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Department of Chemistry

 

Stephanie Smith as she appears on Zoom

Teaching Fellow Dr Stephanie Smith has been honoured for her innovative teaching by the Cambridge University Students’ Union Student-Led Teaching Awards.

The awards are unique in that they are entirely led by students, and rely only on student feedback and testimonials.

When asked her favourite thing about teaching, Stephanie does not hesitate: “Obviously the students are the best thing,” she responds. “We have such lovely students – everyone is so friendly, enthusiastic and enjoys learning. I taught some revision classes in the past few weeks, and the number of people who attended an (online) 8am revision class on a Sunday morning was quite humbling.

Asked how she felt when the award was announced, Stephanie says: “I was quite surprised really. There are so many good supervisors out there. I got the award for innovative teaching, which feels a bit irrelevant now, as the awards were chosen before Covid-19 and loads of people have been doing so many innovations since then.”

Stephanie holds a three-year teaching fellowship in the Department, and is also Director of Studies at Pembroke. She supervises students in all four years of the Natural Sciences tripos, teaches courses in Chemistry B and Part III, and is a Senior demonstrator in the Part IB chemistry B and Part II organic teaching labs.

Head of Department James Keeler says: “I’m delighted that Stephanie has been recognised in this way – it is surely well deserved and a testament to her dedication.  For me one of the things that stands out about Stephanie is her astounding range – there cannot be many people on the Department who can teach quantum mechanics one day and synthetic organic the next, and do both superbly well.”

“I always liked science, and that’s why I decided to come to Cambridge, so I could do Natural Sciences,” explains Stephanie. She eventually settled on Chemistry because “you could draw pictures all the time”, she laughs. She was at Selwyn for her undergraduate degree, and stayed on to complete a PhD under the supervision of Jonathan Goodman.

After her PhD, Stephanie worked for a software company, but after it got taken over, she was offered the chance to teach supervisions at Cambridge. “Then this teaching position came up, which I was fortunate enough to be offered,” she recalls.  

Since the Covid-19 lockdown, all of Stephanie’s teaching has been online. Stephanie feels quite fortunate that the transition occurred during the Easter holidays, which gave her time to practice with the new technology. “Some very kind students had ‘try-out’ supervisions over the vacation to help me,” she says. “I’m also really lucky that when I replaced my 10-year-old laptop last year, the salesman persuaded me to get one I could write on, so I can write notes on the screen for my students.”

Her lecturing duties were finished before the restrictions came into place, but she has acquired lots of experience conducting online supervisions.  “Easter term is always really busy for me because I have lots of supervisions, and everyone is revising for exams, so they are very keen.”  

What is innovative about Stephanie’s teaching? She replies humbly: “I think the only reason people think my teaching is innovative is because I copied the best teachers who taught me, like James Keeler, Daniel Beauregard, and my supervisors.”

Other categories are for inclusive practice, postgrad and undergrad supervisors, lecturers, partnership and supporting students.