The role that staff play in contributing to an outstanding education in UCL should never go unrecognised. Whether it is a personal tutor offering pastoral or professional guidance, a member of departmental staff who engages in effective partnerships with students, a member of support staff who makes student experience smoother, a teacher who invigorates students through their passion for the subject matter, or an inspiring member of staff, these relationships can make a huge difference to students’ UCL experience.
The Union has now been running our awards for UCL staff for a decade, and in 2022 we received 933 nominations for the awards, covering 503 staff members from 74 UCL departments and professional services. Staff received nominations across nine categories, including a new award category for this year on Sustainable Education. For the 2022 awards, the nomination texts submitted totalled over 92,000 words, with an average of almost 100 words per nomination.
Each section of this report summarises these nomination texts, highlighting any common themes of excellent practice that drew particular attention. The report seeks to raise awareness of what students value within their UCL education, providing a blueprint for what staff across the institution can do to play their part in improving students’ experiences of teaching, learning and support at UCL. While it remains crucial to highlight areas of improvement within education at UCL, it is also equally important to highlight examples of excellence within the UCL community that students have loved.
We hope this report will be informative for all those who read, and that it will play a small part in helping to spread these examples of best-practice across the UCL community. Most important of all, to every member of staff who has inspired a student to write in and tell us how brilliant they are – thank you.
“She is very in-touch with student concerns, understanding, and fully supportive for any issues that students may have. The entire cohort are very impressed with not only her kindness and understanding nature for student wellbeing, but her excellent module delivery. The modules she leads are very well taught and engaging, and she encourages student interaction. Her explanations are always clear and…always answers questions to the upmost of quality. She is empathetic for student voice and delivers amazing quality teaching.”
Students highlighted staff who were responsive and flexible when dealing with student feedback, making changes to be implemented quickly. Those staff members who were proactive in seeking student feedback and who were supportive when it was received were also singled out for praise, and many student nominators described how this made them and others on their cohort feel empowered in their learning.
Staff who were seen as inclusive in their partnership with students were particularly appreciated, with international students and students of colour both praising staff members who helped them deal with issues they faced as members of these student groups. Some of the most compelling nominations described staff members as collaborative and empathetic to students concerns, which made these staff members more approachable when students wished to deliver other feedback.
Most Valued Practice
Remained respectful and open to feedback
Nominations highlighted staff members who were always willing to receive feedback and responded to it in a positive and constructive manner, providing an open environment in which students could pass on both positive and negative comments.
“He is a great listener when it comes to student demands, is always open to change that makes the experience more enriching for students and pushes us to voice our opinions and makes sure they are heard.”
Gave timely responses
Students appreciated members of staff who were active in answering student queries, particularly when this promptness in response extended across multiple platforms.
“He is very active in answering student’s questions, and always responds to questions uploaded on forum and emails as soon as possible.”
Provided innovative solutions
Students were thankful of members of staff who came up with creative solutions to the issues they faced, which ultimately enhanced their UCL experience.
"As the new careers lead, she often asks us about our experiences and struggles in our career endeavours and have already created many practical relevant workshops tailored to our cohort in the short period of time since her appointment.”
“He was a caring, professional, and responsive person at UCL. He helped me follow my enquiry, chased progress on my behalf, kept me updated and gave me good, practical advice that helped me find a resolution. He is a fantastic example of a committed, accountable member of staff who puts students first. He delivered an excellent student experience when I was experiencing a stressful time. I am grateful to him. This kind of support often gets overlooked but I believe the value can’t be overstated. It’s the day-to-day administrative care (even in the face of some pretty inflexible institutional systems) that keeps students engaged and able to study.”
As in previous years, nominations came in for a wide range of roles – administrators, admissions officers, technicians, and others – and the award showcases how important these staff members are in supporting students during their academic journey.
Nominations for this award highlighted support staff who went above and beyond to help students with both academic and non-academic issues. Students often saw these staff as their main point of support for their experience at UCL and were grateful for their openness and knowledge. In addition, students also expressed appreciation for staff who were easy to contact and responsive to their issues, as well as those members of support staff who were proactive in checking in with them regarding their academic progress as well as their overall wellbeing.
