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Emma McKenna

Staff photo of Emma McKenna

Dr Emma McKenna PFHEA


Dr Emma McKenna is Co-ordinator of The Science Shop. After completing a PhD in Sociology she began her career working in research and policy roles in the voluntary sector and became increasingly frustrated by the lack of connect between academic and community-based research. Her work in The Science Shop directly addresses this, bringing together academics, students and community organisations to complete small pieces of research in response to issues identified by communities. This role is multi-faceted, linking research, teaching and engagement and working across all academic areas and disciplines. In 2023 the Science Shop Team were the first QUB recipients of the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence.  

Emma is a key member of the Science Shop Living Knowledge Network and in this capacity has participated in and led a range of European public engagement projects, including PERARES, EnRRICH and CIRCLET which have underpinned and supported the development of community engaged research and learning within curricula. She is currently the UK lead on the EU Mission Soil LOESS project which links community engaged research and learning with soil health and soil literacy.

When asked to reflect on “what does being a Principal Fellow mean to you?” Emma answered:

For me, the importance of the Principal Fellowship has been in the process of taking a strategic overview of my career to date and engaging deeply with my own practice. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of opportunities for development of my knowledge base, skills and interests over the years but I haven’t always made time to step outside the day-to-day work pressures and think about this from the birds’ eye view. Reflecting on my practice in a structured way and benefiting from having the application reviewed by critical friends is something I’m very grateful for.  Being awarded Principal Fellowship is an achievement but for me, the process of working towards it was the most rewarding aspect.

In academic-related roles we (rightly) spend a lot of time acknowledging the work of others, particularly academic colleagues and students, and we often downplay our own role in creating success. Working through the HEA Principal Fellow framework encouraged me to ask for feedback and to deepen my evaluation practices. Being involved in a process that demanded that I acknowledge my own achievements was deeply uncomfortable (and thank you to colleagues who encouraged and at times pushed me to get on with it) but the kind of good discomfort that leads to growth. Putting a value on my own practice has encouraged me to re-evaluate what I want for the rest of my career and to consider the potential for career progression routes both within and beyond my current role.

It has also made me more passionate about enhancing recognition routes for professional development staff. I’ve worked with a lot of inspirational people over my time in the university and I hope that my success will encourage others to recognise their own value by going through the HEA Fellowship recognition route.