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Teaching is the “best job in the world” says Essex lecturer

  • Date

    Thu 20 Jul 17

Dr Gillian Sandstrom

An Essex lecturer who has picked up a teaching award at this week’s Graduation ceremonies, has said teaching at Essex is “the best job in the world – I just want to be lucky enough to keep doing it!”

Dr Gillian Sandstrom, from the Department of Psychology, was rewarded for her welcoming and innovative teaching style with an Early Career Teaching Award.

Dr Gillian Sandstrom
"Going to university is a huge adjustment, and at Essex we have a lot of students who experience extra challenges like being the first in their family to go to university, or English not being their first language. I hope to help my students build their confidence, to help them realise that they can learn anything, and that learning can be fun."
Dr Gillian Sandstrom Department of Psychology

Dr Sandstrom has been a lecturer at Essex since September 2015 but says she feels like she’s been teaching all her life. Coming from a family of teachers, she started teaching piano lessons when she was still in secondary school and in the ten years she spent as a computer programmer, before returning to her own academic studies, she designed and delivered computer training.

Today she finds connections between her research and teaching interests to enhance the student experience: “I study social connection and belonging. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to understand why people don’t talk to strangers. And I’ve done a bit of research to understand how to help students feel a sense of belonging in class and on campus.”

She most enjoys teaching statistics: “I know that many students are apprehensive about stats, and I love the challenge of convincing them that they really can do statistics.”

Learning to be a great teacher for Gillian is an ongoing process: “I feel like I can continue to get better and more effective at teaching, and I enjoy the process of trying out new things and seeing what works.

The panel of judges recognised this praising her for her “on-going efforts to assess the impact of your teaching activities and to learn from the results of your findings.”

It’s a lesson she learnt early on from one of her own inspirational teachers. Speaking about her PhD mentor, Dr Catherine Rawn, who encouraged her to reflect on her teaching, she said: “She showed me that you need to keep experimenting with your teaching. Sometimes it will work, and sometimes it won’t, and that’s ok - what’s important is that you learn in both cases.”

She also credits a secondary school teacher, Mr Lew, with inspiring her to be a great teacher herself: “I remember vividly the day he said that maybe some of us in the room were smarter than he was – a mindblowing thought!”

Dr Sandstrom has used clickers in lectures to help engage her students, and uses comprehension checks to get feedback so that she can clarify difficult points in subsequent lectures. But, she said the most important thing is to know her students and “talk to students, learn as many names as I can, and just try to show them that I care about their experience.”

Dr Sandstrom is one of ten Essex lecturers to pick up teaching awards at the Graduation 2017 ceremonies.