Oct 01 2019

Our CeDAS team provide an academic support service for both undergraduate and postgraduate students through a range of workshops, lectures, courses, 1:1s and drop-in sessions. We recently caught up with Katie Shaw, Senior Teaching Fellow, to find out more about what CeDAS offers, her role within the team, and how colleagues can encourage students to effectively utilise the support CeDAS provides.

1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role within CeDAS?

I have taken a slightly circuitous route to my role at Royal Holloway. After graduating from a Biology degree in the early 2000s, I went overseas to teach English in Japan. What was meant to be a year out turned into almost seven years of living and teaching English in both Japan and Brazil. I eventually moved back to the UK to teach English for Academic Purposes while studying for an MA in English Language Teaching and a PGCE and joined Royal Holloway in 2009. I began work at Royal Holloway as an English Language Tutor and later moved into my current role as Co-Director of the Academic Skills Programme.

In my current role, I work with a fantastic team of colleagues to help students adapt to HE academic culture and develop skills which will enable them to thrive in their academic study. A large part of my role involves working with students to develop their academic writing, academic English and ability to learn effectively. I also oversee many aspects of the Academic Skills provision, including collaboration between CeDAS and academic departments, and ensuring that what we do aligns with student needs and college strategy.

2. What support and services does CeDAS provide our undergraduate and postgraduate students?

The three main areas of support are academic writing, academic English for international students and maths, stats and numeracy. We offer workshops, lectures, courses, 1:1s and drop-in sessions to all taught students at Royal Holloway. Some of these are delivered within academic departments and address specific disciplinary needs, while others are open to students from across disciplines.

The aim in all of our teaching is to help students build confidence and the self-awareness to know what they need to do to succeed at university. We recognise that academic skills do not develop in isolation from disciplinary knowledge, so talk to students about their learning within the context of their assignments. As well as teaching relevant strategies and approaches, we encourage students to break down and think through how they approach tasks so that they can use similar strategies when studying independently.

3. How can colleagues encourage students to utilise the services CeDAS offers – what points of the academic year might students find CeDAS particularly helpful?

One of the most important ways is to convey the message that students of all levels can develop their academic skills and that developing skills takes time and regular feedback, so should not be left until something goes wrong.

Students are also more likely to attend opt-in CeDAS activities when they have already got to know a CeDAS Teaching Fellow. Therefore, another way to encourage students to utilise CeDAS is to invite an Academic Skills Convenor to teach students in their department.

Though many students access CeDAS all year round, many only begin to recognise that they need to develop their academic skills once they start working towards assignments. Because of this, it is helpful to remind students about CeDAS a couple of weeks before assessment deadlines.

4. What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway and within the CeDAS team?

I am a people person and I’m fascinated by how others perceive the world, so I absolutely love working with so many people from different backgrounds. I have recently reached my 10-year anniversary of working at Royal Holloway and, in that time, I have worked with thousands of students from many different disciplines, and with probably hundreds of academic and professional services staff. I think this has given me an interesting vantage-point from which to see many different perspectives on the college.

When I started working at Royal Holloway, one of the things that attracted me was the diversity of the team I’d be working with. Having not long returned from living overseas, I sometimes felt like a fish out of water in the UK. I loved the fact that the team was so intercultural and shared my interest in understanding different cultural perspectives. This continues to by one of my favourite things about the CeDAS team.

5. What is your favourite term on campus and why?

I don’t think I have a favourite term. I actually really like the annual ‘campus cycle’ which follows a familiar pattern each year: the relative quiet but intensity of the Pre-sessional programme; the excited buzz of the start of session followed by a gradual change in mood as the days get shorter and the assignments get longer; the optimism of the spring term and the stress of exam season. Then finally there’s the release as students pile into the Founders quads to lie in the sun drinking Pimms; then it all briefly quietens down before the next lot of Pre-sessional students arrive and it all begins again.

6. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I love meeting friends for a coffee and a chat, or going for long walks along the river. I spend a lot of time with Brazilian friends, often enjoying a Brazilian-style barbecue and some social dancing. I also take any opportunity I can to travel and explore new places.