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David Bailey

2021 Physics Student Union Teaching Awards

The Physics Student Union (PhySU) Teaching Award is an annual award intended to recognize exceptional pedagogy in undergraduate courses in the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto.

The award is given to two distinct individuals (one per semester) at the end of each academic year. The winners will be selected based on student nominations solicited at the end of each semester.

We asked PhySU President Samuel Li some questions about the award:

Why was this award created?

"The idea for this award was suggested independently by several students in the community. It was brought up during a department inclusivity meeting, and the faculty agreed that it would have a positive impact. I have not talked to all of these students, but it seems that the idea was fed by both the students' gratefulness for excellent instruction, and some degree of frustration for poor teaching. The aim of the award is to recognize excellent pedagogy in undergraduate courses, and hopefully improve the quality of instruction over the long-term. For teaching assistants, the van Kranendonk award has been quite successful, so we adapted this model for course instructors."

Why was it important for PhySU to recognize professors?

"Before this award was created, there was no highly visible mechanism for students to give feedback on instruction quality. Students can express their feedback through course evaluations and complaints to the department, but neither of these avenues are public, and many students feel that they rarely result in meaningful change. On top of this, there seems to be an unspoken emphasis on research over teaching in academia, which comes at the cost of the students. We hope the award will serve as a public, positive incentive for instructors to improve the quality of their courses."

The constitution for this award can be found here:

Fall 2020 Recipient

Aephraim Steinberg - for exceptional pedagogy in PHY256


From PHY256:

“I felt like this professor taught us in a way that was not to be evaluated, but to generate a genuine interest in quantum physics, and I loved that.”

“rarely seemed in a rush to get through things and was willing to spend the necessary time on the concepts we struggled with. He made an effort to call on students who did not participate often, when they did raise their hands. He was receptive to feedback and was passionate about helping us learn.”

“He taught students how to think as scientists and encouraged me to appreciate science.”

From JPH441

“I had Professor Steinberg for PHY256 in the fall and he did a spectacular job with that course. He brought that same quality of instruction to this ethics course in the winter, even when his specialties lie in QM.

I expected this course to be a bird course that I wouldn't pay much mind to, especially since it was online and I could simply skip the lectures, but from the first day I found myself enraptured by the course.”

Winter 2021 Recipient

Stephen Julian - for exceptional pedagogy in PHY152

Stephen Julian.png

From PHY152:

“Professor Julian was, like in the previous semester, invested in student success. He eased many qualms regarding tests and exams by telling us of his time in undergraduate, and showed that the path to a career in physics is one filled with some defeat along the way.”

“He is one of the reasons I, among others, have decided to continue my studies of physics.”

“Fun, engaging lectures, got to know his students, always looking to help.”

“Much greater appreciation for physics because of him”

“Very patient professor, explains everything in great detail.”