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Academic Shadowing Programme

Guidelines for Academic Shadowing at Middlesex University

A collaboration between MDXworks and the Research Programmes team.

What is academic shadowing?

Academic shadowing entails a Middlesex student spending time with and observing the work of an academic staff member in a department or role of interest in order to gain a valuable insight into the work and that field.  There are no fixed rules for the time period, although it normally ranges between 1 and 3 days, and this should be agreed in advance between both parties.

Benefits of shadowing

There are a number of benefits of shadowing for both the shadow and the host

Shadow:

  • Broadens knowledge and understanding of the host’s role, department, the university as well as broader issues in the HE sector.
  • Brings people together who might not normally have contact and provides the shadow with networking opportunities.
  • Provides the opportunity to see the practicalities of academic life.
  • Breaks down barriers and myths about how academics work.
  • Provides fresh ideas and insights about how to be more effective in the shadow’s own work.
  • Identifies areas for personal development and widens experience, skills and future career opportunities.

Host:

  • Provides learning opportunities – explaining an activity/task can provoke analysis and communication and feedback skills.
  • Broadens knowledge and understanding of current student issues.
  • Breaks down barriers between students and academics
  • Can impart knowledge, skills and experience in a practical way.
  • Reviewing and reflecting on your own work through discussion with the shadow allows you to see your role through “fresh eyes”.
  • Develop coaching and mentoring skills.

Types of shadowing:

There are different ways of arranging shadowing dependent on the needs of both host and shadow.  The details of the shadowing arrangement should be agreed beforehand.  Each of the differing options has advantages and disadvantages:

  1. Observation “fly on the wall”

The shadow spends the time observing the day-to-day work of the host and attending relevant meetings where appropriate.  This is suitable where an understanding of the role of the host is required.  The host should provide opportunities for debriefing to ensure both parties benefit.

Advantages: the shadow’s role is clear; minimal interruption to the host’s work during the shadowing period.

Disadvantages: Little interaction; limited chance to learn during the shadowing experience.

  1. Active Involvement

The partners discuss what is coming up e.g. briefing before a section of the day’s work. At the end of the day a more thorough debriefing covering the wider view of working practice, and a reflection on what both have learned.

Advantages: an excellent learning strategy; items are discussed in a timely manner; a reasonable interaction

Disadvantages: some interruption to the host’s work; some need to adjust the roles according to the tasks; may take longer than ‘observation’ and have less opportunity for interaction than ‘hands-on’ (details below)

  1. Regular briefings “burst interactions”

Shadowing occurs for specific activities which are preceded by a mini-briefing and followed by a debrief.  This is most effective if proximity to one another allows for shadowing to take place on several occasions in short blocks of an hour or so.  This type of shadowing allows for focused activity in specific areas instead of passive ongoing observation.  It needs to be carefully scheduled so as not to be too disruptive.

Advantages: Focuses on the shadow’s learning objectives due to its targeted nature.

Disadvantages: Fairly time intensive for the host; relies on realistic learning objectives; may be unintentionally too narrow in focus.

  1. Hands on “job-sharing”

This is an extension of the observation model, where the shadower undertakes a task for the host during the period.  This provides hands on experience whilst under close supervision.

Advantages: minute-by-minute explanation, discussion and interaction.

Disadvantages: slows down and impacts the host’s work.

EVALUATION (this and the confidentiality section should go after the individual host or shadow sections)

At the end of the shadowing experience it is important that the experience is reviewed and reflected upon:

For the shadow and the host to consider and record:

  • What did you both gain from the experience?
  • What questions or concerns have arisen as a result of the experience?
  • Did the experience meet the learning objectives?

CONFIDENTIALITY

Some information learned during the job shadowing may be confidential and must not be divulged to any other parties, particularly in relation to students and individual programme or module developments.  Both shadow and host should act within university Data Protection Policy at all times and respect the confidentiality of students and research work. Additionally, shadowing reports should concentrate on how far the objectives were achieved and should not negatively report on anything that is detrimental to the person being shadowed or their colleagues

THE SHADOWING SCHEME

There are a number of benefits of shadowing for a research student:

  • Broadens knowledge and understanding of the host’s role, department, the university as well as broader issues in the HE sector.
  • Brings people together who might not normally have contact and provides the shadow with networking opportunities.
  • Provides the opportunity to see the practicalities of academic life.
  • Breaks down barriers and myths about how academics work.
  • Provides fresh ideas and insights about how to be more effective in the shadow’s own work.
  • Identifies areas for personal development and widens experience, skills and future career opportunities.

In order for the experience to be beneficial, preparation is essential.  Preparation activities could include:

  • Provide the host with an outline of their expectations.
  • Familiarise themselves with the procedures and working practices of the host.
  • Show tact, discretion and awareness by withdrawing when circumstances deem it appropriate.
  • Maintain confidentiality during all communications.
  • Ensure the host is informed if their absence is unavoidable.

At the end of the shadowing experience it is important that a process of reflection is undertaken:

  • What were the main things that were learnt during the experience?
  • Was the role how you expected it to be?
  • What was most enjoyable?
  • What was least enjoyable?
  • Did the experience match expectations?
  • Has the shadowing identified any future areas for development?

USEFUL QUESTIONS TO ASK 

General:

  • What are the experiences – work or non-work related – that have supported you in your career?
  • If you could go back in time would you do anything differently in preparation for this career path?
  • What are the key skills required for this role?
  • Are there any career-related resources (journals, websites) that would be particularly helpful in preparing for an academic career?
  • What happened at your job interview?  What could I expect?
  • Are there any professional networks I could join that would be useful to me?
  • What personal qualities do you think you need to succeed as an academic?

Job Pros and Cons

  • Would you choose the same career if you were just starting out?  Why or why not?
  • Do you have any special words of warning or encouragement as a result of your experience?
  • What is your favourite thing about your current academic role?
  • What do you feel are the most challenging elements of your role?

The Job Itself

  • What do you spend most of your time doing?
  • In terms of a career path, where could you progress to now?
  • Who do you work with and what are the relationship links?
  • How important is team work to this role?
  • How often do you work alone?
  • How much of the work is self-directed and how much is regulated by others?
  • What are the usual work patterns like in this role?

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