The Union has now been running our awards for UCL staff for eight years. In 2020, 1267 nominations were submitted for 718 different staff members. These awards help us not only recognise a huge number of staff members for various aspects of the work they do within the UCL community, but also enables us to delve deeper into what students value, which is the focus of this report.
As a Union, we are vocal when the academic experiences of our members fall below their expectations, which often requires difficult conversations to drive improvement and address any outstanding issues.
Conversely, it is equally as important to highlight examples of excellence which have inspired learners, passing on the aspects of their education which students love. This process helps us to understand what is working well, to identify and share innovative practice, and to make education better by recognising those positives.
This has been particularly important during this year. Covid-19 has not only reshaped the entire educational experience but has also had a huge impact on our lives, providing huge challenges to both staff and students to keep teaching and learning going under completely different circumstances to normal operations at UCL.
We extended the nominations period for the awards by two weeks in order to receive as many nominations as possible from students outlining excellent practice by staff members in adapting to this evolving situation. Many of these examples are included throughout the report.
For each of our eight award categories, this report provides a digestible summary of the practices students have told us they appreciated the most. We hope this will be as enjoyable and informative for readers as compiling the report was to us.
Most importantly of all, to every member of staff who has inspired a student to write in and tell us how brilliant they are – thank you.
Students’ time at UCL is all about developing themselves as critical, creative and independent thinkers who are practically minded and great problem solvers; it’s essential that students are given a voice in reflecting on and improving their educational experience.
Students expressed appreciation for staff who take a proactive approach to seeking student feedback, and deal with issues raised in a timely manner wherever possible. Staff who created an atmosphere where students felt comfortable in giving constructive feedback drew particular praise, and students returned to the themes of staff members being open and not defensive in their attitude to student feedback consistently in their nominations.
Nominations particularly highlighted staff who were consistently attentive to student needs, and who provided students with the feeling that they were always open to feedback and regularly available for students to pass on their concerns. The most effective staff members broke down barriers between students and staff, enabling effective dialogue to take place on a range of issues.
This was particularly important to students in 2019-20 due to the impact of industrial action and Covid-19 on their learning. Students appreciated staff members who remained available during these challenging periods, offering regular updates and continuing to listen to student feedback despite the disruption.
Most Valued Practice
Created an open environment for feedback
Nominations show that students value staff who make them feel at ease in providing feedback, rather than dismissing their concerns or appearing unwilling to find solutions.
“As Programme Director, he makes sure that every student in the course is doing well. Whenever students have a problem, he listens attentively and seeks a solution. Students are unafraid to discuss their concerns with him.”
Empowered students to influence their education
Students appreciated staff who enabled students to co-create solutions, giving them a real input into their education wherever this is possible.
“She actively breaks the barrier between student and teacher in the school and is someone who has devoted herself to creating a student-led experience where students have a real say in the method of education they receive.”
Remained attentive during challenging circumstances
Students appreciated staff who remained responsive and open to feedback during times of disruption this academic year, particularly after teaching and learning was disrupted after March 2020 due to Covid-19.
“During the recent strikes and COVID-19 crisis, she has been incredibly responsive, communicating frequently with students on developments, as well as working incredibly hard behind the scenes to find resolutions to issues raised.”
“Dr Cain set up termly coffee mornings in my second year so that she could meet and interact with students from every year to ensure that everything is going OK, to answer questions and to listen to our thoughts on our teaching. When marking our work, she always keeps us up-to-date with marking and holds herself accountable for any mishaps and always takes responsibility - even though this is usually out of her hands. Dr Cain is an approachable member of staff that addresses our issues and is always asking for ways to improve our education.”
The award for Diverse & Inclusive Curriculum recognises staff who work to ensure their curriculum or research recognises marginalised scholars, and shines a light on diverse perspectives. Students from all parts of UCL continue to look critically at their course and subject material, and are keen to explore themes that had previously been overshadowed or even missed entirely.
Students who submitted nominations for this award celebrated staff who shined a light on voices that are often ignored within their field, cutting through hegemonic narratives to look for different perspectives on various topics.
