Blog post – Navigating UQ awards, grants and fellowships

Navigating the maze of awards, grants and fellowships at UQ and within the higher education sector can be both confusing and frustrating. I know from personal experience that juggling deadlines for submissions with important work and family priorities can leave you ready to throw in the proverbial towel, but I am happy to report that patience and perseverance can pay off.

After thirty years in medical education and a multitude of applications for awards, grants and fellowships under my belt (see below for a summary of applications from the last five years alone), this year I became the proud recipient of both an individual Australian Awards for University Teaching Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning and a Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy

While I was the co-recipient of a small number of teaching grants in my early career, it simply did not occur to me to apply for teaching awards (I am not even sure if they existed when I was an early career academic). Because much of my work involved small group teaching with medical students, I was fortunate to receive some very rewarding formal and informal feedback. I still have the cards I received from my problem-based learning groups in the 1990s!

The first formal teaching award I received was in 2014, as part of a team from the (then) School of Medicine. This was a painless entry into the world of teaching awards as it was bestowed and not applied for.

In 2015, The Faculty of Medicine (FoM) recognised that their staff were not well represented in Teaching and Learning (T&L) awards at a university level. If I had to speculate on why this was the case, my one response would be time. Many of the academic staff within the FoM are also busy clinicians. In addition, the demands of faculty and program restructures left most staff time-poor. In order to redress this, FoM began offering awards that mirrored the UQ (and national) awards. Equally important, they offered support for applicants. I was encouraged to apply for an Award for Teaching Excellence (ATE) and was provided with a mentor to work with me on the application.

Let me be clear – applying for an award is a very awkward experience, especially for the first time. My first draft was almost apologetic and looked nothing like the version I finally submitted after many one-on-one sessions with my invaluable mentor, Sally Borbasi. After years of producing scientific reports and articles, which are generally written with a passive voice and in a ‘matter-of-fact’ manner, I definitely found it challenging to actively insert personality into my writing.

After being successful in my faculty-level application, I was again encouraged (indeed expected!) to apply for a UQ-level award the following year. This time I did not make it past the Expression of Interest (EOI) stage for the UQ ATE and was encouraged, instead, to apply for a different category (Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning or COCSL) the following year (2017); an award that I ultimately went on to receive.

Fast forward to the end of 2018.

In September, recipients of the 2017 UQ T&L awards were invited to nominate for the Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) with the final submission due at the end of November. Earlier in the year, I had also submitted a successful EOI for Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA) with a deadline for the final application due in early December.

Both of these were substantial pieces of work and combined with a heavy teaching load during October and other end-of-semester obligations in November, they created a perfect storm of deadlines not only for me, but also for my colleagues who I had asked to provide statements of support.

Why did I apply for both the AAUT and the SFHEA in the same year? There were a few reasons. At the end of 2018, I knew I would be stepping down from my position in the Office of Medical Education (OME) in 2019, so this would be my last opportunity to be considered for an individual teaching award. I also naively thought that most of the hard work for the AAUT submission had been done when I applied for the UQ award so I could focus on the SFHEA application.

When the internal reviewer of my draft submission for the AAUT COCSL suggested significant revisions, I came to a crossroad. I seriously considered withdrawing from the application process. It was not that the feedback was unreasonable; I just felt that I couldn’t devote any more time to the application. I discussed this dilemma with Associate Professor Kelly Matthews from UQ's Institute of Teaching and Learning Innovation (ITaLI) who was providing support for the award process. Kelly gave me some very sage advice; namely to refocus on priorities given time (deadlines) and outcomes (utilising any award win for promotion or tenure).

“My thoughts... It is so easy as academics to fall into the trap of saying yes to too many things and then getting stressed, behind, rundown. The award revision timelines are short and will take 10-15 hours in total on your end, I estimate. I am not sure what the HEA timeline is. If you need an award for your promotion or tenure, then focus on the national award (higher status as competitive award with tough criteria given to a selective group) over the HEA (also high status yet a more recognised qualification with 100,000+ holders to date). If you don’t need HEA per se, yet feel honoured to be invited, then you might like to continue. If HEA is adding too much stress at a time of year that is busy, then holding off to next year with more time to work on the application in the meantime is sensible. In short, acknowledge the pressures on you in the next few weeks and think about priorities and time.”

I ultimately decided to prioritise the AAUT submission and spent a solid weekend on the revision. I also managed to complete my SFHEA application by the deadline. I consider myself very fortunate that both submissions were successful after coming so close to withdrawing from the AAUT and I am grateful to both my application reviewer for his feedback and to Kelly for talking me off the ledge.

Was it all worth it? From a personal perspective, although I have stepped down from my role in the OME, I now hold an honorary position within the same unit and will use my experience to support colleagues applying for similar awards and fellowships. There may also be other opportunities that arise within the Higher Education sector for which having these awards is an advantage.

For others, I’ve listed a few other pros and cons below:


  1. Funding. The opportunities to fund T&L based projects is very limited; even more so since the abolition of the Office for Teaching and Learning (OLT) in 2016. If a staff member wishes to pursue a particular T&L project that requires funding and their school or centre is unable to provide that funding, then applying for a UQ grant, fellowship and/or award is one way that funding can be obtained.
  2. Enforced reflection. It can be very easy as busy academics to leap from one project to another without really taking the time to reflect on the outcome of previous work. Applying for teaching awards or to be part of the HEA are excellent ways of making you stop and think about what you have achieved and what you have learned from your experiences.
  3. Recognition/validation for your academic portfolio. A perception (real or otherwise) is that it is more difficult for a teaching-focused (TF) academic to have their positions confirmed or to be promoted than a research-focused (RF) academic. According to UQ Policy, it is acceptable for RF staff to have 0% teaching weighting, yet a TF academic must have a minimum of 20% weighting in the “Scholarship of Teaching (SOT)” category [Source Section 10.3.2 of the Procedures for Probation and Confirmation of Continuing Appointment (Academic Staff)]. I have seen exceptional teachers leave UQ because they were unable to provide the necessary evidence to support their claim for continuing employment. A teaching award is one way to provide this evidence.


Without a doubt, the major “con” is the time it takes to put together a competitive application. I would like to reiterate the advice that Kelly gave to me, in that it is easy to fall into the trap of saying “yes” to everything. However, if applying for an award becomes a priority for you for any of the reasons mentioned above, then by all means go for it! In doing so, map out an achievable plan of awards and HEA fellowships over a 2–3 year period that works with your work and life priorities.

To maximise your chances of success

  • Start with a school or faculty level award first to get a taste for the process.
  • Check the ITaLI awards and grants website for UQ and external opportunities, or contact the ITaLI team directly to discuss your options or request support.
  • Make the most of any support on offer, whether formal or informal. Find a mentor who can assist you and be open to their feedback. Make sure it is someone to whom you can relate.
  • Apply for the award category for which it will be easiest for you to provide evidence. As you can see from my examples, it is possible to change categories between faculty, university and national awards.
  • Don’t be bashful. While most people find it very unnatural to promote themselves, you won’t win an award by hiding your light under a bushel!
  • Persevere. If you miss out on your first attempt, listen to the feedback and gather additional evidence for your next attempt. After all, it’s never too late in your career to be recognised!

History of awards, grants, and fellowships across my last five years at UQ

2019 – Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy
2018 – Australian Awards for University Teaching Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning (individual award)
2018 – UQ Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning (team award)
2017 – UQ Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning (individual award)
2017 – Teaching Innovation Grant (academic lead)
2016 – UQ (FoM) Award for Programs that Enhance Learning (team award)
2016 – UQ Teaching Fellowship in 2016 (shared with other Faculty of Medicine colleagues)
2015 – UQ FoM Award for Teaching Excellence (individual award)
2015 – Technology-enhanced Learning Subcommittee funding (academic lead)
2014 – UQ School of Medicine Dean’s Award for Curriculum Development and Innovation (team award)

Last updated:
1 November 2019