Spotlight on the RDF: “Teaching”

In one of our occasional series of “Spotlight on…” posts, we take a closer look at a specific descriptor from the RDF. Each one of the sixty-three descriptors in Vitae‘s Researcher Development Framework (RDF) is a characteristic of an excellent researcher, and we’ll be looking at how UoB PGRs can develop these characteristics.

From talking to PGRs, it’s clear that many view teaching as an important supplement to research activity. The extra money is always useful, and teaching is also about developing skills for the future, both specific (teaching in higher education) and transferable (organisation, communication, leadership, problem-solving, and more). However, in UK higher education, and particularly in a research-led institution like the University of Birmingham, research and teaching are inextricably linked, with each feeding off the other to the benefit of both. Whether you have the time or the inclination to accept a postgraduate teaching assistant position or not, it’s worth reflecting on the role of teaching within your research activity.

Photo by Christina Morillo on

The RDF puts teaching in domain D (engagement, influence and impact) and sub-domain D3 (engagement and impact) and the first two phases of development for this descriptor are:

  1. Contributes to teaching at undergraduate level; Assists in the supervision of undergraduate projects; Participates in research meetings (seminars, workshops, conferences, etc); Has a developing awareness of the ways research influences/interacts with teaching.
  2. Has a developing awareness of own teaching style and techniques; Is involved with the assessment of student knowledge and supervision of projects; Assists in the development of student research skills; Willing to co-supervise postgraduate research projects; Recognises the significance of translating research into other educational outputs; seeks ways for own research to influence teaching; Organises research meetings, seminars, workshops, conferences, etc.

There’s quite a lot going on in this descriptor, which for me can be summarised in three main themes: practical teaching, research meetings, and the relationship between teaching and research.

The University’s Higher Education Futures institute (HEFi) offers a number of development opportunities in practical teaching skills, including the Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education which is freely available for all members of UoB whether you have teaching responsibilities or not. These courses, and others from HEFi, are particularly useful for those contemplating future careers involving teaching, especially in higher education.

However, it is the final point, on the relationship between research and teaching, which is, for me, the key to this descriptor. There are other skills frameworks for teaching (for example, the UKPSF), but inclusion in the RDF is only afforded to descriptors which make for effective researchers. In which areas of your research activity do you find yourself requiring teaching skills? How do your teaching interactions inform your research? How can you effectively teach key outcomes from your research?

On the other hand, how does your research inform and improve your teaching? You might like to start by thinking about this in the context of the Russell Group briefing on research-intensive learning. Is it important to you to positively contribute to a research-intensive learning environment and community which will nurture future researchers?

Reflecting on these and related questions can make you a better teacher, researcher and leader.

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