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  Cornell University

The University Faculty

Office of the Dean

Weiss Nomination FAQ

Mostly for the Nominator…

Should I be worried about the length of the dossier?

Most dossiers are in the 100-to-200 page range. 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.

With the teaching statement now a required part of the dossier, nominees will know that they are up for a Weiss award. Since the competition is so intense, isn’t this just a recipe for disappointment? 

Just to be nominated sends a positive message. The home department /nominator is basically saying “we think so much of your contributions to undergraduate education that we are going to do our best to communicate our enthusiasm to the Selection Committee.” Coupling that with a message to the nominee of the form  “it’s highly competitive so please keep your expectations in check” should make the overall process a positive regardless of outcome.

How can I effectively engage the nominee as I prepare the dossier for submission?

First, make sure you give the nominee enough time to put together the teaching statement. That is why we have a recommended inform-the-nominee deadline that is about one month before the nomination deadline. Second, the nominee can help you put together the course materials. Third, being able to share  the nominee’s teaching statement with the letter-writers before they do their work is a decided advantage as it can render a more coherent nomination.

Why is the nominator encouraged to pass along the name of the nominee early in the process?

There are two reasons. One has to do with the practicalities of the review process. By knowing the size and make-up of the pool we can effectively prepare for the review process. Scheduling meetings is made easier if it is done far in advance. The second reason has to do  with making sure we have a diverse pool of nominations. The responses to the solicitations that go out in January may require a February follow-up.

What about re-submissions?

We encourage resubmissions but they should be updated to reflect recent teaching. And it is always worthwhile to review the dossier with an eye  towards making it  stronger. Letters can be “recycled”  although the resubmission is an occasion to make them more effective.

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 choose to regard an exceptionally strong Junior Award  nomination as a Presidential Award nomination.

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

Numerical course evaluation scores by themselves are a flawed metric when it comes to identifying  teaching excellence. However, they do provide some information when other assessment mechanisms are factored in. 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 Committee thinks about numerical 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 F17 edition of the course is the same as for the F14 edition. However, it is extremely important to document changes and improvements to the course as it evolves over the years.

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.

Mostly for the Nominee…

What level of detail in the CV does the  Committee expect?

The CV you submit should certainly reference all teaching-related accomplishments, e.g., teaching awards, advising awards, service on education-related committees. With respect to  research a snapshot suffices, say your ten best or most recent publications. Submitting a “full” CV that has everything is fine, but  keep in mind that you do not want the reviewer to waste time looking for CV items that are particularly relevant to the Weiss Award.

What should I write about in my teaching statement?

You can write about your teaching philosophy and how you realize it in the classroom. You can describe how you developed a course over the years  and what you learned along the way. You can connect your classroom work with  outside-of-class mentoring. You can write about how your research inspires your teaching and vice versa. In short, you can write about anything that you think distinguishes you from other instructors here at Cornell.

How can I best communicate the quality  of my work in a given course?

A detailed syllabus is a good way to give an overview of course content. Since students learn so much through required assignments, you can describe some  of your  assignments that point to your creativity as an instructor.

Is it important to a have a distinguished track record in a single course that extends over a number of years?

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 also acceptable.

Will I be disadvantaged in the competition because my classes tend to be small with non-numerical course evaluations?

We repeat, there are many venues for teaching excellence: the seminar, the studio, the laboratory, the field study, the small section, the large lecture, etc. Likewise, there are many manifestations of teaching excellence besides having high numerical evaluation scores.  High impact teaching is to be measured as you would measure the area of a rectangle. It is a product of a “width” and a “height”. One correlates with the number of affected students and one correlates with the depth of impact.  A small class that annually sends 10 students on to graduate school roughly equates to a big gateway course that typically inspires 10 “undecideds”  per year to pursue the “gated” major.

Is it OK to promote my case for a Weiss nomination by lobbying my colleagues, my Chair, and my students?

The process of soliciting nominations is quite proactive making it unlikely that great teaching will go unnoticed. So in principle there is no need to lobby. Nevertheless, we as a campus need to talk about remarkable teaching with the same level of professionalism  as when we talk about remarkable research.  Thus, you should promote  your teaching innovations with an eye towards elevating the quality of teaching on campus, not with an eye towards winning this or that award.

Mostly for the Letter-Writers…

How can I make my support letter strong?

The most important thing is to substantiate claims. If the nominee is inspiring, explain why. If the nominee affected your career path, explain why. If the nominee affected how your department structures its curriculum, explain why. Just saying “Professor X is great” is meaningless unless you explain where  the greatness comes from.

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.




Last Updated: January 26, 2018 at 1:41 pm