Transforming transitions: learning and researcher developers and a whole-institution approach to successful transition




student transition, institutional collaboration, academic literacies


The impact of Covid-19 on incoming students and researchers is plain: students and researchers were denied access to their usual educational experiences, to their usual networking and social interaction, and to their usual assessment types. This resulted in an incoming cohort of students and researchers with higher levels of anxiety and, often, less awareness of the requirements of higher education/research. Recognising the need to engage with new students and researchers in innovative ways, the Student Learning Development (SLD) team and the Researcher Development (RD) team undertook two institution-wide projects to provide students with a ‘world-changing’ start to their studies. In particular, we sought to engage with the competencies of online study and research skills, academic integrity in an online world, academic community building, and student/researcher confidence.

As we move out of the emergency response to the pandemic (Bartolic et al., 2021; Yowler et al., 2021), both teams have adopted these projects as core elements of work and as particular highlights of the value of LD and RD to the institution. The relationship between LD and RD varies greatly within institutions. Some universities do not differentiate between the roles, some work within the same team, and others work entirely separately. While the two teams are situated separately at the University of Glasgow, the teams work closely together to provide an integrated response that provides continuity of experience for our students and our researchers.

For our undergraduates, a new course – T2G: Transition to Glasgow – was created by SLD. Designed around developing competencies, instilling academic identity, and easing the transition to formal education, the course provided students with the skills required to succeed. For our postgraduate researchers, a new course – PGR@Home – was created by RD. Designed around integration and developing competencies, the course offered asynchronous and synchronous opportunities for research students to begin the process of joining the university community in their new role. In each case, students were contacted directly with information and promotion material on the available initiatives and participated on a voluntary basis. They were able to select from a range of topics that interested them, and also completed a core academic literacies module. For students who completed T2G by completing the required coursework, we granted an exemption for a first-year compulsory writing course. As the courses were pilots, PGT students were not included in either piece of work, but reflecting on each project has enabled us to develop plans to expand and tailor our provision to meet the demands of our PGT students.

This joint case study presented and reflected on the ways in which we adopted a whole-institution response to the transition to new stages of learning and research. The case study highlights the ways in which Learning and Researcher Development teams can offer a transformational transition experience for our students and researchers (Cage et al., 2021; Thompson, Pawson and Evans, 2021), and provides evidence of impact through evaluation and analysis.

Author Biographies

Andrew Struan, University of Glasgow

Andrew Struan is Head of Student Learning Development at the University of Glasgow, UK. He has worked across the globe in academic literacies and in political history. His role at Glasgow is in developing students’ academic literacies, and he leads an award-winning, multi-disciplinary team. Andrew convenes several courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level, ranging in topic from the History of Argumentation to the linguistics of academic text. His research investigates the implementation of active blended approaches to academic literacies pedagogies. His PhD is in political history: he researches the linguistic history of parliamentary debate and the role of language in shaping ideologies.

Scott Ramsay, University of Glasgow

Scott Ramsay is Deputy Head of Student Learning Development (Sciences, Mathematics and Statistics team) at the University of Glasgow. Since 2012, he has worked variously as the Good Practice Adviser in learning and teaching for the university, and the Effective Learning Adviser for students in the College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences. With a PhD in Molecular Biology, Scott is currently Secretary of ScotHELD, the professional network for Scottish Higher Education Learner Developers. With Dr Jennifer Boyle, he is the author of Writing for Science Students (Bloomsbury; Academic Book of the Year 2018) and Writing a Science PhD (Bloomsbury).

Jennifer Boyle, University of Glasgow

Jennifer Boyle is the Postgraduate Research Writing Adviser in the Research Services Directorate at the University of Glasgow. She has worked extensively in higher education, initially in a Widening Participation context before moving to specialise in learning and researcher development, running the University of Glasgow’s Writing Centre before moving to her current role in the Research Services Directorate. Jennifer is especially interested in the idea of academic identity in the context of academic writing. With Dr Scott Ramsay, she is the author of Writing for Science Students (Bloomsbury; Academic Book of the Year 2018) and Writing a Science PhD (Bloomsbury).


Bartolic, S. K. et al. (2021) ‘A multi-institutional assessment of changes in higher education teaching and learning in the face of COVID-19’, Educational Review, pp.1-17.

Cage, E., Jones, E., Ryan, G., Hughes, G. and Spanner, L. (2021) ‘Student mental health and transitions into, through and out of university: student and staff perspectives’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45(8), pp.1076-1089.

Thompson, M., Pawson, C. and Evans, B. (2021) ‘Navigating entry into higher education: the transition to independent learning and living’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, pp.1-13.

Yowler, J. Y. et al. (2021) Rapid adaptation and remote delivery of undergraduate research training during the COVID 19 Pandemic’, Sustainability, 13(11), 6133.




How to Cite

Struan, A., Ramsay, S. and Boyle, J. (2023) “Transforming transitions: learning and researcher developers and a whole-institution approach to successful transition”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (29). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi29.1085.

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