Furthermore, students appreciated when staff created a welcoming atmosphere for different perspectives, making them feel comfortable to contribute and offer their own view in the security that these viewpoints would be listened to and not dismissed.
Most Valued Practice
Integrated different student perspectives with course content
Nominations show that students value staff who are able to combine student input with the subject matter, applying these contributions to the theory and content of the course.
“She was very good at keeping student’s opinions within the course content and using theories and methods that are relevant to the course and apply them to different international experiences of the students.”
Included marginalised voices in teaching and discussions
Many nominations highlighted staff members who went beyond traditionally powerful voices within their field, instead shining a light on those groups who are often underrepresented.
“She always strives to include research from a diverse, often-neglected range of sources, and her lectures are so interesting because of this!”
Created a welcoming environment for views to be shared
Students appreciated staff members who allowed debate and discussion to take place in an open-minded environment, allowing students to safely explore and discuss the views of their peers.
“They set up an environment for global voices to have the confidence to speak, with friendly debate.”
“Biology is not always the most representative field. It’s very Euro- and male-centric , but Professor Pearson managed to represent many voices in his lectures for the class ‘Species Conservation and Biodiversity’. With 6 contact hours a week, he encourages critical thinking and discussion on how climate change will impact everyone. Lots of the research he assigned were by women, and he made sure to point out how a capitalist view of biology has driven many assumptions we have.”
Nominations for this award centred around support staff who communicated with students in an effective manner, anticipating and responding to student need and making the logistics of the UCL experience easier for students.
On top of this, students highlighted staff who were caring and supportive, providing a patient and reassuring presence when students came to them for help or revealed that they were struggling. This was particularly important for many students during the pandemic, when they were strongly appreciative of support staff members who offered their support and kept them in the loop with the latest developments.
Most Valued Practice
Facilitated effective communication
Nominations often highlighted support staff members who helped students stay up-to-date with the latest news and developments, maintaining a sense of community within programmes and departments.
“She is the bridge between students and the department.”
Displayed a positive attitude
Many students expressed their appreciation for staff whose friendly and enthusiastic outlook helped brighten their UCL experience, pointing out that even small gestures in this regard can have a significant impact on their wellbeing and sense of community.
“He wants to know how you are every day, not just in a polite way, but genuinely how you are doing, and should you be stressed or worried he’ll offer some sage words to put things back into perspective.”
Provided support and guidance during recent disruption
A number of nominations praised the role support staff played in adapting to new teaching and learning environments after disruption caused by Covid-19, highlighting their effective communication and willingness to provide wellbeing support as crucial to dealing with this difficult transition.
“During Covid they have been in regular contact both with sensible, business-as-usual suggestions/updates and information but also beyond the job remit content like things to keep us occupied, fit and sane.”
“David has been particularly great in the last few weeks during the Covid-19 outbreak, the very definition of a difficult time or challenging circumstance. Many of our research projects are no longer viable, and within a week he informed us of our circumstance, offered reassurance, and pre-emptively ensured we all had access to a systematic review module should we have to switch to one if we can’t collect data.”
Students value staff members who approach their teaching from different angles and perspectives, using a variety of methods to deliver excellent teaching in a holistic manner. Students appreciate when staff challenge them to think outside the box and critically reflect on the subject at hand, which when done effectively only serves to further their understanding of the themes they are tackling.
Delivering inspiring teaching became particularly challenging due to disruption caused by Covid-19, however students appreciated when staff continued delivering their teaching with enthusiasm during this period, especially when they remained committed to getting the material across in as engaging a manner as possible in the circumstances.
Most Valued Practice
Encouraged student participation
Students singled out staff for praise who enabled them to participate in discussions and activities, suggesting that this helped them understand the relevant concepts even when the material was challenging.
“He encourages students to participate as much as possible in lectures and we all feel comfortable in doing so, which make his classes a great environment for challenging us.”
Employed innovation and variety in their teaching
A common theme among the most inspiring staff members was the varied nature of their teaching delivery, and the creative methods they used to engage students were regularly received in glowing terms.
