Academic archetypes

Project Active Published by on the 9 June 2020

Academic archetypes: understanding the experience of being an academic in Australian universities

Application (abbreviated)


The project will establish the first empirically derived archetypes of academics working in Australian universities. Archetypes can help academic development units in Australia’s universities to determine priorities and goals without bias or assumptions. The archetypes can be used to inform the design and delivery of resources, products and services that support academics in their teaching practice and provide professional learning opportunities related to learning and teaching. This project will therefore directly support CAULLT’s mission to “enhance the qualit of learning and teaching in Australasia”. The project will directly address Goal 6 of the CAULLT Goals for 2019-2021: Advance and support professional learning in learning and teaching through the development of an evidence base set of archetypes that can be used by CAULLT members.


The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 states in section 3.2: Staff with responsibilities for academic oversight and those with teaching and supervisory roles in courses or units of study are equipped for their roles, including having…skills in contemporary teaching, learning and assessment principles relevant to the discipline, their role, modes of delivery and the needs of particular student cohorts.
This project is innovative as it will establish empirically derived behavioural archetypes of academics working in Australian universities. The archetypes can inform the design and delivery of resources and services to support the professional learning of academics in learning and teaching.
A 2010 survey of 20 Australian institutions estimates that nearly 40 per cent of academics have never undertaken any form of teacher training (Bexley, et al., 2011). Academics need ongoing opportunities to develop and improve their practice as teachers. Simply increasing teacher training sessions does not necessarily improve teaching quality. Professional learning opportunities need to be designed and delivered to meet the needs of the academics they are seeking to support.
Poorly designed resources, services or programs often result in frustration or worse, the reluctance to engage in any professional learning. Instead of assuming what academics need, many academic developers are recognising the importance of user-centered design and now involving academics to test and improve the overall user experiences. Archetypes are a design tool that academic developers can use for designing learning resources and experiences that support the needs of user groups. It is impossible to design a resource or service that will meet the needs of everyone but basing design decisions on the needs of segments of user groups as described in behavioural archetypes can support successful product development and increase the chances of success.
To date, there has been no research focused on developing archetypes for Australian academics. This project will fill a gap in the literature. There is research exploring how academics engage in teaching (Kane, Sandretto and Heath, 2002) as well as the academic’s need for professional learning in specific areas of teaching practice such as supporting first year experience (Ambler, Solomonides, Smallridge, McCluskey and Hannah, 2019), or teaching in specific learning environments (de la Harpe and Mason, 2014). There has also been research exploring the changing nature of academic work in the Australian (Coate and Goedegebuure, 2010) and the international contexts (Gornall, Cook, Daunton, Salisbury and Thomas, 2015) in light of shifts in policy, evolving pedagogies and new technologies.
A growing body of work has emerged investigating the lived experiences of academic practice and identity. Using phenomenography (Akerlind, 2004) identified six ways in which academic’s experience being a university teacher: teacher transmission focused experience; teacher-student relations focused experience; student engagement focused experience; and student learning focused experience. This is one of the first studies to focus on the experience of being a teacher, rather than engaging in teaching. Brew, Boud, Namgung, Lucas and Crawford (2016) undertook a study investigating Australian and UK academics identity and practice as researchers. Using an online questionnaire, the investigation concluded that the relationship between research productivity and researcher identity was not straight forward. They observed that highly productive researchers tend to have a view of research with an emphasis on the career of the researcher where research is viewed as a social phenomenon. The work by Light and Calkins (2015) explored the teaching and research nexus in academic practice by using phenomenography to investigate academic’s experiences of research and teaching in terms of their understanding of learning. The study identified five conceptions of academic learning within three general categories: disconnected, transitional, and connected. The conceptions provide a map of how learning sits at the heart of academic work is understood by the academics who do this work. This is one of the first studies to explore the lived experiences of academics across both teaching and research.
The proposed project will build upon this previous work. It will develop behavioural archetypes that investigates the holistic experience (all facets – research, teaching, service) of being an academic and what this reveals about professional learning and support needs.

Project Updates

  • Archetypes participants needed

    Published by on the 14 January 2021

    Participants needed for research investigating academic life in Australia universities

    We’re looking for casual, part-time, and full-time academic staff from Australian universities to participate in an interview about your experience of being an academic.

    This project is funded by CAULLT and aims to explore the experience of being an academic in Australian universities, with a particular emphasis on teaching and learning.

    Through a qualitative, semi-structured interview style, using thematic analysis and tools and methods from user experience, the project will establish the first empirically derived archetypes of academics working in Australian universities.

    The archetypes will draw on aspects of user experience personas and behavioural archetypes, and will describe different ‘types’ of academics at Australian universities with a particular focus on their professional learning, and their teaching and learning support needs.

    For more information about what participation entails, download the plain language statement and consent form visit the project website:

    If you would like to participate, please contact Dr Christine Yates via email:

    Further information: