Introducing…Momna Hejmadi

Momna is the Treasurer for the Committee of the Association of National Teaching Fellows, and Professor of Bioscience Education and Technology at the University of Bath.

My formative years were spent growing up in a part of Bombay very similar to a ‘Slumdog millionaire’ filmset – humble but happy beginnings. My fondest memories were being in the classroom with some wonderful teachers – Catholic nuns but with a great sense of fun! Being the only one in my family to attend university, I considered teaching as a career, but a brief stint teaching in a college in Bombay put me off because of the largely didactic approach I was told to follow.  Funded by an Indian Govt. scholarship, I left teaching and went on to do a PhD in radiation oncology, and became a biomedical researcher, with subsequent professional research experiences in the USA (Brookhaven) and UK (Belfast & Bath) – a life of B’s!

At Bath, I was offered a short-term teaching position, which I accepted with some unease, despite enjoying the experience of supervising and mentoring students in the lab. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made! I discovered the truly transformative potential of student-centric education, exemplified by Phil Race, ‘never mind the teaching, feel the learning’.  

Coming from humble beginnings in India, I was acutely aware of the environmental, financial, social and academic challenges facing students from lower socio-economic or international backgrounds during their transition ‘into’, ‘through’ and ‘after’ higher education in the UK. I therefore focused on projects  that supported students through their academic continuum; from supporting students to get into university; to transforming our curriculum be more inclusive and globally representative and using professional placements for career progression and social mobility for these groups of students.

Students remain one of my constant sources of  inspiration, from resilient young undergraduates to mature learners overcoming personal hardships. One such student is Heather. A single mother of six young children, she successfully juggled full-time study with caring for her children, without ever seeking extensions or mitigation, even when her home caught fire the day before an exam! She is now an inspirational teacher!

My NTF award and association with the ANTF Committee has opened up a whole new network of like-minded friends from disciplines I had little knowledge of – such as Law, Music and Performing Arts. This network has led to new project collaborations and co-authoring of papers in areas that are close to my heart. One of these is looking at the impact of the current crisis on exacerbating inequalities among higher education practitioners, particularly those from BAME backgrounds (e.g. career progression, unequal access to support mechanisms, digital tools, advice and networks). As educators, we are all ‘in it together’, and it is more important than ever to support passionate educators, as the sector faces unprecedented challenges and uncertainty. As a body, the ANTF is beginning a series of projects, including a mentorship programme addressing the lack of diversity and leadership opportunity across academia for BAME colleagues. We would love to hear your stories and I hope you feel confident and comfortable to share these with us.

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