“They always use innovative approaches, such as videos and music, to keep the audience interested.”
Adapted teaching delivery to online learning
Nominations submitted in the period after learning pivoted online in response to Covid-19 were appreciative of staff who had quickly shifted their delivery to suit online learning, both in terms of active sessions and resources students require for effective remote learning.
“He uploaded voice annotated PowerPoint presentations, where he was going through an exam style problem and used Microsoft Teams for our tutorials.”
“Dr Williams also integrates a variety of teaching methods into lectures and tutorials, from designing cytokine flashcards to creating word clouds to help memorise key points of a lecture, as well as hosting games of virus and bacteria-related top trumps. He teaches with joy, with humour and with patience.”
Students appreciated staff whose feedback was efficient and timely, with realistic timescales provided about when feedback could be expected and these promises adhered to.
Students also praised staff members who delivered detailed and personalised feedback across a variety of channels, covering both written and verbal communication. Students highlighted the actions of staff who were approachable and open to answering any future questions, with an in-person option for this always welcomed. In nominations submitted after Covid-19 moved teaching online, students were appreciative of staff who remained approachable for any questions about their feedback.
With regards to the content of the feedback, students praised staff who were constructive in their feedback but delivered it in a positive tone, with many mentioning feedback that encouraged them to consider angles that they had not explored in their initial work particularly illuminating.
Most Valued Practice
Delivered feedback in a structured manner
A common theme among staff members who delivered exceptional feedback was not just the variety and openness of their approach but also its structure, enabling students to process the feedback received and engage in a dialogue around any areas on which they wished to follow-up.
“Feedback was prepared prior to in person meetings, so we could discuss any considerations I might had about the comments.”
Focussed feedback on the future
Students often highlighted examples of exceptional feedback which was not just focussed on the task at hand but also placed the feedback in the context of the module or the field as a whole, particularly in relation to areas that would be studied in the future.
“This feedback was incredibly personal to the individual - his feedback was not just ‘what we did wrong’ but what we could improve for next time.”
Continued delivering excellent feedback after teaching moved online
Nominations submitted in the period after learning was disrupted due to Covid-19 were appreciative of staff who continued to deliver timely and personalised feedback through the available methods.
“With the global pandemic outbreak, she has been very hugely generous with her time and presence, available on Skype, and always responding patiently and thoughtfully to emails, giving feedback and staying in touch with a strongly supportive level of consistency.”
“Beverley is a gem! She provides me with very detailed feedback regarding my progress and my work. Her feedback is always personalised and is both written and verbal. She makes sure she points out what I’ve done well and then areas for development, followed by a conversation of how I will meet these improvements. She is very kind and positive, yet inspires me to keep aiming high.”
Students frequently highlighted trust as a key component of the tutor-tutee relationship. There was no set way in which this trust was established throughout all the nominations, however the qualities of being a good listener and showing compassion towards students’ concerns were consistently raised.
The importance of the pastoral aspect of the personal tutor role has been highlighted in 2019-20 as students experienced massive upheaval due to Covid-19. Students were grateful to those tutors who showed an interest in their wellbeing during this period, offering openness and support in their interactions with their tutees.
Most Valued Practice
Provided reassurance during difficult moments
Students highlighted the role of an effective personal tutor as somebody that has been there for them during periods in their UCL experience when they have struggled, with this reassurance going a long way to helping build a trusting tutor-tutee relationship.
“I know I can trust her with what we talk about, and she has always been reassuring during times that I have been worried or stressed.”
Engaged in tutee progression
Students consistently praised tutors who remained attentive to students’ progress and the attainment of their goals, with effective personal tutors providing both pastoral and academic support to help achieve this.
“She has always been quick in responding to messages, showing an interest in my life and progress.”
Remained supportive during recent disruption
Nominations frequently highlighted staff members who continued their support through disruptions caused by Covid-19, with even small steps such as checking in on their tutees being thoroughly appreciated.
“Instead of focusing on academics first, she checked in on our wellbeing, asked about our families and let us know that she is always available to us.”
