FAQ

It says that the nomination must be based on teaching effort that is distinct from the undegraduate teaching effort. What does that mean?

Courses numbered less than 5000 are regarded as undergraduate courses even if cross-listed with a 5000-level course. If the  nominee has a remarkable record in that venue then they should be considered for a Weiss award.   Having said that, it is fully appreciated that undergraduates can benefit from graduate-level teaching and advising, e.g., the undergraduate who takes a 6000-level course or who is part of research team that involves PhD students or who is part of  a project team that involves MEng students. These “fringe benefits” can certainly be mentioned in support letters.

When is it worth documenting the nominee’s accomplishments over a period that is longer than five years?

This is tied up with the “sustained record of excellence” idea. The award is not used to recognize a one-time achievement no matter its brilliance, It is up to the nominator to decide if something longer than a five-year snapshot strengthens the case. Thus, if the nominee introduces  a radical new way to  teach a required course for first-year students in the program, then  it is not enough to base the nomination on that single instance. Follow-up versions taught by the nominee may be needed to confirm the brilliance of the first edition breakthrough. This  might take years given teaching schedules. Likewise, a case that pivots on the nominee’s  ability to supervise large teams of researchers or clinicians may require a longer period of observation.

As the nominator, should I be worried about the length of the dossier?

Yes, but more important than length is the ease with which the reviewer can navigate the documentation. Sometimes “less is more.”

What about the re-submission of a past nomination?

We encourage resubmissions of past nominations but we recommend that they be updated to reflect recent teaching. Letters can be “recycled” although the resubmission is an occasion to make them more effective.

Can a Weiss winner be nominated for this award?

Yes, provided the nominee is no longer receiving support from the Weiss prize. Remember, the body of work that is scrutinized for this award has to be totally disjoint from the  nominees undergraduate teaching effort.

How are the numerical course evaluation scores “weighted” by the Selection Committee?

Numerical course evaluation scores by themselves are a somewhat flawed teaching-excellence metric. However, they provide a useful snapshot when other evaluation mechanisms are integrated into the assessment. Written course evaluation comments and peer evaluations by faculty colleagues provide context. Factors such as the “degree of difficulty” of the course material and whether or not the course is required also affect how the Selection Committee thinks about numerically-based course evaluation scores.

If a course is taught multiple times in the last five years, is it necessary to repeat detailed descriptions of its content and the underlying methodology?

There is no need to replicate identical material, but give adequate pointers, e.g., “the syllabus for the Fall 17 edition of the course is the same as the syllabus for the Fall 14 edition”. However, it is extremely important to document changes and improvements to the course as it evolves over the years.

Is it important for the nominee to a have a distinguished track record in a single course rather than in multiple courses?

The  award  is about having a sustained level of excellence. Teaching the same course over the years and taking it to a new and distinguished level is certainly one way to do that. However, a record of achievement that is spread over a number of courses is absolutely fine as well.

Is it OK to provide links in the dossier to webpages that provide additional information about the accomplishments of the nominee?

Yes, but they must be working links! Remember that the heart of the dossier is the pdf. Reviewers have a limited amount of time to assimilate what is important about the nominee so care must be exercised when choosing  to include a link.

What level of detail is appropriate for the curriculum vitae?

The CV should mention all teaching-related accomplishments, such as teaching awards, advising awards, service on education-related committees, etc. With respect to research, a snapshot suffices, e.g., a brief selection of the most recent or influential publications. A fully-detailed CV is absolutely fine as well.

Why is the nominator encouraged to have a conversation about teaching with the nominee?

Although it is not essential, there are several good reasons why the nominator might want to engage the nominee. (1) Typically the nominee has worked in a particular teaching venue for a number of years and has unique insights that are worth sharing. Knowledge of these insights can be very helpful to the nominator when writing a letter of support. (2) The nominee can assist with the assembly of the course materials that need to be submitted. This can reduce the overall workload associated with the nomination process. (3) Knowing that one is being nominated for this award signals to the nominee that their teaching is held in very high esteem by both colleagues and students–a reward in itself. (4) Cornell faculty need to be as skilled in talking about teaching as they are in talking about research. By engaging with the nominee, the nominator is helping us achieve that goal.

What makes a support letter strong?

The most important thing is to substantiate claims. If the nominee is inspiring, explain why. If the nominee affects career paths, explain how. If the nominee renovates a whole curriculum, explain how. It does not suffice just to say  “the nominee is great”.

What sorts of things can a letter-writer bring up with respect to mentoring and advising?

The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly suggests these criteria in conjunction with their own faculty awards.

Explain how to put together a letter of support from a group?

Examples of a student group letter include (1) officers in a graduate  student organization that was supervised by the nominee, (2) a group of students who participated together in some project that was led by the nominee, and (3) a group of teaching assistants who worked with the nominee.

At the grad level what is the difference between mentoring and advising?

An “advisor” is the special committee chair or the assigned faculty advisor for a professional degree student.  A truly excellent advisor is also a mentor, but there are plenty of advisors who are not strong mentors.  And we encourage students to seek out multiple mentors.  Advisor/committee chair is an official administrative role overseeing the academic requirements for a student.  Mentor is not official, it’s more of a set of behaviors, attitude, and approach to working with a student to support their professional, academic, and personal development.

Should the number of PhDs produced and their placement feed into the assessment of a PhD Advisor/teacher?

These attributes of an advising portfolio are important, but because there is so much variability across the disciplines, care must be exercised when comparing nominees.

Should the record of the candidate as a former degree program director be taken into account?

Yes, especially as it relates to mentoring.

How should this award relate to the GPSA award? 

The GPSA Award is totally administered by students. Itt annually recognizes three faculty a year for their teaching efforts. The criteria are similar. It is absolutely fine to nominate the same individual for both awards.

 

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