Most Valued Practice
Offered practical advice
Students expressed their appreciation for support staff members who were able to offer them advice and solutions when they approached them with issues, both inside and outside the department.
“She's realistic and gives me practical advice but also really makes me feel heard and that my problems and emotions are valid.”
Supported student wellbeing
Nominations highlighted members of support staff who were good listeners and provided a comforting and reassuring presence, with this support helping them particularly when they had issues with their mental health or wellbeing.
“He helped me access some much-needed mental health support, followed up on the progress of my modules, and pushed me towards some clubs and societies UCL had to offer but I was too scared to join.”
Communicated and signposted effectively
Nominations praised staff members who were able to facilitate effective communication for students, signposting them to the relevant support services when required.
“She has always taken the efforts to find the right person and either redirect or get us in touch with them.”
“He delivered an inspiring curriculum, which was based on the latest research and thinking along with a deep understanding of what has come before and how it is relevant to recent research. Every week was well-researched, fresh, and inspiring. An inclusive teaching style meant all students were encouraged to join the discussion and to develop their thinking and arguments. Amazing guest speakers and an opportunity to catch up in an informal zoom to discuss latest blogs provided even more opportunities to learn and engage. I very much valued the opportunity to do formative assessment, as a mature student who has been away from education for some time the feedback was invaluable.”
Within this category students praised staff members who developed well-researched and interesting curriculums based on the latest development in the field. Nominations also highlighted staff who provided students with further advice and encouragement to explore research-based topics further in their own research and inquiry.
Students also appreciated staff who adapted their research-based education to inform both technical and non-technical students within a subject, fostering an atmosphere of openness whilst also challenging students on their understanding of the topic and research at hand.
Most Valued Practice
Incorporated cutting-edge content into teaching
Nominations highlighted staff-members who ensured that their taught content was up-to-date, bringing in the latest research, perspectives and innovations to keep students informed.
“Her lectures are always based on the latest, cutting-edge research and writing. This encourages students to question preconceptions they may have held that have only recently begun to be challenged.”
Encouraged further research and debate
Students appreciated staff members whose research-based education stimulated further discussion, providing a springboard for students to conduct their own research.
“The module was the most challenging module I took at UCL, and I was pushed to my limits to challenge myself and conduct my own research.”
Linked taught content to students’ own research
Students also praised teaching staff who linked their research-based education to the research students themselves were conducting, helping them to further explore their dissertations or other research projects.
“Whenever he taught a chapter which he felt was relevant to one student's dissertation or research interests, he would call the student's attention to the topic.”
‘‘She is committed to a person-centred, co-constructed and empowering approach in both her teaching and numerous research activities. In doing so she is raising the voices of marginalised groups, particularly the neurodiverse community, to ensure that they are collaborators, rather than participants in research. She is committed to having a real life rather than academic only impact, and I can see that this takes additional time, energy and commitment to achieve, but it also means the work that she completes is transferred into practice, and to the professionals who work in and with these communities.”
Nominations highlighted staff members who embedded issues of equity, equality, diversity, and inclusion into both the curriculum and the wider learning community, maintaining honesty and open reflection on the subject matter at hand. Students appreciated when these subjects were approached with sensitivity and nuance, offering a voice to a wide range of perspectives, especially those that are often marginalised elsewhere.
Students also praised staff who considered ideas of diversity and inclusion whilst recognising the inherent power dynamics within their own subject matter and society at large, bringing to the forefront ideas that were not Eurocentric and that recognise different voices such as non-white, LGBTQ, female, disabled and neurodiverse authors and academics.
Most Valued Practice
Created a respectful environment
Students expressed appreciation for staff members who allowed students to express themselves and pass on their experiences in a safe and understanding environment, allowing them to feel respected both for their own personal background and their viewpoint on a particular subject.
‘‘She is very sensitive to issues of race and different lived experiences of her students, and she ensures her students feel comfortable expressing themselves in the classroom and one-on-one settings.”
Integrated diverse and inclusive content throughout the curriculum
Nominations also highlighted staff who put issues of equality, diversity, and inclusion at the forefront of their taught content, integrating such themes throughout the module or programme rather than mentioning them in passing.
“Issues of global justice and power were not just featured as segments, but shaped every part of the course both theoretically and on applied issues.”