“Immediately, Samantha actively listened to my concerns. She didn’t interrupt me or try and change my mind. She showed empathy by being able to relate to my worries. Her nature, body language and words all fostered a safe and supportive environment for me to be open and honest about how I felt. This enabled us to have a positive, trusting and respectful relationship from our first meeting.”
Research students valued staff who challenged them to question assumptions within their field, bringing in their own experience and the latest developments within the field in order to keep students informed. This in turn enables research students to develop their own ideas and further their research goals, and many research students appreciated the links staff helped them make between their areas of discussion and students’ own research.
Those who submitted nominations also valued when staff introduced students to other experts within their area of study, inviting them in for talks and lectures, or even simply opening up lines of communication in case a research student needs to contact them for their own research.
Most Valued Practice
Informed students about the latest developments in the field
Research students valued staff members who kept their teaching up-t0-date, integrating any advances in the area of study in question into the academic content they delivered.
“She invites diverse speakers to showcase their latest research conducted in the field and provide inspiration and ideas for the students to pursue future research projects.”
Challenged students to develop new skills
Research students singled out for praised staff who pushed them to improve their competence in their chosen area of study, particularly when this related to skills they would need rather than just knowledge to retain.
“His lectures have equipped me with the ability to approach and solve complex scientific problems and not just retain information.”
Linked teaching content to student research
Many research students were appreciative of staff who linked their teaching expertise back to their own research goals, providing them with tangible skills and opportunities to make progress.
“By the 6th month of my PhD he has already provided me an up-to-date grounding in early cancer detection, a comprehensive ‘map’ of the potential avenues, and the chance to share my evolving ideas directly with leaders in the field.”
“Patrick has, from day one, incorporated both his own research and recent scholarship into his teaching. His work on Medieval Mediterranean cities has allowed me a far greater insight into this period than much of the other scholarship on this period. He has invited questions and comments on both his own conclusions and helped us think for ourselves around difficult concepts and historical theories. Without this level of integration between research and teaching, my understanding of this topic would not be as great as it is.”
Research students were appreciative of enthusiastic supervisors who were willing to go the extra mile to ensure that they were supported. Much of this support involves progress in their research, and many nominations highlighted the timeliness, detail and precision of the feedback they received from their supervisors as being crucial in helping them to progress with their research goals.
This also support centres around the reassurance and guidance that a supervisor can provide, helping their students to remain on track with their research and also helping their confidence and wellbeing. Many students who submitted nominations described their supervisor as a mentor or even a role model, inspiring these students to continue their progression in their chosen field.
Given the circumstances research students had to face when Covid-19 caused disruption in March 2020, the supervisor role took on even more importance. Students appreciated supervisors who remained supportive during this time, and were grateful to those who helped them to adjust their plans and research accordingly to accommodate the disruptive change of circumstances.
Most Valued Practice
Instilled confidence in their students
Many research students highlighted the increased confidence they had as a result of their supervisors, both in their ability to complete their research and in developing specific skills.
“I am undoubtedly a better researcher and educator for her influence on me, having grown in skill, confidence and independence.”
Took an interest in research students’ progression
Students often thanked supervisors who took an interest in their careers as well as their research, helping them to plan their future progression.
“She encourages us to think about our future careers and how she may be able to help us to reach our goals.”
Continued to provide support during recent disruption
Nominations frequently highlighted the important role their research supervisor played in helping them deal with disruption due to Covid-19, with both practical and pastoral support making a vital difference to research students.
“Even during Covid-19, he has been helpful and available on Teams and has been checking in with me.”
“Margaret has offered me ample of her time and guidance in every step of my PhD. I am really grateful that we meet for at least an hour, almost every week and she is also readily available via email every time I needed her opinion. The meetings are very fruitful. At the end of our meetings, I have clarity about our next steps and I am infused with enthusiasm! Her approach encourages students to work hard towards a goal but also enjoy it and learn from the process. She takes her role as a supervisor seriously and she sets a great example for young doctors and researchers.”