proportion of such staff are likely to have a mix of academic and professional credentials, experience and roles.

(Whitchurch, 2003)

My life in the thirdspace

Serving as a thirdspace professional has been a hallmark of my career for the last decade. It has brought advantages allowing me to: engage across a broad range of academic disciplines, develop different forms of (non-academic) expertise and embrace networks of other thirdspace professionals. I even recently collaborated on a book chapter (in press) with a colleague that embraced the benefits of this thirdspace position. There have, however, been disadvantages. Thirdspace professionals can lack the same development and progression opportunities as academics, can have limited opportunities for scholarly practice (contractually) and rarely engage in the holistic whole of academic practice. These opportunities and challenges have characterised my practice and development for 10 years now – but this is all about to change. As I discussed in #NewJob, I’m starting as an academic in my new role: Lecturer in Education Studies. In short, I’m leaving the thirdspace in 10 days time.

The photograph at the top of this page is my empty desk in the Library. Everything is all cleared out and moved to my new office. This moment was kind of symbolic for me. For me, the empty desk represents leaving the Library, leaving colleagues and moving towards something new. BUT, one thing is clear. It isn’t only the Library that I am leaving. I’m also leaving the thirdspace.

The academic space

My new career will see me enter the academic space (whatever that is). I’m on the teaching and scholarship pathway, which should see the majority of my time spent on teaching with some space for scholarly activity – including pedagogic research. What that means in contrast to the thirdspace, I’m not sure. Some people tell me it won’t be so different. Others say it will be different – a new journey. Time will only tell what the reality will be. I look forward to sharing that journey here. ?

I opened this post with a photo of my old, empty desk. My old workspace. As this post marks the start of a new (academic) journey, it feels fitting to close the post with a photo representing that start. So, in contrast to my cleared-out desk, here I am, all set up in my new corner of the office. This is going to be my new home for a while, and I look forward to reflecting on the journey. ?

Far from the thirdspace, this photograph shows my new office. Three bookshelves sit above a computer desk with two monitors. The space is colourful with plants, books and posters.

One final note – I’m clear that this new role does not mean leaving Learning Development. As a Lecturer in Education Studies, I intend to have a scholarly interest in Learning Development, and I hope to take everything I have learned from learning development practice into my future teaching. I’ll also remain involved with ALDinHE, though accept my contributions are from a different position now.

Reference list

Whitchurch, C. (2009) The Rise of the Blended Professional in Higher Education: A Comparison between the UK, Australia and the United States. Higher Education, 58(3), 407-418.

Whitchurch, C. (2008) Shifting Identities and Blurring Boundaries: the Emergence of Third Space Professionals in UK Higher Education. Higher Education Quarterly, 62, 377-396. 

Whitchurch, C. (2003) Reconstructing Identities in Higher Education: The rise of Third Space professionals. Routledge.