Approached issues with nuance and care
Students were thankful of staff who were delicate and thoughtful in their approach to sensitive subjects, ensuring the material could be covered in a comprehensive but empathetic manner.
“She is careful to highlight and nuance approaching issues such as disabled voices and 'civilising' discourse around women and queer communities in ways that reveal her own passion and care for these topics.”
“Whenever students feel insecure in their studies or face hardships in their personal lives, they know they can turn to him for guidance and great advice that isn't sugar coated, but actually works. I cannot even count the number of students who wanted to drop out of their course, and changed their minds after just a chat with him. During the pandemic, he has been a great reassurance for all the students who felt lost, depressed, or completely burned out. He is always immediately reachable for any question we have, always with the greatest empathy. His positive attitude and passion for his job are continuously inspiring his students and tutees.”
Nominations highlighted staff members who effectively combined both academic and pastoral support, fostered warm and productive relationships with their tutees and were approachable and present throughout their academic experience. Many students praised staff members who built trust with the students they tutored, using empathy as well as their own experience and expertise to reassure their tutees.
Additionally, students praised tutors who offered solutions and constructive feedback without being prescriptive, giving students advice whilst also allowing them to make their own decisions. The tutors who integrated knowledge of UCL support services, as well as career opportunities both within and outside the UCL community, received particularly glowing feedback.
Most Valued Practice
Tailored feedback and support
Students praised tutors who went above and beyond to provide personalised support for each student they tutored, offering constructive, structured, and supportive feedback.
“He offered extra one-to-one meetings for everyone at the end of each year where he gives his feedback on how each of us has progressed during the year and areas which need to be improved.”
Offered excellent pastoral support
Nominations often singled out staff members who offered support and advice to students they tutored, helping support them in their wellbeing and mental health as well as their academic goals.
“She has gone beyond her means of ensuring I am coping well with my MSc as it can get very challenging to do it long-distance. She provides excellent feedback to my academic work and checks on my wellbeing during our regular meet-ups.”
Encouraged students to achieve their best
Students also appreciated tutors who motivated them and gave them positive reinforcement, supplying them with the self-belief they needed to progress and excel during their time at UCL.
“During our conversation, she inspired me and made me believe I would be able to achieve my goals, step by step. And it worked.”
“She always provided useful, constructive, and detailed suggestions on my assignment writing, and extremely specific explanations for these suggestions. As an international student I encounter many difficulties, such as language problems in academic writing. When I received her feedback, I was shocked by the length (in some cases the word counts almost surpassed my own writing) and how detailed it was. In the suggestions, she corrected my word choices with specific explanations, and guided me to use succinct and clear expressions in my writing.”
Students appreciated staff members who put a concerted effort into the feedback they provided, especially when this feedback was offered in a kind and constructive tone. As in previous editions of this report, nominations also highlighted staff members who offered detailed personalised feedback in a timely manner, with constructive ideas of how students can improve. Finally, students praised staff members whose feedback was evidence-based, referencing marking rubrics or published research, which often provided students with a springboard for further study as well as improving their grasp of a subject.
Most Valued Practice
Provided detailed and specific feedback
Students praised staff members whose feedback was comprehensive, covering individual areas in which they could improve, leaving no stone unturned in outlining ways they could do better in future assignments.
“His feedback was filled with precious insights and in-text edits on how to improve in many aspects including contents, logical flow, English writing, style and bibliography.”
Offered springboards for the future
Students also appreciate those members of staff whose feedback offered insights and inspiration for future avenues of study, guiding them towards new areas of research that might interest them.
“She regularly recommends useful and pertinent sources and references for further reading, which have been extremely helpful in the development of my methodology (among other aspects of my PhD).”
Gave timely feedback
Nominations highlighted staff whose feedback was delivered in a prompt manner, especially following assessments, allowing students to incorporate any feedback received into future learning or assessments as quickly as possible.
“She is incredibly timely in her feedback which enables us to take our time digesting it and discussing it with her before we start working on the assessment.”
“Every course, whether language, literature or culture is delivered with enthusiasm, knowledge and passion for the subject: all of the lessons are structured in such a way that they are engaging and she actively encourages student discussion and participation, giving many students the confidence to voice their opinions or interpretations of literary works for the first time, with confidence. I have noticed that particularly in the literature and culture classes many of her students speak out for the first time at UCL - finding her friendly, open and non-judgemental approach the perfect environment to do so.”
