Alumni Services

Enhancing the student-staff relationship

Dr Cathy Bovill is an Edinburgh alumna who now works to improve the student experience through teaching.

Cathy Bovill

My background

I came from Liverpool to the University of Edinburgh to study Mental Health Nursing as an undergraduate in 1989. I absolutely loved my four years living and studying here. I made some amazing friends, many of whom I’m still in touch with. There are also still a few staff in Nursing Studies who taught me. I was Junior Common Room President of Ewing House in my second year and I still have a very soft spot for Pollock Halls.

When I graduated, I worked at the West Lothian Drug and Alcohol Service in Livingston for many years providing sexual health education for school pupils, professional and community groups. I had a brilliant manager and colleagues which meant I loved my job, but gradually I was attracted by thinking about health education on a more global scale so completed a Masters in International Social Development and Health at Queen Margaret University (QMU). While I was doing my Masters I was successful in securing a competitive scholarship to study a PhD at the Institute for Global Health and Development at QMU. I investigated how the UK Government Department for International Development (DFID) connected its policies in health and education. Following my PhD and some soul searching about the ethics of international development, I took a job at NHS Education for Scotland (NES) for a short time supporting postgraduate professional development of doctors and dentists. It was during my time at NES that I realised what I really wanted to do when I grew up, which was to work as an Academic Developer – supporting staff in universities to enhance their teaching, and ultimately the learning experiences of students. I then took a role at QMU before moving to the University of Glasgow as an Academic Developer and Lecturer in 2007.

During my time at Glasgow, I taught on the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, and designed a Masters programme in Learning & Teaching in Higher Education which I then redesigned after several years to become a blended programme before eventually redesigning it to become a fully online programme. I also continued my keen interest in research into student engagement, which I had started after my PhD. The importance of involving the community in decisions about community development that I nurtured during my time at the West Lothian Drug & Alcohol Service and in International Development, easily translated into a strong sense that students should be involved in decisions about their educational experiences. Students and staff co-creating the curriculum in higher education became my main area of research. As my academic development experience and research grew I was promoted to Senior Lecturer.

A few highlights of my time at Glasgow include: winning the Best Research Supervisor Award in the Student-Led Teaching Awards; co-leading a British Council funded project to support an Iraqi university to embed student-led curricula across the institution; becoming Associate Editor (Europe) for the International Journal for Academic Development;  establishing the Active Student Participation in Education Network (ASPEN) the first network of its kind for staff and students, attracting international interest.

At Edinburgh

I moved to the University of Edinburgh in February 2017 as a Senior Lecturer in Student Engagement in the Institute for Academic Development (IAD). My role involves providing professional development for staff in the form of teaching on the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, and mentoring colleagues applying for the Edinburgh Teaching Award (EdTA). I also sit on assessment panels for the EdTA. Part of my role involves leading a great team of staff in IAD who support colleagues to enhance their programme and course design, including running ELDeR course design workshops in collaboration with Information Services, and running Board of Studies Training in collaboration with Academic Services. I also lead the IAD team that organises the annual University of Edinburgh Learning and Teaching Conference. Another significant area of my work focuses on a range of initiatives I lead to promote student engagement including the Edinburgh Network: Growing Approaches to Genuine Engagement (Engage) network for staff and students to share good practice in student engagement. I also ran the coffee and cake conversations initiative last year in an attempt to try to enhance belonging and engagement in Schools by matching groups of staff and students to go for coffee and conversations together. Several colleagues have since established their own version of these schemes in their Schools, which is really encouraging. I have also launched a series of ‘EngagEd in…’ booklets about aspects of student engagement to support staff in enhancing their practice, and several further booklets are in preparation. A member of my team leads the University’s Teaching Matters blog, which is a fantastic resource for sharing good teaching practice across the University whether focused on student engagement or on many other key topics – the University can be proud of this blog and associated videos and podcasts, which grab the attention of many colleagues in other universities when they hear of it.

Highlights of my time working in Edinburgh so far include: being awarded Principal Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy; doing my first ever Edinburgh Fringe Show about student engagement in August 2018; being invited to give international keynote presentations about my research in Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Spain and Australia; and becoming an Advisor to the UK Teaching Excellence Panel who oversee National Teaching Fellowships and Collaborative Awards for Teaching Excellence.

Something you might not know about IAD...

The IAD has a gold sustainability award. The work of my colleagues to maintain our good standing for the gold sustainability award, along with good leadership and the quality of the colleagues I work with, make for one of the best working environments I’ve ever worked in.

Related links

Institute of Academic Development