Transfer to teaching at the Cranfield Safety and Accident Investigation Centre – how difficult can it be?

By Jeremy Turner - January 10, 2022

I was approaching the end of a challenging and very fulfilling career as an aerosystems engineer in the Royal Air Force and was due to "retire”. Over 35 years’ service, I had worked in many different environments and on many projects and was leaving what many would consider to be a dream job, as an engineer working in the Defence Accident Investigation Branch. My thoughts on what to do next were not clear but there was a well-beaten path into providing contracted support to the UK Defence Aviation Environment. That route did not immediately appeal, and I considered where I might achieve greater fulfilment.

During the period of enforced restriction of the first COVID-19 lockdown I had a change in focus, and I had a desire to do something a little different. A role at Cranfield University had been advertised that piqued my interest. I had undertaken two periods of professional study - an MSc in Aerospace Vehicle Design in 2012 and, more recently in 2016, a PGCert in Safety and Accident Investigation - and I felt that I understood the institution and the people that supported the learning. I also felt that as I had done a little bit of "instruction" that I could readily turn my hand to this new role, especially as I was used to transferring existing skills into new jobs every three to four years. But it didn’t really turn out like that…

So what have I observed?

  • Transferring into an organisation, remotely as a new member of staff, during a pandemic, without the face-to-face guidance during your early induction can inhibit your assimilation. I have still not met my line manager face to face 10 months after starting but Cranfield have a robust induction process that ensures the journey is managed and effective. We chat as and when necessary, not to a fixed schedule, although the probation period demands review, but when there is something that needs addressing or I am seeking clarification.
  • I had taught a little and thought I would make the transition easily but the difference between delivering short lectures in isolation and delivering a whole course are quite significant. I am undertaking study to achieve a PGCert in Academic Practice. In essence, I am learning about learning, setting out the building blocks and routes to support students of different learning types or backgrounds, to ensure effective information transfer and to be able to tailor my approach to provide an inclusive learning environment for all.
  • Although I have a range and depth of experience that is the direct result of my own career path and learning, everyone, staff colleagues and students, has different proficiencies and perspectives. This is especially so with Cranfield students, who tend to bring viewpoints and skills that embellish and add colour to the Cranfield learning experience.
  • Safety engineering and airworthiness are very closely regulated disciplines and working within the MOD required observation of a set of tightly prescribed regulations. Within civil aviation there are similar frameworks - however, the routes to safe and effective application can be many and varied. Students from differing roles or companies may have quite distinctive routes to achieving compliance. Exploiting the knowledge and working practices from differing organisations enhances overall performance.
  • Many people who have undertaken their own journey through the airworthiness or safety space, for all transport systems, have added or enhanced overall system safety performance in some way. Personal experiences that are shared on the courses drive reflection of other students' own knowledge, understanding and practices and stimulates improvement.
The opportunities to build or expand a network of like-minded and similarly driven people are one of the great products from Cranfield. there is always someone who knows someone else that can help, the network works.

My thoughts on my experience teaching at Cranfield University

  • Good relationships are critical, especially when working remotely.
  • Excellent communication channels ensure priorities, both your own and organisational, and possible solutions can be identified and executed more readily.
  • It’s not always about what you know but what experience and knowledge you can get others to share.
  • Learning is a shared journey and knowledge transfer is a multi-path endeavour.

The role title lecturer can be interpreted differently depending upon your previous university experience. But rather than just considering the label consider the function. It’s not just about delivering the lecture to students but about facilitating learning. I have found this part to be intriguing as managing the shared pathway and facilitating the knowledge inputs from a mixed cohort is extremely rewarding.

I feel that in previous roles where I may have been the leader or manager with some responsibility for enhancing team performance, I am now very clearly an enabler, not necessarily providing the information but ensuring the cohort is communicating and receptive to all information flows in the group.

If you think you could also transfer to teaching, you wish to change you career path or influence the journey through the safety space for others then Cranfield University are currently looking to recruit a Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Aircraft System Safety Assessment.

You may be surprised!