Students value staff members whose passion for the subject matter shines through in their teaching, and nominations highlighted how this enthusiasm was contagious amongst their cohorts, as well as helped these students better grasp the material. Nominations also praised staff members who created an open and inclusive learning environment where contributions were welcomed from everyone present.
Additionally, nominations demonstrated students’ preference for flexible and accessible learning, particularly as some teaching has remained online during this academic year. Whether online or in-person, students preferred teaching that was delivered using a variety of different sources, as well as various teaching methods designed to maximise their grasp of the material and understand various perspectives.
Most Valued Practice
Recognised students as partners
Nominations praised teaching staff who created an engaging environment for students by recognising the value of their contributions, encouraging substantive discussions and debate that allowed everyone to join in.
“There is never a sense that we are students learning from her - but instead that there is a collaborative approach of shared expertise and hard work, which motivates everyone to produce excellent material for the seminars as they leave them.”
Used innovative teaching methods
Students highlighted members of staff who were able to use a variety of interesting and creative methods in getting their material across, which in turn helped nurture students’ enthusiasm for the subject matter at hand.
“There is a range of group work, pair discussion, presenting our ideas on butcher paper... and I really loved the gallery walk activity where we put all our group work up on the wall and could see everybody's work.”
Provided tailored subject content
Students also appreciated staff members who adapted and personalised their taught content for a particular cohort or based on recent events, covering key materials by offering fresh perspectives and approaches.
“They tailor and modify each session based on our learning needs and how the previous week's sessions went. It is clear that their lessons are not a copy-and-paste from how the module was run the previous year, and that they are instead tailored to the current cohort."
“No question or idea is ever stupid in her eyes, and in conjunction with constant encouragement, this has minimised common barriers faced by early career researchers such as imposter syndrome. Our conversations about research are a two-way street, which involves the element of listening and building upon my ideas through her guidance and expertise. She puts me in a position to succeed using my own abilities, an essential step to self-development as a researcher. While my thesis topic keeps me engaged and motivated, it is her supervision style that makes me love what I do.”
Nominations praised staff members who were approachable in their supervision, striking a balance between fostering independent study whilst also being present throughout the student’s research journey. Students also appreciated supervisors whose support covered the entirety of the PhD programme, from developing their thesis to submission and viva.
The highest quality nominations were for supervisors whose support extended to helping students with the advancement of their careers, offering sound advice on their future profession as well as helping them find development opportunities within and outside of academia.
Most Valued Practice
Provided effective feedback
Research students praised staff members who aided their academic progress through in-depth and balanced feedback, offering constructive criticism whilst remaining encouraging of the student’s progress or ideas.
“Her feedback on my writing and ideas is always in-depth and insightful, challenging me in a way that always pushes me but that is never patronising or condescending.”
Remained approachable and empathetic
As with the award for Excellent Personal Tutoring, research students thanked staff members who were understanding of their personal situation, and who were supportive throughout any difficulties they faced outside their studies.
“She is acutely empathic to the problems that life throws up in the way, and never fails to ensure that I am supported during these times while still ensuring that I am making progress.”
Supported career and personal development
Nominations also singled out those supervisors who supported research students in their personal and professional development, playing an active role in providing opportunities as well as signposting students to initiatives they could undertake themselves.
“She routinely goes the extra mile to make me aware of unique and career-enhancing opportunities for new projects, collaborations and experiences.”
“She has led the way towards integrating the newest compulsory module, Anthropological Research Methods, into sustainability across different quantitative and qualitative methods. This was a great way to embed it into our programme while keeping the interest of people within their chosen research streams. I have to say that this was lacking before, outside of my chosen modules, and it managed to highlight how our education in anthropology can be further embedded into critical issues such as sustainability. I hope this effort goes on!”
The nominations received highlighted students’ appreciation for staff who were providing opportunities to get involved in sustainability work taking place within the department, as well as bringing students and staff members together for sustainability initiatives.
However, due to the limited number of nominations received for the award this year, it is not possible to extract themes from the nomination texts as we have done for the other awards.