Professor David Smith

Tell us about your contribution that has been recognised through the professorship.Prof. David Smith

Central to my approach is an ability to engage students and disseminate my practice through collaborative relationship-building with peers from across higher education. I have developed innovative, research-informed teaching initiatives that engage students and support staff through change. My professorial application was based on this outstanding contribution to Teaching and Learning (T&L). Significant Research and Innovation (R&I)  contributions came from my long-term interest in the molecular basis of Parkinson’s disease, developing novel bioanalytical methods and cutting-edge 3D cell culture models.

My teaching practices blend research and teaching, ensuring that all students have the best possible learning experience. The application drew on this experience of developing and disseminating student engagement activities and seeing research-informed teaching embedding into the broader curriculum.

The area I am most proud of is my work developing innovative technology-enhanced learning methods to support all students’ success. I aim to inspire students through teaching with passion and have been awarded the Hallam inspirational teaching award every year since its inception. Active learning methods are routinely incorporated into my teaching, for example, using objects and 3D models to stimulate students’ imagination and interest. These approaches have been shared widely through publications, presentations, and workshops. Highlights of my career have been the recognition by the Higher Education Academy through a National Teaching Fellowship in 2017 and the Royal Society of Biology HE Bioscience Teacher of the year in 2019. Both national highly prestigious awards were based on innovations in enhancing student support, assessment, and interaction.

What does it mean personally to you to be a professor/associate professor at Sheffield Hallam?

It all feels slightly overwhelming, with a heady mix of excitement and imposter syndrome. It has been amazing to see that others value the work and approaches to student interaction.

From a work perspective, it’s been wonderful to see that progression to the highest levels in T&L is possible. It’s given me the confidence to be even more creative.

Tell us a bit about your career story so far.

I was recognised as having severe dyslexia at an early age and have had to develop many coping strategies to progress through my career. Biochemistry has been my passion since A-level and I have a deep interest in all things molecular – I can talk about proteins for hours.

My undergraduate degree was on a small course at Warwick where the curriculum was just developing. I completed a PhD at the University of Leeds in Structural Biology before taking up a Wellcome Trust travelling fellowship that enabled me to conduct a post-doc at Melbourne University.

On my return to the UK, I undertook a second post-doc focusing on newly accessible methods of Ion Mobility Mass Spectrometry. Through this experience, I would teach others about biosciences and create resources to help them achieve their aims.

On arrival at Hallam, I drew on all my past research experience and embedded this into my teaching. My coping methods of dealing with dyslexia formed the basis of my teaching approach. I gained the University Inspirational Teaching award in 2012-14 with students quoting the active learning methods that I embed into my work. To develop my institutional impact, I undertook a secondment with the former Faculty of Health and Wellbeing LTA team, developing and disseminating active learning methods. This was used as the basis of my Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA). By working with LEAD I then developed some of these methods into digital toolkits that influenced the teaching and learning of others.

I was made a National Teaching Fellow in 2017 with claims built around my transformative effect on students. Having then developed an understanding of pedagogical research, I started to publish and write in that area, and my research was used as the basis of my 2019 Royal Society of Biology HE educator of the year award.

My research into molecular biology also continued and formed the basis for my teaching content, and I am passionate about authentic experience and learning.

If you could go back in time and give yourself some career advice, what would it be?

Network, be brave, and share your learning.

What’s next? Tell us about how you want to further develop your contribution.

  • I, with others, have established an Accessibility of Science (Education and Outreach) research group within the Department of Bioscience and Chemistry. The goal here is to increase the outputs around educational research coming from collaborative multi-institutional projects.
  • Externally I am part of the organising team for the #DryLabsRealScience network that has been sharing and developing practice around practical laboratory delivery. This network has shaped the way bioscience is taught and is continually developing its reach.
  • To aid in developing other bioscience academics, I have set up a Royal Society of Biology network of educators offering mentoring and advice on career development. This network has seen success in fellowships and promotions for its members, and I would love to widen the scope of this work.
  • Research-informed teaching is central to my practice, and I have developed toolkits to inform delivery. The next step is dissemination to a global audience.
  • Collaborations with La Trobe University have been established, leading to a new strand of biological research, with the outputs embed it into my teaching.