The Weiss Award FAQ

Nominator Concerns

Should I be worried about the length of the dossier?

Most dossiers are between one hundred and two hundred pages long and the  course evaluations typically make up the bulk of the package. Historically, there  is no correlation between the length of the dossier and the success of the nomination. More important than length is the ease with which reviewers can navigate the documentation. You want to make it as easy as possible for  the reviewers to learn about the nominee and sometimes “less is more” is  the way to do that.

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.

Exactly who is eligible for the Provost Teaching Fellowship Award?

Senior Lecturer, Instructor, Professor of the Practice, Associate Professor of the Practice, Research Professor, Associate Research Professor, Clinical Professor, Associate Clinical Professor, Senior Scholar, Senior Scientist, Principal Research Scientist, Senior Research Associate, and Senior Extension Associate. Not all of these positions have a teaching component. However, because there is variation cross the colleges in terms of how these positions are used, we have opted for a more inclusive list. The key is that the nominee have a sustained record of excellence in undergraduate education and not be tenured or in a tenure track position. And just as assistant professors are not eligible for the Presidential and Junior awards, lecturers, assistant clinical professors, assistant professors of the practice, etc. are not eligible for the Provost award.

How do I know whether I  should  nominate an associate professor for the  Presidential Award  or for the Junior Award?

We recommend that associate professors be nominated for the Junior Award.  However, since the overall goal is to reward  the strongest  nominations across all the award categories, the Selection Committee may recommend a Presidential Award to a  Junior Award  nominee.

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.

Do nominees who teach small courses  have a chance?

Absolutely. Like the area of a rectangle,  high-impact teaching is the  product of a “width” (the number of students affected) and a “height” (the depth of the impact).  A small-course instructor who inspires research interests in 10 students is just  as impressive as a big-gateway-course instructor who inspires 10 “undecideds”  to pursue the “gated” major.

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 F17 edition of the course is the same as the syllabus for the F14 edition”. However, it is extremely important to document changes and improvements to the course as it evolves over the years.

How can the quality  of the nominee’s work in a given course be best communicated?

A detailed syllabus is a good way to give an overview of course content. Because students learn so much through required assignments, a description of those assignments is very helpful.

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

The Weiss awards are 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 “hard copy portion” and that reviewers have a limited amount  of time to assimilate what is important  about the nominee.

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.


Can a junior fellow be nominated for a presidential award later in their career?

Yes, with significant time in between; at least five years.  The accomplishments on which the nomination for the presidential award is based should be completely different from the accomplishments that won the faculty member the junior fellow award.

Engaging the Nominee

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 a Weiss 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 integrating the “conversation” into the Weiss nomination process, the nominator is helping us achieve that goal.

How might the nominator-nominee conversation be structured?

The nominee can talk about teaching philosophy, how a particular course was improved over the years, how in-class work resonates with out-of-class mentoring, and many other things.  The nominator can pose a very simple question: “What you do in your course and why it results in a  positive learning outcome?”

Letter-Writer Concerns

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 that  “Professor X is great”.

Explain how I  can put together a letter of support from a group?

By being flexible about who pens the letter we hope to get a broader range of insights into the nominee. It can also work to reduce the workload associated with putting together the letter itself. Examples of a faculty group letter include (1) a group of faculty who systematically observed the nominee in action,  (2) a  Director of Undergraduate Studies and a professional from a college advising office who together have first hand knowledge of the nominee’s mentoring ability,  and  (3)  a Director of Graduate Studies and a graduate student TA who together can speak about the quality delivery of a large lecture-based course. Examples of a student group letter include (1) officers in an undergraduate student organization that was supervised by the nominee, (2) a group of undergraduates who participated together in an undergraduate research project that was led by the nominee, and (3) a group of undergraduates who served as graders or consultants in a large lecture-based course taught by the nominee.

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